by Maggie Hogan and Tyler Hogan
“I asked Mom if I was a gifted child. She said they certainly wouldn’t have PAID for me.” – Calvin (Calvin & Hobbes)
If you are parenting a gifted child, there are three things you need to know right now, so listen up!
1. They think differently. Period. And they will be misunderstood. (And you will be misunderstood.)
2. They are gifts from God, given to you, for a reason.
3. Stock up on dark chocolate and/or coffee. Trust us.
Living with intellectually gifted children can sometimes feel as if alien creatures are sucking the very life out of you. They need more, more, and more discussions, challenges, limits, opportunities, and most importantly, you. They are brain-draining black holes—bottomless pits needing input, input, input. They are quirky, baffling, contradictory, amazing, brilliant, and hilarious creatures that God drops into our families to bless us in unimaginable ways. Whew!
Perhaps you have a 10-year-old who is doing college-level algebra and grasps complex scientific equations, but who can barely write a sentence and couldn’t care less about history. Or a 12-year-old who spends her time in her own world, drawing and writing about the stories she sees so vividly. Try planning their curriculum! Truly, intellectual giftedness comes with its own set of challenges.
By the way, intellectual giftedness is just one type of giftedness. A person might be gifted socially, musically, artistically, athletically, and otherwise, but all types of giftedness have some shared characteristics. This partial list of attributes commonly found in gifted children is a useful starting place. Few gifted children will exhibit all of these, and some characteristics may be masked by learning disabilities.
- Highly imaginative
- Highly developed sense of humor (or sometimes none at all!)
- Highly developed abstract reasoning skills
- Performs tasks earlier and better than peers
- Extreme focus on one or two interests
- Sees patterns—both concrete and abstract
- Precocious use of language (if verbally gifted)
- Prefers to do math work in head (if mathematically gifted)
- Persistent, intense
- Extremely creative in his approach to tasks
- Wants to know what makes things or people tick
- Concerned with right and wrong, good and bad
While there are many benefits of homeschooling, here are a few that are particularly advantageous to families with gifted kids:
- They usually prefer to work at their own pace. Don’t feel the need to stick to the schedule. Gifted students typically get bored or frustrated with repetition. Once they understand a concept, they need to move on. I (Tyler) once found a logic course that was so enthralling that I devoured the entire yearlong course in two weeks—and retained it. (By the same token, it took me a whole extra year to get through algebra, but by the end I knew what I was doing.)
- You can tailor their instruction to fit their learning styles. Individualized lesson plans that take into account the student’s learning modality have the most impact. Do they need visual, auditory, or kinesthetic input? Do they process the information by drawing it, teaching it back to you, or using hand motions? You know your children better than anyone, and with a little effort, you can help them get the most out of their schooling.
- They are free to pursue learning outside of “class.” Gifted kids often have talents and hobbies that don’t fit the curriculum but are just begging to be developed. Give them time to pursue their extracurricular interests through independent study, apprenticeships, and entrepreneurial activities. You never know where these things will lead. Even though I (Maggie) never thought that Tyler’s huge involvement with mime ministry and performance would be anything more than a hobby, he ended up getting a full ride at his first-pick university because of it!
- You set the tone of your home, and you can make it an exciting and joyous place. You can encourage creativity while eliminating distractions. (“No television or Internet until after you’ve done XYZ.”)
- Your kids can discover their passions and abilities. Sadly, we often hear young people say they don’t really know what their gifts are. As parents, part of our job is to help our kids identify and develop their abilities. Encourage them to be who God made them to be, and then celebrate with them when they achieve their goals.
Lest you think gifted children must be a breeze to educate, there are potential minefields. First, just because a child is gifted doesn’t mean he or she has no learning problems. Twice-exceptional (or 2E) children is a term for those who are intellectually gifted and have special needs such as ADHD, learning disabilities, Asperger’s syndrome, etc. Sometimes gifted children with special needs can appear to be lazy, oppositional, or unmotivated. Learning issues can mask giftedness, and gifted children can also mask their learning problems because they learn to compensate for them. Here is a great site for many links to articles and resources related to this topic: www.uniquelygifted.org .
