A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Sunday, September 22, 2013

If School Isn't Doing It, Who Can?

The question often arises, from within groups or from individuals, about students who need additional "gifted" support at school, and how to help them if their school or district won't - or aren't able to - do it. For some it comes down to their child not scoring well on a standardized test, so they don't qualify for programming that does exist. For some, it's a school or district that doesn't offer gifted services. For others (as in our case), the services that are offered are not sufficient for the needs of the child. In any case, you end up feeling very alone as you try to figure out how to help this child rise up to his or her intellectual potential.

I recently had a conversation with a friend which started like this, 
"I believe my friend's 12 year old son may be gifted but is slipping through the cracks. Apparently he is science wiz but is suffering in all other classes. They tested him at school for [the gifted program] and he did not score high enough. I was explaining to her that it sounds to me like he's bored. What's the next step in a situation like this? I've never met the kid but the idea that he may not achieve his full potential because a standardized test meant for his entire school didn't keep his attention keeps me up at night."

My question to my friend in response to this was the topic of this post - "If school isn't doing it, who can?" Many parents aren't able to make the same choice we've made to homeschool, but certainly every parent can enlist the help of others who have interests similar to their child's, to help engage them in the topic on a level they won't get at school. If the child loves science, find a scientist who would mentor the child. If music is her passion, find an adult who also loves music and would be willing to hang out every so often to talk about composers or create music together. If history, who is it who loves history so much they can't help but turn every conversation into a story - and lesson - from the past?

If you don't know any of these people, check again at the school. Teachers and principals know other adults who love their subjects and would love to have a conversation on a completely different level with a student than what they have in their normal course of the classroom day. Churches, synagogues, or other places of worship also are a great source for finding mentoring relationships because they involve so many people with so many interests. If your child is beyond talking elementary-level biology, find a college student or professor with whom she can discuss a level deeper than what she is getting in her 4th grade biology class.

I can't tell you the difference these types of mentorships have made for my son. They've never been formalized, but he has really loved meeting people who know about the same things he knows about - and they want to talk about them! The soccer coach who was a biology major in college, with whom teenlet (then 2nd grade) could discuss photosynthesis while they kicked the ball around; the rock hound at church who would bring the teenlet rocks he found and they would talk about their characteristics together; the biology professor who welcomed us into her college classroom even though teenlet was then only 11; the pyrotechnics expert who showed the teenlet all about fireworks and blowing things up (safely). These have been formative relationships for the teenlet - even though none of them was an official "mentorship," they allowed the teenlet to discover something new about himself and about a field of study in which he was passionately interested.

Those relationships - each in their own way - helped keep him going when he was still in school and not getting the intellectual stimulation he needed otherwise. I am eternally grateful for those people who shared their interests with him and allowed him to be part of it. And I continue to look for those people to inject into my son's life to enrich his learning and his personal growth.

Celebrating Gifted Education Awareness Week in Ireland, 2013

Friday, September 6, 2013

Our First Day of School

The way we homeschool, the First Day of School really doesn't mean anything. It's some arbitrary day, set amongst many other similar days, in which you feel with some confidence that we have moved beyond that to this. It's not even grade-level marked, because grade-level means nothing in homeschooling. But it does mark a freshness, a newness that kids all over the world recognize. Except we don't go school shopping and don't have to take insane amounts of school supplies to drop off with the teacher. Instead, we buy books and online course registrations.

I think I've said before that we don't really take summers off, because the teenlet needs to continue learning. Boredom, according to professionals who have worked with him, is his greatest enemy. But this year, the teenlet wasn't completely on board with not getting a summer break. After all, his friends were available more frequently, and he wanted to be available when they were. This is a teenage characteristic, a sign of growth and maturation - the increasing importance of friends over family - and I want to support that maturation, even though they only play video games and that drives me crazy, especially on a nice summer day. It's the common bond they have; I don't want to break it.

So we made a deal - as he finished an online course, we would not start a new one to replace it, with the exception of the Coursera course he wanted to take that went through June and July. This was an experiment for us - this gradual lessening of coursework. And he never really got to zero.

Our experiment was a success. Granted, we had a rather amazing summer, with lots of visitors (international, and more local), with camps, and our family vacation to Alaska. So we didn't have very many days when something unique wasn't happening. He did not have a lot of opportunities for boredom.

And that made for an almost-real "first day of school" this week. I say almost, because he hasn't exactly finished Trigonometry - he still needs to take the final. And he started a new course through Coursera last week, and another new one this week. He will start Calculus later this month, and physics will start in October. Writing will come, too, when I figure out how I want to approach it. So I guess we're on a rolling start.

When most people ask what grade he's in, I say, "Chronologically, he's in 8th grade." Most people don't pursue it further, and that's fine with me. I don't really know how to explain why he's so far advanced in his courses without seeing "that look" in their eyes - that look that says they think I'm either making it up or completely delusional about his ability. So we just stick with 8th grade.

So, I guess you can say that we have moved beyond 7th grade, and entered into 8th. But that isn't really descriptive of anything in his case, except a number that only relates to how long he has spent on this earth and nothing about his experience or what he has learned.