Homeschooling a Gifted Child
By Elise Griffith
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.
What differences should you expect from your gifted child?
Shortly before his second birthday, as we were walking through the
airport to pick up his dad from a business trip, Bobby pulled away from
me and ran towards the ticket counter.
“Twaay! Twaay!” he shouted.
“I’m sorry, honey, I don’t understand you.” I scanned the area for
“Twaay! Der! Twaay!”
He was beginning to get frustrated, and I didn’t want to cause a scene
in the middle of the airport. “Can you show Mommy?” I asked.
He ran over to a large cardboard sign. T-W-A. Twaay. My toddler had
somehow taught himself to read.
Bobby had never been a “textbook child.” He did things his own way, at
his own pace. When he decided to walk, for example, he simply stood up
and walked down the hallway to his nursery!
Lenore Francine was the senior pastor’s wife at our church during this
time. She had directed Challenger Preschool in San Jose, California, for
nearly 20 years. One Sunday morning, she spotted Bobby reading a
“You’re dealing with an especially gifted child here,” she told us. “You
really ought to think about homeschooling him.”
I was very hesitant to even consider homeschooling. I worried that I
wouldn’t be able to teach Bobby properly, and that he’d be socially and
emotionally damaged for life. I enrolled him in a local “Mother’s Day
Out” program, and worked as a substitute so I could keep an eye on him.
At about this time, Bobby began to erupt into violent tantrums
regularly. He’d break toys, hit other children, and carry on until he’d
make himself throw up. Every week, I was asked by his MDO teachers to
come and “control” him.
Steven and I tried everything that the popular child development books
suggested, especially concentrating on the books by T. Berry Brazelton,
M.D. and William Sears, M.D. Ignoring the tantrums, which one book
suggested, escalated the problem. We had several long, grueling days of
screaming and migraine headaches before giving up on that idea. Trying
to diffuse or distract Bobby also failed. He would punch or kick us
whenever we tried to console him during a tantrum. Spankings had no
effect on him, and made me feel guilty. Bobby learned to manipulate me,
carrying on as if mortally wounded when I spanked. Giving him a “time
out” in his room (or on a chair in another room) seemed to have marginal
success, though it was doing more for me than for him.
When he was still “throwing fits” at age five, we consulted Dr.
Shepherd, a Christian family practitioner and pediatrician in
Lewisville, Texas. He and his wife have ten children. They homeschool
all of them. One of their nine sons had problems similar to Bobby’s. Dr.
Shepherd advised us to teach Bobby at home.
“Bobby’s a very bright little boy,” he told me, “and very intense. A
public school will immediately suspect ADD (attention deficit disorder),
but this isn’t Bobby’s problem. He’s gifted. And gifted kids have slower
emotional development. Boys, especially, seem to exhibit frustration by
becoming violent. You should homeschool him, and be sure to establish
“Doesn’t he need to learn socialization?” I asked.
“All children learn to socialize,” he said. “Human beings are social
creatures. Unless you isolate him, he’ll develop at his own pace, in his
Steven and I discussed our options. I still felt very inadequate, but
reluctantly sent for sample curriculum and catalogs. Sifting through the
incoming stacks of material, I felt overwhelmed. How would I be able to
choose the right curriculum for Bobby? I checked out a few books from
the library that dealt with gifted children, and another that explained
the homeschooling process.
Bobby displayed several of the “gifted” traits described in Smart Kids
With School Problems by Priscilla L. Vail (1987 E.P. Dutton):
♦ rapid grasp of concepts
♦ awareness of patterns
♦ exceptional concentration
♦ exceptional memory
♦ heightened perceptions
♦ divergent thinking
He also seemed to fall within the visual learning style described by the
author. Visual learners acquire knowledge by “seeing”—they have more of
a photographic memory. Bobby knew the alphabet by sight at eleven
months. He memorized letters and words by sight. Our options were
narrowed by this information. The cassette programs dedicated to
auditory learners (those who learn best by hearing the lesson) or
project lessons for kinesthetic (tactile or “hands on”) learners
wouldn’t be as appropriate for Bobby as they would be for another child.
We considered combination programs, where we’d have the option of
choosing textbooks according to Bobby’s specific level in each subject.
A Beka curriculum can be purchased a book at a time. So can Rod & Staff.
A.C.E. curriculum involves self-paced worktexts. Calvert School’s home
education program was very appealing because books, worktexts, paper,
pencils, rulers, scissors, and every implement necessary for the course
is shipped with the grade level package.
With Bobby’s needs and our budget in mind, the first materials we
purchased were coloring and activity books. They helped to get Bobby in
the habit of doing lessons. The kindergarten materials from Rod & Staff
(our choice) were wonderful in their progressive approach to learning,
gradually incorporating phonics and mathematics concepts. They weren’t
colorful or high tech, but Bobby did quite well with them, proving that
simple materials can work with gifted children.
When his baby brother, Zachary, was born in December of 1992, Bobby had
completed his kindergarten materials and was beginning the first grade.
