Homeschooling Gifted Children
During the last 20 years, increasing numbers of families in the United States have chosen to educate their children at home or outside the conventional school environment. Current estimates range from 500,000 to 1.2 million students (Lines, 1991, 1995; Ray, 1996). Of that number, a significant percentage of families have chosen homeschooling as the educational option for their gifted children.
Challenges and Opportunities
When families consider homeschooling, there are many issues to explore.
Time commitment. Homeschooling requires an enormous time commitment by at least one parent. However, many parents of highly gifted children are already actively committed to their children's education. Parents find themselves trying to squeeze in extra hours for music, dance, and art. Frequently, their evenings are spent enriching the classroom curriculum so their children will continue to be academically challenged. These parents claim that homeschooling is a way to tailor their children's education to specific needs and interests at the appropriate academic challenge level, and to create an integrated educational environment that includes a wide range of activities.
Talk together as a family to decide if this is the appropriate choice for you. As with any educational option, homeschooling works better for some students and parents than for others. Some find the demands and intensity of homeschooling to be too stressful; others love the freedom and challenge.
Resources and financial considerations. Homeschooling parents use many resources and materials. These can become expensive, but there are ways to defray some of the costs. Homeschooling parents can borrow from each other, share resources, and make use of common items in the house and natural environments for curriculum material. The public library is a rich resource for books and videos. Many libraries offer interlibrary loans and vacation-loan extensions to the public. The Internet offers a wealth of highly sophisticated information, especially in the academic subject areas. A computer in the house is an advantage, but there are other ways to gain access to the Internet; for example, some public libraries and schools offer access. When considering homeschooling, explore resources and materials in advance. At all levels, verify the type of support schools will provide. If they have a gifted program, they may provide curriculum suggestions and guidelines. Contact others who are homeschooling through your state's homeschooling network.
Academic considerations. Homeschooling can offer increased flexibility and academic challenge. Flexibility is particularly important since many gifted students are uneven in their abilities. For example, a child may be several years ahead in math, but struggling with reading or writing.
Some children excel in all areas and require academic challenges to remain motivated in school. Many of these students sit idly, waiting for the class to catch up (U.S. Department of Education, 1994b). A rigorous, academically challenging curriculum offers the opportunity to insert depth and breadth. For example, the use of primary or original sources and advanced reading material may lead the gifted learner into critical thinking about an academic subject area or an interdisciplinary approach to subject matter. Projects, hands-on learning, and problem-based learning may provide interesting approaches to academic content.
Gifted homeschoolers enjoy opportunities to develop in multifaceted ways and pursue interests without time and curriculum constraints. Individual learning, tutorials, and small group classes are some of the options.
Social considerations. Many people have expressed concern about the social life and potential isolation of homeschooled children. Studies of social adjustment and self-esteem indicate that home-educated students are likely to be socially and psychologically healthy (Montgomery, 1989; Shyers, 1992; Taylor, 1986). Homeschooled students tend to have a broader age-range of friends than their schooled peers, which may encourage maturity and leadership skills (Montgomery, 1989). Homeschoolers are not necessarily isolated from others of their age; they meet and socialize with peers in their neighborhood and at community classes and activities.
With concerted effort by families, most homeschoolers can find avenues for social and intellectual interaction. When a student is interested in a topic, efforts can be made to ensure that the student talks with people of various backgrounds and viewpoints. A mentor working individually with the student may add stimulation and challenge. Professional societies and community organizations are a good place to start looking for people interested in sciences such as astronomy, visual and performing arts, and music. Libraries, museums, parks departments, historical sites, scout and sport programs, local businesses, religious groups, and theater groups expand homeschooling programs. Some homeschool groups have formed their own sports teams, and participate in community leagues. Homeschoolers benefit from volunteering in agencies such as hospitals, nature centers, museums, parks, libraries, and businesses. Legal considerations. Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, Canada, and many other countries. Some states require that parents notify the local school district of their intent to homeschool; others require parents to register with the state department of education. Some permit a homeschool to register as a private school. Many states require yearly proof of student progress. Some states have additional requirements, such as the submission of a curriculum plan or education requirements for parents. Except for yearly standardized testing as an assessment of student achievement, services for homeschoolers have not been routinely available from the states. A few states permit homeschooled students to participate in public school classes or activities. Many state education agencies have a homeschooling liaison to help families understand state requirements. Federally mandated special education services may be available to homeschooled students through the public schools.
Since states vary in their specific requirements, obtain a copy of your state's homeschool law from your state department of education or your state legislator's office. Local homeschool support groups are good sources of information on complying with the local laws and regulations.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.