As a homeschooling advisor, I am often asked what to do about children who excel academically in some area or another. Usually, I try to help parents identify ways to allow the children to move at their own [accelerated] pace while balancing the fact that they’re still kids at the same time.
I have met many families like this over the years and my advice is pretty much always the same. While being good at something, even great at something, is certainly worth celebrating, it doesn’t always mean a child is immediately ready for college…at least not just yet.
Problem is, this isn’t always what parents of really smart kids want to hear.
Sometimes, homeschooling parents, in their quest to deliver the best education possible, and with all of the best intentions, pay less attention to the child’s age, and more to their skills. Overall, this is okay, and everyone knows that grade levels don’t mean a lot in homeschooling anyway. Except when there is a huge disparity between age and skills/grade…that’s when age becomes important. Sometimes, parents of very bright kids tend to move the children “up” a grade (or two, or three, or four), not always realizing that the subject matter starts becoming a little bit too “mature”. This isn’t true for every subject, but is definitely something to think about.
It’s a dilemma, really. Nobody ever wants to hold a child back from learning. If a kid is really good at something and capable of moving forward, and if they like it too, generally speaking, I say – go for it. The kids are probably naturally going to learn it on their own anyway.
But there is a problem with context. With age not only comes knowledge, but also a higher level of discernment, more exposure to the experiences of life, plus greater maturity, sensitivity and wisdom to handle it all. Think again about the context. Younger kids just aren’t there yet.
For example, how can one deliver high school-level literature, mature themes and all, or college-level economics, complete with a discussion of national or world affairs, to an 8 or 10 or 12 year old child? Though the student may be capable, the more important question to ask is: Is the child really ready?
It is true that it can be difficult to find suitable reading materials for outstanding readers who are still very young. Just because a child reads well, do you allow her to read a teen or adult novel? Similarly, though a young history buff seems almost to absorb anything put before him, is he really ready to study some of the harsher topics and see some of the frightening images in upper level history texts?
It’s something to think about. It isn’t always prudent or practical to bump a child up so high. Especially when they’re still so young. Is anybody really going to put a 10 or a 12 year old in college anyway?
Maybe, instead of always moving children UP, parents should consider moving them OUT. This is something that schools do, and something that I explain to homeschooling parents, as well.
What this means is building upon what a child knows in order to move ahead, but doing so on a much more gradual slope. It is about giving the student the chance to excel commensurate with his or her level of maturity and readiness.
Parents can build the curriculum “out” by assigning additional work, more difficult projects and by giving a child more of the same kinds of problems, only much harder ones. It’s alright to challenge a child up a little bit, but the thinking is to walk a much more gradual slope than a completely vertical climb.
Kids are only kids for so long. There are many benefits to childhood activities and many experiences that may be missed by moving along too rapidly in school.
Building “out” lets children excel, and still be kids, too.