Gifted Children and home education

Giftedness can mean many different things. Frequently it’s taken to mean someone with a high IQ, or someone extremely academically able. But it can also refer to a child with unusual musical or artistic talent, or indeed any other gift which is developed well beyond the range of normal children of similar age.Of course, we all have gifts. Everybody is good at something. But in the context of this article, I’m using the word ‘gifted’ to refer to unusually good skills in any field – something that puts a child or teenager beyond the vast majority of his or her peers in any way.

Classrooms and gifted children

Clearly there are advantages to any kind of giftedness, so long as children are encouraged to develop their gifts without being pushed, and so long as they do not develop an arrogance which sets them apart from others. Unfortunately, in most ordinary schools it is difficult for a gifted child to develop appropriately. A child who reads early, or who has a quick grasp of mathematical concepts may be given special ‘gifted teaching’ – but this can lead to feeling superior to others not selected for this privilege.

Schools in the UK tend to ‘stream’ students according to ability, so that those who are faster in particular subjects can work together at a more rapid rate than the rest of the class, and those who are struggling can also have extra help. This can lead to bullying, and ostracising of the brighter children, particularly the academically inclined ones who may be less adept at sports or art.

Unfortunately, mass schooling by nature is designed to lead to a conformity of learning, and towards all children reaching some sort of average, which will be frustrating (at best) to those who are particularly gifted. A child whose gift is in an artistic or musical subject is even less likely to be noticed in a large school, and more likely still to be pushed into the average pool, without the time or relaxation necessary to develop his or her gifts to the full.

Having said that, there are – of course – some excellent schools, usually the smaller ones, which do focus on developing the whole child and enabling him to fulfil his gifts. If you find one where your child is happy, it may give him an excellent start in life.

Home education for gifted children

On the whole, however, I would strongly recommend home education as the best way of encouraging gifted children to develop in the way that suits them best – which often bears little relation to the ‘average’ classroom approach.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never went to school. His father exploited him in ways we would now consider abusive, insisting that his son travel the world at a young age, playing concerts in the courts of world rulers at all hours of day and night. Perhaps his adult depression and early death were due to his restricted childhood and rigid parenting. Nevertheless, his musical gifts would have had little chance to flourish at all if he had been sent to a regular school and expected to learn subjects which were of little use to him.

Moreover, giftedness is partly genetic, and partly to do with the child’s early environment and upbringing. It’s not unusual for a gifted child to have gifted siblings, whichmeans that home education would benefit the whole family. If your toddlers seem to have above-average abilities, it might be a good idea to begin research into home-based learning at once rather than have them suffer years of boredom, being held back in the school system.

Enriching your child’s education

Whether or not a gifted child can be taught at home, there are many ways in which you can enrich your children’s education from an early age. Firstly, visit the library as often as you can and expose your children to as many books as possible. Read to them every day, long beyond the time when they are reading at adult levels themselves. See the page on reading aloud to children for more about this. You can introduce them to classics this way, and your own childhood favourites. Even the most enthusiastic reader usually enjoys having a bedtime chapter, and it’s a wonderful way of staying close right into the teenage years. Fictional story books can provide the starting ground for all sorts of conversations.

You can usually find non-fiction books as well, relating to topics your children are learning in school (if they go to school), and also to their own interests. Discuss issues with them, and try to help them find answers to their questions. Talk about other cultures and times in history, and encourage them to read newspapers or watch the TV news to be aware of current events.

Music can be a wonderful enrichment for all children, particularly the academically gifted: try visiting a big music store which allows children to handle instruments, and see what appeals. Highly gifted children often benefit from piano or keyboard lessons, but these can be expensive. However there may be local brass bands or orchestras that provide free tuition and low rental for instruments – or you might be able to buy a range of inexpensive recorders and develop a family ensemble with a basic teach-yourself book.

Encourage all gifts and interests

Try too to visit places of interest, art galleries, museums, and so on, and take advantage of educational TV programmes and computer games. There are many ways to enrich your child’s education. Encourage them to ask questions on whatever topic they like, and help them to learn how to discover answers. Children probably learn more from conversations with their parents than they do from any other means. Do avoid the temptation to produce more workbooks or worksheets – these are of limited value, and mainly used in the classroom so that the teacher can ensure that all the students have understood.

If your child has a special gift then he will feel driven to use it, so long as he grows up in an atmosphere of love and understanding. You do not need to treat a gifted child as somebody special,but do make sure that he he has the time he needs to spend using his gift.

Encourage him to participate in a wide range of activities, particularly those which will help him become more aware of other people, and other interests. He will need to take part in some activities where he does not excel, in order to understand others who do not share his gifts. Help him to be thankful for his gift, to see it as something God-given for which he has responsibility, but do not let him see himself as more important than other people.

Further reading on this site:

Further reading on other sites:

Hoagies’ Gifted Education page
AtoZ Homeschooling – Gifted children
About Homeschooling – The Gifted Child
Homeschooling Gifted Children – California

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