How to choose homeschool curricula for gifted and neurodiverse kids

For Parents Jul 28, 2022

One reason parents homeschool their kids is that they might learn differently at home than in a traditional public school setting. A district expert or your learner's pediatrician may offer suggestions to help your child succeed in school. But sometimes, homeschooling is the right thing to do when it comes to what's best for your learner.

Part of the freedom of homeschooling means you get to choose a curriculum for your child that fits your educational needs. Whether you want to focus on lessons centered around your beliefs, tailor work towards the budding artist in your household, or custom-make a curriculum for your mathematics whiz, the options are endless.

Dr. Donna Matthews, writing for Psychology Today, notes that neurodiverse, gifted, and high-functioning kids are often mislabeled because schools that teach groups must efficiently educate the masses all at once. She believes that everyone learns in unique ways and that no single education method works for every child.

But if each child learns differently, how do you figure out what’s right for your kids? Especially if you have learners who are gifted and or neurodiverse?

This article covers just that, including how to choose a homeschool program that's a good fit for your family, plus some teaching tips.

Homeschool curriculum shopping guidelines

We’ll cover some high-level strategies and ideas to get you going, but for a more in-depth curriculum comparison, we recommend Cathy Duffy Reviews.

Cathy has been "reviewing curriculum for the homeschooling community since 1984" and was recommended by several of our Outschool staff homeschooling experts. We especially like that the site provides advanced filter options, including learning styles and methodology, so you can quickly find what you need.

But before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to choose a curriculum, let's discuss two other critical factors: setting a schedule and identifying learning styles.

Set your learning schedule

One of the most incredible benefits of homeschooling is the flexibility in what you learn and how long you spend learning it.

While your schedule will vary according to your availability, family's needs, and curriculum, you may want to "budget" 3-4 hours a day. You can also reference this chart from the Illinois State Board of Education's Remote Learning Recommendations as a jumping-off point.

You get to reimagine the traditional 9-to-3 schedule to fit your family. In fact, research shows learning "bursts" of about 15 minutes rather than long lectures or lessons can result in higher test scores and greater retention.

Younger kids will especially benefit from smaller increments since they have shorter attention spans. It can also help to do an activity your child enjoys before pivoting back to another subject, task, or learning burst; studies show that having a positive mood during learning boosts information retention.

Identify your kids’ learning styles

You may have heard about learning "styles" or types of learning. I.E., kids may prefer to learn through visual, auditory, reading/writing, or kinesthetic (hands-on) ways.

It's important to note that there are some misconceptions that if you have a neurodiverse learner, they will automatically prefer a specific learning style. For example, some assume that ADHD = kinesthetic or autistic = visual.

But that's not the case. Research shows that no child is one-size-fits-all, whether neurotypical or neurodivergent.

However, studies have shown that "uncovering and supporting children's favored learning styles can improve performance in all areas." And combining methodologies like discussing a subject, practicums, and teaching others what you learned also increases retention.

The beauty of homeschooling is that you can choose the curricula and tools that work for your kid’s unique preferences.

As you try different homeschooling approaches, notice what your kids respond to. Find ways to combine learning styles and see what works best for your family. Variety keeps things fresh and gives your learner the best chance of knowledge retention.

For example, if you're using a science lesson in an app, you'll likely have a diagram with photos. You can use the video for the visual and verbal elements while having a science experiment on the table in front of you for the kinesthetic aspect of the lesson.

You can also use additional non-curriculum tools to incorporate elements of interest. For example, if you're studying history, you can use an app like Who Was? to add visuals and a fun trivia game about historical figures.

Key takeaway: each kid learns differently – whether they're neurotypical, neurodiverse, or gifted. So incorporating fun and variety is a great place to start.

Homeschooling gifted kids curriculum tips

If you're parenting a gifted child, there is a lot to unpack, like how to identify if they're gifted and what unique challenges they might face.  

So when teaching a gifted learner, you can try several approaches. You might start with a curriculum review site, choose one curriculum for all your children, and see how your gifted learner responds. Or you might try curricula specifically designed for gifted children.

You can also break it down by subject. For example, this list of resources for mathematically gifted students from the Davidson Institute includes stand-alone programs, math competitions, and more. You might also end up combining multiple approaches and tools.

Supplementing your curriculum can be especially helpful for homeschooling gifted children because gifted kids are hungry for knowledge and can quickly become bored.

Research shows that "the brightest children in the classroom may become competent but unimaginative adults who do not fully develop their gifts and talents."

Accelerated courses can also help ensure your learner remains challenged. For example, check out Outschool's Genius Hour: A Math Class for Gifted & Advanced Students.

Incorporating creativity can also help keep learners engaged. We love how Beast Academy math series looks like comic books. As they put it, it's "The challenge your gifted students crave."

Whether you're looking for ongoing courses for your gifted children or fun supplementary tools, online classes offer variety and affordability. For example, if you're trying to get your children engaged in math, you might try these online math classes:

Learn more about top resources to help your gifted child succeed.

Key takeaway: don't be afraid to try something new. Gifted kids thrive on challenge.

Homeschooling neurodiverse kids curriculum tips

Understanding how to parent and teach neurodivergent children is critical, especially since one in five kids is neurodiverse.

But because each child is unique, there is no "ideal" curriculum or learning approach that will work for every neurodivergent kid. However, there are some guidelines and strategies that can be helpful.

First, remember that even though neurodiversity isn’t uncommon, it can make kids feel like they’re “different,” which can feel lonely. So it can be helpful for neurodivergent learners to connect with other kids wired like them. Online communities and groups are a great place to start. Check out:

For parents of neurodivergent kids, we love Tilt Parenting. They believe that "different is not a deficit," – and we couldn't agree more. Check out their book, podcast, and club.

Second, focus on your learner's strengths. Help them to see their neurodiversity and unique perspective as an advantage – as Microsoft does. Or like how Ben Blanchet decided that autism was his superpower.

Third, just because you might need to adjust your teaching or learning strategies doesn't mean you should expect less from neurodivergent kids. Research shows that you shouldn't lower the bar and that doing so can have adverse effects:

People don't understand that many of these disabilities are not based on low I.Q. A lot of those kids with ADHD and kids with learning disabilities, are high I.Q. and [when] they're achieving below their potential is usually how those were diagnosed.

Being flexible also helps. For example, if you find your learner loves hands-on, kinesthetic learning, you can supplement your core homeschooling with tools like MEL Science. They provide monthly science experiments to foster your learner's love for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects.

You can make a pirate ship that travels on wheels, puzzles that explain computer coding, and even a hinged platform that raises up and down to demonstrate how hydraulics work.

You can also supplement your homeschooling program with engaging online classes. For example, if you don't love teaching science, you could use an ongoing online science course. You can also supplement with some fun online experiment classes like:

Lastly, it can be helpful to find practical day-to-day support tools. For example, if you have a learner with dyslexia, try a text-to-speech aid like Natural Online Reader to give them an auditory option for intaking information.

Key takeaway: many families combine curricula and supplement with multiple tools to best serve their learners and their unique needs.

We hope you're inspired to find the right homeschool program for your family. Outschool is here to help. Whether you're looking for semester-based online courses to supplement your homeschool program, 1-on-1 tutoring, or Sketchnoting for the ADHD Brain, we’ve got you covered.

Anna Duin

Anna is a Content Strategist at Outschool. She's also a mother to two pretty-awesome little boys. Nothing makes her happier than rising to a challenge or making something new.