Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners by Cindy West

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I feel a little silly having requested and then won from LibraryThing EarlyReviewers not just a book about homeschooling but one about homeschooling “gifted” and “advanced” learners.

My son is just four years old and has more than 18 months before he’ll officially enter school. While I feel ridiculous assuming my child is a brilliant one, I must say I’m regularly at a loss for answers to his questions already, and he’s only four. I am, of course, biased, but I certainly think he’s a quick learner: he can read and do basic addition/subtraction (counting fingers, not really on paper yet), and he’s fascinated by everything, always asking questions about what he sees around him.1 He’s currently interested in the planets, electricity, and the human body (what’s inside and how it works).

But, that said, I have no idea if I do plan on homeschooling, if he’ll remain an eager learner throughout his life, if homeschooling would provide the best opportunities for engaging his inner spirit, and even if he truly is “gifted.” That term has a lot of connotation associated with it. Maybe I can just settle on “advanced for now.”

Nevertheless, I initially requested Cindy West’s Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners (Prufrock Press, 2011) because I thought it might help me gain a better idea of what homeschooling entails and how a parent untrained in education might be able to meet the needs of a brilliant child.2 Ms West’s book, although slim, certainly gave me a lot of things to consider in relation to my questions, and while I remain unsure what I will do in the coming years for my son’s schooling, I now see the possibility of homeschooling as a reality, while before it was just an overwhelming concept.

A little background: A month or two ago, I began my “homeschool or not” ponderings by checking out about ten different books from the library. Most of them seemed to emphasize a lax “unschooling” approach to teaching kids, with Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well-Trained Mind (see my “non-review” thoughts) being the one exception that broke down the rigors of home schooling almost to the point of overwhelming.3 I didn’t read through any of the other homeschooling books in full; I only browsed for general concepts.

Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners is a slim book, about 140 pages long. I must admit that when it came in the mail, I wondered what new information it may provide to give me the “better ideas” that I sought. Yet as I began reading, I found that it did give me hope. Because it’s shorter, it provided a succinct framework for how homeschooling can work right.

Besides, I enjoyed the casual tone Ms West provided. She gave numerous personal examples from her own years of homeschooling her three children. I enjoyed the charts that listed ways to give life to unit projects and the numerous websites (and curriculum options) she referenced for further ideas and information. If I do homeschool, I’ll probably reference these pages a lot as I get my feet wet! I appreciated how she addressed ways in which to adapt a teaching curriculum for the child who wants to learn more, even when a unit is over. And while I still cannot quite see myself teaching my son for all of his school years4, the flexibility Ms West emphasized gave me hope.

Is Homeschooling Gifted and Advanced Learners the best book for new homeschooling parents? Is it the best for parents who’ve been doing it for years? Is it the best for parents of gifted children?

I have no idea. I have not read enough or even homeschooled at all in order to answer those questions. I think the best aspect of Ms West’s book is that she provides her personal stories and tips for success. This was not a dry explanatory book but rather one that provide context, conversation, and what felt like support for the inexperienced and/or overwhelmed homeschooling parent. It kept me reading, and I am inspired to keep considering homeschooling. Now I have a book full of ideas to reference if I do decide to go that route.

In case you are wondering, here are some possible options for Raisin in 18 months when he is legal supposed to go to kindergarten.

  • Send Raisin to a public all-day kindergarten class, with 25-30 kids and no aide. If there is a part-day option (2.5 hours) I may consider public school. Otherwise, I’m  very wary. That’s such a long day.
  • Charter school all-day kindergarten. Because the charter school is affiliated with my school district, this doesn’t charge tuition for me, just registration fees and so forth. The classes would still be rather large, plus there would be no school bus so I’d have to drop him and pick him up. Again, I’m wary of the full day of school for my young kid.
  • A few kindergarten classes at the charter school (like art, PE, music), supplemented with K12 homeschooling curriculum, provided free through the charter school (same school as in the second bullet point as above). From what I’ve read, K12 is a very intense kindergarten program (as well as subsequent years), and 25% of it is online. That seems like a lot of computer time and a lot of school for an almost 6-year-old. It also seems the parent needs to help a lot because the workload is so heavy. At the same time, my son will probably be able to do a lot of the curriculum already if it’s a typical kindergarten curriculum. Will it be busy work that bores him? Can I adjust his curricula as the year progresses? I suppose these are also my concerns for the first two bullet points: he’s stuck learning what they tell him to learn.
  • Homeschool kindergarten – free reign! I determine my curriculum and pay for it. This is a more expensive option and also the most work on my part in figuring out the correct curriculum for Raisin. But, then again, I can follow Raisin’s many interests, rather than forcing him through an intense curriculum or watching him become bored with school. This looks more and more appealing. If only I can find an appropriate co-op for the P.E. and art classes, etc.
  • Private school. Too costly to even consider, I believe. And I hear they have huge classes too!

