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I have a very bright child (just turned 7), he is not a genius by any stretch, but he reads way past his level (really liked Hatchet, and Call of the Wild), understands somewhat complex mathematics (basic algebra, series, trig), and is proving to have a knack for chemistry and geometry.

I would like to gather information on what people think on how to formally educate a gifted child. My wife and I want him to have a normal childhood (school, some sports, clubs, social activities), but we also want him to achieve everything he is capable of. Right now he is at a private school that we think is better than any of the other options around. That said, he is not usually challenged and is often bored with his school work. He does enjoy the school though.

We have considered home schooling (my wife and I both have advanced degrees), but are concerned of the social implications of doing so. We have also though of moving him ahead a grade or two, but we worry about that too.

We do not agree with the Tiger Mother approach, but the classic American education is not enough either, at least not anymore. I would really like to hear what somebody who has been there, or is currently there, has to say.

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Is jumping a grade or two an option? I've known several people who did that, seemed to be fine with it, but it does have downsides. –  jny May 6 '11 at 20:53
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@jny we have considered that but are worried about his social development. I knew some folks that did that and they did not adjust well. –  Chad May 6 '11 at 23:47
    
It depends a lot on how socially aware your child is. As a child, much of my peer group was in high school by the time I was 10 or so. I know other "gifted" kids who didn't do as well with older kids. –  HedgeMage May 7 '11 at 2:40
    
Re homeschooling and socialization, there are some resources here that might interest you. –  Benjol Jan 6 '12 at 10:08
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14 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

In a related question, a user linked this article. It might be relevant to your concerns about the social implications of home schooling.

However, if your child enjoys his current school, then I would suggest simply adding in in-home supplemental education.

Allow your child to pick subjects (or suggest a list of possible subjects, if you'd like), and do a project on the chosen subject each evening after school. If you feel your child needs more work on a given subject, you can specify that it be a mandatory topic for certain nights ("math Mondays", "History night" on Tuesdays, etc.).

Each project should be interesting, educational, and advanced enough to be challenging. There's a wide range of possibilities for any given subject, from simple research ending with your child explaining what he learned to you ("...and that is how radios work!"), to experiments ("tonight we're going to start recreating Mendel's genetic experiments"), to applying knowledge to craft and hobby projects (some of the projects in this book, for example).

The important goal for you is to make sure that learning things continues to be fun for your son. It is hard to change a child's mind once they've decided that learning is "boring", and if your child is already finding his school work boring, it is likely to only get worse without intervention.

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Thanks for your comment and for pointing out the other question. It is oh so true about you "once they are bored" statement. That is the exact thing we are trying to avoid. +1 for reminding me of the Mendel experiments. I completely forgot about that, and I am sure he will get a kick out of it. –  Chad May 6 '11 at 18:32
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+1 for keeping learning fun! –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 6 '11 at 19:04
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I was a "gifted" kid growing up in a place where there wasn't much for me. I made it my mission for awhile after that to learn as much about gifted education as I could.

There's only so much that traditional formal education can do for a really bright kid: traditional educational models are heavily rote, which is anathema to the active gifted mind. To someone sufficiently bright, remembering important things will be a natural side-effect of using them, but rote learning is pretty useless -- it doesn't engage the mind enough. The only thing worse is the traditional method of "gifted" education: adding a pile more rote work on top of the rote work the child is already doing.

The "Tiger Mother" approach is disastrous for so many gifted kids not because it presents "too many" challenges, but because it is by nature very controlling, and tends to favor rote learning over experience and exploration. Whether or not homeschooling will work well for your child depends a lot on the personalities at work for many kids, joining a group activity or two is enough to make friends and be with other kids; for others, it's not.

In my experience, what works best is, whether you are homeschooling or not, encourage your child to try many new things, and give him the tools to pursue challenging hobbies. Bright kids gravitate toward things that engage their mind, they don't have to be forced, and it doesn't have to be work. I was/am something of a polymath, so I ended up pursuing music (vocal and piano), cryptography, computer programming, politics, and some social stuff (tutoring, working with at-risk kids and special needs kids, working with and eventually running two drug abuse prevention programs). My son is more strictly a math/science geek, playing with Snap Circuits, designing and mixing fountain pen inks, and designing robots -- I did get him to stretch the language muscles by teaching a session at a tech conference about a webapp he built, and communicating with a penpal in another country. We study martial arts together.

