By Amy Harrington.
When your child jumps from a lock step age/grade standard curriculum to college and professional level work at age 8, you might have a radically accelerated child on your hands. Without letting unschooling into our lives, my child would be stuck in another boring, anxiety producing, regressive year of one-size fits all state mandated curriculum of disjointed meaningless facts being thrust onto him under the guise of learning. As unschoolers there is no floor nor ceiling thwarting learning and creativity. My oldest child freely explores interests that are several years above and beyond k-12 academics which allows him to satiate his voracious mind at the pace and level that he needs. I have taken on the role of motivator, brainstorming collaborator and facilitator of his exceptional needs. We are partners in this journey of intellectual exploration.
Acceleration, for highly to profoundly gifted children, is inevitable and generally a positive experience if the child is demanding it. Traditional schools will never be able to accommodate advanced cognitive needs and sadly, most of them do not understand, nor care, about such needs. A gifted child whose intellect is not being exercised as needed can result in behavioral outbursts and apathy toward learning. Their social-emotional needs will never be fulfilled if their cognitive tank is empty. Meeting a gifted child’s needs should not be overlooked or downplayed based on ageist or egalitarian beliefs. For some gifted children, accelerated needs apply to specific areas but not across all disciplines which is easily accommodated with advancement in the relevant subject areas. Providing access to higher level materials coupled with instructional support when needed will help maintain intellectual equilibrium.
For my firstborn, there was a time where early entrance to college seemed like a possible route; however, it turns out that self-education with the support of professors and mentors is proving to be the best accommodation for his advanced intellectual needs. Those raising intellectually gifted children will be forced to seek out some form of acceleration which should always suit the child’s overall needs. Social issues are generally the primary concern when acclerating gifted children. Should a young, intellectually advanced child who hungers for more knowledge be thrust into social situations that may not meet his social-emotional needs? There is a balance to be weighed in those circumstances. At 9, my child was welcomed with open arms to attend university classes and while he decided not to go in that direction, it remains a viable choice for some academically inclined children.
For my child, acceleration manifests as hyper focus in select areas of interest fueled by intense, high-level self-directed learning. Some like to pathologize hyper focus and place emphasis on general education as the preferred method for all children. Our society is indoctrinated in the belief that all children should be well-rounded. Parents and educators love the idea of the generalist; however, it is the specialist who can change the world with his fastidious dedication to innovation. My son is a prodigious learner and he creates his own instructional path that falls outside of traditional coursework and standards. Our approach to learning is not about maintaining or seeking well-roundedness but, rather, specializing in that which we are interested. My son’s unwavering focus centers on programming, cinematic arts, combinatorial mathematics and reading comics and graphic novels. He is well-rounded in his areas of specialty which evolve and converge over time.
A big part of our unschooling adventure is including mentors and professors into our daily life. He works weekly with professors in his preferred areas which provides him with the intellectual nourishment he requires to feel happy and whole. There have been many mentors over the years and we appreciate how each one contributes to my son’s overall development. A great mentor is involved and invested in a child offering much needed intellectual and creative collaboration while presenting a relevant social outlet. There are few age peers for an omnibus prodigy. My child experiences an intellectual high when his brain is exercised well which seems to come to fruition solely through working one-on-one with accomplished intellectuals. His social-emotional needs cannot be met if his creative and intellectual needs are not also being addressed.
While his exceptional intellect requires an intense brain massage only accomplished through giving his mind a supercharged workout, his asynchrony and overexcitabilities shine through and impact our life. I cannot teach him discrete math or object-oriented programming; however, I am able to coach him through emotional upset guiding him with mindfulness meditation easing him through the unexpected.
Understanding and accommodating exceptional children is an ongoing learning experience for parents. There are some wonderful books that illustrate typical gifted characteristics and we consume them as voraciously as our children absorb and manipulate information. We read and research what to do but the answers rarely lie solely in print. Observation and experience help shape how we approach parenting and education. Sometimes, we have to make it up as you go along. Since I am able to spend all day with my children, I am well equipped to accommodate their authentic personalities and set them up for personal success. Their goals are their own and their temperaments are strong and unique. Profoundly gifted children defy all conventional widsom and reject in-the-box thinking. They need compassion and acceptance for their whole being, not just their ravenous intellect.
A profoundly gifted child in need of intellectual stimulation will likely benefit from some form of acceleration during their childhood. Raising these exceptional children requires a shift in mindset with regard to parenting and education. What works at one age and stage may become irrelevant in the next. Oftentimes, the best thing I do for my children is stay out of their way. Following their lead and supporting them is my only course of action. The sooner parents figure out how divergent their child is, the better equipped they will be at supporting their child’s developmental needs.
There is no formula for unschooling profoundly gifted children.
One size never fits all.
Amy Harrington, Esq. is a SENG Model Parent Group facilitator, homeschooling advocate and an eclectic unschooler of two profoundly gifted children. She is an attorney, writer and blogger (Gifted Unschooling Blogspot) who is passionate about the future of self-directed education. She is the Founder and Managing Director of Atypical Minds which provides coaching and guidance to gifted families in their quest for alternative education and school accommodations.