Challenging Your Gifted Student
One of the definite advantages of homeschooling is that education can be custom tailored to the child. While there are many benefits to a school community, if your child is outside of the normal range of cognitive abilities for their age and grade, there are times when the curriculum, at any school, will not be as challenging as you might hope. One benefit of the university schedule, collaborative approach is that you, as the parent, still retain 60% of your child’s week, plenty of time to supplement the gifted child with additional opportunities for learning and enrichment.
Many parents are told by their public schools that they have high ability or gifted programs. However, if many of these programs are looked at more closely, the deficit of attention paid to gifted children in most schools is extremely short-sighted. These teachers do the best they can, but with 5-10 high demand students for one teacher, “gifted” work often consists of attempting various brain teasers, creative writing assignments, playing “advanced math” games on the computers, and projects such as building paper mache’ models of the solar system to scale. Projects like those are great, but in reality students spend most of the time dipping newspaper strips in paste and placing them on balloons. Ultimately, not much is learned from the experience except how to use the internet or maybe even books to look up the relative size of the planets. When it comes to the gifted or talented child, 5-day public or private schools simply can’t economically deliver the best environment for these children. The ideal situation for such students is the attention of a dedicated mother and father seeking to find the child outlets for expressing their talents.
There are definite social benefits, particularly for gifted and talented students, to being in a high quality school community like The Classical Academy. Academically intelligent children can sometimes, but not certainly always, have social intelligence deficits, and isolation from peers can exacerbate these tendencies. A downside, of course, to the shared social environment is that the shared academic environment is not likely to always be challenging to your child. However, the university schedule arrangement can harmonize these two objectives normally in tension- the social benefits of a school and the enrichment opportunities of home education.
The academic environment of ANY school is, by necessity, tailored for students in the middle of the ability distribution for that school, from the 25th to 75th percentile. One of the benefits of a private school over public is that the middle of the pack is usually a lot higher than the public classroom, allowing all students to move at a faster pace. But, if your child is a true outlier, 95th percentile or above, even the most demanding private school is likely to present fewer challenges for them, especially at the primary grade level, where the focus is on building necessary skills more than demanding work output like term papers or science projects.
For work on home days, it may seem like your child is not “doing enough” when he or she finished in 2-3 hours. It may be helpful to remember that in 5-day schools, a school day is about 7 hours, and to be honest, at least 2 hours is not spent on academic-related activities. Of the remaining 5 hours, if half of the time is instructional time, then the half remaining is “work” time where the child is completing assignments. This comes to 2.5 hours. For many gifted and talented children, who often instantly “get” concepts in many subjects, the instructional time can be completely unnecessary to completion of the actual work. So it is not at all unreasonable, if your child understands concepts easily, to finish an entire day’s school work on the home day in 2-3 hours. This will vary, of course, depending on the need for instruction on a particular day.
In a traditional classroom, gifted students are often given “busy work” when they finish assignments early. This is understandable, as the teacher is trying to make the most of their time at school. However, if every school day sends the message that the reward for work is more work, we may miss the opportunity to teach a valuable moral and economic lesson: the reward for work is based on output, not time inputs. People who work hard earn leisure time. For example, some university-schedule students often work very hard, at their own initiative, to do the next days’ at-home work in the afternoon after they get out of school. This teaches them an important life lesson- if you are self-motivated and take initiative, you are rewarded with more time for play.
Some parents who feel that their children are not being adequately challenged by school curriculum may believe that skipping a grade is a way to improve the level of academic rigor. Yes, this will expose them to a more demanding environment, but often times, you exchange academics for difficulties in maturity and social situations. At The Classical Academy specifically, we have leveled math classes so that students can work at their pace regardless of age or grade, and yet still remain with same age peers for other instruction.
At The Classical Academy, we are parent-driven in our approach to education, and so grade skipping is not off the table, if a child’s co-teacher and teacher agree that it is in the child’s best interest, but parents should carefully consider the cost to benefit ratio (academically, socially, emotionally, etc).
Besides recognizing the value that incredible amounts of research have proven about free play, what other kinds of enrichment can be offered to gifted or talented students in the university schedule environment? The answer is almost anything! Below are a few ideas and resources. The key is to find something your child is passionate about and let them pursue that as deeply as they wish.
The opportunities in a university schedule format for enrichment are truly unlimited and unmatched by anything a 5-day environment could possibly offer, especially the change to experience a hobby, skill or passion together with your child. Unstructured time to pursue these extra activities is a unique feature of the collaborative approach.
-Board Member T.O. of Veritas Academy