Not only does this stuff not feel like work, but letting your kid pursue his own direction teaches ambition, goal setting, internal motivation, and so many other great qualities. Also, letting him choose bright hobbies rather than adding lessons means that there will be a social group around each that may help him make more friends like himself.

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Oh yes, this. I was a somewhat gifted child and I felt held back by school, but there was also an "enrichment" program in Elementary school that I was part of. I eventually got bored of that too (after two, maybe three years), because while it allowed me to study stuff I wanted to study, it was all about making book reports. I also gave it up because it took time away from my favourite class: creative writing. –  Ernie May 19 '11 at 17:16
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Well, formally speaking, I'm not in a parenting role but am gifted myself (16 y/o, from Israel). Just thought I'd give some input from my experience in that age. In the third grade I was accepted into a special program for gifted children at my school, where we learned all the subjects at a quicker pace but that wasn't the great part. The great part was that we had a lot of enrichment including weekly trips to the university for enrichment lectures and other in class activities. This really broadened our horisons and challenged everyone in our class, mainly because we were give a choice of what enrichment program to practicipate in. From my experience, if you let your child the choice of where to challenge himself he'll do great. Forcing him to be the best he can will lead to depression and general distaste for learning. Good luck, and all the best.

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Excellent answer. Sadly, "gifted" education in the US normally consists of the same material, with more homework, and no change from the rote learning methods used for "normal" kids. –  HedgeMage May 7 '11 at 18:25
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thanks for the "been there" response. It sounds like you landed in a fantastic situation. As @HedgeMage said, in the US it just means more work. –  Chad May 9 '11 at 15:42
    
HedgeMage is totally right here, try contacting AEGUS for ideas, information and resources. AEGUS stands for the Association for the Education of the Gifted and Underserved Student. –  balanced mama Jul 10 '12 at 0:31
    
@HedgeMage-- that was not the case for me when I was a kid. I'd think that either gifted education varies from state to state, or has changed since then, but I definitely remember jumping around in the gifted class to the teacher reading Jabberwocky. Definitely not rote learning. –  mmr Jul 20 '12 at 14:26
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(I think that you have gotten some excellent answers from others, and am not trying to contend for "accepted answer". I thought some added information might be helpful.)

Identification can be important in planning to provide for gifted children's needs. First, you may have an inaccurate sense of your child's abilities. The term "genius" is subject to a wide array of interpretations; many use it in a quite restrictive way, with the idea that only a select few individuals (Einsteins, Mozarts etc.) are geniuses. Many people also have a vague notion that only prodigies are deserving of the label "genius". Instead of thinking about whether your child is a genius or not (as he may be by some measures), it might be useful as a first step to figure out just how gifted he may be-- because profoundly gifted people may have vastly different needs from highly gifted, who are often highly different needs-wise from moderately gifted, who themselves are still different enough from average to have difficulty in a standard classroom.

(For what it's worth, your son is likely to be at least highly gifted if he is doing algebra and trigonometry at age 7, although the term "algebra" has undergone somewhat of an expansion in recent years; I recall one woman reporting proudly that her first grader was doing algebra, when it turned out to be simple variable replacement sort of stuff. My son who is 7 is currently working through geometry and algebra courses simultaneously, and has been tested as "profoundly gifted", again for what it's worth. Achievement is not the same as ability, of course.)

Have you considered testing? While testing may raise uncomfortable feelings of not wanting to pin down a child with numbers (I feel this way myself, especially as I largely subscribe to Joseph Renzulli's three-ring model of giftedness and also know that sometimes people don't perform at their best on tests), testing is likely to tell you a great deal about your child that will be useful in planning for him, as well as simply understanding him. Testing can also be useful in gaining access to programs.

