Homeschooling for Gifted Children
is Home Schooling and How Does it
Work For Gifted Children?
This page is written as my personal experience of homeschooling; in time I may rewrite it from a more authoritative point of view, but in the meantime I include it for whatever value it may have; in homeschooling, other people's experiences are often interesting.
During the 11 years I've been Mensa Gifted Children's Co-ordinator, most by far of the enquiries I've received from callers in all states, have related to schools. Problems with schools. Children who are unhappy at schools, bored at schools, "getting nowhere" at schools. Schools whose principals insist children start learning the alphabet when they can already read at age 10 level; schools whose principals claim to cater for gifted children, but don't, and many schools whose principals won't accept any evidence that a student is gifted.
parents say most often is: "We just don't want to see the potential lost
that we know is in her or him". Quite
common is: "He or she is so happy in the holidays when he or she can do his
or her own work". There are
some schools across Australia which are willing to be flexible, and create
genuine programs appropriate for gifted children, but either they're private
schools, in which case money is a problem, or they're public schools, in which
case it's a problem if you don't live in the right area.
truth is, there's very little a parent can do to change the perception of a
school under the administration of people who won't, or don't want to, address
this issue. Getting on the school
board, lobbying, spending time to provide enrichment work as a volunteer parent,
can all be done, and may help a little; but it won't make up for hours spent
doing unnecessary work years below your child's intelligence level.
It won't change the reality of classroom life in a school whose
administration doesn't want to make a huge effort to help its gifted students.
It won't help an unhappy child be happy again.
I became Gifted Children's Co-ordinator, my daughter Nicola was a few months
old, and I took the office due to my own interest in the area.
I expected her to be comfortably bright, but I had no foreknowledge
whether she'd be gifted. I wasn't concerned about the issue, because I was doing with
her all the things one should do with a gifted child (since they're what one
should ideally do with all children anyway), and we were having fun. I assumed
that the relevant issues would unfold in time.
They did - we had trouble when she
started school. I thought I'd
investigated the school well; it had a good reputation; I thought it seemed
But my daughter, who'd insisted absolutely on starting school the day she turned 5, quickly became deeply miserable. Psychological testing found she was gifted. She was above the 99th percentile, including her poor performance because she had profound dyslexia. Both were contributing to her misery at school. Her Principal did what many parents had described to me, and what I'd not understood the impact of at all: she refused to accept the tests. My daughter had neither high intelligence, nor dyslexia; she was a child performing in the lower part of the class, and the school was quite happy with that. My qualifications seemed to mean nothing where my own daughter was concerned; it was as difficult for me as for any other mother.
I still think it's appalling that this sort of thing should happen in a highly-reputed (state) school, but that principal probably did me a favour in one way: she presented me with an impossible situation for Nicola, so I had to do something. It took me 6 months to face up to the fact, but since I wasn't working (due to an illness, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), and since I had a young daughter seriously distressed by 2 terms of school, with a problem the school wouldn't acknowledge, the best option for us was home schooling, called by learning-oriented home schoolers in South Australia "Home Based Learning", HBL.
say it took me 6 months to face up to it. Partly,
it was a shock to face the fact that my happy, bright, fun child had dyslexia.
Partly, I did a lot of things I spend time advising others not to do: I
set my standards for me too low, and for Nicola too high; I found it hard to
believe she was really gifted, despite much evidence that she was, except that
she didn't read. Even though I'm a
qualified teacher and Education Consultant I doubted whether I could do
homeschooling, and worried what it'd be like.
I now know that almost all parents contemplating HBL feel daunted at the
prospect, and doubt whether they can do it.
my experience, given a few basic requirements, the main one being that there are
other families homeschooling in your area with whom your child(ren) can
socialise: don't worry, you can do it, and it's great.
latest SA Homeschool newsletter lists the most commonly-asked questions:
How long have you been doing home schooling (HBL)?
(2 years at the time I wrote this) Why
did you start? (Explained above.) How
did you start? (See below.)
What do you think of the school system?
