When One Size Doesn’t Fit All
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Tips and Tricks for Homeschooling Gifted Students (or Not-So-Gifted) Students

What makes a child “gifted”? Let’s start by taking a look at a definition of the term:

“Children who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership capacity, or specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities.” (Clark).

When it comes to learning, gifted children are a different type of student. They tend to think ‘out-of-the-box’ and want to test different theories. A gifted child may want to explore ideas you have never mentioned or even discussed; these can be academic, athletic, or artistic in nature.

I will never forget when my eight-year-old daughter returned from her first summer attending a sleep-away camp in the Berkshires with a focus on choice and unique activities. Two days after pick-up, my sweet, former “girly-girl” came into my bedroom, looked me in the eyes and said, “This year, for homeschooling classes, can we find a place where I can learn how to fence?”   

Quickly, I replied: “Fence?”

Shayna continued: “Yes, mom… you know, fencing. Foil, sabre, épée…”  

Looking her in the eyes, I inquired: “What do you know about fencing?” She quickly proceeded to explain that while at camp, she took fencing as a choice every week and absolutely loved it. From then on (and for many years afterward) fencing was her passion. She trained, traveled, and competed. Even now, years later, she still engages in recreational fencing from time to time.  To me, this was absolutely part of her homeschooling education.  After all, fencing is akin to a physical game of chess: It requires instantaneous decisions, thinking several steps ahead, anticipating your adversary’s actions, and responding accordingly.  Fencers must always be “in the moment”.

When it comes to kids in general, but more specifically gifted kids, you simply never know what they will want to try next.

There are some distinct commonalities found in characteristics of gifted children:

  • Self-disciplined, independent, often anti-authoritarian.
  • Zany sense of humor
  • Able to resist group pressure, a strategy that is developed early
  • More adaptable and more adventurous
  • Greater tolerance for ambiguity and discomfort
  • Little tolerance for boredom
  • Preference for complexity, asymmetry, “open-endedness”
  • High in divergent thinking ability
  • High in memory, good attention to detail
  • Broad knowledge background
  • Need think periods
  • Need supportive climate, sensitive to environment
  • Need recognition, opportunity to share
  • High aesthetic values, good aesthetic judgement
  • Freer in developing sex role integration; lack of stereotypical male/female identification.

Additionally, (although I am not a big fan of gender divides) studies have shown that the characteristics of the gifted child can differ on the basis of gender (Halpin, Payne, Ellett): 

The following are common characteristics of the female gifted child:

  • She likes school, especially courses in science, music, and art. 
  • She likes her teachers. 
  • She regularly reads news, magazines, and other non-required reading. 
  • She is active in drama and musical productions.
  • She does not go out on dates as often.
  • She is a daydreamer. 

The following are common characteristics of the male gifted child:

  • He dislikes school.
  • He dislikes teachers and thinks they are uninteresting.
  • He does little homework.
  • He dislikes physical education and seldom engages in team sports.
  • He is regarded as radical or unconventional.
  • He often wants to be a lone to pursue his own thoughts and interests.

So, you might be thinking: “Yeah, my kid has these characteristics, but so do many kids… are they truly gifted?” Honestly, I am not a parent that gets hung up on labels.  It’s actually funny; I never considered my daughter gifted (sorry, Shayna) even though, according to tests and checklists, she registers ‘off the chart’.  The fact is, I did NOT have her tested, and wasn’t planning on having her tested… until SHE inquired about going to school, and I wanted evidence to back up my thoughts of where she should be placed.  (Personal note:  Yeah, she didn’t go to school at the time. She remained at home – but she did go to school for high school).  With that said, I have always considered my daughter to be passionate, and highly motivated with a zest for learning.  To me, these characteristics are more important than a test score or a check-off list.

Gifted?  Not gifted?  Honestly, it doesn’t matter.   It is our job as homeschooling parents to educate our child to the best of our ability.  Some days are easier, and some days are definitely harder.  Either way, here are some TIPS to help you homeschool your gifted (or not-so-gifted) child:

Tip #1:  Use a literature-based curriculum or classes as your foundation

Looking back at thirty years of teaching, I can say that my students’ best learning experience always came from literature-based learning. What is literature-based learning? It is when everything circles around books, from picture books to novels. Literature-based learning works splendidly for students, no matter where they fall across the spectrum!

Why?  In a nutshell, it is because one piece of literature can speak to children at a variety of levels.  Any student can take the information within and bring it to where they currently are.  More advanced students can appreciate the nuances of the text and find connections with other concepts they have learned, while other students can make connections and gain knowledge in other areas.   

Literature-based learning provides students with the flexibility to speed up and slow down. It also naturally leads students into all sorts of self-led learning.  Whether the book is from the Felicity American Girl series, or My Brother Sam is Dead – in either case, the learner is able to dive further into the intricacies of the Colonial era and the American Revolution.

