College at 14? What To Do When Your Gifted Highschooler Needs More
- Malia Russell
- 2018 10 Oct
The beauty of homeschooling is that we, as educators, can create an educational program that directly correlates to the strengths and weaknesses of our own children. When one excels, we can certainly give them more advanced materials, allow them to work at a faster pace, or indeed skip unnecessary work. When a child struggles, we can devote extra effort and time, switch curriculums to find the best one, and call in additional help as required. Having this form of educational structure can, and does, create students who are eager to learn, students who exceed normal expectations, and push students forward academically.
Even so, while we recognize that an enriched, private tutoring environment can produce superior results, some children are born with a natural tendency to be gifted in certain areas.
A gifted person is defined as: Students, children, or youth who give evidence of high achievement capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who need services and activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop those capabilities.
One of our students began to display, at a very young age, a remarkable ability to memorize information, to synthesize that information into logical conclusions, and to pick up information and abilities seemingly spontaneously. Teaching the basics of reading through second grade mastery took less than two weeks—at the age of four. Spelling concepts developed with no formal instruction. Math mastery was also shockingly accelerated. We decided to let her move forward naturally, but also began to heavily supplement her curriculum with things like extensive memory work, music instruction, and to work on some of her corresponding weaknesses. Around age thirteen, when I realized she was coming quickly to the end of what we would formally cover through high school, I started thinking ahead.
Would college be appropriate at age fourteen? What would that look like? What would be the end goal? Was she ready academically? Socially? Spiritually? How would she handle the social pressure to perform in a classroom?
Many schools offer online classes. This may be a great first start. These types of classes give you the ability to work with your student on things like time management, learning about meeting outside teachers’ requirements, and respect for outside educators. Home educated students often struggle with these life skills because, at home, we may have catered so much of their education to their own needs, that they have not yet been forced to work at the pace of a professor managing a class of sometimes hundreds.
Another option is taking one or two dual credit classes offered on campus. For us, this was the second step into higher education. The thing to know about these classes is that they are not specifically written for younger students. This will be a class, primarily of traditional college age students, with one or more high school students. Frequently, the professor is not even aware that the student is not college age. Doing a small number of classes can still prove to be very difficult for some students. Moving into the world of hard deadlines, group projects, classroom discussions covering topics you may not be ready to cover yet, dealing with the attitudes of other students, which may range from apathy to severely critical, and producing work that is exactly as the professor required, is a huge leap from learning at the kitchen table.
Full College Enrollment
Finally, full college enrollment at a young age is an option. This is the trickiest of all to navigate. A young student is socially not at the level of a college student. While I would say my daughter, who started college young, was "mature," meaning she did not act child-like in adult situations, she is not in the same life stage as the students on her campus. She is in classes with students who are married, who work full-time, and who live in dorms or even in their own homes, not with their parents.
Older students may talk about social situations that yours wouldn’t experience for many years, and may reject them socially when they realize your student’s young age. They will also be exposed to topics you have not covered. And they may be tempted with talk of parties and dances, alcohol and romance.
We are not in charge of our daughter’s time, her coursework, her assignments, and her ability to perform in the classroom. In fact, she was exposed to books, movies and topics we really did not approve. Enrolling in classes at the college level means that we expect the college to treat her like any other student, and we as parents are expected to be hands-off.
Depending on how young your student is, you may be driving to the college campus five days a week for classes and have to plan around group projects, required classroom outings, concerts, etc. Also, when your student wants to be part of a group or team (running club, music group), their age may very well make them ineligible.
Another thing to realize is that college students can be fickle. Changing majors is costly in terms of both tuition and time, so be sure that whatever education you are letting them pursue has good value to them, even if they change directions.
Our daughter began college classes at 14, auditing a j-term (college class completed at an accelerated pace), then began dual enrollment classes, first taking online classes, then taking classes on campus for 3-6 hours per semester. At age 16, she enrolled full-time. She is 17 now, and a college junior, even enrolling in a summer study abroad program, where she will be travelling independently for five weeks this summer. As a dual credit student, she has earned many college credits at a greatly reduced cost. Dual credit students frequently pay 1/4 or even less of the normal tuition fees. She has also had the opportunity for excellent instruction in music, and takes classes in Worldview, spiritual formation, and gets to have many intelligent faith-based discussions at the Christian college she attends. Her class sizes are small. Her professors care deeply about the students. This is a unique situation and has worked well for her and our family. But we eased into it after many hours of prayer and consideration, and I suggest any parent considering college for a young student do the same.
If you would like to know a little more about her specific path, here is an article from a couple of years ago.
The benefits to our family have outweighed the drawbacks mentioned above, but I do not want to ignore the drawbacks. These are not insurmountable difficulties. But they should be carefully considered and weighed, particularly if you have a very young student.
Malia Russell (The Organized Homeschooler) is an author, home educator of six children ages 5-27, a grandmother to two children, an author, conference speaker, and the director of www.homemaking911.com. Her primary ministry is encouraging and empowering mothers and home educators to seek God’s Word when facing challenges, and encouraging women in their Biblical roles as wives and mothers.
Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms. Read The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com, or download the free reader apps at www.TOSApps.com for mobile devices. Read the STORYof The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine and how it came to be.
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