The STEAM-Powered Education of Gifted Kids

ridenhoursby Gwyn RidenhourSTEAM-Powered Classroom

I’m pleased to be here with GHF as a guest blogger today. I am the creator and author of the STEAM-Powered Classroom website, where I talk about homeschooling, hybrid education, and a hands-on approach that values student empowerment and entrepreneurship. STEAM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. Hands-on, in depth, and student-centered—that’s us. But we didn’t start out as homeschoolers. We thought, like many others, that we would be a straight-up public school family from kindergarten through 12th grade. And though our path unexpectedly changed, we don’t regret a moment.

Dirt Floor Recording (26)At 13, my son Ian is already a professional musician, composing and performing, collaborating and recording—sometimes in front of audiences of hundreds of people. He’ll graduate from high school next year at just 14 years old. At 10, my daughter Eva has written and self-published four books (she’s currently working on her fifth); she’s regularly sought after as a guest Kinzy Video Series Rosa Parksspeaker for elementary classes throughout our state, and has purchased her own laptop with her book-sale earnings. She is also two grades accelerated. Home education has made this happen for both kids. Though I believe my children would have pursued their individual interests regardless of their educational path, the fact that we designed their education specifically to support them has helped them rocket forward with amazing success.

We began homeschooling five years ago, after we had tried and failed to make public school work for our then 8 year-old son. He had been accelerated twice already, but still sought more: more depth, more stimulation, more things to fascinate him. When we made the move to home education, we centered it around each child’s interest. We still covered the basics like math and history, but we catered those to our children, letting them explore the aspects of each topic that interested them. Eva’s activities were artistic in nature; Ian’s were more theatrical.

Beyond the traditional core, however, we featured each child’s particular passion. Ian has been composing and performing since the time he was a toddler; Eva has been telling stories for just as long. For us, it made sense to help our kids deeply explore the aspects of the world they found most compelling as part of their formal education. Homeschooling’s flexibility makes it possible to prioritize time for activities and studies that are frequently excluded from the public school trajectory such as the arts, creative writing, and public speaking. We capitalized on this aspect of our new-found freedom, creating specific goals in music and writing as part of our educational plan.In our home, our studies do not reflect traditional methods. Ian didn’t take “music” at home, studying a text and practicing only. Instead, his music education includes:

  • Rich at-home resources such as recordings and YouTube videos in a
  • wide array of music genres
  • Public school band and choir classes
  • Private lessons in percussion and music theory
  • Special workshops and individual sessions with well-respected musicians across the country
  • Website design and social media maintenance (www.ianridenhour.com)
  • Public performances, in ensembles, bands, and as a solo artist
  • Band and performance management
  • Public speaking opportunities to elementary students
  • Working with studios to produce professional recordings and videos
  • Planning a full-length album and developing a Kickstarter fundraising campaign

Eva’s creative writing education includes:

  • An “assignment” of producing one book each school year
  • Time to outline, write, and edit the book
  • Editing support
  • Illustrations: this includes producing the pictures, which are sometimes pen and ink, and sometimes elaborate still-life photographs, and learning how to space the illustrations to enhance the reading experience
  • Website and social media development and maintenance (www.evaridenhour.com)
  • Public speaking opportunities to both educator and student groups
  • Producing educational film series; one is about the craft of writing, another features one of her fictional characters and explores famous women of the 20th century
  • Graphic design and layout
  • Business management and marketing

As you can see, we use each child’s interest as a springboard to study all sorts of topics including computer design, public speaking, and business management. It is a partnership between student and teacher. We each bring ideas to the table, constantly pushing and delving deeper, expanding and reaching out. As a result, music isn’t simply about notation, and writing isn’t simply about character development and grammar. They are fully realized pursuits, with all the complexities and cross-curricular aspects that are a natural component of any life project.

It is my firm belief that kids are amazing creatures, curious and creative. I also believe that if we nurture those traits, if we customize each child’s education to build on natural strengths and interests, we could quite literally change the world. What does your child’s education look like? Does it nurture them? Or is it something for them to check off and get out of the way?

I hope you’ll come over to www.STEAMPoweredClassroom.com where l share more about our family’s educational journey, personal stories, tons of great resources, and practical ideas about how to individualize your own child’s education. I’d love to be a support!

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