In considering whether to test, first I would assess what gifted programs you may be able to access for your son; see if they have any specific criteria (not all programs accept all tests). If money is an issue, explore options such as the possibility of free testing through your local school, or for cheap through the psychology department at a local university. However, be aware that the best results are often achieved by seeking out a professional familiar with testing gifted children; for example, local schools often do a subpar job, depressing results, because of issues including lack of expertise and bias. If you do test, make sure to get a full written report and not just a list of scores, and make sure that all tests are administered which may be required to get access to programs or services (testing with subsets of full tests from the WISC-IV, SB-V, and DAS-II is not uncommon). If your son tests highly enough (as he well might) and you are in the U.S., I would consider applying to the Davidson Young Scholars program, since it can provide much-needed planning help, as well as access to nationwide gifted programs and tuition assistance.

Educational strategies available for serving the gifted vary widely, and deciding on an appropriate approach depends on considerations of the child's social and emotional needs as well as academic needs. While a moderately gifted or "bright" student may be able to get by with a few extra accommodations, such as unrestricted higher-level reading during class time and math enrichment to do while the rest of the class catches up, at some point a gifted child's ability to learn quickly and deeply may require further intervention.

A gifted child can experience difficulties because not only do they often learn in different ways, but their pace can be vastly different, often letting highly gifted children learn many times faster than normal and with good integration and recall. That implies that some sort of acceleration is needed or else these children's intellectual growth-- or, even worse, desire to learn-- will be stunted.

Acceleration strategies which may be used to allow gifted children to learn at a proper pace include early admission, grade acceleration, subject acceleration, continuous progress, self-paced instruction, combined classes, curriculum compacting, and telescoping curriculum. Two of the most common include grade acceleration (skipping or double promotion) and subject acceleration. Both may be highly beneficial if correctly implemented; I recommend reading A Nation Deceived for a fairly comprehensive overview of research on the subject.

Note that for highly gifted children a skip/subject acceleration or two will often not be enough; all such measures may do is briefly level-set a child at a roughly appropriate subject-matter level, but problems of pacing and depth of material may remain. Expect therefore that even if you decide to skip, it's often going to be only a temporary fix.

The IOWA Acceleration Scale is a helpful aid in deciding whether acceleration is appropriate, and in fact is used by many school districts in deciding whether a grade skip may be appropriate in a specific case. Note that if a child does not desire a skip, it is never recommended.

Homeschooling is certainly a good option, and in some cases may be the only realistic one (e.g. where there is a vast mismatch between the local school options and a child's needs, which sometimes happens when a school is inflexible). You should also consider engaging with the school to see what services they may offer, but be aware that advocacy for a highly gifted child in a backwards school system may take years and still yield little benefit. Become informed on your state's support for gifted education; some states have gifted education mandates, which may provide for mandatory free testing, gifted IEPs for identified students, and the like. If your school is not ideal, look around for others in the area, including charter schools and private schools, many of which offer scholarships if money is an issue.

Another option which works for many is afterschooling, i.e. supplementation of schoolwork with enrichment of some sort after school or on weekends. I have found this to be most helpful for allowing my son's interests to grow in areas not served by the school. However, it cannot perfectly address a mismatch in an academic area such as math, without modification of schooling during the day. Why should a child learning algebra and reading adult-level fiction sit through entire class periods where he is "taught" things learned years before, and restricted from spending his time more productively? In the case of my son, we currently do brief math lessons at home three days a week after school, and send work to school for him to do during math time, as double acceleration in math was insufficient, and the school balked at sending him to the middle school for math at his current age. The current arrangement at least lets him use his time more productively.

Mentorship can be a great option, and it can be used as a supplement to other forms of instruction. Your son may not yet be at a level of achievement where it would be very helpful.

A few tips:

  • Ask your son what he'd like the most, what his ideal schooling situation would be.

  • Consider that for children where the academic mismatch is severe, acceleration may be the best option despite being suboptimal socially. That is, you cannot let worries about ruining his childhood prevent you from serving his urgent academic needs. Yes, it's true that for a skipped child classmates will generally drive earlier, be more mature physically, etc. Those factors are important to consider, but so is the evidence that acceleration is generally positive (see, e.g. "A Nation Deceived") and may even be necessary to maximize growth potential for certain fields. The best of all worlds, of course, would be to find a schooling situation with other highly gifted youth, but those are rare.

