By Lisa Rivero.
“Every gifted homeschooling story starts with an individual child and family.”
That’s how I began a recent presentation in Hartford, Connecticut, at the New England Conference for the Gifted, co-sponsored by SENG. The topic was “homeschooling as a way to meet social-emotional needs,” and preparing the talk gave me an opportunity to think back on our ten years of homeschooling with a perspective that wasn’t possible while we were in the middle of it.
Why did we homeschool? The short answer is that it was the best educational and social-emotional fit for our son and family.
Here is the longer answer that I presented in Hartford, my “top ten reasons” that I am glad we homeschooled:
1. Control over the use of labels. Learning at home allowed us to help our son to understand the differences inherent in giftedness without putting undue focus on being gifted as his primary identity. As a young friend of mine put it recently, giftedness, when overemphasized or praised for its own sake, can easily become something one always must work to defend, what Carol Dweck describes as the “fixed mindset.” Children and adults with a fixed mindset have the “single goal of proving themselves—in the classroom, in their careers, and in their relationships. Every situation calls for a confirmation of their intelligence, personality, or character.”
2. Individuation of grade levels. Homeschooling allowed our son to accelerate in individual subjects by self-study, distance learning gifted high school courses, and part-time on-campus university classes, without the need for formal grade acceleration. Just as important, it allowed him to have the “prolongation of opportunities to explore and investigate” on his own, what David Elkind writes is “what intellectually talented youngsters need most.”
3. Sleep—enough of it and at optimal times. Research has linked sleep deficits to underachievement, obesity, and memory and attention problems (Bronson). Parents know how difficult it is for teens to get enough sleep with a full schedule of classes, extracurricular activities, and homework, especially long hours of honors and AP homework. Because of the efficiency of homeschooling, the need to burn the midnight LED lightbulb was rare to nonexistent.
4. Time to learn to understand and manage perfectionism. The flexibility of not assigning grades to learning, especially during our son’s younger years, was a tremendous help in his learning to manage what Mary Elaine Jacobsen calls the gifted person’s innate “urge to perfect.” Barbara Clark, author of the widely used gifted education textbook Growing Up Gifted, writes, “under the threat of grades, bright students balk at venturing into the unknown or trying any area in which they are not sure they will succeed.” Homeschooling didn’t make our son’s perfectionism go away, but it did give him time to do most of his learning for the sheer joy of it, so that when he did have to face GPAs and class ranks in college, he was old enough to have some broader perspective on what they do and don’t mean.
5. Time for travel and other activities. During our homeschooling years, we took many trips during off-season travel that would have been difficult to fit into a busy high school schedule, such as visits to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Princeton, London, and my family’s farm in South Dakota. Our son was also able to have a role in three plays with a local children’s theater company, each of which consisted of twenty performances, without having to make up class days or exams.
6. An introvert-tailored education. Marti Olsen Laney, author of The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child, writes that some of the traits of introverts are that they “are fatigued by long hours of socializing, even with good friends” and they “need time alone to recharge energy levels.” As an adult, I know that I learn and work better when I have a good chunk of my day alone or with one or two people. Why would we expect introverted children to be any different?
7. Lifelong learning and growth. This advantage is true for both children and parents. Because education is something that happens within the homeschooling family and the broader community, children see firsthand that learning doesn’t stop on graduation day. An added bonus for homeschooling parents is that they often reawaken their own passion for learning, revisiting subjects they may have forgotten or even truly learning them for the first time.
8. Mixed-age learning and socialization. Susan Jackson and Vicky Moyle write that “age-based segregation” is one of the roadblocks to social-emotional growth for gifted children. Our homeschooling literature and writing group included over a dozen students ranging in age from eight to eighteen, allowing learning to happen according to ability level rather than age.
9. Informal social-emotional mentoring. Mixed-age learning and socializing allowed us to look for and take advantage of opportunities for our son to be mentored by adults and older teens who were comfortable with their giftedness and who lived their intensity with grace and confidence.
10. Quality and quantity family time. Now that our son is a sophomore in college, all three of us are grateful for the time we had together in his elementary and high school years, strengthening what Annemarie Roeper calls the “lifeline between parents and child:”
“I would like to impress parents with the reality of the need of the child and that the first requirement is that there be a bond, a lifeline, between parents and child. In my experience, I have found that the solidity of this relationship is the greatest reason that a child will come through the difficult times to which they are often exposed. No matter how isolated some of the very highly gifted feel, they maintain a healthy Self if they feel that their parents are truly on their side. Many children have told me their parents are their best friends and they could not handle life without them.”
Ask the Right Question
I always feel the need to provide disclaimers when I write or speak about homeschooling:
· I would never tell any family they should homeschool.
· Homeschooling isn’t a good fit for every gifted child or every family.
· I’m a strong proponent of public education.
· I am a huge fan of educators both in and out of the classroom (and I am one myself).
The question isn’t whether anyone should homeschool or if homeschooling is a good idea or if it works in general.
For anyone considering homeschooling, the right question is simply this: Is homeschooling a good idea for your child and family?
Bronson, P. (2007, Oct. 7). Snooze or lose? New York Magazine. Retrieved October 31, 2010, from nymag.com/news/features/38951
Clark, B. (1997). Growing up gifted: Developing the potential of children at home and at school (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 440.
Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books, 6.
Elkind, D. (1987). Miseducation: Preschoolers at risk. New York: Knopf, 153.
Jackson, S., & Moyle, V. F. (2009). Inner awakening, outward journey: The intense gifted child in adolescence. In S. Daniels & M. M. Piechowski (Eds.), Living with intensity: Understanding the sensitivity, excitability, and emotional development of gifted children, adolescents, and adults (pp. 68-69). Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press
Jacobsen, M. E. (2000). The gifted adult: A revolutionary guide for liberating everyday genius. New York: Ballantine Books.
Laney, M. O. (2005). The hidden gifts of the introverted child: Helping your child thrive in an extroverted world.New York: Workman, 14.
Roeper, A. M. (2003). The emotional needs of the gifted child. Retrieved October 31, 2010, from www.sengifted.org/articles_social/Roeper_TheEmotionalNeedsOfTheGiftedChild.shtml
Lisa Rivero lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she is a SENG board member, writer, speaker, and instructor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Her published books include A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Teens (Great Potential Press, 2010), The Smart Teens’ Guide to Living with Intensity (Great Potential Press, 2010), The Homeschooling Option (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), and Creative Home Schooling (Great Potential Press, 2002).