Homeschooling

100 Essential Tools for Homeschooling Gifted Kids

100 Essential Tools for Homeschooling Gifted Kids - by Gina of the Oaxacaborn Blog

Are you homeschooling a gifted / twice-exceptional (2E) child with sensory-seeking tendencies? Me, too! Let’s navigate this wild ride together. I created this mega-post for you, a huge list of 100 resources, sensory tools, educational websites, digital subscriptions, apps, games, morning time ideas and tips for homeschooling gifted and advanced learners.

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It’s a strange world, isn’t it, the cross-section of homeschooling and giftedness? In my own journey so far, I’ve experienced…

. . . a two-year-old begging to learn to write.
. . . a three-year-old announcing “I’m done with toys. Can I have a math book?”
. . . a four-year-old offering to read a bed-time story, then reading “how to prepare a slide” from the appendix of a microscope encyclopedia.
. . . a five-year-old reading 500 books in one calendar year.
. . . a six-year-old reading 500 more books the next calendar year.
. . . a seven-year-old overcome with emotion, hugging a beloved algebra textbook before reluctantly dropping it down the library book return.

You won’t find much support from the world at large for this sort of aberrant behavior; and sadly, you won’t even necessarily find that much within the homeschool community (until you find your tribe — more on that, later.) But this is my normal, and I am willing to bet that if you’re still reading this, it might be your normal, too.

Are you feeling tired, discouraged, or intimidated? I’ve been in this homeschool world for a long, long, time. I’m the child of homeschool pioneers, and I’ve been a reader since age three. And friends, you can do this.

You can homeschool your gifted child.

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→100 Essential Tools for Homeschooling Gifted Kids

Homeschooling a gifted child is a whole different thing, isn’ t it? It’ll try your patience. It’ll test your mettle. It’ll put you at odds with the conventional homeschool community, as you, stapled to a cheetah, are wholly unable to conform to the delay-formal-academics-until-age-seven mantra.  And I’ll be real: it might even cost you friendships.

But for the gifted child — especially the twice-exceptional child — homeschooling offers an opportunity to thrive. You have the opportunity to create a personalized situation, especially designed for your child’s own quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Spelling below grade level? Yup, you can accommodate that. Thinking mathematically far above grade level? Yup, you can accommodate that. Needs chewing gum and a wiggle seat in order to focus? Yup, you can accommodate that. You get to create your child’s own IEP and learning environment — and you don’t have to fight anyone to get the accommodations approved.

But as joyous as it can be to watch your asynchronously-developing, twice-exceptional kids bloom, it’s also exhausting. Parenting intense, gifted children — not to mention homeschooling them — takes a lot out of you. It’s a marathon, only it feels like you’re running sprint speeds all the time. (Sound familiar?)

While no two gifted kids are the same, there are definitely some common threads running through the tapestry. Weary mama stapled to a cheetah, you are not alone. 

Let’s keep going down this list of one hundred resources, books, websites, products and tips for homeschooling gifted and advanced learners.

→Best Sensory Tools for Homeschooling Gifted Kids

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So much of the SPD (sensory-processing disorder) information available is geared toward sensory-avoiding kids. Have you noticed this, too? But when I learned about sensory-seeking behaviors, my eyes flew wide open, and suddenly so much made sense to me. The behaviors disrupting our homeschooling day weren’t caused by a lack of focus (gifted kids often hyper-focus) but rather by a drive to seek out sensory-enriching experiences. When I started providing opportunities for sensory stimuli alongside our school tasks, everything changed. Put at ease by the sensory input she craved, my daughter was able to direct her attention — calmly! — to the task at hand. Here are the sensory-seeking tools which work best for us:

  1. Tangle Relax Therapy Fidget

This small plastic fidget is covered with rubbery nubs, and has numerous twistable joints so it can be manipulated into endless shapes. Fits easily in a pocket; a favorite!

  1. Puffy Snow Slime (DIY)

This puffy slime only keeps its volume for one day, but is relatively inexpensive to make, especially if you already have saline solution on hand. We skipped the dye.

  1. Dollar Store Cookie Sheets

Yes, cookie sheets! These are the perfect work surfaces for clay and slime messes — and for puzzles and other games with small parts. (See more tips on creating clutter-free activity centers in your homeschool.)

  1. Thinking Putty

I prefer Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty to the other silly brand. The mini 2″ tins are perfect.

  1. Water Beads

Not just for preschoolers! A couple of teaspoons of beads in a $1 plastic shoebox provide lots of soothing sensory play. Add a drop of lavender EO and grapefruit seed extract to keep the beads from getting musty.

  1. Stetro Pencil Grips

These particular pencil grips were recommended to me by an OT, and have been very effective in correcting my daughter’s grip.

  1. ARK Therapeutics Brick Stick Chew Necklace

The colors of ARK Chew pendants correlate to different levels of toughnesses, from soft to more durable. Depending on your child’s personal preference, one might work better than another. Once we bought a chew necklace — and gum presto! no more chewed and ruined shirts.

  1. PÜR Soy-Free Chewing Gum

Free of both sugar and aspartame, this gum has been a lifesaver. Lots of kids can focus so much better when chewing gum.

  1. Wiggle Seat / Balance Disk

I can’t say enough good things about wiggle seats! They’re a cross between a chair pad and an exercise ball, and allow the user to wiggle. In fact, since you inflate the balance disk to fit the person’s weight, the user has to wiggle at least a little in order to maintain balance on the chair. It’s a discreet way to get the wiggles out when you still have to be seated. When my daughter first took outside classes (at age 3 for Chinese) she took her wiggle seat with her. Game changer — and not just for kids!