  • The right teacher can make a world of difference. Don't be afraid to advocate for a particular teacher in an upcoming year, if you think that he or she will make a difference. Be alert for bias on the part of teachers; tread lightly with assertions of giftedness or gifted needs until you feel a new one out. Teachers like to feel that they have noticed gifted traits for themselves, and you have to be aware of perceptions that you may be one of those parents ("My Johnny is just so special").

  • If you determine that a teacher or school is not doing right by your son, don't sit around and wait for things to change. They won't.

  • If you engage in advocacy with the school, politely leave a paper/email trail of all interactions. Find out about the law pertaining to gifted education in your area. If your school tries any funny business such as inaccurately stating what's been agreed to, consider using your FERPA right (in the U.S., obviously) to amend your son's education file. Be politely persistent.

  • Don't allow a school to delegate to next year's teacher how to implement gifted services for your child, leaving undecided exactly what will be done. Most teachers have little to no experience or training with highly gifted children, and this will only result in a massive delay.

  • Teachers will often be open to minor enrichment with a minimum of hassle if it means little or no work for them. For example, in some classrooms, especially in the younger years, it's common to see restrictions on reading: a child may be forced to pick from books aimed at young children during reading time, or may be restricted to a young-reader's section during library trips. Politely ask for any such restrictions to be lifted, offering to send material from home and mentioning what your child is up to at home; teachers are often unaware, especially with a child that likes to "fly under the radar".

  • If your school offers mixed-grade classrooms, those can be a great way to try out a "soft skip". For example, maybe your son goes into a grade 3-4 mixed classroom, where he is given a lot of the material that the fourth graders get, and you and the teacher can assess how well he'd do socially if promoted to fifth the following year.

  • Scouting, sports, and similar activities are great for encouraging appropriate physical and emotional development. They can go a long way in helping an accelerated child (or any gifted child) feel normal in his own skin.

  • Your child may have special emotional needs, not just academic ones. Perfectionism is a common issue; some gifted children may feel like impostors. Try to make sure that no matter what happens, your child feels that academic supports are just giving him what's normal for him.

  • If you can, try to find other gifted people in the area. At your son's age, he may find these through robotics or other clubs, through social groups for gifted people, etc.

  • Since your son is highly interested in math, consider using the Art of Problem Solving resources, including the free Alcumus. These are designed to stimulate highly gifted students by challenging them to discover new principles through tough problems. I could go on at length recommending math-related enrichment, but for now will just mention Ed Zaccaro, Martin Gardner, The Moscow Puzzles, and Raymond Smullyan.

  • Your son is also at a good age for learning computer programming, which would help him develop problem solving and modular thinking skills. If he's interested you may want to check out Scratch, Python, Java (Eclipse is a good free IDE), Lego Mindstorms, Arduino, etc.

Some sites that may be useful:

About Gifted Children
Center for Talent Development
Center for Talented Youth
Critical Thinking Co.
Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Hoagies' Gifted
National Association for Gifted Children
Prufrock Press
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted

The following are currently the most active forums related to gifted children and education:

Accelerated Learner Board @ The Well-Trained Mind
Gifted Issues @ Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Parenting the Gifted Child @ mothering.com

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Well you could always try for after school classes or tutoring, like Kumon or some such thing, that would provide the extra challenge over school while still giving your child some social interaction. I'm not all that much in favor of the Tiger Mother approach either, though my wife does some of that anyway since she is Chinese and pushes the education, but we don't heavily punish for failure either. We provide an environment, and opportunities, for our kids to push themselves. Maybe give your child some side projects to do for you or your wife, write reports or problems sets or whatever, and see how your child does with that.

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Thank you for your comment, I appreciate it. I did some preliminary searching for an after school program like Kumon and unfortunately there is nothing within travel distance. We have been supplementing his school work for a while now, and he responds well. Ideally he would spend his 8 hours doing the more challenging work, than the hour or two we can mix in at home. –  Chad May 6 '11 at 18:29
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Since he enjoys school, treat it not as a place where you child learns new stuff, but rather as a place where he socializes, finds new friends, learns how to treat with authority, etc.

