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Challenging Your Gifted Child

Students in traditional schools who display higher academic abilities than their peers are often shuttled into programs designed to meet their needs. But even more often, their talents are squandered or go unnoticed. These students are typically bored in school. They may act out as a result and can in some cases be labeled as troubled or difficult. When a gifted student is singled out and given special or additional instruction, the results can be very beneficial.

Unfortunately, a current trend in schooling is to keep everyone in the same room so that no one gets identified as being different or experiences any resulting loss of self-esteem. This is called mainstreaming or inclusion and results in a teacher being expected to differentiate lessons and classroom time between students with differing ability levels. While the idea is nice that students with disabilities get to stay with their peers, the reality is that teachers end up teaching to the middle. The lower-ability students struggle to keep up and the gifted students are not stretched.

For you, having a child with exceptional academic abilities means that you have the opportunity to give that child anything she needs to succeed and to advance. Without the restrictions of a traditional school, you have a great chance to keep her stimulated, excited about learning, and to prevent her from becoming bored and disenchanted with education.

How To Tell If Your Child Is Gifted

Of course we all think our children are special, gifted, and extremely talented, but how do you know if your kid is truly gifted in the academic sense? You could administer an IQ test, but in doing so you run the risk of disappointed expectations. Many experts no longer believe IQ scores are very important indicators of success anyway. What may be more important is looking out for certain signs that your child could take on more challenging work than you are currently giving her.

Signs of high intelligence typically show up early. Look for developmental stages in your toddler that occur ahead of what is normal. For instance, if your three-year-old boy is reading already, you have a little smarty on your hands. Another indicator that arises early is sensitivity. Your gifted child may be sensitive to having her feelings hurt, hearing loud noises, or to being inactive for too long.

In your child of any age, signs of gifted abilities may include curiosity, observing things around her, having a long attention span, being able to learn easily or to remember facts easily, being able to reason well, having a well-developed sense of humor, using an extensive vocabulary, being an avid reader, and reaching out for educational materials that are for an older age group. All of these things and other obvious behaviors could indicate that your child has above-average intelligence. Congratulations! Now what do you do with it?

How To Educate Your Gifted Child

In general, your techniques for homeschooling need not be any different between your average and your gifted children. The important thing to remember with your gifted child is that you must keep her interested, engaged, and challenged. Nurturing her abilities means keeping her supplied with learning experiences that are interesting to her and that encourage her to develop her skills. Here are some ideas for supplementing your homeschool routine to nurture your gifted kid:

  • Follow her lead. One of the best ways to keep your child engaged is to allow her to direct her own learning. For instance, if she loves art, encourage her to learn more about it. Visit art museums, learn about history through the lives of famous artists, learn the language of her favorite painter, or practice creative writing inspired by different works of art.
  • Use creativity. Creative thinking is a great way to gently prod your child into using and developing her intellectual abilities. We tend to think of creativity as being relegated to the arts, but creative thinking can be applied to all academic disciplines. Give your child problems to solve in math, science, history, and other subjects that require “out of the box” thinking. You will have to be creative in order to come up with the questions, and if you begin to run out of ideas or if your child is advancing beyond your abilities, look into resources for gifted children.
  • Keep your home well stocked. In order to allow your gifted child to direct her own learning, you need to provide her with a variety of resources. Keep books around the house, or make lots of trips to the library. Be sure to have books that are designed for an older age group so that she will be challenged. Have art supplies on hand, educational videos and documentaries, and good computer resources. The more things you have for her to work with, the more she will explore and learn on her own.
  • Head out of the house. There is a whole world out there that your children should be exploring. With a homeschooling schedule, you have the flexibility to take impromptu field trips and longer, planned trips with an educational bent. Start in your own community and visit the library, museums, the zoo, and other such institutions. And don’t stop with just a casual visit. Most of these places will offer programs and classes for kids of all ages and abilities. This also gives your child a great chance to meet other kids with the same interests and to develop valuable social skills. For your older gifted child, consider stay-over programs. Having the chance to stay at a university, summer camp, or other similar type of program could be a great learning experience.
  • Extend her interests. While self-direction is very important, you should also encourage your gifted child to try new things. Introduce new topics and new ideas slowly if she is resistant, but refrain from pushing too hard. As you give her more and more new things to try that are positive, she will learn to embrace new ideas, new kinds of books, and new subjects.

Nurture, But Don’t Push

If you have just realized that you have a very smart child on your hands, you may initially feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility. You may feel like you need to push her to her limits and that if you are not doing so, she is wasting her time and not realizing her potential. Nurturing that potential is your responsibility, but pushing her is not the right way to go about it. So what is the difference?

Nurturing begins with your child’s interests. It means giving her the opportunity to develop those interests and her academic and intellectual abilities. Pushing means starting with your own interests and what you think should be hers. For instance, if your gifted daughter shows an interest in the piano, but you have always pictured her playing the violin, what do you do? Getting her piano lessons is nurturing her abilities while paying for a violin with lessons is pushing her.

If you nurture your child, she will realize and develop her own potential in whatever area or areas she chooses. If you push her, she may learn to despise academics and learning. The line may seem fine at times, but if you trust your instincts and listen to your child, you will find the right path.

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