The Spark That Changed Everything: Homeschooling a Gifted Teen

The spark that changed ever3.


If you have been reading my posts, you probably know that we are homeschooling our gifted teenage son, and we are trying to heal the damage our son’s last year in school has caused him.  Overcoming the effects of neglect from his last school where his giftedness and learning style were not recognized or understood is quite easily the most difficult experience I have ever had to deal with.  I feel as though I am on call 24/7, and I  need to be at my very best with – unlimited patience, endless compassion, perfect level-headedness, and total understanding – all necessary to be able to troubleshoot every teenage educational and emotional issue flawlessly with no mistakes because there are NO do-overs!  Nope, no pressure here!

So, we are now homeschooling our high schooler, our gifted, quirky high schooler,  our visual-spatial learner who remembers everything he sees, our computer-techie kid who can talk Raspberry Pi and Arduino with the best of ‘em, our super-sensitive teenager whose last year in public school turned his life upside down.  I always said I would never homeschool high school, but you know that cliché, “never say never”?  Yep, that one.  So, okay, I really get that now.

Yes, I am homeschooling my teenage son who…

  1. is smarter than me
  2. lives and breathes all things computer techy and program-y, which is all way over my head and miles past where I stand
  3. is a visual-spatial learner who needs to “see” what he is learning, not listen to or read his education.
  4. hates school because it has proven to him to be boring, pointless, repetitive, restrictive and traumatic
  5. is smarter than me (again, for emphasis)

And now, I think we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

My son’s last year in school before we pulled him out to homeschool him was traumatic, but the extent of the educational and emotional effects from this experience still haunt him – the loss of his self-confidence, his disinterest in schoolwork and the disappearance of his previous enthusiastic zeal for learning.  A few weeks ago, I really thought that it would be just about impossible for him to regain his love of learning, but…

I was wrong!  His love of learning is not completely gone; it has been significantly dimmed, but the other day, I witnessed a glimmer of a spark!  That spark that changes everything!  I saw my first glimpse of that spark and now I am like, “all hands on deck”  to make sure we stoke that spark until it becomes a flame again!  However, it will be a slow process, and it will be one small step at a time.

Nope, his love of learning was not totally gone, but what is gone is his love of “school”.  And we can live with that because my son had figured out long before I did that the way traditional schools teach did not always result in learning – purposeful, useful and meaningful learning.  For my gifted son, traditional school meant sitting in a regular classroom full of skill & drill, rote memorization, fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, read-and-answer-the-questions, show your work, tests, standardized testing, grade-level work, rubrics, tons of worksheets, and grades.  Traditional school’s seemingly endless “filling of a pail” approach to learning extinguished my son’s burning desire for knowledge – meaningful, purposeful and useful knowledge.  Being misunderstood and bullied by his teachers dimmed his flame until it was a nearly-extinguished ember in danger of dying out completely.

But we are fervently fanning that one little critical ember!  Imagine if you will Les Stroud of Survivorman fame in the middle of the frozen tundra of the Yukon working frantically to ignite a life-saving fire from a single, small, burning blade of dried grass ignited by his last, wet match – yep, that is how we feel – Survivormanish.

I caught a glimpse of that spark just last week when my son and I went out for our weekly lunch date.  Lunch regularly plays out with him sitting across from me holding his phone in one hand while one ear is hooked up to the phone via one-half of his ever-present earbuds.  Most often both earbuds are in, but my rule is one-ear, one-bud during lunch!  But, this time was different – no earbuds, zero ears plugged in.

And we talked.

Really, he talked and I listened.  He talked and talked.  And he talked.  His topic of concern was ancient history and how our lives would be affected today had the Ancient Greeks not had their unbelievable technology destroyed when the Ancient Romans conquered the Ancient Greek civilization.  He wondered how the timing of the Industrial Revolution would have been affected had the Ancient Greeks’ inventions, knowledge and technology, which was so ahead of its time, survived the Roman conquest.  What if the Industrial Revolution had occurred many, many years earlier as a result of Ancient Greek technology surviving?  How far ahead would we be today, he mused?

That was it!  I saw it!  I spotted the spark right then and there!  I immediately began to fan that little spark with questions and more ideas for him to ponder further, so afraid that if I stopped asking questions, the spark would disappear.