Second, there are other characteristics common to gifted children in general that can make homeschooling more difficult. Does anything on this list look familiar?
- Perfectionist, opinionated
- Easily frustrated, bored, offended Has super-sensitivity or heightened senses (for example, requires the tags in shirts to be cut off, overly sensitive to light or sound, etc.)
- Intensely emotional
- High energy levels, may require little sleep
- Stubbornness (the extreme side of persistence!)
- Unable to finish projects, organizationally challenged
- Impatient with details
Tips for Success
- Take their needs, abilities, learning styles, and desires into account. Provide enough structure to support them but not too much to stifle them. This is not easy to balance because so much depends on the child’s personality.
- Have a vision and goal(s) in mind and in writing.
- Be the parent. It is tempting to treat your gifted youngsters as buddies, because at times they can sound or act so mature. They are not your buddies; they are your offspring. Be the loving, wise adult they need for guidance and growth.
- Realize you cannot possibly teach them everything they need to know. Your job is to teach them how to learn so they can find out what they need to know. Igniting a love for learning is the single best homeschool tip we can give you.
- Oh, and pray. And did we mention chocolate?
- Be patient, gracious, flexible, humble, merciful, kind.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to say “I don’t know—but let’s find out!”
- Model the behavior you wish to see.
- Get rest and exercise, and help them do the same. No one functions well when he is tired and in poor shape.
- Eat right. (This includes dark chocolate and coffee . . . in moderation!)
- • Lastly, pray some more.
The challenges inherent in raising gifted children can be daunting, but take heart. Homeschooling is the optimal environment for gifted learners. You don’t have a problem on your hands; instead, you have an incredible opportunity! We promise, it is absolutely worth the effort, planning, and creativity necessary on your part to meet their educational needs. By providing individual attention and hand-tailored courses of study, you are preparing your children for adulthood in a way no one else in the world can. Remember, God blessed you with these particular children. He knows what He is doing, even when we don’t.
Secular Websites and Resources
• www.hoagiesgifted.org This is the mother of all “gifted student” sites on the Web. It is a homeschool-friendly, deep vault filled with goodies just waiting to be discovered.
• www.us.mensa.org “With the help of our Testing & Admissions Department, your daughter or son may quickly become a member by qualifying in one of two ways: taking the Mensa Admission Test or submitting evidence of prior testing.” But you do not need to be a member in order to take advantage of the great resources available on their website, even for young children, here: www.mensaforkids.org.
• www.gifteddevelopment.org “The Gifted Development Center (GDC), a service of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development, has served as a resource center for developmentally advanced children and their parents, and for gifted individuals of all ages.”
• tip.duke.edu “The Duke University Talent Identification Program (Duke TIP) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving academically gifted and talented youth.”
• Gifted Children at Home: A Practical Guide for Homeschooling Families Feeling frustrated trying to meet your child’s educational needs? This book will encourage you and provide a firm foundation for making important educational decisions.
Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the Annual Print 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.
About Tyler Hogan and Maggie Hogan
Tyler Hogan is the president of Bright Ideas Press. He and his wife, Helen, are both homeschool graduates and now homeschool their five adorable children. Tyler is the author of North Star Geography and Demystifying Learning Styles, head cartographer of WonderMaps, and game designer of Civitas. He speaks and teaches about homeschooling, geography, the arts, worldview, entrepreneurship, and other topics. He also serves as Christian Education Coordinator at Grace Church. In his spare time, he loves reading good books, playing games with friends, drinking good tea, and enjoying the adventure of lifelong learning. He has a BA in theatre ministries from Belhaven University.
Maggie Hogan and her husband, Bob, founded Bright Ideas Press, dedicated to providing the best practical, affordable homeschooling materials. Award-winning products include The Mystery of History series, Christian Kids Explore series, and All American History series. Maggie is co-author of A Young Scholar’s Guide to Composers and more. Find her on Facebook, Twitter under @MaggieSHogan, and blogging at www.BrightIdeasPress.com.