  1. Foam Place Value Disks

It can be frustrating when we expect kids to immediately grasp abstract math ideas without tangible examples — why not use concrete methods first? These place value disks are so versatile.

  1. Exercise Ball

My daughter likes to read entire books while rocking or bouncing on an exercise ball.

  1. Yoga Mat

Yoga Mats can make a great surface for read-alouds, lapbooking, etc — not all school work has to be conducted at a table or desk! The texture is especially fun when layered over a plush rug. Try to choose a mat that’s OKEO-TEX certified, so it’s not off-gassing endocrine-disrupting chemicals. We found ours at Aldi!

  1. Silicone Body Brush 

Comparable to the sensory brush sold by Fun & Function. It makes a great fidget, and we’ve also had good luck diffusing meltdowns with this, too.

  1. Fuzzy Vests or Fuzzy Socks

Under the “What should the teachers know about your child?” heading of a class registration form, I once wrote “May try to pet other students’ fuzzy shirts“. True story. Sometimes, it helps to have the fuzzy shirt near.

  1. Light Covers / Light Filters / Umbrella

Have you seen the fitted fabric covers to filter harsh light in classrooms? My daughter figured this accommodation out on her own — I saw her underneath a big open umbrella in the living room, working on Chinese homework. “It’s cozy light under here, mama!”

  1. Swipe-Sequin Pillowcase

No one can resist a good flippy-sequin — they’re addicting! My daughter keeps a swipe-sequin pillow nearby when she’s doing written work on the floor — and they’re the ideal squeeze-buddy during a read-aloud, too. We got ours at Hobby Lobby; but here’s a similar swipe-sequin pillowcase.

  1. IKEA bathmat

The top side is of the Toftbo mat covered with ultra-soft nubs, and the reverse side is slightly grippy. It’s a fantastically economical sensory rug — can be used for a reading corner, chair pad, on the floor to dig toes into, or even as a tactile item to play with while listening to audiobooks. And did you know you can find IKEA items on Amazon now, too?

  1. Gel Bead Sleep Mask

Soft velour on one side, and gel beads on the other, this sensory mask can be placed in the freezer.

  1. Hot Water Bottle with Knit Cover

The hot water bottle is a classic for a reason! Comforting and calming.

  1. Rice Bag (DIY)

This can be used to provide warming sensory input, but has an added advantage over the hot water bottle because rice bags can be used as a fidget, too. The rice offers great texture (and you can add dried lavender!)

  1. Aromatherapy Roller Ball

I especially like this pre-diluted lavender roller — it’s safe for kids!

  1. A Balloon and Cornstarch (DIY)

Stress balls are so easy to make, and so satisfying to squeeze!

Shop my Gifted / 2E Homeschool Toolkit

We’re only a quarter of the way through this huge list of resources, so let’s keep going….

Continue reading “100 Essential Tools for Homeschooling Gifted Kids”

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Homeschooling

Using Children’s Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We read a lot of books in this house. How many? Last year, we scanned most of the books my daughter read, and at year-end, counted a virtual stack of 530 books. The year before, when she was five, we catalogued 561 books. (I don’t need to sign up for a fitness program; I carry library tote bags.)

And we didn’t scan every book she read, either. We tend to mostly scan library books, and not necessarily the daily-rotating selection from our wall of overstuffed bookshelves. So one thousand is a conservative count; over the course of two years, she easily read far more than a thousand books. (Does that make your head spin? It does mine!)

How do I keep up?

I don’t.

How do I preview them all?

I don’t.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I’m aware of what she reads, but there’s no way I could possibly pre-read even a fraction of these books. That’s why it’s so important to teach a solid foundation of discernment, critical thinking skills, and logic — teaching how to think, and how to “rightly divide the word of truth”, as 2 Timothy 2:15 says. (And I’m not claiming to be an expert on this, either.) But as parents, we’ll never be able to preview all of life. We need to equip for life, not shelter from life.

Finding enough quality books, though, can be challenge. We frequent more than one county library system, and I’m always marking used book sales on the calendar, but I still need to know what to look for. My daughter, a fan of non-fiction, loves meaty books of facts; I appreciate good design, format and layout. (No, you can’t judge a book by its cover — but isn’t there something special about particularly pretty books?) The books we both get really excited about deliver substantial chunks of information in aesthetically pleasing packages.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received free books from Candlewick Press and was compensated for my time in exchange for writing and publishing this post. All opinions are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

One publisher which consistently releases exceptionally well-designed and well-written books is Candlewick Press. As I was browsing their catalog this season, I kept thinking about the concept of curiosity, and how wonderful it is that even in the Information Age, books still haven’t lost the power to draw us in to new, unimagined places.

In this era of Google searches, answers are at our fingertips.

The internet can answer nearly every question we could ever think to ask.

But what about questions we haven’t thought to ask?

What about places, people, ideas, worlds, inventions, and habitats we never even knew existed?

If we were to bypass books in favor of the ubiquitous search engine, we’d get answers to our questions, but we’d miss out on a whole wonderful world of questions we’d never have even known to ask. An internet search can satisfy curiosity, but a book will ignite curiosity.

Books are life-changing.

I love homeschooling for the incredible flexibility which allows children to pursue their interests (and ask Alexa endless questions), but sometimes kids need a nudge to explore areas outside their chosen niche, too. The right book — a colorful, captivating, grab-your-attention book — has the power to

  • ignite curiosity,
  • provoke questions, and
  • uncover brand-new areas of interest.

And it’s in curiosity and questioning where the real learning begins.

