When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool
Quick question: What do handwriting legibility and mathematical ability have in common? If you think like me, your answer would be “Nothing at all.” That’s why it can be especially frustrating for parents of gifted children to see their son or daughter’s academic progress held back because of poor penmanship.
Yes, an eight-year-old boy could try harder in cursive. Yes, being able to write about your mathematical thinking is important occasionally. But in my mind as a former public school teacher, handwriting and expository writing should have nothing to do with a child’s grade in mathematics nor should they impede his learning progress. For gifted children, this is like throwing a wet blanket on a crackling fire.
Unfortunately, in teacher credentialing school I received almost not training in dealing with gifted children. So it is probably a safe assumption that the regular education teachers you encounter in your own child’s public school experience will have a similar lack of training in gifted education. They will most likely care very deeply about your child, but they might not fully understand how to best meet your gifted child’s needs.
This is why gifted education programs in public education are so critical. I myself and a testament to their effectiveness, having grown up in the San Diego Seminar Program. Now my own son is thriving in a similar program for gifted children in our school district. Sadly, not every gifted child in America is as lucky.
When I taught school in Northern California the prevailing belief seemed to be that “All children are gifted in some way.” There was also the opinion out there that “If Johnny is so smart, then why can’t he behave and make friends?” Or back to the math example, “If Katie is so smart at math, why can’t she write about her explanation, and why can’t I read her handwriting?”
Even now almost ten years later, I am extremely frustrated to think about how regular education failed two of my former students who I am sure were gifted. I advocated for those children and accommodated their needs as best as I could, but in a regular education program I could only do so much. Homogeneous grouping would have allowed them to feel normal, but I couldn’t give them that peace.
So if you are the parent of a gifted child in a school district that does not offer gifted education services, what can you do? The first thing is know that homeschooling can be a viable option. Check out Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well Trained Mind for a virtual how-to manual for giving your child a rigorous, quality education at home. But homeschooling is certainly not for everyone. It is not a choice that would work out well in my own household for example. A better choice for us is Afterschooling.
In simplest terms, Afterschooling is when your children attend a brick and mortar school, but you augment their education at home in a structured and meaningful way. For gifted children, Afterschooling can be a sanity saver. While public school might be unintentionally stamping out your child’s natural fire for learning, you can fan those flames at home with appropriately paced instruction and keep their spark burning.
When my son was five he was in a regular-ed AlternateDay Kindergarten program which was created due to the school district’s severe budgetary constraints. My son benefited from all of the social interaction school provided, and loved his teacher, his friends, PE, library time, and music. However, the Kindergarten curriculum itself was extremely simple for him, so in our off hours I worked with him on math, reading, and science concepts that were at his appropriate level, and which he was enthusiastic about learning.
Many parents of gifted children are already doing this intuitively but are unfamiliar with the term “Afterschooling”. Mistakenly, they might mention to their friends that “Little Suzie goes to school but I am homeschooling her in the off hours.” But if you said this to an actual homeschooling parent, they might be very offended. Homeschoolers have to deal with an entirely different set of legal challenges than an Afterschooling family. Homeschooling and Afterschooling are similar but not the same thing, so be careful to not accidentally put your foot in your mouth!
If you are new to the concept of Aftesrchooling, where should you start? Well, maybe it’s easier to explain where you should not start. Do not go to Costco and buy a workbook. Ditto with Barnes and Noble. What your child does not need is more of the same thing he or she might be getting at school, and chances are, your accelerated child has already spent a lot of time in the corner of her classroom doing advanced worksheets.
A better way to go would be to start with your child’s interests. Does he like science? Check out the free science ideas at Science Without A Net. Does she like math? Sign her up for Dreambox Learning or consider purchasing the abacus kit from Right Start Math. Is he interested in engineering? Buy a Snap Circuits kit for Christmas. Does your whole family enjoy history? Try listening to Story of the World, History for the Classical Child in the car. Let’s not forget to add Royal Fireworks Press to your radar, where Michael Clay Thomspon has created a novel curriculum designed specifically for gifted children.
For those fortunate enough to live in well performing school districts, or a school with a gifted education program, Afterschooling might be something you would choose to do over summer, in a light-handed way during the school year, in the car, or through carefully chosen read alouds at bedtime. If you live in a low performing or struggling school district, the role of Afterschooling becomes more critical. (For more ideas on where to start with Afterschooling, click here).
You the parent are ultimately in charge of your child’s education. Make sure his or her fire for learning doesn’t flicker out.