Are you a Catholic family with a quirky, gifted kid? Are you curious about homeschooling your poppy, or maybe not sure you’re doing it right? Gifted homeschooling is wonderfully simple, and a beautiful option for Catholic families to follow. Here are 5 things you need to know about homeschooling your gifted child from a Catholic perspective.
She never slept.
Six months old – all the other moms and babies were finding their groove. She didn’t nap well, didn’t sleep well. She craved constant stimulation.
At nine months, she said her first word.
We knew our first child was out of the ordinary – different.
We didn’t know how much trouble she’d have in school.
Despite 18 years of experience in secondary education, I’m a homeschooling mom to three gifted kids. I’ve taught thousands of students from all backgrounds and ability levels.
There is an overwhelming discrepancy between perception and reality when it comes to neurodivergent (gifted) children.
- Gifted children are not always high achievers. In fact, 25% of gifted teens perform poorly in their classes, so much so they eventually drop out.
- Gifted children are not immune to learning differences. Roughly 20% of the gifted community is referred to as Twice-Exceptional, or gifted with a comorbid special need
- Gifted children are prone to depression and anxiety at a higher rate than their average peer group. Approximately 20% of the gifted population (twice the national average) reports a diagnosed emotional disorder.
- Gifted children are more likely to grow up and leave the faith. While the results are correlative and inconsistent, several studies place the rate of faithful gifted adults at only 3.3%.
If I’m being completely honest with myself, I would have to admit the inklings I had.
But we still held our breath and enrolled her in Catholic kindergarten. She went into the school reading at a sixth-grade level.
“Mrs. Kochis, your daughter is brilliant, but she refuses to stay in the classroom.”
“She broke the ceiling on every intellectual assessment, but her social skills are severely delayed.”
“We’ve done everything we can to accommodate her, but she won’t cooperate.”
All of it was true. My beautiful, brilliant, thoughtful towhead was a terror, disrupting Mass with her imaginary friends. She had violent meltdowns lasting several hours; she once hit the art teacher in a fit of sensory overload. We were no stranger to phone calls during the school day, ranging from reports of general disruptive behavior to defiance during circle time. I was mortified and flummoxed by my daughter’s actions. It was quite clear we had a gifted child – wasn’t she supposed to be the darling everybody loved?
We tried to handle it on our end. I read studies on gifted children and volunteered at the school. At home, we took away privileges, talked about virtues, and wrote hundreds of apology letters. Nothing changed, and our family was broken.
My husband and I were growing weary of her lost potential. Our daughter was growing weary of crying herself to sleep at night.
Still, we pressed on. We longed for her to have a Catholic education, and I didn’t think I was cut out to be a homeschooling mom. By May we had a diagnosis: high IQ and sensory processing disorder.
The school wouldn’t be able to help in the future, though they offered.
We’ve been homeschooling ever since.
Why Gifted Children Struggle
There are two types of Gifted Catholic homeschoolers, I’ve discovered: those who planned to homeschool from the beginning and those who fell into it when their kiddos couldn’t cope. I started out as the latter, obviously, but over time, I’ve become more of the first.
Why? Much of my perspective has to do with what I’ve learned about giftedness. The word itself is a misnomer, really, as it’s not so much a gift but a special need. It is a matter of neurodivergence, of a brain wired differently. Processing centers in the brain of a gifted child are constructed to take in and process information quickly. Their neural pathways perform this task with incredible efficiency, and at a very high rate of speed.
While this makeup is advantageous in some areas, it can be problematic in other ways. Gifted children are prone to sensitivities, excitabilities, and asynchronous development, characteristics which can lead to misunderstanding and misdiagnosis. School, and more critically, faith-formation, can be cause for serious concern.
I realize, though, that homeschooling on its own can be intimidating – never mind homeschooling an intellectually precocious child. Will you be able to keep up? Can you challenge her? Will you further her quirks and idiosyncrasies if you keep her close to home?
It’s actually a lot easier than you think.
Curious About Gifted Catholic Homeschooling? Here are 5 Things You Need to Know
Know You Will Need a Posse
A saint posse, that is.
Gifted kids are quirky – they have distinct social and emotional needs. Having the support of specific intercessors is crucial, even if your child already has a patron by virtue of a given name. How do you round up this posse? I provide considerable insight into the process here. In short form, though, choose a few saints who are closest to your child in temperament and interest. Ask their specific intercession for your child on a regular basis, and if you’re comfortable, share that devotion with your child.
Know You Will Face Intensities – Especially When it Comes to the Faith
Gifted children have a heightened sense of justice, and with that, a ferocious passion for the truth. This is a wonderful characteristic for them to carry forward in their faith life, but it takes quite a bit of guidance to help them learn to speak the truth with love.
Additionally, but no less important, is the issue of greater insight and understanding of issues in the faith. You will face bigger questions than you anticipated or were ready for, and it’s probably a good idea to seek the counsel of a wise and holy priest.
Know You Will Play Follow the Leader
A gifted homeschooling relationship isn’t the standard teacher/student model. For the most part, you’ll be following rabbit holes, using their passions as your educational guide. While this doesn’t mean you won’t need a curriculum, be prepared to move faster through some topics and slow down to a snail’s pace when it requires more study time. Use the obsessive interests as a pathway to other subjects they might not find as interesting. Take advantage of as many supplemental resources you can find.
Know You Will Have Doubts and Insecurities
I did. I still do – every day. I often ask God if he really knew what he was doing when he handed me these three children. They’re smarter than me, and they have better memories.
Am I supposed to be this outnumbered?
Well, yes – he has designed it. And the truth is, he did not make a mistake. You are precisely the mother your children needed. It couldn’t possibly be any other way.
Know You Will Need a Support Group
There are going to be days where you (and your children) feel lonely and misunderstood. While there is a great deal of secular support for gifted homeschoolers and education in general, it lacks the theological context of our faith. Reach out to other families around you with similar interests, or with children whose behaviors and attitudes seem similar to yours. You can also find community through online channels, such as my Facebook group for Catholic mothers of gifted and Twice-Exceptional kids.
Homeschooling a gifted child from a Catholic perspective can seem daunting, but it makes perfect sense in the end. After all, we need only take the words of Pope St. John Paul the Great into consideration:
“The human being is single, unique, and unrepeatable, someone thought of and chosen from eternity, someone called and identified by name.”
Your child – your poppy – has been thought of and chosen from the beginning of time. She was given to you, with all her quirks and inconsistencies, so you could work to bring her back to God. What better way to do that than through homeschooling? You can challenge, support, and love her right at home.
She may not be a sleeper. She might not be the most laid back child. But she is the perfect gift God has given you. Homeschooling from a Catholic perspective will bring her faith – and her knowledge – alive.
Ginny Kochis is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mom from Northern Virginia. A former high school English teacher, Ginny now teaches writing from home. You can find Ginny online at Not So Formulaic, where she explores the true, the good, and the beautiful of homeschooling, Catholic motherhood, and gifted and twice-exceptional parenting. She is active on social media and would love to meet you on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.