All of this would of course be happening while my second child is learning to walk and talk. That is definitely something to consider as well…

Note: I received a copy of this book for review via LibraryThing EarlyReviewers.

  1. His only real problem area is he refuses to practice handwriting. He can write his letters but finds it “too hard” and frustrating most of the time.
  2. That “untrained parent” would be me, of course.
  3. I love the concepts of teaching history based on the classics of antiquity, but in general I left book feeling rather overwhelmed as to how I could pull it together. Teaching Latin? Really?
  4. I feel I am a very organized person but then I get very tired of rigidly trying to follow a schedule
Reviewed on December 10, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • What an excellent, thoughtful approach to your child’s education! So many—perhaps even most—people just send their kids to public school without even thinking about the options. I love your listing of the pros and cons of each.

    Sounds like a great book. I also found The Well Trained Mind to be a bit overwhelming, but I did end up using some of the company’s materials (The Story of the World and First Language Lessons) and being thrilled with them.

    Oh–and as far as handwriting goes, boys typically balk at handwriting. It takes them longer to get the whole fine motor skills concept—even the gifted ones. 😉

    • Sarah at SmallWorld Reads » How many years have you been homeschooling? What ages? I’m always curious to hear about others homeschooling, as I only know two or three families in real life that do so.

      So you liked Story of the World? It received some pretty negative reviews on Amazon, so I didn’t feel very impressed by it. I’ve heard great things about First Language Lessons. But then, I have not done much research on many of the curriculum options in general. I know the handwriting is standard frustration for boys. My son is simply not interested in coloring, writing, and so forth, but then he loves to read so that’s something.

      In terms of the options, I forgot to mention the option that Amanda mentions in her comment — supplementing public school with unit studies, etc. at home. I may go that route too. It all just depends on how life works out.

      • We are in our 12th year of homeschooling! Our oldest is now 18 and a sophomore in college. He went to public school for K and 1st and then we pulled him out for the rest. Our K experience in Iowa was fantastic (2.5 hours/day) but we totally balked when we moved to TN and experienced the school systems here. There is a reason they are ranked in the bottom 5 in the US year after year. Anyway, turned out we loved homeschooling because we love spending time with our kids. (We also have one now in 9th and one in 5th.) It becomes a lifestyle choice, not just an educational choice.

        We have a huge co-op here with 250 families. Amanda mentioned field day, drama, choir, robotics, PE, drivers’ ed–we have all that a lot more. Yep, even prom. Of course not all areas have such amazing co-ops, but we are just really in a great place. Pretty much all of the local museums, etc. have classes for homeschoolers and all kinds of discounts: the zoo, science centers, aquariums, nature centers, museums, etc. But again, every city is different, and you may not have access to such a vibrant support group.

  • I have never considered homeschooling my kids, honestly. I need my time alone, and adding more hours with my kids, and less time for myself, would make me a very cranky and bad mother indeed. I’m much better with my kids when we have a little time apart and I’m not patient enough to homeschool. Beyond that, I believe that the social atmosphere of school is important, and would never want to deny that to my kids. I know there are home school groups where all the kids get together, and that has a certain merit, but in a way, it’s too insular for me. I don’t want to limit my kids to my own view and scope and knowledge, you know? My youngest was home with me more than my other two, and he already had a hard time adjusting to being around other people – and he’s a social kid! If he had stayed home with me, he never would have learned how much he loved drama, and media broadcasting, and the other things he loves. That’s just one example. The kids have so many opportunities at school that I can’t provide them, from choir to robotics to track & field etc. Plus Laurence is in that dual language program where he’s becoming bilingual and English and Spanish at this age, which is just amazing.

    On the other hand, because Jason and I feel that the kids don’t necessarily always get a good enough education at school, we suppliment their learning at home. This, for us, is a good balance. We can focus on what they are struggling with, or focus on what they love. Laurence has developed a love of history through his additional work at home, Ambrose is working his way through a freshman level Algebra book while he’s nine years old, and Morrigan is teaching himself out to write poetry and play the piano. They were all able to write a “novel” for NaNoWriMo for their additional work last month, and they take on projects that they find fun and challenging, like computer programming or exercise routines or art projects or studying the environmental effects of mass corn production. I know they wouldn’t get as much out of their learning if it wasn’t twofold, both us and the school.

