Gifted Parent Think Tank

Questions from a mom of a seven year old girl…

Mary  (7 years old, chronologically 2nd grade this year) has always been homeschooled. We've never been super academically focused, more so following her interests and strewing knowledge and resources along the way, and she just keeps learning and staying "on grade level" from what I can tell (or above) so we just keep chugging along without much effort. I had a few month stretch of implementing a more formal math curriculum, but that absolutely killed her confidence and became a huge power struggle (even though she was doing just fine), so we dropped it and I've been trying to just practice a little every day with a white board, or board games, or whatever. Anyway, I'm having one of those semi-annual homeschooling crises where I panic that I'm not doing enough; she's not doing enough; I'm doing her and her potential a disservice by not *doing* more. What would she be capable of if I pushed more? Do you have any recommendations (even just a book to placate me) for a direction to head? Do more so she'll be okay, don't do more and she’ll be just fine...? More...what? Academic-ish curriculum? I know you don't know what she does all week long (definitely not traditional curriculum), but maybe it's even impossible to advise... We touch on an earth/space science curriculum loosely once a week or so, and she's part of the local nature center's Jr. Naturalist program (a few independent projects and group classes every season), but otherwise she's free to read, craft, or play with toys during the days we're home (which are feeling pretty few and far between lately, ha!). I have no idea if brick and mortar school is in her future, but if it is I'm worried I'm missing this key time to prepare her for that. Or maybe if she chooses to go she'd acclimate fine to an actual academic workload and I'm worried for nothing?In your opinion, what do you recommend for kids her age? It probably varies, huh? Maybe some kids like workbooks and mimicking school at home? And maybe others (mine) just don't learn best that way? Or maybe I haven't implemented it with the right attitude, or that math curriculum wasn't a fit, or...I don't know...? I'm pretty much answering my own vague questions after  constructing this stream of conscious email, but I figure it doesn't hurt to still send it and see your opinion on things.

Answer from a mom of an 11 year old boy

First of all, I'd say take a breath and not worry so much. (Easier said than done, I realize.) Remember, kids in Finland aren't even taught to read until age 7 because it's not considered developmentally appropriate, and they're kicking our butts currently on the international tests.

I'd also be wary of the word "potential." I think parents of gifted kids fall into this trap of potential too easily, thinking that because a kid might be gifted in one or more areas, that there's a burden to push them harder, to MAKE something of that potential. We've always taken the stance with John that where he is gifted, we provide extra support/tutors/resources to go as fast as he wants, but at the same time we're focusing most of our efforts on building work ethic, determination, self-confidence, empathy for others, self-control. 

Our homeschooling philosophy has always left us a bit on an island. We've never been part of the gifted "competitive" train, of which there are many parents, worried about early ACT tests or academic competitions and the like. And we're too type-A to be un-schoolers. (Also, John does better with a regular schedule and expectations.) So we make our own way most of the time. This works for us, but it makes it challenging for me to offer a condensed set of guidelines for anyone else.

So here are my thoughts. Feel free to take or leave them as you will:

1) Mary seems to be in that transition age from moving from play-based learning to something more formal. It's a great time for you to take the next 3-6 months to build a plan for how you want her structured learning to look. I've always veered away from it looking too much like a school (that's why we're homeschooling, right?) but whatever plan you feel confident executing is the best one to follow. We homeschool year-round, with one-two week breaks built in throughout the year, because summer learning loss is a real issue, and John does better not taking long breaks.

2) I love the Big History Project website, which is designed at a high-school/college level, but John follows it easily, and there are tons of resources you could scale down to wherever Mary's currently working. It uses a broad-based science/history combination that starts with the big bang and moves forward in time. The structure is built in for you, so it makes it easy to follow. Plus the timeline approach shows how everything interrelates, which I think makes a lot more sense than the jumping around in time I'm used to from being in school.

3) I'm not a math geek, so that subject has always been a source of insecurity for me. My agreement with John is that he can read any math book at any level (he loves high-level math that's way beyond me) but he also has to work through the basics. I've used a combo of Khan Academy/Singapore Math/Jo Boaler's philosophies to hodgepodge something together. It's working pretty well, but as we edge closer to full algebra and beyond, I'll be hiring a math tutor to take over. I'm just too rusty on a lot of it to proceed with confidence. If Mary is resisting anything formal, you might read Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together-And Enjoy It - Denise Gaskins. She's a homeschooling parent, as I recall, and really deft with math games/problem-solving.

4) John's always been a very advanced reader, so I can't offer any suggestions on how to tackle reading (if Mary is still learning) and he also has a learning disability in written expression, so I don't have a strong sense of what's "age appropriate" in that area either. 

5) These are my favorite written books on the learning process in general. I'll attach a list dealing with a broader array of topics at the end of this email. Make It Stick: The Sciene of Successful Learning - Peter C. Brown; How We Learn - The Surprising Truth About How We Learn and Why It Happens - Benedict Carey; Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom - Daniel T. Willingham

6) You mentioned Mary struggling when you introduced a more formal math curriculum. I understand your concern for her self-confidence, but there's a good chance she'll balk initially at any formal structures you put in place. (It's a lot more fun for kids to do whatever they want, right?) It's okay to listen to her concerns and make adjustments, but I'd suggest (this is just my opinion) that whenever you resume something more formal, be prepared to stick with it. Life with John is so much easier because of our consistency. He knows we will help him if he needs it, but he also knows that if we commit to a process, he's going to have to see it through. As a balance for her, you might look into project-based learning, which we also mix in to our curriculum. If you can offset some formal demands with time spent on a project of her choosing, it might fill her need for some control of the process.