Using Candlewick Press Books to Challenge a Gifted Learner

I moderate a small online homeschool community, and parents of outliers, quirky kids, and out-of-the-box thinkers often ask me,

  • How do I challenge my gifted child?
  • How do I know I’m providing my gifted child enough opportunities to learn?
  • How do I know what topics to introduce to my gifted learner?
  • How do I allow my gifted child to dig deeper?
  • How do I encourage my gifted child to branch out?

To alter a phrase from Marie Kondo, the launching point to answer all of these question can be found in — you guessed it — the life-changing magic of reading books.

A book is more than the sum of its pages.

A single book can open the door to countless other avenues for exploration and adventure.

I’ve found a number of fantastic books from Candlewick Press — about everything from Charles Dickens to the Mars rover to poetry to Johnny Cash to nature study — especially well-suited to igniting curiosity about the world around us. These books encourage kids

and more.

I love these titles not only for the fantastic subject matter, but also because they represent the potential for so much exploration. A healthy dose of curiosity, paired with all the topics either directly or tangentially addressed in each book, will allow you to follow extraordinary rabbit trails of learning for weeks. Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of a single book!

I’ll show you what I mean.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Using Drawn from Nature to Encourage Curiosity about the Natural World and the History of Timekeeping

This lovely book had me at hello; I was immediately captivated by the cover’s delicate, gold-imprinted details. Inside, author-illustrator Helen Ahphornsiri has filled each page of Drawn from Nature with stunning pressed-flower collages and captivating fact-filled narratives, weaving a story of plant and animal life throughout each of the four seasons. Instinctively, one might use this book as stepping stone to further study

  • flora and fauna,
  • habitats,
  • botany,
  • plant anatomy,
  • foraging and edible plants,
  • insect life cycles,
  • natural dyes from plants,
  • native and invasive species,
  • migration habits,
  • local animal life,

be inspired to go on a hike, begin a nature journal, plant an herb garden, and more. And those are all fantastic avenues for exploration.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

But with curiosity at our side, we might begin by reading the short, accessible introduction first.

“Year after year, plants bloom in spring and fade in autumn in a cycle as old as time,” the author begins. “Animals follow the pattern of the seasons, too..”

Oh, what a concept natural rhythms arePrior to the invention of the electric light, humankind woke and slept by the light of these natural rhythms, following the cycle of seasons. Time’s passage was marked by

  • the sun’s light,
  • the moon’s phases, and
  • the star’s position.

As your curiosity continues to wander and wonder, you might begin to ask the following questions:

  • How has the advent of electricity affected human sleep patterns?
  • How has electric light affected jobs, productivity, factories, and even the times men and women go to work?
  • How does the equator affect weather and light?
  • How have people tracked time throughout history?
  • How were the hours marked in the Middle Ages?
  • Who made the first clock?
  • Were clocks ever made of wood? (Research Benjamin Banneker.)
  • How were time zones decided?
  • Who mapped out the longitudinal lines?
  • How was time kept at sea? (Research John Harrison.)
  • What about daylight savings time?
  • What is an atomic clock?
  • What is a leap second?

All this, and we haven’t even turned the page past the introduction. What a wonderful teacher the rabbit trail is!

Using What’s so special about Dickens? to Encourage Curiosity about Dickens, the Classics, and Victorian England

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

I was raised in a family where quoting Dickens dialogue around the supper table was normal fare. But how do you pass on that love to younger kids, who might be — with good reason! — intimidated by the immense size of Charles Dickens’ tales? How do you make Dickens approachable to kids? Michael Rosen’s book, What’s so special about Dickens?, is more than a biography; it’s a primer to Dickens-related cultural literacy topics. By weaving in the most beloved Dickensian vocabulary and quotes with overviews of four Dickens classics, Rosen provides kids with just enough Victorian English quirkiness — and Dickens’ genius — to make them search out one of the epic novels for themselves. (Any book that nudges people into a Dickensian world is a winner in my eyes!)

Reading a Dickens novel, says Michael Rosen, “is like being taken on a journey that affects the whole of your being.”

But while we’re waiting for the Dickens book we put on hold at the library to arrive, we can try our hand at these extension activities and research ideas:

  • Grab a book with a lot of dialogue, and try reading the different character’s lines dramatically, the way Dickens did. (page 1)
  • Make a list of all the books and stories the author mentions in this book. (No, they’re not all by Dickens. Don’t forget to check the timeline!) Which one do you most want to read?
  • Use a dictionary to look up all the words you don’t know. (I had to look up scimitar from page 16!)
  • Invent some characters and write a short story about them. (page 66)
  • The timeline contains milestones from Dickens’ life interspersed with notable historical events. Choose five — like the Corn Law riots, the assassination of Lincoln or the the Staplehurst railway crash — to research further.
  • What can you learn about life after the Industrial Revolution in Europe or England, or about the railway and brickmaking frenzy which followed? (page 52)
  • Research the history of children working in factories. What were working conditions like for children during Dickens’ life? (page 26)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

And we can discuss these questions with our kids, too:

  • How were students treated in Dickensian schools? (pages 15 and 32)
  • In what ways might your life be different if you had been born in Dickensian England? In what ways would it be the same? (page 46)
  • If the Factory Act of 1833 were proposed in today’s time, how would people react? What changes might they make to the rules? (page 137)
  • How many references to Dickens’ characters and phrases do you recognize as commonly-used idioms? (page 128 and throughout book)
  • After reading the synopses of four different Dickens’ books, which one sounds the most interesting to you?

Now that’s enough to shake up even Mr. Smallweed of Bleak House fame!

