Gifted homeschoolers are all over the news, your gifted parenting message board, and perhaps even your science fair. Perhaps you're simply interested because you feel that homeschooling might be a better educational option for your family. Perhaps one child is not thriving in school and you are looking for options. Or perhaps your family is in crisis, and you fear that keeping your child in school will cause lasting damage.
Families of gifted children move from school to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but many of their initial concerns are common. Here are some of the questions that came up during our seminar:
“What about socialization?” is the top question that parents ask. One of the problems with answering this question in a general way is that it all depends on your specifics: the needs and personality of your child, your needs and personality, the community you’re in, your child’s interests…
However, you should know that many, many families have been concerned about this issue and almost all of them have found a way to address it in their homeschool life. Homeschoolers are only isolated if they want to be. Remember that it’s school that separates your child from general society; homeschooling can be done in your community so that your child gets better quality, more varied, and healthier interactions with people than in school.
Here are a few quotes from parents of homeschooled teens who gave me input during our seminar:
"My dd who had always been homeschooled was looking forward to expanding her friendships when she enrolled in a regular school. It turns out she hardly socialized with anyone because everyone was so busy with sports both before and after school. As a homeschooler, she finds she has more time with her homeschooled and non-homeschooled friends because she just has so much more time."
"I don't think the down sides to school are worth it for the supposed social benefit. I went to a big high school, made many friends, but didn't find close "kindred spirits" until I got into college, as is the case for many gifted people and women in nontraditional fields. DS has been able to find others through homeschooling communities, and they've been higher quality social interactions. Having moved a few times when I was younger, and seeing how some of the social problems we think are just intrinsic to a certain age group can evaporate with different kids in a different setting, I also don't see any inherent value in forcing kids through the torment of certain school social settings that are so common in school. After all, the Prussian model of schooling is relatively new, humans didn't exactly evolve segregated into narrow age groups away from learning from adults in the normal course of life."
"We are new to homeschooling by 1 year. Last year we pulled our daughter out of regular middle school for a number of reasons including poor academic curriculum and teen girl social drama which at the end was becoming negative and bordering on bullying. Having been homeschooling for one year now, we have experienced and discovered profoundly richer and more authentic and reciprocal friendships in the homeschool community. My daughter has more friends now than she did in regular school. She has more friends who are boys and also more friends who are different ages than her. There is an acceptance of differences that does not exist in regular school The culture of homeschooling is supportive of individual expression rather than blending into the crowd and being like everyone else. We have found this to be socially healthier for our daughter and our family. The pressure of "wearing the right clothes that everyone else is wearing" "having the right hair style like everyone else" or even "being afraid to raise your hand to ask questions for fear of judgement" is gone to our great relief! Now she can be herself and all of her friends support that because they are themselves too. This to me is the best example of a healthy authentic social environment. And it is our belief that it is priceless."
"Homeschooling is not alone-schooling!"
One of the moms admitted that social skills were very hard for her child, but that homeschooling offered them the healthier of two poor options:
"As for socialization, this was never an area that was easy, and loneliness when surrounded by many (in the school) was painful. I can't say we were super successful in that area, yet, he was able to find inner peace, and a few meaningful relationships along the way. He is very introvert and respecting this was key. As time passed he learned more skills and was able to function and enjoy social setting, as well as develop relationships.
I think the number one tip for new homeschoolers I would share is to listen, respect and accept your child. Look at the gifts every person holds and treasure the time together. We can't and shouldn't mold them into... we can provide the right environment, tools, classes, books, and support for them to thrive. Our role as parents is scaffolding and facilitating in order to expand the comfort zone, enrich their lives, and build together unconditional love and trust relationships."
Once again, I’ll start by saying that almost every choice you make from an educational perspective while homeschooling will have to do with your particular child, his/her educational/social needs, and your family. Some families are homeschooling on a shoestring budget and manage to access only free learning opportunities. Others can afford online and community classes. Others can afford a private tutor. Some children learn best in small groups. Others need absolute quiet and a familiar location. Some do great with online learning. Others miss the personal connection online.
Then how can homeschoolers make choices? Usually there are enough constraints that you can narrow down your choices. But once you do, a lot of beginning to homeschool is learning what works and what doesn’t. That’s why my main piece of advice is to spend time playing and doing activities with your child before you commit to anything. And if you do want to use curriculum, try free things first. The biggest waste of money most new homeschoolers report is buying a year’s worth of curriculum that seemed “perfect.”
You should know that most homeschoolers are “eclectic” in their approach. They use some combination of educational approaches:
To find out the options, I suggest you join local and online homeschooling groups and just “lurk” for a while, watching and listening to see what others are doing. (See below for resources.)
All homeschoolers are worried about whether they challenge their children enough. But I can tell you that most gifted homeschoolers find that they can’t even keep up with their children in their areas of passion. That’s the place that most parents give up almost immediately and set up classes or mentoring with an expert or specialist in the field.
Challenge and motivation are particularly hard for all homeschoolers in their students’ areas of weakness or non-passion. It is the case that all homeschooled students will become more asynchronous in their learning—they will go further ahead in their areas of passion, and often lag in other areas. However, homeschooling parents get used to this and usually take the approach of addressing lagging skills as needed, but not focusing on them. Educators who work with asynchronous kids often find that if you focus on academic areas of success, the lagging skills will get “dragged along behind.” Of course, if students have any particular learning disabilities, they should be addressed with a professional as needed.
As homeschoolers reach the teen years, it is particularly important to involve them in homeschool planning so that they feel invested in their learning. Since parents can’t depend on the “herd mentality” that a school offers, they need buy-in from their teens. I recommend periodic goal-setting sessions where the teen gets to set the agenda. Parents act as mentors, advisors, advocates, support system, master scheduler, and chauffeur. But we have to feel confident that if we let our teen drive the bus (and sometimes hit a pothole), they will end up stronger students in the end.
As for specific advice on curriculum, online classes, local tutors, etc., homeschoolers should get connected with others who can offer advice specific to their child’s needs. (See below for resources.)
Personal Issues and Self-Care
Like all families, homeschoolers have issues with what psychologists call “goodness of fit.” Some of us fit better or worse with our different children in regards to temperament, learning styles, and sensitivities. In homeschool, this difference can seem more acute. But homeschoolers report that in practice, it actually goes both ways: Sometimes they have an easier time working with the student whose learning style is different. Sometimes it’s easier to make choices for a student whose needs are very different from ours. However, all family issues will go better if families use Collaborative Problem Solving techniques and make sure to have regular goal-setting meetings (formal or informal) with their children.
Families often report that their relationships with their children and between siblings improve through homeschooling because they have the time and initiative to work things out.
Parent self-care is of monumental importance. Parents need to remember that if they are miserable, their misery will spread and infect homeschooling. Even single parents can find ways to get the support they need in order to take time for themselves, to pursue hobbies or work, and to get relaxation and exercise. New homeschooling parents will be well-served to join a homeschool support group in their community or online.
These are resources that were mentioned during the seminar.
Gifted homeschooling resources
Curriculum and online learning
Socialization, motivation, self-care
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