(Very disillusioned at that time.) Did you opt out because it was so bad? (Yes, although HBLers generally try not to go public
criticising the school system. This
is mainly for self-protection. Because
of the legal compulsion to attend school, we have to work with its bureaucracy.)
you have to be a qualified teacher, or at least have some level of experience or
education? (No. See Below.)
I can't stand my kids by the end of the holidays; how do you stand it all
day? (Most of that behaviour is
caused by school; by being "let out of prison" for a short time.
You don't have to stand it, because HBL kids are not like that.
See below.) Are there
different types of home schoolers? (Yes, very definitely. See below.) How do you do it legally? (See below.) How many people home school? (Noone knows; a SA Education
Department official told me they believe it's 5 to 10 times as many as they know
about.) Where do you get resources?
(This is so easy; public libraries; bookshops; garage sales; the
community around you; your child's enrolled school, if you wish to, and by
negotiation; Internet; one is buried in resources.)
What checks are in place/ how do you assess/ what testing do you do? (See
below.) What about secondary
school/ university entrance? (See
below) And the one everyone asks, as though we might not have thought of it
ourselves: WHAT ABOUT SOCIALISATION? (See
giving a quick summary of the "see belows", I'll mention the thing
which has been most surprising to me about HBL: it turns out not really to be a
schooling choice, but a whole life option. Once you experience it, and think about it, it makes sense.
We all know that until quite recently the most common method of schooling
in the UK for those who could afford it, was to send their children to a private
boarding school, even in the Primary years.
To most of us in Australia this seems strange, sad, even horrible; one wonders
why people would have children, only to send them away from home for most of
their lives; (other than when necessitated by geographical isolation.)
it's a continuum; once you've done HBL for 6-12 months, you find such pleasure
having your children share your everyday life, you begin to feel the same about
daily school attendance. Why send
your children for most of their day to be with strangers you know nothing about,
have little contact with and less control over? Why only see your children when
they're tired from a day at school, when the school's demand for homework
intrudes again on your time? Your
children as part of your life become something you don't want to give up, quite
apart from home schooling.
the "See Below" section:
do you start?
qualifications/ Education level of parents:
do you stand your kids all day?
HBL kids don't develop many of those "I can't stand those kids" behaviours unless you run your home like a Borstal. This isn't idealism on my part; it's fact from observation. One example: with a group of around 30 HBL kids we attended a Police lecture on Road Safety, usually given to school groups. After a long (more than 1 hour) session of instruction, the time came to fetch crash helmets to move out to the Bike Road Safety area. The Sergeant said routinely: "Now, I want you to go quietly, with no pushing and fighting, and get yourself a helmet." Our group, ranging in age from 3 to 14, simply took their helmets and moved outside. "Pushing & fighting?" I noticed he'd said it, but it went right over their heads; it's not the sort of thing they do. With what I consider to be extraordinary politeness, even the preschool children had sat patiently through the long and rather rambling lecture. Homeschool children are not often asked to sit and be bored; at a pinch they will do it generously when asked to.
types of Home schoolers.
a third of home schoolers make the choice for religious reasons; these seem
often (not always) to be the families who keep to a more rigid, scheduled
The remaining almost 2 thirds choose HBL for various reasons to do with concern for their children, and/or about education itself. My explanation at the beginning of the article puts me into this group. I find that in this group are many gifted children, although their parents don't always have that concept, or know that the child(ren)'s giftedness is a factor in their unhappiness at school, and their easy and enjoyable experience with HBL. Another group has special learning difficulties, sometimes vague and subtle ones, which have made their time at school difficult, and which often respond well to the creative and patient work of parents over time.
In all states I believe it's necessary for a child to be enrolled at a
school, and for the parents then to apply for and be given, exemption from the
child's attendance. The details
vary from state to state, and are changing currently, but in all states it can
be done. Queensland is the only
state in which home schooling is technically illegal; but even so it is done,
and is tolerated by the Education Department.
testing, assessments. Different
people use different methods. Educational
material graded to year level is readily available; I bought some excellent
material recently from a supermarket. I
like to look at the work of my daughter's school-attending friends from time to time.
