Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Response to "The Loneliness of Genius"

Do you have a child that is considered "gifted" or that you suspect falls into that category?   I do.  My nearly 12 year old son, JP, falls into that category.  Ever since he began to speak and develop his personal interests, others have noticed.  At three and four years old, my adult friends were calling him "the little professor" because he was already obsessed with physics, numbers, and words in ways that other young children aren't.  In 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, he had horrible problems fitting in at school.  On the playground, he was becoming the weird kid that the others avoid.  When they wanted to play soccer or basketball, JP wanted to talk about astrophysics and alternate universe theories.  He just didn't fit in and it was beginning to turn into a serious problem.  So, I finally decided to start homeschooling him!  I figured that by homeschooling, we could move at JP's pace (in most subjects he was far ahead and bored in school), and we could meet other quirky kids just like him.  And, I was totally right!  JP is infinitely happier, still thinking constantly about physics, numbers, and words, and he is just blossoming into a wonderful young man!

So, it was with great interest that I read an article called "The Loneliness of Genius" by Rod Dreher.  I recall feeling just like the kids that Rod describes and I saw these same things in my son before we began to homeschool

Here is my response to that article:

This sounds sooooo much like my son.  My son was assessed as "gifted" in early elementary school and this article is such a perfect description of what my son and I deal with.  He is just shy of 12 years old and struggles with basic math facts yet can figure out complex physics problems intuitively and correctly.  He talks about all kinds of scientific "stuff" that I can barely comprehend and is basically teaching himself.  He also intuitively composes beautiful poetry and hilarious short stories.  He writes fantastic, complex music with his keyboard but has no formal training other than several lessons from his 18 year old cousin.

He has extremely few friends his own age but *many* friends who are either several years younger or adults.  So many of the adults in his life have been fantastic at helping to guide my son.  He gravitates towards adults while most kids his age shy away from them.  He counts *my* friends as his own friends. 

The best advice that I have for any other parent with a kid like this is to consider homeschooling.  And, if for some reason you can't homeschool, consider an alternative school situation of some sort or have a trusted friend or family member help you manage homeschooling.  If I can homeschool as a single, working mother, then you can find a way to homeschool or give your child an alternative education as well.  Surround your child with positive adult role models that understand how special these kids are.  Give them as much access to sound educational materials as possible but also give them opportunities to have fun within the parameters of their interests - golf and archery are both exciting and fun for my son but in large part because they involve physics and math.  ALL of my son's "fun" and "recreational" interests involve science, language, or math in a very intense way.  On the surface it may look like his just playing with Lego's but in his mind, I know he is seeing 3-D objects and problems and trying to work out solutions.  But, to him this is FUN. 

It is very easy to cause these kids to burn out or to become self-defeating perfectionists.  Recognize that they have their own needs that are very different from what we are lead to believe children need and then go with it.  As a parent, I had to figure out on my own that it is ok for my son to be "different."  He doesn't need to adjust.  He doesn't need to fit in.  He doesn't need to "man up" as a former friend once told me.  He needs to be emotionally and intellectually supported.  As a kid, I was told more than once that I didn't "need to know" about this or that topic because it simply wasn't what the teacher wanted me to learn.  I was always intellectually hungry but because of the way the traditional school system is set up, I only had time and energy to learn what the school system wanted to teach me.  I took honors and college prep classes because it was the only way to feel challenged (and even then, not really...).  But, by the time I graduated from high school, I was burnt out on studying.  I hated school and was bored.  I don't want that for my son.  Instead of asking him to meet me where *I* am, I strive to meet him where *HE* is intellectually and emotionally.  This has been the biggest key to our success as a homeschooling family with a gifted child.  He still has to do his chores.  He still has to follow my rules.  He still has to do actual school work.  But, beyond that, he is free to be himself and not what some institution or group of others thinks he should be.

When I first told my son's 4th grade teacher that we would be homeschooling after the winter break, the teacher was delighted.  He thought it was just what JP needed emotionally and intellectually.  He felt that to continue public school (or even private school) would just break JP down and that it would lead to disastrous consequences.  JP's childhood may be moving along a path of carefree joy, but he is heading towards a fantastically wonderful adulthood!  Getting there hasn't been without struggles, and I am sure there will be more ahead, but recognizing that the path won't be easy, and finding alternative solutions, like homeschooling, have helped tremendously along the way.

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