Using Jabberwalking to Counteract Perfectionism and Encourage Curiosity About Writing and Art

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

After diving in to the prolific works of authors like Charles Dickens, it’s natural to feel a little intimidated about writing. So this is also the ideal time to switch gears and turn our attention to Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the United States’ first Mexican-American Poet Laureate. This book is so much fun. The title, of course, is a nod to Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem and is a call to kids everywhere (“and all those like me that cannot sit still”, adds the author) to pick up their pen and write while they walk. There’s absolutely no perfection in this process — Herrera invents words, mixes up the sizes of the fonts, and even causes the words to wrap around the sides of the pages sometimes. I love that!

“A Jabberwalking poem is not an essay or a novel or a…formula,” Juan Felipe Herrera writes. “A Jabber burble scribble poem is not even a typical poem…[it] loves to be free (wherever it lands) so it can loosen up your mind-brains to see things you have not seen before.”

What an absolutely wonderful antidote to the paralysis-inducing perfectionism which sometimes tortures gifted kids. And poet Juan cheers kids on to persevere, too.

“After four hours of nonstop Jabberwriting, after four hours of moving your Jabberhand…even — if you have misspelled everything! You, yes you! in four hours — will have an (what follows is indisputable!) ALMOST-BOOK…Yes…an honest-to-goodness almost-book.”

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

We’ll be re-reading this for years to come, I am certain. (Why can’t writing curriculums be this encouraging?) And Jabberwalking isn’t just about writing: it’s so motivating for art, too. The illustrations in this freeing book are wild and wonderful and infused with a whole lot of crazy. Here are some ways we tried our hand at this style ourselves:

  • Place your pencil on the paper, and draw an animal without lifting your pencil off the paper.
  • Close your eyes, and draw a portrait without looking.
  • If you’re left-handed, use your right hand. If you’re right-handed, switch to your left hand. Now draw a picture.
  • Fasten your paper to a clipboard, then march around the house while drawing.

And of course — don’t forget to jabberwrite.

Using Hello, I’m Johnny Cash to Encourage Curiosity About Modern American History and Music Tradition

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

When we had to tell this sweet girl we were up and moving away from our home, she’d sung enough Johnny Cash songs in her little life to know that moving to Tennessee meant being closer to the place her favorite singer once called home. It always touches me how deeply Johnny’s songs speak to her heart. She just adores the Man in Black’s music. (When she was an infant, only three singers could get her to stop crying: Josh Garrels, Enya, and Johnny Cash.)

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Hello, I’m Johnny Cash looks like a picture book for young kids at first glance, but the lilting prose — written in columns, like lyrics — delivers a message that’s rich, deep, and touchingly poignant. (Although it’s a picture book, the publisher recommends this book for grades four through seven. I recommend it for adults, too!)

This is a biography, yes, but this book is also an absolutely perfect launching point to dive deeper into history, geography, and the American music tradition. The span of years covered in Hello, I’m Johnny Cash had a massive impact on American families, especially in the South. Simply by researching the significant historical events mentioned in the book — events like

  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the New Deal,
  • the Historic Dyess Colony agricultural resettlement project,
  • the cotton industry,
  • the Great Arkansas Flood of 1937, and
  • the plague of boll weevils and armyworms,

— you could build a fascinating year-long study of modern American history.

You could also explore the corresponding geography, looking at

  • Arkansas,
  • the Mississippi River Delta,
  • the Tyronza River,
  • Nashville,
  • Memphis
  • New Orleans,
  • Texas,

and the surrounding areas.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Of course, no study of the American South would be complete without digging in to the American music tradition.

“His songs gave a voice to the voiceless, capturing so many people’s heartaches, struggles, and triumphs; it seemed like he spoke to America just as America spoke to him.”

This book contains so many rabbit trails for further exploration. You can explore

and, of course, more of Johnny Cash’s songs. (Here’s a recording of Johnny Cash talking about his family’s experience during the Great Flood of 1937, then singing Five Feet High and Rising.)

Isn’t it amazing what a rich educational experience you can create simply by following your curiosity through a picture book?

Using Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover to Encourage Curiosity About Astronomy and Space

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

In 2011, the year my daughter was born, Curiosity launched into space. (That fact seems so appropriate to me.) This new book from Candlewick, Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover, delivers a riveting first-hand account of space exploration — it’s told from the perspective of the Mars rover herself! And I love how author-illustrator Markus Motum chose to use so many pitch-black, star-sprinkled pages throughout. This design choice — along with the large size of the book itself — creates such a magical, immersive experience. (There’s even a two-page vertical spread for liftoff.)

Before we moved away from Florida, we used to be able to see launches right outside our front door. It was hard to leave the Space Coast behind, but this book — and the resulting exploration prompted by the book — helps keep that connection to space exploration alive.

We have enjoyed following a myriad of rabbit trails nearly as expansive as the universe itself, asking questions about,

and, of course, our favorite Space X missions, too. (You can watch SpaceX launches live!)

While we often think of education as learning information — and yes, we need a solid foundation of Truth — there is still so much undiscovered and unexplored. Curiosity is crucial. Asking questions about what we do not know drives the world forward, and opens up further inventions and discoveries.

“Most likely, the discoveries I make will lead to more questions,” writes Markus Motum as the Mars Rover, “…questions can be just as exciting as answers.”

Encourage your children to explore. Allow them space to marvel, and to be in awe.  Provide ample time to run down rabbit trails, and allow them to go off the path in pursuit of wonderment and curiosity.

After all, it’s in curiosity that the real learning begins.

