Review by Stephanie Marshall Ward
"We are all free to learn, to explore, and to play according to our own abilities and interests. We are not measured by age or grade. Without these constraints, our life education can now be truly individuated. We can come home to our innate joy of learning."
Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families focuses on to home schooling gifted children. The author stated that while the term "gifted" can be misleading, and is not considered politically correct, it should not be avoided or marginalized. I myself tend to flinch when I hear this term, and rarely use it. After all, are not all children "gifted" in some way? If we call some children "gifted" does that imply that others are only "ordinary?" Furthermore, isn't this merely a label placed on children, reflecting standardized measures? This issue tweaks some of my deeply held values, and I can rarely resist framing the words "gifted" and "normal" with quotation marks. However, Rivero made a valid point. Children who match this profile do tend to share certain traits and have unique needs. These traits and needs should be addressed in educational planning.
I purchased the book, after learning about it through Carolyn McKeon's articles, specifically to review it for this newsletter. However, I found it personally helpful in many ways. It illuminated my understanding of my oldest child, who has been identified both as "gifted" and having "special needs." She exhibits many of the characteristics Rivero described, and this - in part - explains why she had such difficulty in the public education system. (Actually the characteristics of her "giftedness" and her "disorders" overlap in many ways). I wish I'd had this book five years ago when she was a Kindergartner, we were struggling to make public school work for her, and I lacked the confidence to home school.
Since bringing her son home to learn, after several years of public school, Lisa Rivero has been repeatedly amazed at the way children learn in non-academic settings. In her introduction, she described a chess club her son attended. The club's adult leader was neither hands-off nor obviously directive. Rather than being a teacher, he was a skillful facilitator: demonstrating, explaining, coaching, and sharing his love of the game.
"I am continually struck by the children's love of learning in this setting, their willingness to take risks, their easy competitiveness and lack of anxiety." (p. 2)
In this way, Rivero eloquently introduces one of the themes of her book: the importance of living learning, characterized by creativity, self-direction, and willingness to take risks. She has created a resource that is less a road map than a travel guide; it offers important ideas, possible goals, and other things to explore on the home schooling journey.
Chapter 1: The Decision
According to the results of many years of research, children who are gifted have certain characteristics that may set them apart from their peers. Many children have uneven academic development - making "normal" progress in some areas while excelling in others - but this asynchronous development is more common among gifted kids. There may also be a disparity between their intellectual and emotional development; they may understand things in a way that seems far beyond their years, and not have the emotional maturity to handle this. For example, a Kindergartner may have a precocious understanding of death, but be unable to cope with this knowledge, having a normal five-year-old's emotions. Gifted children tend to be unusually sensitive. They are often perfectionists. They are likely to be intense and self-directed and use a great deal of divergent thinking - exploring issues from many different angles. They need the opportunity to socialize with children of many different ages, rather than being confined to same age peers. In this way, they can find varied companions who match their many different ability levels. They need the opportunity to gain advanced skills and knowledge and use critical thinking skills. They also need interdisciplinary learning - education that is interconnected rather than being broken into different unrelated subjects. Rivero argues that home education, which offers these opportunities, is likely to be ideal for children with these needs.
Chapter 2: Traits of Giftedness
She explores these characteristics in greater depth, and offers suggestions for supporting the child's unique social and emotional needs.
Chapter 3: Social and Emotional Needs
She further explores this subject, and offers more ideas. One area she explores is accomodating uneven development. For example, a 6-year-old might have precocious ability in creating stories, but have a "normal" six-year-old's fine motor skills. This can be accomodated by letting the child dictate his stories. As another example, a 7-year-old may have advanced reading ability, but a young child's sensitive emotions. She may need help in selecting books that are challenging to her reading abilities, without exploring emotional topics she is not ready to confront.
A second topic Rivero explores in depth is the problem of perfectionism. She offers many techniques for helping children manage perfectionism, and encourages the reader to reflect on how we measure achievement.
