Home Schooling Academically Gifted Kids

I was always told our firstborn was smart.

Every new parent thinks his child is smart, of course, but when person after person who did not really know our son remarked on his intelligence, I began to wonder. Yes, at two years old, he had brought me a piece of paper with all the letters of the alphabet—upper and lowercase—written on it. And, yes, at age three he was reading. But, did not all kids do that? I had no frame of reference. The light bulb did not turn on for me until one evening when he was eight years old.

We were at a baseball game. It had been a typical day of homeschooling, and it so happened that we had started a study on fractions. (You know the drill: “Five of these eight pie pieces are shaded; this graph shows five-eighths.”) Just for fun, when the baseball game got to the bottom of the sixth inning, I asked, “What fraction of the game is over?”

“Two-thirds,” he said, without missing a beat.

“How did you know that?!” I asked, amazed. (How had he reduced six-ninths to two-thirds? It was not in the day’s lesson.)

“It just is,” he said, yawning.

So I gave him a MENSA IQ test for children, and he scored a 180. Thus began my very long journey into tailoring our home school to an academically gifted kid.

My journey led me to an online message board for parents of those who are called “profoundly gifted.” There I discovered that there are different levels of academic giftedness, based on IQ scores: highly, exceptionally, and profoundly. It became obvious from reading there that our son was indeed in the “profoundly” range.

I found I could converse with these online mothers of “PG” kids, most of whom had failed to get their local schools to adequately promote their children enough to meet their extreme needs. These parents were left with only the choice to school them at home, where their children could learn at their own, fast rates. With the help of these moms, I learned to recognize that when our son said he “hated” math, it was a signal that he was bored. Eventually these ladies encouraged me to take the radical step of skipping three entire grades of math at once! Our son loved math again! Success!

These women were lifesavers for me. One of the hardest parts of having such a highly gifted kid is that almost no one in my non-cyber life would let me talk about it. They all thought I was bragging or, worse, told me I was pushing our son. I knew I was not pushing him, but after dozens of people question you, you begin to wonder, “Am I a bad parent?” I was on this homeschooling journey alone.

Our Son Was Not the Only One

Our daughter wowed us when she was 2½ years old by putting together brand new twelve-piece tray puzzles two at a time–with all the pieces mixed together and upside down. This same child loved sorting her Froot Loops by color at eighteen months old. At age three, she was doing tangrams—a third-grade skill. As a preschooler she told me, “Mom! Two plus three is the same as five minus three,” demonstrating her self-discovery of fact families.

Nope. My children are not typical.

So, do you have a gifted kid? Here are some signs:

  • Has a precocious sense of humor
  • Develops faster than average (walking, talking, etc.)
  • Catches on quickly to concepts
  • Is into collections
  • Is a perfectionist
  • May attempt to do math work in his head
  • Has an advanced vocabulary and uses it naturally
  • Is extremely sensitive; cries easily and is frustrated that she does so

How do you homeschool such children? After eighteen years so far on this journey, I have amassed some helpful resources and tips:

  • Gifted Children at Home: A Practical Guide for Homeschooling Families by Janice Baker, Kathleen Julicher, and Maggie Hogan was an incredible help to me. Just one of the many important tips I got from this book was to skip entire subjects that the gifted child already somehow “knows.” For our son, this was spelling. That one decision alone saved us much time that we were then able to devote to what home schoolers know as “delight-directed learning”—pursuing to a greater degree those subjects about which our son was passionate, like learning computer languages. (Is it any surprise that he will soon graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a master’s degree in computer engineering?)
  • An excellent online resource is Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page (www.hoagiesgifted.org).
  • I highly recommend Inge Cannon’s MP3 seminar series, “Gifted and Talented Children.”
  • Cafi Cohen’s Homeschoolers’ College Admissions Handbook: Preparing Your 12- to 18-Year-Old for a Smooth Transition is excellent.
  • One of the best perks of homeschooling a gifted kid is that he will “get” everything you teach him. You will seldom, if ever, be frustrated that you cannot get him to understand something. Homeschooling an academically gifted kid is easy!
  • When planning high school coursework before the ninth grade year, research the entrance requirements of colleges in which your child is interested. For instance, our son knew he wanted to major in some type of engineering, so I checked online and planned his coursework accordingly, making sure he had enough math and science credits to get into engineering programs at universities that he might want to attend. Likewise, I researched what classes are necessary to get our daughter into vet school. With the extra time home schooling affords, as a sophomore in high school now, she is on her way to earning the 1,000+ volunteer hours she will need by then.
  • Your gifted child deserves recognition for his talents just like student athletes do. A great resource is the Duke University Talent Search (www.tip.duke.edu/node/264). When he is in sixth grade, have your child take the Stanford Achievement Test or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. His scores will qualify him to take the college-entrance SAT as a seventh grader, and his scores on the SAT will qualify him for state and national medals and recognition at formal ceremonies. We traveled to Duke University for a national medal for our son. There he attended workshops with other teens who had also won the national award. He was so excited that he finally fit in!
  • Make certain he takes the PSAT in his junior year of high school. This test is tied to the National Merit Scholarship Program (www.nationalmerit.org/nmsp.php) and will be your best chance at scholarship money. The PSAT counts for this competition only if it is taken in the junior year. It can really pay off. Our son received a $100,000+ scholarship to the University of Oklahoma.

Curriculum Suggestions

You cannot use a typical, complete curriculum with a gifted child, because his skills are going to be all over the map! He needs challenge in each subject—and that means different grade levels and different curriculum publishers for each subject, maybe even textbooks that are far above his age level. Our son asked for a trigonometry textbook when he was in elementary school. Our daughter’s favorite bedtime storybook at age five was a college-level biology textbook.

Want to kill your child’s enjoyment of school? Have him do busywork, rote work, work that is below his capability, just because it is not easy to figure out how to challenge him. You do not want to do that, of course, so here are some other specific things I found concerning curricula:

  • Saxon Math, a spiral method, moves too slowly for bright math students. These students are often “global thinkers” who learn entire concepts at once rather than in small steps. We found that A Beka, a mastery method, was a perfect fit for our son. Also, our son never spent time mastering his math facts. He moved so fast in math that he just learned his math facts by using them. Otherwise, we would have had to slow him down for him to take the time to learn them.
  • Skip the manipulatives—fun toys; waste of money for gifted learning.
  • Like they do in math, gifted kids often need a “big picture” view of history that encourages higher-level thinking skills. We love Bob Jones history texts. The questions asked require thinking about how and why certain historic events affected others, rather thanmemorizing a bunch of dates.
  • Apologia Science allows gifted students to teach themselves, without parental help. I certainly do not know biology or chemistry, and honestly, I do not care to know them.
  • Teach grammar once. I did not teach it until seventh grade, when I got it out of the way, and never came back for another visit.
  • We did a similar thing with history—a “concentric circle” method, so we did not repeat topics. Starting in elementary school, we did our city’s history for a year, then Texas history for a year, then American history for two years, and finally, world history for three years. Even gifted kids often do not like history, so this was a fairly painless method and yet did not give our kids a chance to bemoan, “But I already know this stuff.”

Early Graduation and College Entry

Many home school parents of highly gifted kids graduate them in their early teens so they can get on to college. This was an option for us, but in hindsight I am thankful we did not pursue it with our son (and will not with our daughter). I treasure the extra time I had with our son, which was over too soon anyway!

Is there also a spiritual difference to homeschooling gifted children? You bet! They are often extremely perceptive about spiritual matters and may want to listen to the sermon while their fifth-grade age mates are having a ball in a Sunday school class your child finds dull. However, as I told my son at his home school graduation, God will not ask you what your IQ was but instead, “What did you do for Me with the intellect I gave you?”