The spark that changed everything.  And now, everyday we fan the spark just a little.  Too much and we could blow it out.

Everyday, step by step, little by little, we fan the spark by asking thought-provoking questions needing his valued opinion, by giving small, easily-managed assignments or tasks in which he will feel successful, and by providing judicious amounts of well-deserved praise for his efforts to overcome.  And everyday, the spark seems to burn a little brighter.  Of course, we have a few, occasional disheartening days where the spark is a bit dimmer, but we also have days where that spark is glowing and it shines hope on us all.

Little victories.  Small steps.  Giving it time.  As long as we have that spark.  The spark that changes everything.


Are you homeschooling a gifted/2E teen?  Then go and see all the great information and resources found in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum‘s Blog Hop: Homeschooling (and parenting!) Gifted/2E Kids Into Their Teens and Beyond.

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31 Comments on “The Spark That Changed Everything: Homeschooling a Gifted Teen

  1. I have such a big grin reading this. I LOVE that spark, I LOVE the fire of learning. And I am so sure that soon I will be left in the dust of my kids…I have my subjects that I excell and are fascinated by…theirs are different. :) Of course.
    Love this.

  2. It is so good to see that spark, Celi! Wishing you both all the very best as you continue to keep the spark burning and watch it glow brightly!

  3. Oh wow! I got the tinglies reading this! I felt such a longing to hug you when I read your post about your son’s love of learning being gone. Now I want to hug you for totally different reasons. :) Thank you for sharing.

    • Jade, you are so sweet! Yes, that spark is pretty special; it is holding a lot of hope for us! Thank you for your kind words; they make me smile!!!

  4. Please move next door. Our very similar techy sons can start something in a garage that will change the world and then put us in the good nursing home because by god we will have earned it. 😉 They can spark each other.

    • Jen, I’ve often daydreamed of neighborhoods being developed just for gifted kids so they could easily find friends like themselves – “Gifted Meadows”, “Gifted Oaks”, or “Gifted Acres”. Only in my dreams….

      • I so totally need a place like Gifted Oaks for my homeschooling girls. Thank goodness we pulled them when we did, but we need that normal exceptionality and feeling of belonging. They all get along great …for now, but we need more people around who just get it.

        As a side note, I have a solid wine collection and would happy to share once we break ground on the new land development. :)

  5. I would never home school either of my two gifted children. Because I am one of the very fortunate. I live in a suburb of Detroit and that enabled me to send both of my children to George and Anna Marie Roeper’s Roeper School for gifted children. My son suffered severe ADHD. In 3rd grade he could no longer keep up with school. At our insistance when he ran into a hostile teacher the school tested him and we sought a child psychiatrist’s opinion. The findings were severe ADHD and an IQ they stopped testing at 190 because they didn’t know what the actual number would be but they knew the answer. It turned out his attention span was about 20 seconds. The public school system’s prounouncement: “he will get C’s by osmosis and that is all we are required by state law.” We sought and found a school that specialized in the issue. It was not the button downed white shirt and tie experience we expected of a private school. It catered to the needs of the children, not impressing the parents.

    Our daughter was little miss perfect in school. A year older, top of her class, excelled in everything, in the school system’s gifted child program. Two years after my son was removed from the public schools and enrolled at Roeper, the teacher of the gifted program went hostile on her because a she created a solution to a science project he had not thought about and was felt she was just trying to be fancy. NASA several years later used her original solution to land a space probe. Her IQ is no where near our son’s, but she knows how to do school. Today she is a professor of Nuclear engineering at a Big Ten University.

    My point is, and I know you may disagree, and knowing my conclusion is not going to be workable but in rare communities, I don’t think gifted children’s needs can be handled in the public school setting. I think it has to go outside it. You are very fortunate to have been trained so that you can homeschool a gifted child, but most cannot. i think you have painted a very generous picture of gifted children. In attending very frequent parent teacher meetings from 4th grade thru 12th and listening to an entire school of parents and teacher of gifted children, my perspective is that they are usually gifted in one or two areas and downright stupid in others. My son is gifted in computers, but in school could not add his way out of a hat box if he had to add 2 plus 2! Some children could write the great american novel in 6th grade, and not be able to color within the lines in 9th grade. The narrow range of their extreme intelligences was incredible. Then along comes my daughter with one of the lowest IQ’s in the school, though still in societies range for giftedness and she blows everyone’s marks away cause she knows how to do school!

