The concept of “gifted” learners is a tough one. One the one hand, we all know and accept that all children are gifted in some way. On the other hand, there are those who are gifted when it comes to learning. These children tend to be underserved in our society — after all we appreciate humility, and one who claims their child is gifted certainly does not sound very humble. If we had a child who was a gifted artist, we wouldn’t hesitate to find the best art classes and materials to serve him. Or if we had a child who was gifted on a musical instrument, we’d likely break the pocketbook to help her develop that talent. Homeschooling provides a unique way of serving the gifted learner.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Gifted?
A sure sign that you have a gifted child on your hands is when a nationally recognized correspondence school tells you your fifth grader is ready to start high school, but that they will place your child in eighth grade (the highest level they offer) so that the child’s math “can catch up.” Short of the obvious, there are other signs to look for.
There are definitely characteristics that come with children who are gifted learners. Being aware of these traits and honoring children who possess them is important to helping them develop their potential.
Characteristics of a gifted learner can include:
- An excellent memory.
- Sensitivity to materials and touch.
- Ability to focus for long periods of time.
- Very observant.
- Is an early reader.
- Exceptionally large vocabulary.
- Enjoys the company of adults.
- Dry sense of humor.
- Highly developed sense of justice.
What Are My Options?
You’ll find a wide variety of opinions when it comes to the best way to serve a gifted learner. Here are a few ideas you will typically come across:
- Go deep. Allow your child to learn about a topic in depth. Skills can then be developed broadly.
- Go broad. Allow your child to learn a little about a lot of things. Individual skills can be the focus.
- Accelerate. Allow your child to move as fast as his pace allows and finish school early, moving on to whatever is next for him in life.
- Hold back. Keep your child in his own grade level for maturity reasons, but assign extra work that keeps him challenged.
A combination of these approaches will most likely be the best fit. Learning about a topic in depth is extremely important when it comes to reaching gifted learners. They need to learn until they feel they have exhausted the subject. By using their current topic of interest, you can still go broadly, encouraging them to pick up new skills as they delve in. Further, if there is still time in their day, they can pick up a new interest as time allows.
There are those who have accelerated their children through the system allowing their children to start college at very young ages. For some this may work. For most, since the gifted learner is still the physical age you find on his birth certificate, he will benefit from having a childhood. That said, moving at his pace is always the best plan. As long as extra work assigned is not “busy work” but challenging in importance as well as scope, he should be satisfied.
Where Can I Get Help?
When we started educating at home there was one really good site that addressed gifted learners. That site is still around, but there are also several others that you might find helpful. We’ve recommended a few below.
Tips for Parents of Gifted Learners
- Respect your children for who they are. They may surprise you with “childish” behavior after holding a very adult-style conversation. This is perfectly normal!
- Be a mentor. Be an encourager. Help your gifted learner see that he can do it. Don’t hesitate to help him appreciate his gifts because you are afraid of making him arrogant. He needs to know and understand himself to be able to rightly use his gift.
- Get out of the way. Let him find his own interests. Supply him with materials and opportunities. But then move back and let him find his way within the safe bound you have set. (Avoid micromanaging.)
- Don’t talk down to her. She likely understands things better than you think. Instead bring her alongside in your thinking while still maintaining the parent/child relationship.
- Don’t be surprised if his language skills are far in advance of his math skills or vice versa. Again, just go at his pace in both areas.
- Avoid the pressure to advance too rapidly. This is probably one of the hardest areas to appropriately navigate. We don’t want to hold our children back. But we don’t need to send them to college at fifteen unless we have a very good reason to do so. Gifted learners still have a lot of life to learn!
- Help your gifted learner use his gift wisely. Always explain that he is in no way better than another. He just has a different gift.
- Understand that you are not going to be able to purchase a boxed curriculum and make it work without modification. But also appreciate the fact that any curriculum can be modified to fit.
- Don’t allow slacking. For some gifted learners, since everything tends to come easily, they learn how to beat the system by doing only enough to get by. Keep these guys challenged!
- Remember that you are the parent. That fact can sometimes get lost in the fog of the day. 🙂
One of the benefits of educating a gifted child at home is that it really doesn’t matter if the child is gifted. If we start with the premise that we will be going at the child’s pace, providing materials that are challenging without being frustrating, then we’re already halfway there — no matter what type of learner our child could be classified as.
Common Characteristics of Gifted Individuals
Traits to look for from the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC).
Traits of Giftedness
Also from NAGC.
High Achiever, Gifted Learner, Creative Thinker
Ways to tell the difference.
Comparison of Bright vs. Gifted
A light-hearted look just to keep it all in perspective.
Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families by Lisa Rivero
One resource from our shelf that proved very helpful. Updated second edition available in eBook format.
Curriculum Activities for Gifted and Motivated Elementary Students by Artie Kamiya & Alan Reiman
This one was a favorite when it came to learning how to broaden learning. It lead to our first dinosaur notebook back when we hadn’t started talking “notebooking” yet. We created a very large butcher paper body outline on our refrigerator to hold the parts of the body as we learned about them. And a personal favorite: learning about the five senses with Henrietta the French pig. Full of wonderful ideas that will get you thinking.
Gifted Children at Home: A Practical Guide for Homeschooling Families by Janice Baker, Kathleen Julicher, & Maggie Hogan
Written by three home-educating moms of gifted children, this one is geared slightly more toward the college bound. Some of the resources are outdated, but you’ll still find many ideas for serving the whole child.
No Regrets: How Homeschooling Earned me a Master’s Degree at Age 16 by Alexandra Swann
Though very few will benefit from following this path, No Regrets is a very interesting account of one homeschooling family’s journey in accelerated learning. This is a first-hand account, not a how-to manual. It comes free with a subscription to Kindle Unlimited.