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Home Schooling Highly Gifted Children

  • Kathi Kearney Educator, Speaker, and Home-School Advocate
  • 2002 15 Feb
Home Schooling Highly Gifted Children
Karen was driving down the road on her way to the grocery store when her 12-year-old son, Jonathan, called out from the back seat, "Mom! What I really need to learn about this year is fluid mechanics." Karen winced. Fluid mechanics was definitely not part of any seventh grade curriculum. She had a feeling it was about to become part of Jonathan's though. Before the year was over, she her self would know more about fluid mechanics than she had ever dreamed she wanted to learn.

Karen and her husband are home schooling Jonathan and his two younger brothers. Jonathan is a mathematically gifted child whose other interests involve inventions, engineering, and boat building. (A 12-foot boat with a unique hull design rests unfinished in the family garage; Karen says this is one time she's going to insist on "task commitment" before the snow arrives!) Home schooling provides Jonathan with an opportunity to pursue his considerable engineering talent in a way that would be impossible for most students his age-even those in public school gifted education programs. Karen sometimes notes wryly, "Now I know how Thomas Edison's mother must have felt" But when this unusual "enrichment" of Jonathan's science curriculum seemed imminent, Karen and her husband were genuinely puzzled. How could they, as a home schooling family, provide instruction in something so specialized?

One of the charges often leveled against home schooling is that parents will not have expertise in all the academic subjects. Karen and her husband, like any good educators of gifted children, were well aware that they could not possibly have expertise in every area in which their children demonstrated an interest. However, they were determined to be excellent educational facilitators. In this case, Jonathan helped to solve part of the problem temporarily - he decided that he needed to know more mathematics in order to learn about fluid mechanics, and proceeded to accelerate his progress through pre-calculus mathematics. This bought some time for his parents to access resources at a local university.

Home schooling in the United States has shown steady growth over the past decade (Lines, 1991). We do not know precisely how much of this growth involves highly gifted children. Meadows, Abel, & Kames (1992), in their survey of the families of 40 home schooled children in rural Mississippi, found that 20% of these families listed "to meet the needs of a highly intelligent child" (p. 15) as their highest priority for choosing home schooling. In an unpublished study of 46 children in the 148 - 200+ IQ range, I found that 22% of the children were currently home schooling (Kearney, 1991). Surprisingly, almost half the group - 43% - had been home schooled at some point during grades kindergarten through 12.

Home schooling for highly gifted children is sometimes an option when nothing else works out. When the school cuts the gifted program, eliminates any ability grouping, refuses to allow acceleration, or is genuinely rigid in its stance, students suffer. However, just as often, home schooling allows the ideal educational program for a highly gifted child to unfold. It provides maximum flexibility in the spirit of the best traditions and the strongest research bases available in the field of gifted education. This includes the use of acceleration, intense and focused enrichment, flexible pacing, mentorships, internships, early college, and summer programs.

Home schooling is right for some highly gifted children and their families at some stages of individual and family development. It is not right for everyone. It takes commitment, time, and in two-parent families, a strong and supportive marriage. There will be discouraging days and boring days and grumpy days in the home school, as well as exhilarating ones. The rewards, however, are great: opportunities for a child like Jonathan to explore his talents unfettered by age-grade locksteps, opportunities for parents to spend much more time with their children than is common, and opportunities for professionals to observe the unfolding of extraordinary talent within the family crucible.

Kearney, K. (1991, November) What do highly gifted children and their families really need? Paper presented at the 38th annual convention of the National Association for Gifted Children, Kansas City, Missouri.

Lines, P. (1991). Home instruction: The size and growth of the movement. In J. Van Galen & M.A. Pitman (Eds.), Home schooling: Political. historical, and pedagogical perspectives (pp. 9 - 41). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Meadows, S., Abel, T., & Karnes, F. (1992). A study of homeschooling in rura1 Mississippi. Rural Educator, 13(3), 14.17.

Kathi Kearney is Founder of the Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted children in South Casoo, Maine, a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, and editor of Highly Gifted Children, the newsletter of The Hollingworth Center for Highly Gifted Children.