We now officially have six months of homeschooling behind us. We made the decision (well, I made the decision and waited for everyone else to come around) after a disastrous return to Montessori with a truly horrible teacher who we’d all just had enough of. After a rough year at public school, I had thought a return to Montessori would solve everything. It did not. But it WAS the last push that my son needed to be ready to give Homeschool a go… and 6 months later, I can say it was a GREAT decision. The Kid is back to his old self and, now that he’s not stuck being forced to repeat things he already knows and is able to work ahead to his abilities, he enjoys learning again. I love that I can think about taking him to spend a month in Spain, because I can work from anywhere, and Husband can come join us for a week or two of vacation. My mother and I want to go to Ireland and Scotland to look up family, and we can take him without worrying about schedules. He can go visit Grandmom on the East Coast anytime we want, particularly since he’s been doing the “unaccompanied minor” thing on flights for two years now. (He’s got his own frequent flier account!) AND, I’ve been teaching him the fine art of hanging out in coffeeshops to read – I love sitting next to him at Ventoux, each of us reading, side by side.
One of *my* favorite parts of homeschool is the “physical education” part. Throughout every year of my own school experience, I always found gym class to be absolutely torturous. I will never be on board with those stupid “fitness tests” and doing sit ups in class, nor being forced to run. In fact, I’d say that gym class put me off of exercise and running until I was in my early 20s. In homeschool, The Kid goes on 3-4 mile walks with me nearly every day. He loves riding his bike, and he also goes to weekly Parkour and archery lessons. Archery classes are in the evenings, but Parkour is a Friday afternoon class that is specifically on the schedule for homeschool kids – and there are quite a few! The walking is really important to me because it’s my favorite form of physical activity. If I had the time, I’d go walk ten miles a day, easily. But rather than being forced to do activity he doesn’t enjoy a couple days a week in a school setting, he’s learning to make physical activity a regular part of his daily routine. Movement, in homeschool, isn’t a required “class,” but a lifestyle. During the Winter and rainy season, when the sun comes out, we drop everything to get outside.
But I’ve skipped ahead – first, I should mention the cons… Ok, there aren’t any cons for us. I’m happy to have him around all day. This doesn’t mean he’s an angel or that I envision myself the perfect parent – hell, no! It’s just that it works. We’re a tightly knit family, and he and are are especially close. We manage being together all day partly, I think, because I have undiagnosed ADHD with hyperfocus, as does he. (I’ll never bother to get tested because I’ve learned how to manage, but we’ll find out about him next month.) I specify hyperfocus because this is a large part of why homeschooling is important for us. The ADHD hyperfocus variety means yes, we have a hard time focusing on things we’re not really into… but when we ARE into something, we’ll get lost for hours on end. If that sounds like a good thing – eeeh, it CAN be. I have a hard time getting started on tasks, but once I start, I get shit done. But the downside is that I can get absorbed in a task at 9 am, and then when I look up it’s suddenly 3pm, and I’ve lost an entire day… and I’m starving, dehydrated, and about to get a UTI because I couldn’t break myself away to go to the bathroom even when my bladder has been screaming at me for three hours. Public school schedules, in particular, are really bad for kids like him – any kid, really, but especially hyperfocus and *Gifted kids. They need to be able to hit that “flow state.” Jumping up to change rooms or topics every 50 minutes is ard to deal with. It’s not that hard to be together all day because we’re usually both doing our own thing. He’s always been an extremely independent kid and able to amuse himself for hours. For the past few years, he’s been in the habit of disappearing into his bedroom with a pile of books. If he needed me to entertain him or work with him on school work all day, this homeschool thing wouldn’t be going so well. As it stands, he visits his grandmother for a few weeks every couple months, and that’s all the break I need. I guess we’re actually doing year-round school with seasonal breaks. It is AWESOME.
*About that word “Gifted” – I’ll talk more about it later. I won’t apologize for it because that’s just what it’s called. There’ve been some incredibly uninformed articles lately that have tried to say it doesn’t exist, and that ALL kids can be gifted, but that simply isn’t true. Giftedness isn’t just about being “super smart.” It’s about the capacity to learn ahead of their peers, but it also comes with some intense emotional issues, comorbidity (i.e. 2e), asynchronous learning, and a whole plethora of other things that are pretty difficult to wade through. Asynchronous development is a big thing. In my son’s case, he has the intellectual capacity and wit of someone many, many years older but not the development or self-understanding to manage all the thoughts that he has and the big emotions that come with them. Also, when I say my child is Gifted, people make the leap to hearing that as “your kid isn’t smart.” Not at all. But raising “Gifted” kids and being Gifted is hard. There are physical, measurable differences in the brain; it’s a real thing. But I’ll talk more about that in another post.