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool

Get 25% OFF your Purchase from Candlewick Press – and Enter to Win a Book, too!

Candlewick is generously offering a full 25% off discount! Just head over to the website, shop for favorite new Candlewick books, and enter the code CANDLEWICK at checkout. (You can also browse the full Spring-Summer 2018 Candlewick Press Catalog to see sample pages, expanded book descriptions, and more.) My favorite books from this season’s releases are

Of course, there are lots more great Candlewick titles, too.

Psst…you can also enter to win a Judy Moody fiction title from Candlewick Press, too. Click through the image or link below and fill in your name and email address on the resulting page. Giveaway ends on April 18th at 11 PM Eastern time.

CLICK TO ACCESS GIVEAWAY FORM

Using Children's Books to Build Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool
As you forge ahead in your homeschool journey, do not fear the rabbit trail of sidetracking — embrace it.

Curiosity will serve you well.


If you found this homeschool how-to post helpful, why not pin Building Rabbit Trails of Curiosity in Your Gifted Homeschool to Pinterest?

Homeschooling

Homeschooling a Gifted Child: A Podcast Interview

Homeschooling a Gifted Child: A Podcast Interview with Gina Munsey and Colleen Kessler on Pam Barnhill's Homeschool Snapshots Podcast

If you’re homeschooling an academically gifted child, you probably have had moments when you feel like you don’t quite fit in to the homeschooling community. When the convention speakers are assuring you it’s okay if you don’t finish subjects this school year, and all the other homeschool moms are nodding in assent and camaraderie and applauding, you just quietly sit there.

When your friends all connect over subjects which always get skipped week after week, you are hoping no one asks you  — wishing your child could let you get away with skipping school — because your child is on her second science curriculum book, and it’s only November.

Maybe you have one of those kids who actually cries on the weekend because you put your foot down and say no, we are not doing school on Saturday. But you could never say any of this in public — and certainly not on Facebook — because if you’re not in these strange trenches yourself, it just sounds an awful lot like obnoxious bragging.

But you know giftedness doesn’t mean bragging rights. It means intensity. It means a whole different neurological wiring.

Maybe you feel alone because your struggles just don’t match up with the struggles everyone else seems to be facing. No one else seems to understand how your child, who can comprehend things to such an incredible level, succumbs to meltdowns over very insignificant matters. (And oh! The meltdowns. No one sees the insanity of the meltdowns.)

If your world seems a little bit ridiculous sometimes, well, that’s because it is. Someone once said raising a gifted child is like being stapled to a cheetah. I concur. Toss homeschooling into the mix, and you have the perfect storm of intensity, curiosity, and yes, exhaustion.

So if you, like me, are hanging on for dear life, hand your child an encyclopedia, pour yourself a cup of caffeine, and listen to Episode 057 of Pam Barnhill’s Homeschool Snapshots Podcast. Colleen Kessler — author, gifted specialist, blogger at Raising Lifelong Learners, and co-founder of the online support community Raising Poppies — is co-hosting this season of Homeschool Snapshots. In this episode, she and I sit down and chat about the crazy world of homeschooling gifted kids.

As you listen to this peek into my normal, I hope you feel encouraged, and I hope you know this truth: you are not alone.

(Want to join The Oaxacaborn Homeschool Community? It’s a closed Facebook group, celebrating work as worship, and the outliers of the homeschool community. I’d love to get to know you!)

Homeschooling, How To

Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices (2nd Grade)

Our favorite educational resources and homeschool curriculum for homeschooling a neurologically gifted child, blending a literature-based approach and classical education with an emphasis on science.Gifted Classical-Leaning Second Grade Curriculum 2017-2018 by Gina @ Oaxacaborn

I’ll just get it out in the open right away: my daughter eats curriculum for breakfast.  She’s gifted, and I mean that as a neurological identifier to explain why we have such a crazy life, not as a bragging right. Since the age of two, she’s been on a mission to flatten forests. (Don’t fret. Trees, lumber, paper, and all the various related accouterments, are a renewable resource.)

Here’s the thing. If I had held rigidly to the no formal education before age seven doctrine, I’d probably already be in a padded room. Remember, I wasn’t planning on being a hyper-caffeinated homeschooler. I was planning on having a normal (read: typical) child, play with her until she was five, enroll her in a nice neighborhood school, then drive a few blocks away to a coffee house and write a book while someone else taught her to read.

Academically gifted children often crave formal instruction earlier than “recommended”

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When my intense toddler turned two, she made it a habit to walk into my bedroom each morning — she’d learned to flop out of cribs and playpens early on — wielding a very large, very heavy, over-sized copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. She’d thump me on the head with the book, screeching, “More letters, p’ease! Learn letters, p’ease! Learn letters! Write letters! Write!”

And then she turned three, and one day blurted out, “I’m done wiff my toys now. P’ease do a maff [math] book? P’ease, do maff?” [Spoiler alert: yes, she still has toys and a very large collection of maff books.]

When she turned four, she invited me into her room for a bedtime story. She deftly flipped to the appendix of a microscope encyclopedia, fluently read aloud the best practices for preparing a slide, then discussed it all with me.

It was around that time, after touring pre-kindergarten classrooms with her — and having teachers pull me aside and whisper that it didn’t seem like a good fit — I began to reconsider homeschooling. It was becoming more and more apparent that our daughter was not going to easily fit into the sequence of education offered by the traditional school model (and more and more apparent I wasn’t going to be spending any unfettered writerly mornings in a cafe.)

It was also around this time my mom laughed. She reminded me I’d read at age three, and she was hassled for letting me be “too academic”, too.