    How do you give children like this the time they need though in a public school setting? They need more attention in the gifted areas to keep from getting bored and turning off (the biggest fear of a teacher at Roeper School) and then the added attention they need in areas they just are not able to do! To do that in today’s world of constricting school budgets is just not going to happen. Here we had access to the Roeper school. It required a minimum of 4 hours of driving each day between my wife and myself to get them to and from school. And that does not count the trips for after school activities like plays, sports, music concerts, etc.

    The Roepers were two of the pioneers in gifted child education. The Roeper school is a private school, and that leads to expense and not a situation that can be done everywhere. I would never home school one of my two gifted children… but ONLY because I did not have to.

    PS. Both my wife and I are gifted as well. Neither of us knew it until we were exposed to The Roeper School and learned over the years what that meant. My wife did not suffer so much being in private parochial schools. I was in public schools and my social, emotional, and scholastic life suffered dramatically for it. My wife and I both hold doctorates in unrelated fields.

    • I loved the story you shared here, and to hear of your family’s educational successes is wonderful! How fortunate you were to be able to have your children attend the Roeper School – I hear awesome things about it! And I hear you about the homeschooling, but I see many advantages with it in my family’s situation! And every family’s situation is different, and we all do what we can to find an appropriate education for our gifted children. Sadly, our public school system seems to be the least likely place for a gifted child to thrive. Even more unfortunate are families who cannot afford either a private school or to homeschool – they depend on the public schools to provide an appropriate education for their gifted child. I guess I could go on and on about how gifted children are so misunderstood and underserved …

      I understand your children are out of school, but here is one brave and dedicated woman who started the concept of the micro-school for gifted children. Here is the link: I really like this idea and it gives families one more educational option for their gifted children.

      Thank you SO MUCH for sharing part of your family’s gifted journey!

      • Celi
        Thank you for the link to the the micro-home school for gifted children concept. When I saw that you were homeschooling gifted children my first thoughts were “but what about intereaction with other kids, especially other gifted kids?” The micro concept is something that could really help that. Seeing what interactive process does for these children is amazing. As a parent I used to look forward in the directory each year to find out where past Roeper grads had gone and what they had done with their lives… from one end of the spectrum to the other, even winning a Gold metal in ice dancing at the Olympics this year and so many leadership positions in their communities. These children make differences in the world as they grow older if they are encouraged and nurtured.

        bob branch

        • Bob, I really appreciate your comments! Just as gifted children are misunderstood, homeschooling is too. Homeschoolers have done a remarkable job of mobilizing themselves, and there are vast amount of homeschooling groups, clubs, classes, teams, field trips, co-ops and social gatherings. Homeschooling is really a misnomer because we are never home. Many areas even have large groups, sometimes 50 or 60 families, of just gifted homeschoolers. There is plenty of healthy interaction; not just with same-age peers, but with people of all ages – infant to adult. Homeschooling is not perfect, but there are distinct advantages such as a totally tailored curriculum for each child, bullying is not much of an issue, traveling as a family can be done anytime, and learning opportunities are just about endless. Just today, my son went to volunteer along with about 200 other adults and teens to package food to be sent to Africa and India. In the several hours he was there, he was measuring and weighing rice, he was told how the nutritional content of the food being sent is carefully designed, he was shown on a map where the food was going and why these people needed it, and he was working on a team alongside adults and teens.

          Homeschooling isn’t at all as isolated as maybe it was when hardly anybody homeschooled decades ago. I’d have to say that the social interactions of homeschool students are of a better quality and more like what they will need in the real world than most public schools. It’s all good!

          And the micro-school concept is pretty promising, too!

          Thanks again for your comments! I always appreciate your thoughts!