Many gifted children are great personal testers and assessors.
schools are happy to provide assessment material, but this is usually an empty
exercise as HBL children are usually well in advance of their school year level,
gifted children naturally especially so. (A HBL family we spend a lot of time with had a problem with
their last visit from an Ed Dept. officer; their 3 year old sulked for 2 days
because he hadn't wanted to hear her read; in the perception of the Ed Dept
she's not "at school" yet, of course. This is a family with no interest in gifted children issues,
just happy kids and fun learning.) Back
to assessment: checking with the comparable school year level is the main
answer; after all, that's all the school would be doing. If you want more than that, do whatever meets your needs.
Many HBL children return to school during the 2ary years in order to complete
the school requirements for tertiary entrance. Some do a TAFE course first in
order to show they can complete study in a scheduled environment. There must be
other routes to tertiary entry, because HBL children do go on to tertiary study.
Many HBL children return to school during the 2ary years in order to complete the school requirements for tertiary entrance. Some do a TAFE course first in order to show they can complete study in a scheduled environment. There must be other routes to tertiary entry, because HBL children do go on to tertiary study.
the big question: SOCIALISATION.
Except for the very few already mentioned, who don't want to interact
with society much, socialisation is of course one of the needs HBL parents see
as more important even than schools do. I
think it's definitely true that it is probably not possible to carry out a HBL
program unless there is an active community of HBL families in your area.
Socialisation is a very big part of any homeschool program. Through newsletters
HBL communities organise group outings and activities, of the same type which
schools organise. Through
personal contact families network and get together with other families purely for the
kids to play, & the parents to "socialise"; there are always so
many fascinating things to talk about in HBL; parents can hardly get enough
of it, though they may see each other 1-2-3 times a week.
the group of HBL families my daughter & I interacted with, an organised outing or
activity was usually followed by kids playing, parents talking, regrouping to
someone's home, sending out for take-away around dinner time, and getting home
about 9-10pm. Starting from an
outing which began at 10 or 11am, that gave the kids a lot of socialising; and
that was only on the organised days, as opposed to the spontaneous ones.
The main problem with socialisation is that it becomes harder to keep in
touch with your friends who still go to that odd institution, school.
Mainly for that reason, we used to slow up our HBL in
"school" holidays, to catch up with them.
can be a problem for families who are very geographically isolated; unless at
least 2 or 3 other families with similar aged children near them are interested to take up HBL, that's a hard one to
time my daughter developed an undiagnosed illness which gradually made it less
and less possible for her physically to get to the outings and activities.
After some time she gradually lost touch with her homeschool friends, and I
realised that because we couldn't take part in the activities of the HBL
community it was better for her to return to her enrolled school, so that
whenever she was well enough to attend, school would be there for her.
This was a different school and has been nothing but supportive to her; so one
adapts to circumstances as they arise. I know that our HBL program would
have been of great benefit to Nicola both with regard to her giftedness, and to
her dyslexia, if she hadn't become ill.
The truth is that none of the above questions are the biggest problem with homeschooling: the biggest is expense. If HBL requires one wage-earning parent to give up work, it's an option more expensive than the most elite private schooling. However, if Dad or Mum are out of work for any reason, or if either is at home to care for pre-school children, or if you simply want a delightful lifestyle, good education, happy children and parents, I can certainly recommend that you try it to see how it works for you.
another page I mentioned that I don't advocate early
entry to school for those gifted preschoolers who early become fascinated
with learning and academic work, and avidly want what to do what our society
would call "school work". I recommend homeschooling. In
this case, I recommend it even if one wage-earning parent does have to leave
work for one or two years. I believe children with such drive and commitment
to learning, but who are still only aged 4 or 5 years, are likely to do much better,
be much happier, and be far less at risk, by being assisted to create their own
homeschooling program, than by beginning school early.
who early become fascinated with learning and academic work, and avidly want what to do what our society would call "school work". I recommend homeschooling. In this case, I recommend it even if one wage-earning parent does have to leave work for one or two years. I believe children with such drive and commitment to learning, but who are still only aged 4 or 5 years, are likely to do much better, be much happier, and be far less at risk, by being assisted to create their own homeschooling program, than by beginning school early.
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