Chapter 4: Intellectual Needs
How do gifted kids learn? Often, they immerse themselves in a single topic of interest, or in a series of subjects they are passionate about that are connected by some common thread of interest. Often they excel at divergent thinking, looking at an issue from many different angles. They may rely on creativity and intuition, love to argue and debate, and thrive on humor. In this chapter, which I consider to be - in many ways - the heart of the book, Rivero discusses accomodating and encouraging these ways of thinking, learning, and relating in your home school. I believe these ideas would be enriching for most families, regardless of whether they identify their children as "gifted."
Chapter 5: Learning Styles
This chapter explores the topic of learning styles from various angles. She explores the visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile learning styles, with specific suggestions for teaching to each of them. She also discusses "auditory-sequential" versus "visual spatial" and "impulsive" versus "reflective" learning styles. The emphasis is not only on identifying and teaching to a child's unique ways of learning, but on creating a balance by nurturing strengths in all these areas.
Chapter 6: The Full-Time Parent-Teacher
She explores creating a balance between the roles of parent and teacher, with the parent-child relationship being most important. She coaches the reader on having realistic expectations and on making room for ones own life and identity outside of being a parent and teacher.
Chapter 7: Getting Started
She offers guidelines for the novice homeschooler and defines a style of home education she calls "Creative Home Schooling." Creative home schoolers vary in the level of direction parents give children. They may "school at home," "unschool" or something in between. The common thread that connects them is their attitude toward learning. They are flexible and adaptible, willing to "try it and see if it works," value creativity, and use principles and techniques for teaching gifted learners.
Rivero encourages exploring different approaches to home education, and adapting aspects of each. Many of the chapters that follow focus on what can be learned from various methods, such as unschooling or classical education.
Chapter 8: Curriculum Matters
She discusses ways of customizing curricula to meet childrens' individual needs, financial concerns, and budget saving strategies.
Chapter 9: Unschooling and Self-Directed Learning
In addition to discussing the pros and cons of unschooling, this chapter explores an issue that is at the heart of unschooling: how to foster self-directed learning.
Chapter 10: Studying Individual Subjects
Gleaned from the "school at home approach" is the issue of how to teach individual subjects. This chapter explores the pros and cons of this approach and provides suggestions, including ideas on individualizing teaching of a subject to meet a child's needs. She also offers a wonderful discussion of nurturing critical thinking skills.
Chapter 11: Classical Home Schooling
She describes this approach, explores the pros and cons, and offers suggestions for implementing this method.
Chapter 12: Unit Studies: What's the Big Idea?
This is the best discussion of unit studies approach I have seen. It describes characteristics of children for whom the unit study approach might be a good fit. It explores ways unit studies can be designed to foster higher-level thinking skills. Then it suggests steps for developing a "Big Ideas" Unit Study, one that is not just a package of activities but a route to understanding important, enriching ideas.
Chapter 13: Paperwork, Documentation and Testing
This chapter offers practical suggestions for measuring and documenting progress, both to meet state requirements and for the parent's own purposes. This includes a discussion of preparation for college.
Chapter 14: Special Topics
This chapter discusses meeting the needs of profoundly gifted children, children with Attention Deficit Disorder, and kids with sensory integration needs. It also addresses the question of how to teach several siblings with radically different learning styles.
Chapter 15: Home School Resources
This offers recommendations of learning materials from experienced home schooling parents. It also lists resources to support specific religious and cultural perspectives.
These topics are mixed with profiles of home educating parents and children, home schoolers' quotes, and generous lists of various kinds of resources. The book offers not only a thorough resource on home schooling, but an effective blend of rich ideas, practical suggestions, and "real life" experiences. It helped me to expand my thinking in several areas, and provided joyful validation of our path as a home schooling family.
Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families
by Lisa Rivero. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, 2002.
Growing Together Family Learning Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 3, page 12