So, please understand. My daughter was fearfully and wonderfully made by the hands of God, custom-made to His exact specifications. And this crazy life of mine that’s followed? It’s a gift, too. People always ask, “What did you do to get her to be like this?” (as if this particular flavor was something you can find on Amazon Prime.) And I always answer, “She came to me this way.”

Formal lessons and free play are not mutually exclusive

If our experience doesn’t resonate with you, that’s absolutely fine. Our family’s experience is not the norm — but I also know our family is not alone. I know there are some of you reading this right now saying, “Yes, yes!”

Some of you have felt like outsiders. Some of you have been criticized for hot-housing or pushing, simply because you have given your child the information they’ve asked for. But responding to a child’s clear signals of readiness is not the same as pushing formal academics on a child who is not ready.

And responding to a gifted child’s quest for knowledge does not mean banning child-led play. Structured academics and child-directed exploration are not mutually exclusive. Can we just pause here for a moment and let that sink in? Formal lessons and free play are not mutually exclusive.

Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2nd Grade (2017-2018) by Gina @ Oaxacaborn

When I responded to my then-two-year-old’s begging for “More letters, p’ease” by teaching her what she so eagerly wanted to know, that does not mean she never played. She spent hours and hours each day sculpting playdough, smearing glue sticks over stacks of construction paper, singing happily, breaking crayons coloring, finger painting, banging pots and pans together, tasting sand playing at the beach, building with blocks, and climbing playground equipment (although, I did inadvertently make myself a playground pariah when I let her climb up the slide.)

My point is, it’s a logical fallacy to assume any sort of formal lessons automatically preempts play. It is entirely possible to meet a young gifted child’s academic needs and play needs. You do not need to choose one or the other.

Curriculum choices and educational resources for teaching a gifted child

This list of second-grade curriculum is just that, a list of curriculum. It doesn’t show the hours my daughter spends creating elaborate imaginative worlds out of LEGO bricks. It doesn’t show the time she spends singing songs at the top of her lungs, dressed in inside-out clothes. (“Mom, the tag said, “Turn garment inside out”.) It doesn’t show the gales of laughter tumbling down the trampoline track with her friends, or anything else that isn’t, well, that isn’t a list of curriculum.

It does reflect how intense, how voracious, how completely insatiable this girl is in her quest to be constantly, actively, bookishly learning. When we have gloriously exploratory days, where she pokes anthills and tumbles in the grass and reads a stack of non-fiction and plays puzzles and does experiments and wires Snap Circuits and goes to the library and helps me cook, she laments, begging to pull out the school books. (Yes, I have a weird life.) So, I’m not saying your second grade needs to look like this.

But, if you are curious about what curriculum makes a very quirky six-and-a-half-year-old girl squeal with delight? I can show you what that looks like.

Reading

We’ve already gone through the Sonlight Readers for kindergarten, first, second and third grade, so this year,  Aveline’s diving into the fourth grade set of Sonlight readers. I love how the corresponding Readers Schedule / Study Guide incorporates mapping as well as comprehension questions, although I don’t do all the Q+A sessions. I do a spot check maybe once a week or so, flipping open the study guide and asking a handful of questions at random. If she tells me about the book during the week (she’s a talker), then I don’t even do the spot check — but we always stop to check the location, and add a map pin to our huge wall map.

And independent reading? It never stops. We have thirty to seventy books in our library baskets at any given time. And when she asks if she can do a book report (yes, she is for real) then I photocopy a template from Evan-Moor’s How to Report on Books, Grade 2.

Literature

I couldn’t help add in some comprehension guides, especially after Aveline’s eyes lit up like Starry Night when she saw the rack of them at the Veritas Press booth at a recent conference. The questions are terrific, and the included activities and paper crafts are delightful! We’re using the Milly-Molly-Mandy guide and the  Baby Island guide (both for second grade), the third grade guide for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and an anthology guide called More Favorites, which covers books like Sarah, Plain and Tall; Hundred Dresses, and more. I love how introducing comprehension guides at a young age eases kids into the critical thinking skills so necessary in a classical education — and in life!

I am also outsourcing a little more of close reading (analysis, making inferences, and more) to the amazing director of our local co-op. Aveline will be working through an abbreviated version of Rooted in Reading (Grade 3) with her class there.

Read-Alouds

We’re following Sonlight’s Level C schedule for read-alouds, which means we’ll be covering everything from The Penderwicks to The Aesop for Children to Red Sails to CapriOur cozy read-aloud time tends to be in the afternoon, after lunch (hurricane season lasts until December begins, so our autumns are full of grey afternoons, darkened by monsoon rains.)

Poetry

Combining the recommendations of Sonlight and Veritas Press, respectively, we’re enjoying the contrast between the laugh-out-loud funny Cornstalks and the more traditional Favorite Poems. And because Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking Glass features heavily in our year, there’s been a lot of Jabberwocky, too. ‘Twas brillig!

Writing

I’m so excited to begin our journey with IEW! I’ve seen Andrew Pudewa speak a couple of times now, and I was really impressed with the logical, straight-forward (but not formulaic!) way IEW approaches writing. Knowing how to write is one thing; knowing how to teach writing is another matter entirely. I think many writing programs making the mistake of breaking up the ebb and flow of writing into a series of formulas, resulting in stilted, robotic writing. IEW, on the other hand, gives students a set of tools to use in the art of writing. So far, Aveline is enjoying it tremendously.

Grammar

Of course, no writer’s toolkit is complete without a good handle on the structure of language. Last year, following the Veritas Press catalog recommendations, we completed the first level of Shurley English. This is such a tremendously effective method; I highly recommend it! It’s also a very repetitive program, so we’re jumping right to Shurley English, Level 3 this year.

