I always hoped my kids would be smart and intellectual individuals. I prayed my husband and I would raise kids who loved to read. God has answered both those prayers, and I praise Him for it, but the truth is that raising advanced learners is not as easy as I thought it would be.
Advanced learners bring along their own challenges. One being that they are more likely all over the board with their learning and this will make it very difficult to be able to choose a box curriculum like Sonlight, My Father’s World, Heart of Dakota, Memoria Press. If you choose one of these, you will likely have to tweak substantially.
1. Keep in mind their physical age
Sometimes with an advanced learned, there is the challenge that your child can do third grade math at the age of 6, but the textbook is daunting and she doesn’t want to do more than x number of problems per day. There is discord between their brain’s ability and their brain’s maturity. The questions are not challenging for her (for the most part) but the quantity of them is and she can’t keep up the pace.
2. Go deeper, not further
This is advice I received from the Well-Trained Mind forum. Instead of speeding ahead (especially in math and grammar), going deeper slows the child down, while still providing enrichment . This article was really eye opening for me regarding not zooming through math as fast as we had been going. Going deeper has been helpful recently with what I mentioned above about the math issue, which brings up another point:
3. Research Your Curriculum, as some are better for advanced/gifted learners than others. Case in point: I purchased Beast Academy after doing such research and finally pulled it out for Bear to try. It is a challenging 3rd grade math curriculum that forces her to slow down and think about how to apply her knowledge. Instead of just writing whether or not an angle is acute, obtuse, or right, they are asked to do an angle maze following just the acute angles or just the obtuse angles.
4. Find what inspires them
Just because they are advanced, doesn’t mean they are going to jump at the idea of doing school. Bear loves to read, and will frequently come to me spewing interesting facts, but she doesn’t like “school,” because it infringes on her free time. I should unschool, but it isn’t my teaching style at all. The box checker in me rebels. However, I can meet my daughter halfway and provide her with curriculum she has helped me choose, or allow her to set the order in which she does her work. We recently switched to Classical Academic Press’ Writing & Rhetoric because Bear wanted to do more creative writing within “school time.” I still wanted a classical writing curriculum, so Writing & Rhetoric was the perfect fit for us, encompassing WWE and IEW styles of writing instruction all in one. J-jo loves to be with me, playing meaningfully. As long as I can turn learning into a game, he is in. It’s important for me to know that.
5. Focus on virtues and habit training
Advanced learners are sometimes more intense. In other words, they react more strongly (or maybe that’s just the nature of my kids). I find some days we need to take a break from school and focus on virtues. I purposefully choose stories to read aloud that speak volumes on character and we discuss them. Then we focus on putting into practice what we’ve read and discussed through the day.
When learning comes easily, children often want to quit as soon as something gets difficult. Bear is apt to break down dejectedly and complain that it is just too hard and she can’t do it, when in fact, she just needs to give it a moment and look at the question again. She’s learning to calm herself and not get worked up over little things. I vividly remember two year old tantrums because her “k” did not look like a “k” to her. I didn’t even want her to be writing; I wasn’t ready for it. But here she was, writing out her letters over and over again. She’s expected perfection from herself from an early age, and when she can’t be perfect, she wants to abandon ship! “Nobody can be perfect except God” is a lesson we revisit often. I want my children to learn that life IS hard and that we can’t just give up. Persistence, diligence, perseverance, are all key virtues we have to discuss daily. I registered Bear for gymnastics to help her learn these. Occasionally, especially since making pre-team, she asks to quit gymnastics, and when I ask her why, she always says it is too much work. I don’t want either growing up thinking they can eschew work; I want them to embrace working hard to achieve a goal.
6. Strew resources
Children vary. My son gets bored with two much free time. Bear, on the other hand, just reads or writes to fill in her time. She will read anything and everything. Fiction, nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. She loves books. I strew them around the house and she finds them. Meanwhile, I strew interesting toys for J-jo – magnet kits, Snap Circuits, and magnatiles amongst other things to try to keep him entertained. Pencils and paper are in every room of the house in case the muse strikes.
Raising advanced learners, like most things, has its advantages as well as its disadvantages, and though their little brains need stimulation and enrichment, the most important thing you can give your child is plenty of understanding, unconditional love, and quality time engaged with them. It’s so especially important for these children to know that your love for them is not hinged to their achievements. So go find your kids, advanced or not, and go hug and love on them!