Furthermore, great literature is a hallmark of a truly educated mind.  Great literature includes but is not limited to “the classics”. Too often, learners are confused by this. For me, “great literature” encompasses any work that makes people think.

Literature provides the cultural literacy, vocabulary, and global awareness children need.   All children need to learn empathy, and develop the emotional intelligence needed to interact well with others.   Before all children learn to write, they also need to learn the rhythm and flow of good writing by hearing good examples.  Finally, they need to discover the joy that comes from appreciating books as a lifelong source of new knowledge.  Even gifted children aren’t born knowing this inherently; studying literature teaches it to them.

At Open Tent Academy, we offer a slew of classes that are literature based.  You will find these under the “literature” section of our course offerings; however, these classes could be categorized under every subject:

  • Exploring American History through the American Girls, for learners in grades 3 – 5, is not only a literature class; it is also a class focusing on history, geography, culture, and writing.
  • Go Greek Lightning takes the infamous Percy Jackson series and combines it with Greek Mythology and art.
  • You Can’t Stop Them! takes amazing (and sometimes hard-to-find) novels written for middle schoolers that focus on strong female characters, and learners have the opportunity to analyze, write, discuss, create, and combine with any topic that the novel touches upon.
  • Perspectives is an amazing combination of short stories for middle school students, covering areas such as author information, writing, and content subjects that focus on empathy and social interaction.

In addition to these four examples, OTA provides up to a dozen more literature-based classes for all learners, with all types of interests. When you teach via literature, every single subject area is combined into an amazing lesson.

Tip #2:  Go broad!

Do you have a genius in your fold?  Enjoy your accelerated freedom and help them explore the world around them.  Enjoy their tangents!  Enrich the foundation!

I remember hearing a parent say this: “My child will have to enter college by ninth grade because there will be nothing left for him to learn from any teacher.”  This comment sent chills down my spine. This statement couldn’t be more untrue, no matter how gifted the learner.   Funny thing is, this child, now in college, started there at a traditional age. I am pretty sure he learned plenty during his high school years and will continue to learn more going forward.

Gifted kids are still kids, after all, and the world is an enormous place with tons of different things for them to learn.   If your children fly through the traditional content subjects, enrich their studies with a broad spectrum of other areas that they may otherwise never think to explore.  

Open Tent Academy offers not only traditional classes, but unique “out-of-the-box” classes that combine multiple disciplines into one class.  From Art History to Forensics, we could put many of these classes under ANY subject heading because they truly touch upon so many areas.

Tip #3:   Use more than one program per subject

Often parents say to me: “Oh, we have a math book, so we don’t need a math class.”  So not true!  Students need classes that deepen and broaden their understanding by participating in more than one math program at a time.  I mean, if the traditional math books make you feel comfortable – then by all means go with that approach; however, I recommend enriching their math learning with additional classes that do not feel like math classes.

Many of OTA’s classes are interdisciplinary to the point that, although a listed course might be “math based”, it most likely also incorporates additional concepts such as art, science, coding and/or problem solving. The same goes for our technology classes, where students are not only coding, but incorporating art, history, science, literature, and so much more into every lesson. It is not just “the content area” they are learning; students learn so much more in every lesson.

Tip #4:   Remember that Education is more than “Traditional Academic Classes”

With all learners, including accelerated ones, your role as parents is to guide them in much more than just academics. That said, don’t panic! That is what we are here for. If your child is an accelerated learner, perhaps they can use extra time to dive into classes and projects that are totally out of the box.  Let your child choose what they want to take.  Give them the freedom.  Yes, it is scary – but cut away those strings that we were bound by, back when we were in school.  Give them the freedom to follow their passions.  At OTA, we have often found that when students choose their classes, they are 100% vested in them, and the results are amazing.

Classes for the 2018 – 2019 school year will be posted no later than February 15th, with registration beginning March 1, 2018.   And yes – some classes fill up rather quickly.  

Come visit and take a look at our courses.  Don’t be shy; please ask questions!  

Join our Facebook page.   Don’t only LIKE it; visit it often.  We are so much more than “classes”; we are your partner in education – for your gifted or not-so-gifted child!  We are in this together.

Works Cited:

Eva Goldstein-Meola, is not only co-founder of Open Tent Academy, but an instructor as well as a former homeschooling mother. She has lived in New Jersey, Florida, Western Massachusetts, Northern Virginia and now resides just outside of Jerusalem. Eva holds a Master’s Degree as a Consulting Teacher of Reading and Writing, IEW certification and a Bachelor’s Degree as an Elementary Teacher. She has also been involved in education since 1986 as a Private Tutor, Teacher, Reading Specialist, Homeschooling Mother, Homeschooling Teacher and Business Owner of an Online Education Consortium. In addition to teaching, Eva enjoys cooking, baking, playing Settlers of Catan, traveling with her husband Jonathan, Broadway Musicals and reading. Eva teaches a variety of literature and IEW writing courses for Open Tent Academy.

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