Duke TIP

Homeschooling Curriculum for the Gifted Child

September 1, 2006

The desire to provide optimal and appropriate educational challenges has prompted many parents to consider homeschooling their gifted children. Parents routinely supplement their children’s formal education. However, the choice to withdraw them from the traditional classroom for all or part of the school day is gaining popularity nationwide. Although little information specific to gifted children is available, the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) estimates that 1.1 million children were homeschooled in 2003, the most recent year for which data is available. Of that number, anecdotal evidence suggests that a growing percentage are gifted children.

The decision to homeschool a child entails a major commitment of time, energy, and resources and should not be made lightly or impulsively. While resources for general homeschooling abound, guidance for gifted children is sparse. The parents of such children must plan and research more diligently in tailoring a curriculum to match their children’s individual strengths and interests. Planning and implementing a homeschool curriculum for a gifted child can overwhelm even the most organized parent, and a careful, thoughtful approach that considers both short- and long-term educational goals is essential to success.

Before exploring curricula, parents need to examine their own attitudes towards education, schooling, and giftedness. The first step is to assess the following:

  • personal philosophy: education is far more than a course of study or an accumulation of knowledge; it’s a life-long approach to learning and interacting with the world. Parents need to understand their own ideas about education and schooling and to be able to articulate what they hope to gain for their children through homeschooling. If the motivations are all negative—frustration with a teacher, fear of losing control of a child’s environment, unhealthy competitiveness—parents might need to reexamine their reasons for homeschooling and take a more positive approach.
  • the child’s strengths, needs, interests, and learning styles: not all gifted children are gifted in all subject areas, and not all gifted children learn in the same way. If a child has attended public or private school, testing data pertaining to giftedness and achievement may be available and will be useful in planning a curriculum. The more information a parent can gather and evaluate objectively, the better; however, the major cues will come from the child. Careful observation can serve as a parent’s best guide.
  • short-and long-term educational goals: while the child’s strengths and interests are key, education should broaden, not limit, opportunities. Parents of high school students should solicit information on how colleges evaluate the applications of homeschooled students in the absence of class rank, GPA, and standardized test scores.
  • state law as it pertains to homeschooling: some states require homeschooled students to register and take end-of-course tests in many subject areas; others do not. Information should be available through your state government’s education Web sites.

The next stage is to evaluate and adapt curricula. Several options are available including: text book- or workbook-based courses, online study, and videotaped lectures and documentaries. Most are graduated, following some pattern of scope and sequence deemed appropriate for a given subject area. Listed below are several major areas to consider when selecting a curriculum.

  • quality and credibility of the information and the way it is presented. Parents should look for well-written, engaging, effectively illustrated, grammatically correct textual materials with verifiable information. Nationally approved curriculum information in most subject areas is available through professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Science.
  • rigor is difficult to measure objectively, but lack of rigor or challenge in school is one of the primary reasons parents cite for homeschooling their gifted children. Parents should look for materials that foster critical and divergent thinking at increasingly complex levels and that allow for both acceleration and depth in a given subject area.
  • approach, ideally, should be eclectic and complement a child’s individual learning style. Some of the most successful approaches, according to Karen Morse of Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, include a combination of:
    • classical education, which emphasizes the tools of learning;
    • lifestyle learning, which treats education as an integral part of any given community;
    • mastery learning, which is sequential and provides immediate feedback; and
    • integrated learning, which combines several subjects in project format or units of study.
  • adaptability allows parents to integrate a limitless variety of learning experiences into the basic thread provided by any given curriculum. Every subject matter lends itself to hands-on discovery and inductive learning, key tools in reinforcing textual matter.

Parents who homeschool their gifted children need to be flexible and innovative. Effective homeschooling, should be complex and incorporate the home as the hub of operations from which parents teach, guide, and foster education through a network of mentors; internships; private tutors; volunteer opportunities; field trips; homeschool and gifted education support groups; public library, museum, arts, and recreation programs; and even part-time enrollment in public schools (or private?) or dual enrollment programs at local community colleges, colleges, and universities.

Organizations for homeschooled children and for gifted children exist in most areas of the country, and most states have annual gifted conferences and homeschooling conferences. Internet sites, such as the National Home Education Network and A to Z Home’s Cool Homeschooling are also helpful, cross listing gifted education under special needs students.

The possibilities are limitless, and the curriculum and approach should allow for the individualized, flexible, and appropriately challenging experiences identified by Joyce Michel, author of “Desperately Seeking Research on Homeschooling the Gifted,” as essential elements of gifted education.

Sarah Boone

Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education. She has an MFA in creative writing, which she teaches at North Carolina State University.