To educate him, I'd suggest you to find a hobby group (chemistry or math or robotics or whatever) that your child likes, so that he will develop even further.

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I have taught and met many, many homeschooled children. Many of them I have found to be incredibly intelligent, polite, and socially well-rounded. I have met a few who are lacking in one or more of these areas, though I have found this to be due to negligence on the part of the parent. Should you decide to homeschool, I believe that you have to make social development as much of a priority as their academic development. Many larger cities have excellent homeschooling communities that provide wonderful support systems for homeschooling families. Additionally, enrolling your child in community sports and/or lessons or local organizations that interest him will certainly provide ample social stimulation. Having said that, perhaps a "traditional" school is simply not the best place for your son. A Montessori or Waldorf education might be a more challenging fit for him and provide the flexibility and social development that you are searching for. If he likes the school, his teacher, and his friends, perhaps working directly with his teacher yourself to find new ways to challenge him could work as well. Surely his teacher isn't oblivious to the fact that your son is more advanced than the rest of his classmates. Finally, it might be worth your while to see if your local public school district has any STEM schools or academies or charter schools. Some of these schools can be very challenging, but you need to really do your research.

Some links that might help:

Montessori Schools Waldorf Schools

You might also try looking up information on Unschooling or Natural Learning/Independent Learning/Experience-Based Learning. These all fall under the umbrella of homeschooling, but it's a much more focused movement.

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Hi Meg, and welcome to the site. What a fantastic first contribution! I look forward to hearing more from you. –  Beofett Feb 14 '12 at 2:13
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Start talking to the teacher and ask for his opinion. Tell him you have the idea he is not challenged enough and get him some appropriate challenges with a teacher that can help him fill in the rough spots.

Reading ahead of his/her ages can give some problems with topics which he has to learn from books like love/hate/sexuality etc make sure there is someone to explain these complex topics.

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My daughter (9yo) has been described as gifted by a few of her teachers though we have not had her formally tested. Her reading, comprehensions and vocabulary tends at the teenage level. That being said, she as the life experiences of a 9 year old so can not, for example, understand Macbeth's motivations. Her maths is ahead but not nearly by the same level.

We have enrolled her in a local program called GATEWAYS where they do short courses that extend gifted children's education. We tend to get her into imaginative courses as they are of most interest to her, though there are maths ones as well. The courses are developed by educators and child psychologists and target the child's imagination and breath of education rather than just pushing her ahead. I an happy for her to lose a day here or there in her schooling as she gets more out of these courses than she does at school. These are run in Melbourne, but you might find something in your area.

The same people run courses for parents on how to deal with gifted children. They are not just smarter kids, they come with a whole bunch of different issues. For example: they games they play tend to be more advanced and complex, this can lead to issues with the friends who are not interested in having twenty rules introduced into every game. My daughter can be obsessive (not OCD though) about perfection, this is a common trait in gifted children. Another common trait she has is that she tends to be overly emotional - this can lead to socialisation issues.

She also does language school where her peers are several years older. I think this has been a good experience and the older kids can pull her up to their maturity level.

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Have you asked your son what he would prefer? If he's very social, he may miss the social aspect of school even if it's wasting his time otherwise. Otherwise, if the school is not already quite good, I don't think that teaching him yourself and having him go to school is such a good idea. School is tiring, and the further ahead you are the more boring it is. If the school can't handle bright children--at least by letting him read books in class or otherwise avoid forcing him to pay attention to repetitive stuff that he already knows--then you're going to have a problem regardless of whether you teach him on the side or not.

If you would both enjoy teaching your son and are reasonably good at it (i.e. he reliably learns the material quickly), he would probably be much better served by being home schooled. I was home schooled, and I got a vastly better education, had tons of free time, and got to play with my (somewhat jealous) friends after they finally got out of school.

Alternatively, if you are missing either the time or motivation or the teaching style that your son needs, you could see if there are any Montessori schools nearby. Quite a number of the brightest people who I know went to Montessori schools when they were children; I'm not sure that the schools always helped them to their greatest potential (there's quite some variation in Montessori schools), but very importantly, they didn't squash their love of learning.