  6. Celi, your story outlines the struggles of so many. I don’t know any one where I live who is going through what we are with our son at 7 1/2 years old so it is wonderful to read your story. It is very similar to yours. We started homeschooling this year as the public school system did not work, and he was called names, not helped with extension or sensitivities or over-excitabilities, instead punished for things he could not help. He became suicidal. We pulled him out of school, and slowly, slowly he is coming back to us. So many people say “How can you home-school? It would drive me insane?” I say, what is the alternative? I actually see this turn of events as a gift. We have our son. Anything after that is a bonus. He has gone from a sad, withdrawn, moody boy not interested in learning much, to an excited boy, eagerly making flying creations, doing experiments and designing high flying architectural projects. He is happy, laughing again and I see how important pulling him out was. I thought it would be for a year, but reading your post, I don’t see how he could go back into that system, even at another , supposedly better school. I’ve seen what can happen when a child is mistreated and misunderstood at school. I’m just grateful he is here, and I able to teach him. Best of luck in continuing to nurture your spark. Your son is so lucky to have you.

    • Aww, Nikki, thanks so much for your kind words! While reading your story, I was continually thinking, “yes, she is doing the best thing possible for her son, and how much FUN it is to homeschool when they are young!” And I SO miss homeschooling when projects, experiments crafts, and learning toys were the order of the day! If you asked me what the best part of homeschooling was, I would tell you without a doubt, it is the beautiful, loving and close relationship you develop with your child because they are always with you. It is such a treasure…and fun! Thanks for sharing your story, and have fun homeschooling your brilliant little boy!

  7. Celi, I found your website while frantically searching the web for any information on how to help my gifted visual spatial learner survive in our highly competitive public high school. My son is currently a freshman and while surviving, everyday I see little pieces of his confidence and self esteem being chipped away because school is such a mismatch for his learning style. He knows he’s intelligent yet continues to struggle with school so much more than his friends. Even as freshman all the talk is about GPA and standardized test scores. He very well should have been homeschooled years ago but I never explored that option. My son However, enjoys the social aspects of school, has lots of friends and is involved in sports But I worry that pushing him through this HS will not best serve him in the long run. I see his spirit crushed when he doesn’t do well on assignments. He constantly struggles to stay organized. I know he doesn’t feel “gifted” at all. While I read your site, I started to cry; my son is suffering just as yours did. I don’t even know where to begin to help him, but my first thought was to find someone else who is/has gong through this too. Where do I begin? How can I build his confidence and salvage his love of learning? Thank you for putting your story out there.

    • Mary Beth, my heart really hurt when I read your story; it is so like my son’s situation. When I was first going through this with my son, I really felt like we were the only ones in the entire world going through this. Then when I started writing, I found more families like yours and mine going through this same situation. I don’t have any answers because we are still struggling through it, but it does help to know we are not the only ones, and for me, hearing all of our similar stories gives me strength to keep plowing forward, one day at a time. I guess there is strength in numbers.

      One thing I do know from experience: protecting their self-esteem is critical. Without self-esteem, our kids lack motivation to help themselves. The second thing: keep an open and honest and strong line of communication going. Talk, discuss and let him know he is not the only one – there are many more gifted teens out there like him!

      Thank you for sharing your story! All the best to you, Mary Beth!

    • I know not everyone has the luxury to homeschool, but I know my parents never considered it for me. It took me about 6 years of unschooling after school to realize how much I actually liked learning. School is not a problem by itself, but I think the system can often destroy our kids if they don’t fit in. My wife and I pulled our girls out of school a year ago and it’s been possibly the best decision we ever made (other than possibly getting married and having children). We worried about socialization before making the move, now I think they get more social time than before and it’s natural. They talk to kids of any age and adults just as easily as kids their own age. Their friends share interests rather than birth year.

      You can also still join in public school sports. Homeschooling is an independent school within the district you are registered and still have the right to participate in the extra curricular activities of your local school(s). Our are has an incredible homeschooling group who support one another well. I didn’t even know one existed until shortly before pulling our girls.

      …So, if you’re worried about socializing issues or him not being eligible for school sports, I think it’s a non-issue.