    • Amanda » That’s pretty much how I felt about six months ago. I really do enjoy sending Raisin to preschool so I get that “break” time. And Raisin LOVES to leave the house, to be with other kids, to be with other adults who teach him things. He has never balked at leaving me (except for about six months when he was one year old he cried when I left the house but never KEPT crying).

      I suppose my worries result from the negative press about the public schools in our area, besides the fact that I hesitate to send my almost six year old to a school for more than six hours a day when they will NOT be teaching him anything. If I do send him to public school, I definitely will need to supplement what he’s learning, as you do with your kids (I LOVE that they joined in the NaNoWriMo this year! That is so awesome!) but if schools are sending homework, after six hours of busywork, it just seems like a bit much for him to accept.

      The kids I know who are homeschooled (granted, I only know three families) are some of the most well-rounded kids I know. Confident, articulate, very bright. I wonder how much school really socializes our other kids: sitting in a class with 30 others where they are not aloud to speak unless called upon. I recognize the need for choir, drama, art, PE, and those things that I can’t really provide since a group setting is integral — but I’ve found some co-op options in the area that might work. Two days a week of lego club and robotics classes and PE and so forth would probably meet Raisin’s needs pretty well. We’re involved in the community almost every day of the week already, so I imagine it’s very do-able to find even more options as Raisin ages.

      As I’ve said, I still don’t know what we’ll end up doing, but I’m certainly considering all the aspects. Thanks for weighing in (and you really do sound like me six months ago 🙂 )

      • Yeah, the schools themselves are a big factor. While Texas does not have the best schools in the world, ours isn’t bad. They don’t learn as advanced as other states’ curriculums (which is why we suppliment), but there’s a ton of interaction and not just 30 kids in a classroom unable to talk unless called on. That would be unheard of here. And they definitely taught the kids things, even if my kids were already reading, doing math, writing, etc by the time they started, and none of it was busy work. It wasn’t like babysitting at all, and the kids enjoyed being there all day. The homework they send home hardly takes any time at all – Morrigan usually finishes his 5th grade homework for the entire week in half an hour, and none of them even got homework in kinder – so the supplimental stuff ended up being good for them. They still have plenty of time to play. 😀

        Co-ops are a good idea. The only co-op we have around here is for kinder, though, and exclusive to a particular church, so that wasn’t an option for us. We would have loved to send the boys to a montesorri (sp) school, but unfortunately that was too expensive. It doesn’t help that all three of them are in school,and if I had to homeschool, I’d be teaching three different grade levels at once! I imagine once you have the baby, that might influence your outlook too.

        Good luck whatever you decide. I agree, home-schooled kids can definitely be well-rounded and bright and all the rest, and I know you’re a strong and smart enough mom to help your kids be that way.

        • Amanda, yes, I think most of the co-ops I’ve found are Christian-based, which isn’t a big deal to me — since I’m Christian, I don’t mind a 10 minute devotional or prayer before the class begins — but I do think it’s too bad that the groups feel the need to be exclusive. I mean, I can teach my son Christianity at home, I wanted a co-op to get the group classes that need other kids in them, like PE and choir.

          And I get the impression that Illinois schools are quite intense. Lots of homework. I watch my ten-year-old nephew almost over-whelmed (from my distant perspective) with school work in fifth grade and he is very very bright. I am not opposed to my son learning from the public schools — if there is the ability to meet his individual needs. I can’t stand the thought of all-day kindergarten if they are going to be sounding out M-A-T for their language arts lessons, for example. I think it really depends on the teacher for the year and I don’t really get to choose that. Which is why I’m wary…

          I have a friend sending her kid to Montessori school, so I went in to get some info because I was curious, it sounded so nice. WAY $$$$$, like six times the cost of my monthly preschool fees…

  • Rebecca there is quite a bit of research that says that boys have a hard time with handwriting. I remember reading a study from Norway that showed that boys who were taught typing learned to read and write much faster because they weren’t stuck with not having the fine motor skills to hold a pen, but intellectually they were very read to read and write.

  • I used to lead a homeschool storytime at the library and you could definitely tell the parents who were engaged and made sure their kids were getting a well-rounded education versus the parents who you could tell had bit off more than they could chew and were checked out. From the sounds of it, you’ll definitely be part of the former group. Best of luck as you make these weighty decisions. As a mother of a four-year-old, I feel your pain!

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