Imagine the plight of a young boy whose story was recently brought to my attention. He is 8 years old, reads the newspaper daily, and tries to discuss current events with his classmates during recess. Since his classmates are mainly interested in childhood playthings, the boy finds himself ignored and alone most of the time. He then turns his attentions to the adults around him, reasoning that surely they would share his interests in the things of their adult world, but, alas, they, too, spurn his attempts at conversation and suggest that he should go play with children his own age.
The boy’s mother laments his “social incompetence” (her words), but rejects the idea of homeschooling, because (again, in her words) “if he were homeschooled, he would not be able to relate to other children his own age.” Nod your head if you are seeing the irony in her statement. The child already cannot relate to children his own age, and he is in public school. How could homeschooling worsen his situation?
In my opinion, the child in this example is an ideal candidate for homeschooling (but then, so are most children, regardless of intellect or ability). He is highly intelligent and highly motivated. His thirst for knowledge is undeniable. The drawback, according to the child’s parents, is their fear that homeschooling would reduce their child’s chances for a normal childhood and normal childhood playmates. I’ve got news for them: this child passed that point a long time ago, no matter where his education comes from.
The boy expresses his disappointment when people talk to him in the same manner in which they would talk to any other child. His mom feels obligated to remind him that he actually is a child. The frustrated boy insists that he wants to discuss news items and current events–real stuff, important stuff–with grown-ups, but the grown-ups refuse to talk to him as though he knows anything. I’ve got news for him, too: the adults he is trying to talk to are probably afraid they will be exposed as knowing much less about world affairs than he does. Adults hate being embarrassed, especially by children, and particularly when their ignorance of relevant news becomes apparent.
So what is the solution for this boy and his family? My recommendation, of course, is for homeschooling (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?) so that the child can explore the subjects of interest to him to the depths of his desire. I would also recommend finding (or creating) a discussion group where he could participate in conversations about the current events that he finds so fascinating. Such a group outside the home may not be easy to come by, since even adults are not all at the same level of maturity with each other. Two or three participants is sufficient for discussion, so a family “group” would be adequate. However, home education would allow this eager boy to expand his knowledge and use his mind to greater heights than his current third grade classroom can accommodate.
To leave this child in an ordinary school classroom is to punish his mind for satisfying its own curiosity and to replace his zest for learning with ultimate stagnation. A bored mind looks for ways to entertain itself, and those ways usually do not fit in with the teacher’s lesson plans. Some teachers and some schools try to provide for the extraordinary students who happen along every so often, but a few extra assignments within the classroom setting often leave the student feeling as if he is receiving punishment instead of opportunities to fill an eager knowledge vacuum such as this child possesses.
Parents, you need not be afraid that your children know more than you do. Instead of fearing his intelligence, be proud of your child’s abilities and take an interest in a few topics to cultivate conversations with him. Ask your child to tell you something he has learned from his reading each day, giving him non-threatening experience in public speaking (developing a common interest will help you both avoid the Know-It-All Attitude). No harm will come from letting your child see that you, the parent, do not know everything. In fact, it may be the spark that further ignites the flame of his learning passion. Informally sharing knowledge on a daily basis is excellent preparation for leadership, as it breaks down the fear-of-public-speaking barrier. (My children frequently had opportunities to share their hobby collection with small groups, which ultimately prepared them for giving speeches and presentations in college. Their fellow college classmates dreaded speaking in public, but for my students, it was something they were already very well acquainted with and felt comfortable doing.)
For the parents of any child who excels at learning, whether in public, private, or homeschool, you do not need to be alarmed when your student is readily leaping beyond the level of his peers. Encourage your child and help him gain the knowledge he desires. If you do not want your child to skip ahead a grade level, you can work on expanding his learning experience at the level where he currently is. Is your child devouring chapter books one after another while his classmates are just beginning to read them? Reward your child with more chapter books to read, help him find series of books on his level, or interest him in a wide variety of reading materials on this level to keep him from excelling too far beyond his peers. He can broaden his horizons to prevent boredom but still be able to discuss common interests with his classmates. Is your child excelling in math? Occupy his extra time with math or logic puzzles and other game-type activities and challenges within his level of ability, rather than pushing him to advance his ability too quickly. Allow your student ample time to practice and use the skills he already has, before advancing him to a higher level. If your student forges ahead and worries you that he will be ready for college too soon, encourage him to use the extra time during his high school years for pursuing other academic interests and expanding his education with further preparation for college.
Einstein, Edison, Franklin, DaVinci–these names have become synonymous with vast realms of study and knowledge. I have no way of knowing whether a frustrated 8-year-old boy has the ability to join their ranks, but I am quite certain that his current aggravation will not help him attain anything but more aggravation. Homeschooling at least provides the means toward the end he is seeking: the freedom to fulfill his desire to learn. Having a child who craves higher levels of education is not something to fear: it is simply an opportunity for both you and him.
(co-authored by Carolyn Morrison & Jennifer Leonhard)