If the promise of education is to allow every child to fulfill their potential, gifted education serves a key function: to ensure learners who are working at higher levels than their peers can advance their knowledge — and don’t end up disrupting the rest of the class after they tear through their grammar worksheets or math problems.
According to Growing Up Gifted, self-paced study is essential for gifted students. In a regular classroom, where teachers follow mandated lesson plans that meet grade-appropriate benchmarks, gifted programs provide enrichment opportunities, often in small groups. Not only does gifted education prevent such students from being held back, it also allows them to develop higher levels of problem-solving skills, deepen their subject-matter comprehension, use diverse approaches and follow their interests.
However, when you homeschool, you can take the concept of grade levels out of the equation and focus on the objective of education, gifted or otherwise: building critical thinking skills and boosting creativity.
Gifted kids are often really curious, so they may chafe at spending time in an overly prescriptive learning environment. Instead, they need to feel free to go in-depth into areas of interest in which they are demonstrating a particular talent and not to be slowed down by the rest of the class.
That’s why a project based approach is so fitting: open-ended, real-world learning opportunities allow gifted and talented students to go as fast as they wish to fly and to dive as deep as they wish to swim.
At Prisma, learners are able to make choices as to what projects they would like to work on (or design their own self-directed journey). We are always encouraging kids to incorporate their personal interests: Our projects provide the shell and kids fill in the details with what interests them. We even offer a "create your own" project every cycle so even if one of our many options doesn't light a spark, they get to design a project that will.
We also give them freedom to organize their schedule, which means they’re empowered to follow whatever windy path that attracts them — for as long as they want to travel. At the same time, we ask them to reflect on their learning process at regular intervals, so they start to understand what kinds of off-the-beaten path explorations are most valuable to their discovery process (and which they might want to avoid next time around).
Following in a long line of progressive educators, we believe children reach their fullest potential when they have guardrails — but also ample freedom to color outside the lines. You can replicate what we do at Prisma by having your gifted child select a topic of interest and design their own project.
Start by brainstorming with your child and deciding:
Then, have them decide how they will synthesize and present what they learned: They could make a song, podcast, video, or play; design a board game, a Minecraft or Lego model, or a Scratch animation (among dozens of other project ideas). Whatever excites them — even if it doesn’t seem like a traditional “academic” medium.
Agree on a rough deadline for a first draft — with the understanding that it may need to be adjusted. We find that a six-week cycle, with regular check-ins along the way, provides enough time to dig deep while also keeping kids on task. However, when a learner gets particularly excited about a topic, we find ways to keep their exploration going beyond the six-week block.
When it comes time for them to share their results, look to your family and larger community to provide an audience for their project, so they can hone their communication skills and feel the real-world stakes of their investigation. (This is the principle behind our Expo days.)
The best approach to working with gifted and talented children is to get out of their way. They thrive on autonomy, creativity, and complexity, so setting up their learning experiences with those elements in mind is key.
You also want to make sure they aren’t holding themselves back. Gifted children can struggle with perfectionism. They are used to being right a lot of the time, which means they may need help coping with failure — and with the big, big feelings that may elicit. (Our coaches recommend these two books for young gifted children: The Boy with Big Big Feelings and The Girl with Big Big Questions.)
When designing projects, set up lots of opportunities for failure — and to talk about ways that your brain grows even stronger when you try and try again at things. Coding challenges with robots are great for this, since it’s practically impossible to get it right the first time — and it hits the challenge-seeking part of the brain that gifted children may struggle to satisfy.
Beyond the traditional learning of academic content and skills, parents can also support gifted learners with their social emotional development. Some people might assume that because gifted children are intellectually mature, they're also emotionally mature. Actually, it tends to be the opposite: Gifted kids often struggle with executive functioning and with over-sensitivity to their environment, because of their keen observational skills. (For more, see the book, Living with Intensity.) They often have emotional needs that are even more intense than typical kids.
Because gifted learners are ahead of most of their peers, they can sometimes have some difficulty relating to, and interacting with, kids the same age. To combat any isolation they may feel, give them social interaction with peers who are also gifted. Because it might take them a little longer to open themselves up, it’s particularly valuable for them to have a small, stable, tight-knit group of peers with whom they can regularly interact. For this reason, our Prisma families with gifted or twice-exceptional students have found our small cohort model particularly supportive when dealing with social challenges.
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