  8. Celi,
    I feel we are raising the same child except mine is a girl. which for some reason makes it more “weird” I have my bags packed and we are waiting for ground breaking on Gifted oaks. haha we have the same lunch date. every week also. ever find yourself 5 minutes into a conversation and then realize she has her ear buds in and can’t hear a word I am saying. but maybe that’s just 15 and nothing to do with gifted lol. I feel I am at an invisible barrier here with teen she is SO “OVER “SCHOOL I mean stick a fork in me I ‘m done kind of done. even though we managed to get through 8th grade homeschooling it was a daiky struggle not stuggle is too mild of a word. it was a full on war. she loves photography and art although she does great work she feels she is lousy at both. she hold back so much that her work is often awkward and messy because she doesn’t let her self go and [our herself into work she doesn’t put the feeling she has into her paintings and photography, like in life she is afraid to let it all go for fear it wont be good. every one expects everything she does to be great. so when she does something that is just good. people are “disappointed in her work” I think she does it subconsciously,
    its not really good because i made it not really good on purpose so she can say to herself I didn’t really try so its ok if they don’t like it. but if she really gave her all and they didn’t like it she would have no buffer so to speak to cushion her.and for what ever reasons she has huge fears of not measuring up. not being good enough. it has to be perfect and i am not sure i can make it perfect so i wont try. does any of this make sense? I am just kind of lost at this point we have taken june off from “school” we do a year round kind of school since she has good days and bad. so it gives leway for more days in off in the year than 3 weeks here and 3 months there it works better for us to put 180 days in to a full year than 9 months. anyway I am at a loss as to how to find the “Spark” and kindle it I am so very worried about blowing that final spark out from blowing too hard. How can I turn the things she loves into teaching tools and let her know that average is ok and everything doesn’t have to be extraordinary. I know that seems strange since most people push there kids for excellence and extraordinary results. I just want my child to be comfortable in her own skin. and that in itself is a an extraordinary wish . any suggestions? I just want to find her love of learning that she had when she was younger. middle school has proven to be not only counterproductive but destructive for my child. before you commentators start sending me hate mail i am not knocking schools or teachers it just didn’t work for my child and the schools and teachers were not equipped with the tools necessary for my child to thrive. I dont think she should get special treatment just different. not all people learn the same and I feel that If students don’t learn the way we teach , then maybe we should teach the way they learn. even if “that’s not the way things are done around here” “we cant cater our teaching styles to every child” why cant we? you cant put a square peg in a round hole you can’t teach a deaf person to sing like a hearing person and then criticize him because he is off key. why do we force children to fit into the core and if your outside it top or bottom doesn’t matter your damaged good. ok enough ranting, I am seriously looking for answers for my child. if you have any input I am all ears thanks so much for sharing your experiences

    • Please forgive the Grammar and typing errors. I was particularly frustrated and it was spewing faster than I could type but I hope you can get the gist of my dilemma

      • You know what, Debey? Grammar and typing errors don’t matter at all here; it is advocating and getting the word out about our kids that matters! And you are doing a wonderful job! <3

    • Debey, same boat we’re in for sure! Here is the one thing that I have found that seems to be helping: finding a group they can connect with. Instead of talking, fixing, fussing, cheerleading, philosophizing, advising, guiding (which I did a lot of), I have gone WAY out on many limbs trying to find group opportunities in which my son can feel comfortable, safe, valued and accepted. Look into clubs, groups, volunteer opportunities, continuing ed. classes, teams – for youth or adults. My son is into computers and we went to several computer repair shops to see if they needed an apprentice or helper or if they knew of any classes or clubs. This was difficult for me because my weakest area is asking for help. Our saving grace was finding a local FRC robotics team – a tight-knit group of teens and mentors. As my husband and I say, “he has found his people!”

      Think about your daughters interests and find groups that focus on her interests. You may have to dig deep, but keep digging, asking, calling, emailing. I thought we would never find a place where our son felt he belonged, but after being persistent, we did. Also, if you can’t find what you want, maybe start a group – there will be many who will appreciate that you did! Just like our gifted children, think outside the box when looking for these opportunities! Good luck and stay in touch!

      • I think one of my biggest down falls is asking for help. For so long I felt like I am MOM i have to have all the answers with in myself. I am all things to all people. lol wow was i wrong. So now I do try to ask for help from others who know and have been there, or are there its still not easy but I do it, and its so exciting to know that we are not alone, I am sorry others have to go thru what we do, but at the same time its nice to know there are others thanks again for sharing your stories, they are so helpful

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