His tantrums were becoming a fading memory as our schedule and home life
gained structure. We’d purchased the first quarter, first grade
materials from Rod & Staff.
Then, from April of 1992 until February of 1994, Bobby’s education hit a
snag. Major changes hurled us into a state of chaos. We’d chosen Bob
Jones books and worktexts for the remainder of the first grade, because,
as Bobby said, “they look more like real school books.” He now had six
subjects to cover, and this posed a problem. Each day started well.
Bobby did excellent work on the first two subjects, but it always went
downhill from there. He was regressing. The tantrums returned.
I was overwrought at this point. I’d just had a difficult pregnancy and
delivery, Steven had changed jobs and we’d moved three times and 700
miles—all within ten months! I tried to be patient and understanding
with Bobby’s regression, but usually ended up screaming and packing up
the books for the day. As Bobby disappeared into his room, I’d collapse,
sobbing, on the loveseat.
Family and friends began bombarding us with unsolicited advice, blaming
Bobby’s behavioral problems on homeschooling. Yet we knew that
homeschooling had been the single “constant” during those long months of
When weeks passed with little progress in his behavior, we consulted a
Christian with a doctorate in psychotherapy. She repeated information
that we’d heard in some form before.
“Often children with special abilities, like Bobby, will be behind in
emotional development,” she explained, adding that Bobby’s outbursts and
lack of interest in school were an unconscious response to his stress.
“With so much brain activity spent on absorbing his environment, there
isn’t enough for all areas to develop at the same pace.”
The therapist suggested we give Bobby time to adjust to his new
environment, and enroll him in a school for gifted children. The advice
seemed contradictory. Steven and I felt as if no one really understood
our day-to-day life with Bobby. Most of the time, he was an amiable
child. The outbursts were as difficult for him as they were for us. He
began to perceive himself as “bad.” This increased everyone’s
I decided another trip to the library was necessary to find ways we
could help Bobby move along in his emotional development.
In their book, Managing The Social And Emotional Needs Of The Gifted
(1985: Free Spirit Publishing), Connie C. Schmitz and Judy Galbraith
contend that, while children with special abilities don’t have a common
collection of personality traits, they do share common problems. These
♦ feeling insecure because they’re “different”
♦ feeling isolated and “weird”
♦ feeling misunderstood
♦ feeling overwhelmed by perceived expectations of perfection
Helping your gifted child understand that he’s not alone in his feelings
and struggles can produce remarkable results. We encouraged friendships
with other gifted children, and showed Bobby the charts in the books.
On a whim one day, I purchased a pack of composition notebooks,
waterbased markers, and ball point pens. I explained to Bobby that they
were tools to produce his own books. He could write whatever he wanted
in his books, and didn’t have to share the contents with us if he didn’t
want to. This enabled him to express his feelings safely.
Bobby’s attitude improved, as did his school work. He began to show an
interest in learning again. We moved our old computer into his bedroom,
then gave him basic word processing software and a few math and story
games. Time on the computer was a reward for good school work. Often,
computing time took the place of recess. To give me a much needed break,
we enrolled Bobby at a local Homeschool Supplemental Program. Art,
music, and P.E. are the core focus of this program, which meets two
afternoons a week.
As Bobby has grown (he’s seven now), we’ve been able to find more
effective means of teaching him self-discipline. He’s held responsible
for his actions. If he breaks a toy in a fit of temper, for example, he
won’t get a replacement and will have to pay for the item from his
We have found that, while all children need a balanced education, gifted
kids especially need a variety of outlets for their curiosity and
creativity. We do our best to expose Bobby to the arts, culture, music,
and physical activity. Often this translates to “nature walks” and
“museum trips,” but a simple trip to the printer can be a rich
experience for the inquisitive child. Even staying home can sometimes be
stimulating! I run a desktop-publishing business from home. Bobby
already knows the basic typefaces, layout designs, and printing process.
He helps me choose appropriate colors for newsletters and designs his
own work on his computer.
Bobby now reads with comprehension at the fifth-grade level. His math
skills are also well above his age level, using A Beka materials. Still,
while he is two to three years ahead academically, he remains about one
to two years behind in his emotional development. We’ve learned to
adjust to this, and can see definite progress. After dealing with
emotional outbursts and tantrums for years, I almost threw a party the
day Bobby came to me and said, “Mom, I’m really frustrated with . . . ”
Occasionally I am asked if I’d recommend homeschooling. My response is
always the same. It depends on the child and the parents. We’ve
discovered over the years that quick fixes and easy answers don’t exist.
If you’re willing to work within the boundaries of your child’s unique
abilities and quirks, and can make the commitment to teach your child—no
matter how rough the road gets—then I’d say, “Go for it!”
There have been a lot of rough days for us, but I have no regrets. We’ve
provided Bobby with the best start he could have. With a solid,
Christian foundation and parents who strive to meet his needs (while
insisting on responsible behavior), the sky’s the limit for Bobby.
Children who are homeschooled often reach for higher goals as adults. We
praise God every day for our two little boys, and the opportunity He has
given us to raise them!