Back to homeschooling. I chose to let this year be pretty unstructured as we found our footing. Here are some things that we’ve figured out or worked with so far:
The Kid is really good at using logic and reasoning. When it comes to math, he can grasp overall concepts and see patterns, but basic math calculations give him severe anxiety. Honestly, his previous teacher made his math anxiety worse, so I’ve spent the past 6 months just letting him decompress. Recently I’ve begun having him review basic math, but slowly. The great thing about homeschool is we get to decide what’s important and when to tackle it. I used to think I was terrible at math, until I went back to college. I discovered that, while basic math is not my best friend, I am really, really good at higher math concepts – the type that use a more visual spatial type of thinking. Pre-calculus was a piece of cake. I almost took calculus, as an audit student, for fun, just because I was so blown away to discover I have math skills. But the thing is… no matter how hard we try to push math skills in schools these days, they just aren’t that useful in everyday life. I do not use geometry, ever. I don’t use calculus. So while I have him use “every day math” with me at home (recipes, paying bills, etc), higher math just isn’t a priority. I know from experience that he can pick up higher math when he’s much older, if he needs it.
Schools and society have this weird idea that all kids should be equally good at all things across the board. This isn’t true and has nothing to do with “the real world” that teachers perpetually bring up. At home, we play to The Kid’s strengths. His language and writing skills are through the roof; in an online assessment, his grammar and spelling were at a 7th grade level. So rather than reviewing 3rd grade spelling and grammar, we work with where he’s at. (His teacher once tried to tell me that I have to be careful with sarcasm, because kids don’t understand the nuances… and I laughed. I think she was missing the nuances of his sarcasm, which is frighteningly sharp. He most definitely inherited his sarcasm from me.) In my Masters of Translation program right now, we’re talking about translating children’s literature. I will never be able to translate anything for children, because it involves making word choices that are appropriate for children at certain ages. I have no idea what type of vocabulary is appropriate and understandable for 9 year olds, or children of any age. I only know myself as a child and my son. (I was also a voracious reader ahead of my “grade level” and had a huge vocabulary.) The Kid is a little science nerd, too. He loves documentaries about space, space travel, space exploration, you name it. He loves to theorize about parallel universes. A few months ago, I sat him down to watch Interstellar and The Martian… Interstellar blew his little mind and The Martian had him thinking of all the things he could invent so that humans could colonize Mars.
For social studies, we focus more on current events and history from a non-colonialist perspective. We talk about white privilege, racial history, and the most recent presidents. While I think a broad overview of history is a good idea, I do not think it’s important to memorize the dates of every event, nor to memorize the capitals of every state or every president that’s ever lived. We take a more global approach that doesn’t place the US at the center of the universe.
We get to focus more on the arts at home, too. Husband is an audio designer with a full in-home studio, so they record music and sound together. Husband is teaching The Kid how to record audio for the games and animations that Kid makes. The Kid is really into coding, so he’s always drawing, sketching, and distorting images for his projects. As for coding… yes. I thought I’d keep him away from all the technology stuff and screens, but it turns out he loves and needs computers. Coding is his jam. He’s been working in Scratch and Java (blocks), but he’s about to move into the real deal Java this Summer. I’ve also been teaching him how to make a website – I’ve been a web developer and front end coder for a couple of decades, so I’m teaching him HTML, CSS, and soon we’ll move into WordPress.
During the warmer months, we spend a lot of time exploring the city. It’s important to me that he be comfortable with and understand the need for public transportation. It’s also important to me that he has an awareness of social issues. He’s seen all the homeless tents and encampments around Seattle and I’ve had long conversations with him about it. He was upset when other kids in his class commented on seeing these tents without any understanding of what they are; he told me that his former classmates would say they thought it was “cool” and wanted to camp out in the city! He was frustrated when he tried to explain that there were homeless people living in these tents by the highway… and no one would listen to him. (If this sounds like “too much” for a kid to take in, it’s really not too much for him. He notices these things and he’d never believe me if I tried to lie or sugarcoat it. Instead, we discuss all the various reasons that a person might be homeless, how all of society contributes, and what we might be able to do to stop being part of the problem.) He loves the huge Seattle library downtown, so we hang out in the map room and talk about all the different services that a library provides for people who don’t have homes, can’t afford internet, etc.
We go to museums and educational events. Soon he’ll start traveling. I’m really hoping to get him to the Smithsonian Air & Space museum in DC next time we’re back east. We’ve done some really unusual and cool things on road trips – like the Windmill Tour (all about wind energy!) and Salvation City in SoCal. Truly, the world is our educational oyster! (Slab City / Salvation Mountain / East Jesus and the Salton Sea are worth a trip, if you’re ever in the area.)
A lot of what he does is pretty organic, but for peace of mind, I have him doing a few online classes:
We use Time4Learning to cover the basics. It’s not the greatest site ever, but it gets the job done. Here, he reviews basic math, some fundamental historical stuff, a little science review, and some 7th grade English topics on Greek and Latin word roots and the like. Through Time4Learning, we use their portal to Rosetta Stone for Spanish. (We have a few Spanish resources, including some in-person conversational classes with a friend of mine.) Through the site, I’ve chosen the topics I want him to cover throughout the year, and the site automatically breaks it down into weeks for me. It’s the “boring” stuff, so instead of doing a couple lessons each day, he gets up early on Monday morning and bangs out the entire week in a couple hours. (The self-discipline is astounding sometimes.)