As I do in many repetitive subjects, I’ll be condensing the lessons to allow Aveline to move forward to the next concept as soon as she masters it, rather than making her go through all the exercises. I’ll also be skipping the writing instruction, since we’re using IEW for that. Even with all those modifications, I still highly recommend the program (and if your child  thrives on repetition, not as much modification will be needed, anyway).

With the rapid mastery and with telescoping the curriculum, we’ll probably finish quite a bit before the school year ends. I have First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind, Level 3 (plus student book) waiting in the wings, so we can move right into that, and get started with diagramming.

How does Aveline feel about learning grammar? Well, here’s an actual conversation —

ME: Tell Papa what subject you started today, Aveline.
AVELINE: Grammar!
ME: And why did you start learning that?
AVELINE: To relax, probably?

Handwriting / Cursive

We used Handwriting Without Tears last year to teach cursive, after years (yes, years) of Aveline asking to “learn how to write with loops”. A font nerd after my own heart, she’s now also asked to learn some different methods of cursive. So, yes, in case you’re wondering, Classically Cursive and Handwriting without Tears do use two different forms of lettering.

Why Logos School’s Classically Cursive and not another method? I love how the series (there are four books) incorporates the Westminster Shorter Catechism!

Chinese

In addition to the First 100 Chinese Characters writing practice book, Aveline will also be doing Chinese character practice in her Chinese school weekend classes (they use the MeiZhou Chinese curriculum. ) The bulk of her instruction will come from Chinese school — this is her fourth year there —  but we also supplement with Chinese kids’ songs, kids’ TV shows translated into Chinese, character flashcards, and, soon, beginning readers in Chinese, too. Read more about how we teach Chinese at home, or follow my Mandarin for Kids Pinterest board.

Vocabulary

Since last year’s Chinese class focused so much on Chinese phonics (using pinyin, which is a method of transliterating Chinese sounds using our Roman alphabet), I took a very hands-off approach to English spelling at home. One of Aveline’s big requests this year was to learn how to spell “really big words by heart”. I knew a repetitive beginning spelling program wasn’t going to cut it. After meeting Claire Jane Beck at the FPEA Special Learners Conference last fall, I picked up her Vocabulary Explosion: Greek / Latin Etymologies for grade two. It’s a very straightforward approach — one prefix or suffix and five related words are introduced each week, and the student learns to use the words in context. The spelling learning really happens behind the scenes. It’s a huge, huge hit around here; and, along with cursive, Chinese characters, and Bible, is part of our daily seatwork routine.

Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2nd Grade (2017-2018) by Gina @ Oaxacaborn

Math

This is one of our very favorite subjects. Choosing math curriculum was a no-brainer (read more about why Singapore Math works best for us). This year, we have levels 3A and 3B on the docket, although I have the sneaking suspicion we will need to break out 4A before next summer arrives.

With DragonBox Algebra 5+ behind us, Aveline alternates between Dragonbox Algebra 12+ and Dragonbox Elements (geometry) for math enrichment. And we picked up the Multiplication and Division editions of Classical Math to Classical Music at the Veritas Press booth at the FPEA Convention this year, too.

And, oh yes, how could I forget? Dozens upon dozens of living books about math.

Science

We’re working — rapidly! — through Sonlight’s Science C, and continuing through the Apologia Chemistry/Physics book we started last year. Since Science C is going by so quickly for us, and since we’re already half-done with the Apologia, I might end up pulling down the AIG (Answers in Genesis)  Human Body set and using that for the second semester.

Chemistry and anatomy are two of Aveline’s big obsessions, so I do as much as I can to nurture her interest in those areas.  For “fun”, she’ll often request to listen to the human body songs from Lyrical Life Science, or pull out the anatomy coloring book. The beloved Elements book is a favorite free-read, and our shelves and library bags are overflowing with nonfiction math and science books.

Last year, Aveline read Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Astronomy in her free time, and since we live about 50 miles (as the crow flies) from Space Coast,  we keep tabs on NASA, too. If there’s a launch, we’ll watch the first few seconds on the NASA or SpaceX livestream, and then run outside to see it in the sky.

We rotate through science resources pretty often, so I might come back and update this section a little further into the school year.

Bible / Theology

I find it a little challenging to find a really solid Bible course. One resource I absolutely love, though, is Songs for Saplings  — scripture and doctrinal truths set to song. They’re loosely based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and are free to stream or download from a number of sources.  I also really love  The Children’s Illustrated Bible, which I discovered through Veritas Press.  It has such excellent archaeological and historical sidebars which really put the Bible in context. So I made my own 180-Day Theology Reading / Listening Schedule for Kids, incorporating them both, but focusing on the  New Testament.

We also periodically break out the utterly fantastic church history books by Ned Bustard — Reformation ABCs: The People, Places and Things of the Reformation from A to Z and Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith. These are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and break down oft-esoteric topics and biographies into bite-size, kid-friendly chunks. One thing I absolutely adore about classical education is the idea that kids can handle starting to delve into really topics at a very young age. Augustine doesn’t have to wait until high school. Church history doesn’t have to wait until they’re old enough to understand all the complexities. It doesn’t have to be a sudden introduction to the ancients once high school hits. Rather, we can just incorporate these big topics in an age-appropriate way from the beginning, and expand the breadth and width of our study as time goes on.
Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2nd Grade (2017-2018) by Gina @ Oaxacaborn

History

As a part of Sonlight’s Core / Level C, we’re continuing with A Child’s History of the World, which we began last year (Sonlight uses this book in both Level B and Level C).  We also really enjoy some of the lessons and enrichment activities in Calvert’s accompanying fourth grade student workbook for Child’s History of the World, which Sonlight does not use.

