I never planned on being a homeschooler. In fact, I never even planned on being a stay-at-home mom. I went back to work a few hours a week when my son was only ten months old, early for most Canadian mothers; my husband and I had always planned on being a two-income family.
We knew, even then, that our child was a little different. While he wasn’t verbal, he had an entire glossary of signs and gestures. He could tell us what he would like to eat, if he was too hot or cold, if he wanted to go for a walk or to the library. He had favourite songs and favourite books, was used to being understood and conversed with just like anyone else. We knew it would be asking a lot of a daycare to care for such a strong-willed infant, one who, on top of all of that, rarely napped. And so, my husband made a career change and I officially became a (temporary) stay-at-home mom.
Knowing all of that, we still didn’t think he was that different and we still intended to send him to public school. I believed (and still believe) that everyone has a right to an education, and I think it’s important that families from higher socio-economic backgrounds remain in the public system in order to advocate for a stronger system for all. On top of that, we knew that public schools were required by law to accommodate special needs with an Individualized Education Plan. We were prepared to advocate for acceleration and find him a mentor.
By the time our son started Junior Kindergarten, he was reading chapter books. He was obsessed with the periodic table, doing advanced math, and he was fairly outgoing and social. We warned his teachers that he might be a little different, but still, we were happy that we sent him to a play-based program where he could still be a kid.
The first few weeks were a disaster. I knew that school would be a big adjustment for a child that was used to being home, but I felt in my gut that something wasn’t right. He came home crying, he refused to go, he had never cried “sick” so many days before in his entire life. When he came home in the evenings he rage-learned... quizzing himself on his multiplication tables, burying his nose in science books. I found out when I approached his teachers that he was rarely socializing or playing at school.
I soon began calling psychologist’s offices to get a psychoeducational assessment. It’s generally not recommended to do gifted testing so young, and the earliest I could convince someone to test him was the day after his fourth birthday. In the meantime, I met with the school and informed them that he would only be attending school part-time, and eventually I pulled him out completely until we got our report back.
We learned that he was so out of sync with his peers that he needed an accelerated learning program in order to best meet his needs. His school was unable to provide that for him, so I pulled him out to homeschool until I could find a solution.
Unfortunately, most schools, private and public, are not set up for anything but the average learner. With steeper and steeper budget cuts, larger classroom sizes, and fewer specialists available to the public education system, children like my son are often left behind. They develop anxiety and perfectionism, they either hide their abilities and feel ashamed or are bullied by their peers, and sometimes even drop out. After contemplating all our options, my husband and I decided that homeschooling would be our best fit.
It hasn’t been easy, but my son is now a happy, well-adjusted 6-year-old. He still loves the periodic table. He enjoys learning number theory and sometimes likes to work out his own “mathematical proofs.” He loves to code and is teaching himself to play the drums and the piano. Because we homeschool we are able to meet him at his level of learning while also making sure that he has time to pursue his own interests. We go to the park, have play dates with friends, and he’s excitedly working towards his brown belt in karate.
Oftentimes, people ask me why we do this, why we don’t want him to just be a kid. And the truth is, denying him learning opportunities that match his abilities would be negligent. Math and science are not just things my son does; his love of learning is a part of who he is. And if you can’t be yourself at 6, and devote time to doing what you love, when are you ever going to get the chance?
I also must admit that I don’t know what the endgame will be. Because gifted children develop asynchronously, I don’t know if he’ll eventually want to take time off and focus on a different pursuit, or if he’s going to want to pursue early entrance to university and acquire a slew of degrees before he’s legally an adult. There’s no guidebook for a child like him, but really, is there a guidebook for any child? As parents, all we can do is love our child with all of our might and hope that we are giving them what they need.
Tiffany Hunter is a sleep-deprived Canadian mom homeschooling her profoundly gifted son. You can find her writing at her blog, Life at Tiffany’s, and making jokes about parenting around social media as @lifeattiffanys.