My oldest child is 5-years-old. We just started homeschooling about 10 months ago. So you might be thinking, what on earth can I possibly contribute to this discussion about mentoring gifted kids?
If you’re thinking of the traditional mentor role, then you would be right. My child hasn’t had a mentor, and we haven’t searched for one because he’s rather young. No, I am my child’s mentor. That difficult switch from parent to mentor is why I’m writing this post despite my son’s age.
When we first started homeschooling I felt really drawn to the child-led model of learning. Our son is a morass of questions. No sooner do you answer one than another one drags you down into the deep abyss of Google and YouTube. He thrives on learning about things that he’s interested in. And he’s interested in everything!
As I learned more about how to teach our asynchronous son effectively, I discovered Project Based Homeschooling. It’s a great concept that can be applied to traditional schools and homeschooled alike: give a child room to explore and learn about a subject that interests them. That means that you guide, you mentor, you expose them to new things, but you don’t actively teach their interests in a pedagogic manner. In fact, Lori Pickert’s book about PBH points out the mentor connection in its title “Project Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners.”
“To be a mentor goes beyond showing a child how to use the library or bind a book, bake a muffin, or build a birdhouse. It means setting an example of what it means to be an alert, curious, interested, human being. It means setting an example of doing, making, creating, and sharing.”
This was a new frontier for me: switching from the role of teacher/parent to the role of mentor. Parents are teachers by default. We teach our kids how to eat with a spoon, how to tie shoes, or how to be polite. We show our kids what to do, how to do it, and where to go from there. We teach. It’s what we do.
In Project Based Homeschooling, we don’t teach. We mentor. And that’s a completely different mindset.
In fact, as I began to implement PBH with our son, I started to fall back on my support role as a wife. When my husband seeks my input on something I tend to ask probing questions instead of just giving him my opinion. It felt a little weird to do that with my son, but it also felt right.
I felt like I give him more respect as a person and as a student when I ask him to problem solve. By asking him to rely on himself he learns important life skills as well as educational skills.
Now, I’m not saying I just dump him into a subject that he wants to learn and say “have fun! Mommy’s off to get some coffee!” No, I take a support role. When he wanted Halloween decorations and begged for a big spider on our front porch, I didn’t go out and buy one. I asked him what we could do with our craft items instead. He rooted around for a while and designed a Styrofoam spider with pipe-cleaner legs all on his own. I helped glue the googly eyes on, but it was his design. (I confess, I did conveniently “forget” to find the cord for the giant web he wanted to make. Why did he have to pick spiders?)
When he decided that he wanted to design a huge water system the size of our house, I helped him put his ideas on paper and learn to draw diagrams. We discussed making models instead of the real deal, and I chauffeured him to the hardware store to find parts for his water system model.
When he had the parts, I let him sit engrossed for hours putting together different configurations. I didn’t stop him and point out that an intricate looped system wouldn’t have enough pressure for his sprinkler: I let him discover that for himself.
And when he wanted to share his system with other kids, I helped him submit the application to the local Maker Faire. After his application was accepted, I helped man his booth at the faire because the sensory overload was too much for him.
Even though he knows I helped a lot and I actually stepped in and did things that he wasn’t allowed to do, (like use the hot glue gun) it was his system and his booth. His ideas. That meant a lot to him in ways that he wasn’t even able to communicate. He had the biggest smile that day!
I am still a teacher in many ways, because I find it difficult to mentor him in handwriting or math. Still, that mentor mindset carries over. He decides what he’s interested in and I follow it with support or assistance. The handwriting and math fall into place along the way.
Recently, he decided he was interested in fractions. Basic stuff, but he wanted to know what they were and what they do. So I guided him and facilitated his interests by purchasing a set of magnetic fractions for him to experiment with. When we pulled them out for the first time he played for a while, then exclaimed “mom look! I made a half!” (putting ¼ with ¼. ) I didn’t show him that, he discovered it all on his own and it meant so much more to him than if I had told him 1/4 + 1/4 = 1/2.
It’s hard trying to mentor a 5-year-old. He can’t read, so I can’t easily direct his research. His interests fluctuate worse than our November weather here in DC. It’s incredibly hard to step from the “stop hitting your brother!” mindset to a support mindset in the space of a few moments. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to get him to articulate what he’s thinking.
I want him to learn how to learn. I don’t want to step in and take over, because then he’ll never discover things for himself. I think that’s the key word – I’m here to facilitate discovery. Not cram information down his throat.
So yes, I am my son’s mentor. I’m sure he’ll have plenty of other mentors in his future as he decides what he’s interested in. It’s important to have people to support you, to be a sounding board, or to provide an honest critique for you.
For now, it’s time to put that mentoring hat back on – his next project is a DIY conveyor belt. He’s happily drawing gears and cogs and planning a design. Guess we’re going to the automotive store to look for belts!
(Note: the link to Pickert’s book may or may not be an affiliate link. I couldn’t get the darn thing to work. It will take you to Amazon to read a preview of the book, which was the whole point anyway.)
This post is part of Gifted Homeschooler’s Forum Blog Hop: Gifted Children and the Role of Mentors. Click the link to read more posts about this subject from people with far more experience than me!