Because we also love big cut-and-paste paper messes projects around here, we’ve also started incorporating a freestyle hybrid of lapbooking / notebooking, too.  I print out a related image or two from the Home School in the Woods Timeline Figure CD set, and Aveline goes to to town with 3-hole punched colored cardstock, a stack of mini-book elements, glue stick, markers, scissors, pen and pencil. She’ll write down any thing she thinks is important from the chapter, and glue everything together with aplomb…and glitter.

We were also planning to complete weekly Egypt-themed projects with another homeschooling family using Veritas Press’ Old Testament and Ancient Egypt as our spine, but that’s on hold right now.

Geography

Mapping, mapping, mapping! Did I mention mapping? Sonlight’s mapping method seems too simple to work: anytime you encounter a new location anywhere in your reading, you mark it on a map. That’s it! I am astonished at how much Aveline can recall about geography simply because we learn geographic  locations in context. She’ll also beg you to play Scrambled States at any given moment.

We’re using another Sonlight-recommended resource, too — Window on the World, a full-color encyclopedia of countries and cultures. As we read through by region, we also listen to Geography Songs. Those will stick with you for years! I can still sing the States and Capitals version we had on cassette as kids.

We were planning do to hands-on United States geography projects with another homeschooling family, but that’s on hold at the moment.

Art

I’m teaching Art History at our local homeschool co-op again this year, so our art lessons will be done in that setting.  Last year I taught first grade, and this year I’m working in a multi-age setting of second- through fourth-graders, which I think will be really exciting.  In this class, we’ll work our way through a number of famous artists and art genres, read children’s literature highlighting an artist’s life or a specific art technique, and create a hands-on art project relating to the week’s historical topic.I like to pull art from the public domain (see links above), print it full-color and have it laminated. This way, we can get up close and personal with the art without worrying about spilling on a book or smudging the print! Feel free to follow my Elementary Art / Homeschool Co-op Pinterest board for more ideas, too.

Physical Education / PE

It looks like this semester, phys. ed. will switch back and forth between kung fu after Chinese school, and free-play at the gymnastics facility where our co-op classes are held. This will be her first year trying out kung fu at the Chinese school; in the past, she’s done Chinese lion dance / drumming and Chinese folk dance. (Here’s a video of her performing a traditional Chinese dance at a Lunar New Year performance when she was four.)

Memory Work

Did you notice  how many of our subjects above include songs? I integrate memory work into what we’re already doing! We have math songs, science songs, grammar songs, geography songs, theology songs,  songs in Chinese..and a whole lotta Johnny Cash. Which brings us to the last topic…music!

Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2nd Grade (2017-2018) by Gina @ Oaxacaborn

Music  / Vocals / Piano

After completing the 2-year Yamaha Junior Music Course at the music conservatory downtown, Aveline’s between piano teachers right now. She’s been working on pieces on her own as we look into other options.

Just as every family is unique, every homeschooling plan is unique

That’s a lot, right? So before I wrap up this tour, I just want to stop and point out a couple of ways in which our situation isn’t the norm.

First, like I’ve said, this is a plan for a child who is wired differently. She just is.  She’s quirky, she’s intense, she’s relentless. School calms her down. Workbooks are a balm to her. Structure gives her relaxation. If you have a child like this, you know exactly what I’m talking about! If you don’t, that’s okay. (Amy at The Hmmmschooling Mom, in her excellent piece, Schedules and Routines: Some Kids Actually Like Them, talks about how both structure and very little structure spell freedom, depending on your unique personality.)

Second, I want to point out that we obviously won’t be doing every subject every day. (I kind of hope that would go without saying.)

Third, I  want to reiterate once again — this is what our journey looks like. This is not what everyone’s journey needs to look like. The beauty of homeschooling is being able to design an individualized education plan to very personally meet the unique needs of  a specific child, within the dynamics of that particular family.

Fourth, I have one child.  I would love, so very much, to have our days interrupted by the needs of a sweet little infant or a toddler, but that isn’t the path God has chosen for us right now. So yes, while it’s true I have more time in each day to devote to getting through these educational resources,  please also know, this was not my original plan. I take comfort, often, in Isaiah (strange go-to book for comfort, right?) —

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.'” (Isaiah 55:8-11)

Fifth, there’s another unique twist to our situation: we don’t live near family. My family is two thousand miles north; my husband’s family is three thousand miles west. This means our Sunday afternoons aren’t filled with cousins’ birthday parties, and our weeknights are not spent at family dinners. Again, is not our first choice, but this is the life we’ve been given for such a time as this (Esther 4:14).  Rather than lamenting where God has placed us, we’ve chosen to “redeem the time” (Ephesians 5:16) and “number our days” (Psalm 90:12), and celebrate the miracle child God’s graciously granted us to steward.

And you know what? This life is a wonderful gift. These golden days are a treasure. We have genuine, joyous, happy fun, and I have no apologies for “this one wild and precious life”. (Mary Oliver)

This post is part of the 9th Annual Back-to-Homeschool Blog Hop: Curriculum Week link-up, hosted by the wonderful iHomeschool Network. Click through to read more curriculum choices from other homeschool families! Are you a blogger? Link up your own 2017-2018 curriculum post!

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Gifted Classical-Leaning Homeschool Curriculum Choices for 2nd Grade (2017-2018) by Gina @ Oaxacaborn