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to respond with questions/concerns/etc. I just picked a few general starting points and threw them on here. Homeschooling truly is a journey, and some months (or years) will feel more successful than others, but it really is the process that works best for our family.

Response from mom #1

You read my mind on so many points. The whole "giftedness" idea is (relatively) new to us, which I feel simultaneously foolish for not realizing earlier, and also still a bit of imposter syndrome on behalf of my daughter that surely all kids are this way in one way or another. But I still found myself swept up in subscribing to every "gifted" email list and Facebook group and oh boy, all those "early ACT" types were starting to freak me out! I'm definitely taking deep breaths and realizing we likely are at the beginning of some kind of a transition where her learning begins to turn more formal. What that'll look like for her? I'm still not sure, and I should definitely take some time to explore what I think it could mean.

I've had the history website bookmarked for some time and just never seem to find time in our weeks to fit it in. Maybe most of my problems right now are actually scheduling issues! I'm definitely going to grab that math book suggestion. The failed math curriculum happened through spring and summer and by the end she was lacking confidence and acting utterly defeated when it came time to work on anything. I don't really know what went wrong, but I knew that continuing to force it wasn't going to help. We went total play-based for a while with math storybooks and board games and then she also started playing Prodigy (an online math game...think Khan Academy but the math problems are only presented when your character battles monsters and correct answers defeats the monsters). She was REALLY into that for a while, but it's lost its novelty now. I'm still trying to come up with ways on how to be creative with math so that she can advance without it being redundant and boring. Thankfully reading is definitely a strong skill for her! No concerns there, other than her (physical) writing ability is pretty on target for her age, so there's an ability gap frustration when it comes to writing (or rather when it comes to not writing, haha).That is an amazing book list I'm going to go through, thank you! Truly, thank you for your response. It's great to know that there are others balancing somewhere in between "super academic focused" and"totally unschool-y" and doing just fine.

From Mom #2

Here's the book list. I have read all of these, but I tend to pick and choose from what I like best. So don't consider this an endorsement of every philosophy/statement - it's just a set of resources.

This first batch is generally about learning and not homeschool specific. #1 & 2 were really helpful for me in questioning some assumed practices based on how I learned/studied as a kid.

Make It Stick: The Sciene of Successful Learning - Peter C. Brown

How We Learn - The Surprising Truth About How We Learn and Why It Happens - Benedict Carey

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children - Po Bronson

Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less - Roberta Michnick Golinkoff

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed - Jessica Lahey

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character - Paul Tough

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload - Daniel J. Levitin

This next group focuses more on education systems generally:

Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What it Means for the Classroom - Daniel T. Willingham

When Can You Trust the Experts?: How to Tell Good Science From Bad in Education - Daniel T. Willingham

The One World School House: Education Reimagined - Salman Khan

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way - Amanda Ripley

The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed With Standardized Testing But You Don’t Have to Be - Anya Kamenetz

Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere - Will Richardson

The Death and Life of the Great American School System - Diane Ravitch

Who Owns the Learning?: Preparing Students For Success in the Digital Age - Alan November

This third group is about homeschooling more specifically and learning through play:

Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students For Life - Peter Gray

Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education - Clark Aldrich

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners - Lori McWilliam Pickert

Reinventing Projects-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age - Suzie Boss

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul - Stuart Brown M.D.

The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally - David Elkind


What’s Math Got to Do With it?: How Parent and Teachers Can Help Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject - Jo Boaler

Mathematical Mindsets - Jo Boaler

A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science - Barbara Oakley

Learning to Love Math: Teaching Strategies That Change Student Attitudes and Get Results - Judy Willis

Let’s Play Math: How Families Can Learn Math Together-And Enjoy It - Denise Gaskins

Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction - Marian Small

A Mathematician’s Lament: How School Cheats Us Out of Our Most Fascinating and Imaginative Art Form - Paul Lockhart

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure - Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3 - Jessica F. Shumway

And I'll call this batch hodgepodge, because that's what it is.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder - Richard Louv

The Trouble With Boys: A Surprising Report Card On Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do - Peg Tyre

Untangling the Web: 20 Tools to Power Up Your Teaching - Stephen E. Dembo

Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World - Tony Wagner

Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding - Jay McTighe

Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom - Sylvia Libow Martinez

The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous and Smart About Money - Ron Lieber

The Center supports gifted and profoundly gifted students in many ways, including as a summer program, an adjunct to families who home school, as an after school resource for students, or as a summer program.
Montessori informed service delivery under the direction of experienced staff, with respect for self-determination and discussion.
Highly customized social emotional support in an intellectually stimulating environment with flexible 90 minute sessions from 12:45 pm to 6:00 pm, M– F
Providing nurturing and thoughtful staff, student, parent and community relationships