Everyone Deserves a Childhood: Unschooling gifted kids

Updated 9/28/2022

I worry about young gifted kids. In the excitement of noticing that a child seems to learn faster than others, some parents think that their child needs to be tested, tutored, accelerated, and maybe even isolated from non-gifted kids.

If these parents ask for help online, I sometimes notice suggestions about curriculum or early enrollment in special schools, but I rarely hear anyone suggest unschooling. That’s unfortunate because I can’t think of any form of learning more ideally suited to a gifted child. And for preschoolers, I consider unschooling to be the gold standard!

Many parents start noticing signs of giftedness when their children are very young. My recommendation is to just focus on today, then wake up tomorrow and do it all over again. Yes, your child is playing with toys in ways that most children aren’t able to do, or speaking in complete sentences, or whatever it is that you’ve noticed. They might be gifted, but it’s too soon to worry about college or even next year.

Unschooling can be as simple as answering questions when asked or finding someone who can. Provide an enriched environment with lots of books, art supplies, and open-ended toys that become something new everyday.

Support dreams and respect questions. Help them deal with the frustration of having ideas more complex than their physical abilities. The sage unschooling advice that recommends being there for your children applies to all kids, including the gifted ones!

If they want to go to adult lectures, well of course, do it (read a wonderful and supportive essay about a child who needed that at a young age)!

But if they want to play with Legos, provide them (if there is no swallowing risk, provide the small complex ones they may need and ignore the age level recommendations on the box) and don’t worry that they are wasting their time – they aren’t!

If they want to play outside, know that they are observing their world in ways you can’t imagine, so respect that and stay out of their way. If they want to go play with friends, let them. They may or may not need other gifted friends, and that should be their decision.

It boils down to trusting your child and respecting their needs. That’s a basic tenet of unschooling, and can be really important for gifted kids. Your child knows what they need, and they will let you know if you allow them the freedom to do so.

Every child deserves a childhood, and a chance to run, play in the dirt, and dream. A gifted child can learn while having fun, just like any other child.

Unless your child is having problems that make you think you need outside help, I’d urge that you both enjoy their childhood, and trust that they are learning all they need to learn today. Help meet those needs without deciding what you think they should be.

While there’s always going to be the exception (and that’s up to the parent to determine that), most kids need more unrestricted play and less adult imposed structure, whether they are average learners or gifted. They need to think, touch, smell, imagine, create, you name it. I think it helps them reach their full potential, and it’s possible to have it happen without a GATE program or private gifted school.

Unschooling is respectful and responsive to the learning needs of your child. Today.

If your child needs more than unschooling, they will tell you, and if they are asking for more, then it’s still unschooling because it’s their request!  If you’ve been listening to and observing all their life, you’ll hear the need and know you must offer something else.

I think unschooling/relaxed learning/child-led learning or anything else you want to call it, is a very effective way for a child to learn, gifted or not. But for gifted kids, I really like it because it increases the chance that we won’t stifle their learning!

Karen Taylor’s always homeschooled son attended a local community college after graduating from homeschooling. He transferred to UC Berkeley as a junior, and received a PhD in neuroscience from UCSF.  She shares homeschooling comments and links on Facebook, Pinterest, and this blog.