We have a subscription to Curiosity Stream, which is an app (for iPhone and Firestick) that curates documentaries and educational videos for every topic under the sun. (I found this through the Gifted Homeschool blogger, My Little Poppies). He’s particularly fond of the shows on space travel and weather, but he’s watched videos on nutrition, health, the human body, geology, wildlife, environmental sciences, animal psychology, human psychology, and on and on. It really is a phenomenal rainy day app.
We’ve done classes on Greek Myth and one called “Character Creation Lab” through the Gifted Homeschoolers online forum.
Outschool is a great resource for a wide range of classes. There are classes that are just 50 minutes and done, and many that run through several weeks. Here, he’s done an overview of the US Constitution, Microbiology, a “Crime Scene Investigation” class, and Electricity. (That’s just so far – there’s a bunch of classes I have saved to do over the next year.)
He’s been taking classes with Coding With Kids for about a year now. He started with a “Minecraft Modding” summer camp last year, then began doing an in-person, weekly Scratch coding class. This summer, he’ll do Minecraft Modding 2 and the next level Scratch coding class, both of which will have him typing Java, rather than drag and drop “block” coding. He LOVES to tear projects apart on the Scratch website, so that he can learn how things were made and remix or remake them himself.
Most recently and most exciting (to me), we just got his SCAT assessment results back for the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth. To be eligible to take classes at CTY, kids need to take a verbal and computational aptitude test above their grade level. So this Summer, he’ll start taking online classes through John Hopkins – I am particularly excited about this one, because I was invited to take classes here back when I was in middle school. I didn’t understand what it was then, and didn’t want anything to do with anything that reeked of “more school,” so I refused. I regret it now, of course. But I am eyeing up several classes for him, including some critical thinking/reading/writing classes, Spanish, Chemistry, and when he’s ready, Arabic.
I’ll be honest: Though some people can manage it better than others, I think our educational system is bullshit and needs a serious redesign. I’ve always thought that. So we chose homeschool both out of necessity and out of a moral imperative. It wasn’t a decision that I took lightly, at all. I researched the WA state laws and resources for a couple of years. I asked around and talked to people that had been homeschooled, themselves. FYI: People who have no experience with homeschooled like to tell me how “hard” it is, based on nothing but preconceived notions. People I’ve talked to who actually WERE homeschooled or homeschooled their own kids are glad they did it and think it’s the best way to go. I know a couple of people who were homeschooled and who were attending (or had attended) the University of Washington. The homeschooled kids all said that they had a much easier time of college then public/private school kids. Some research has show that homeschoolers have higher self esteem, are more civic-minded, and are less susceptible to peer pressure. Maybe, maybe not – but I do know that it seems pretty logical to me that passing through puberty in the safety of your own home and social circle makes it a hell of a lot easier to get through it with your self esteem intact, yeah?
Some college professors have said that homeschool kids have more self discipline and seem more motivated. Statistics have come out showing homeschool kids score higher on the SAT and ACT, in addition to having higher GPAs and graduation rates. Even though I’m the overachieving, perfectionist type who made damn sure I graduated magna cum laude, that was a personal thing. I *don’t* put a lot of stock in grades, but I point these things out only to show that homeschoolers aren’t what many people still think they are.
Of course, I get that homeschool isn’t for everyone. I can still work because homeschool doesn’t take up much of my time because he’s a self-starter. I’d say I spend more time looking at course descriptions and registering for classes than I do “homeschooling” him. That’s made it easy for us. Some people actively spend a few hours a day on lessons, trips, and coursework. Wandering around the city and going to museums is something I do *anyway*, so that’s no more effort for me. I could do it alone, but I happen to really enjoy my son’s company and his perspective.
But if anyone out there is considering it and wondering if it’s possible, it is. Every family is different, and everyone will find their own “system.” Aside from CTY (John Hopkins), every resource I’ve mentioned here is available to anyone – and this is FAR from an exhaustive list. There are so many websites and online schools that I haven’t listed here because I haven’t personally used them yet. For us, it’s really about experience and critical thinking. I plan on getting him to Europe a lot in the coming years – and we are extraordinarily lucky to be able to include that in part of my plan.
Homeschool has changed tremendously in the last decade, and it continues to change. The number of kids being homeschooled is increasing every year. The demographics are changing; it’s no longer just religious families wanting a more God-centered curriculum. And lest you think it’s a white privilege thing, it’s not – I’ve read a couple articles this year about more and more black families choosing homeschool. Read this one on PBS or this one on the Atlantic.
Each state has their own laws about homeschool requirements and assessments. If you live in WA State, there’s the WA Homeschool website which answers every question you could possibly have. There are numerous Facebook groups that offer great support. If you, like us, have a gifted homeschooler or are considering homeschooling for a gifted child (in any state), the best resource I’ve found above all others is the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum. (I love GHF so much that I’m on board as one of their editors for GHF Press.) And, of course, I’m always to answer questions by email.