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Homeschooled kids have more time to participate in MORE extracurriculars - a report I read recently says they are often involved in at least five non-academic formal activities/week, like clubs and sports! Also, with cooperatives etc. they frequently go on group fieldtrips and other outings together. pinchxeverything.blogspot.com/2012/07/… –  balanced mama Jul 10 '12 at 1:25
    
@balancedmama - That can be true in areas with a sufficiently high density of home-schooled kids. Otherwise, as I mentioned, the home-schooler has to wait for the other kids to get out of school. –  Rex Kerr Jul 10 '12 at 16:20
    
@ Rex Kerr. The point is not that they don't have to wait until after school (my daughter generally does for all of her activities) the point is that during the after school hours they are actually done with school. There are not conflicts with getting homework done or family time and chores (because that often CAN be achieved during school hours). Plus, studies are showing that on average, homeschooled kids ARE more involved in extracurriculars than their non-homeschooled counterparts. –  balanced mama Jul 10 '12 at 16:46
    
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@balancedmama - Ah, okay, now I understand your point. Yes, makes sense. –  Rex Kerr Jul 10 '12 at 17:06
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Please get in touch with the Association for the Education of the Gifted and Underserved Student. They will have all sorts of wonderful information for you. The traditional options offered by most schools and teachers in the US are NOT the best thing for gifted kids. There are a number of great programs out there but AEGUS can help you weed through the Chaff and find the proverbial "wheat".

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I recommend finding a school with a gifted and talented instructor that will help challenge your child. That has worked well for us.

We initially sent our child to a gifted and talented school, but quickly learned two things:

  1. Lots of (IMHO) parents living way to vicariously through their kids and putting way too much competition on things.

  2. Way too much homework.

We finally found a school that simply offered the extra challenge work rather than making that a core part of their curriculum.

As our child is now older, we find that he now finds his own little areas of interest that he can challenge himself with on his own time. Which is really great for any child...gifted or not.

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My own experience from both sides has positives and negatives:

I was very lucky in that I had a small school and very enthusiastic teachers who volunteered their own time to provide me with more input, such that I was happily sitting tests for 14 year olds by the age of 9, getting extra classes on things like calculus, latin etc and generally getting all the support I could ask for.

Of my own children, my eldest is very clever, but I have had major problems in getting his school to support any additional education. They are too busy to help, and when I stated my aim to add home education in some of my specific subjects they were against that approach (as it would make it harder to have a homogenous class if they have outliers. They have funding from the government to assist under-achievers, but not for anyone ahead of the curve)

And as I can't afford to send him to another school it is very frustrating for me. I have ended up providing some extra schooling in a few subjects and have asked him to try and avoid looking bored in those classes at school.

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Homeschooling is a good option. Despite the unfounded, unscientific claims that it impairs social development, almost every homeschooled child I have ever met has been 100 times more socially developed than their publicly educated peers.

Here is an article in the Washingtong times delineating studies that have shown that kids that are homeschooled are actually more likely to be better social adjusted than most of their non-homeschooled peers as well as references to scholarly journal articles, books and other online sources all stating the same experience or findings.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/dec/13/home-schooling-socialization-not-problem/

http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vtch20

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/0161956X.2000.9681938

Public School Vs. Homeschool:Who Can Do A Better Job At... by Brenda Hoffman

Socialization In School?: Is Socialization A Reason For Or Against... by Karen Kaiser

http://school.familyeducation.com/home-schooling/human-relations/56224.html

www.hslda.ca/cche

http://www.homeschool.com/articles/socialization/default.asp

http://learninfreedom.org/socialization.html

For a good laugh on the subject, check out "Messy Mondays, Seven Lies about Homeschoolers" by Blimy Cow. on You Tube (not full of statistics but true in a sarcastic and funny sort of way every highschool homeschooler I know loves it)

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Your answer seems pretty much unfounded itself, especially toward the end. Can you point to sources that back it up? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 11 '11 at 5:37
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