The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Considering Homeschooling: education at its best?

Ainan Celeste Cawley, 6, has been in primary school for almost a year now. During that time he has learnt nothing really, that he did not already know. The only things he has learnt are those matters of his personal interest that he has followed in his own time, and largely by his own effort: the sciences, in particular the hard ones.

What, then, is the purpose of school? Everyone speaks of "having peers" - but are the children he is at school with his peers? Can they truly understand what he says when he speaks his mind? Adults can't even follow him when he speaks what he is really thinking. The torrent of scientific ideas, references, theories and information is too fast and too great to be readily followed. I have often found myself asking him to repeat himself so that I can grasp his intention. Yet, when I do so, I always find that there is strong reason in what he says - and good sense - along with a great deal of original scientific insight.

How many children, therefore, are his peers? From what I have heard, he has not even one peer in school. It is clear that his fellow students benefit from his presence, for he has the habit of teaching them science, and telling them all about it. It is, I suppose, his way of planting the seeds that might lead to them being able to converse with him one day, in his areas of interest. However, this educative experience is a one way flow. There is no means by which he can learn from them.

Homeschooling seems an obvious solution. His teacher would be a man of similar interests and former abilities: his father...but then how is one to manage the home finances? There is juggling to be done, arrangements and sacrifices to be made. It is all rather difficult. Why should we be considering this path? Because the schooling provided by nations everywhere, is not schooling at all, if your child is a genius, a prodigy or highly, exceptionally or profoundly gifted.

My son is learning a lot about boredom from school, but little else. That is not how it should be.

If any reader has experience of homeschooling or is in a similar dilemma, please feel free to share your insights. Thanks.

(For more on Ainan Celeste Cawley, six, a scientific child prodigy and nascent genius, and his gifted brothers, go to: )

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:02 PM 


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I am the mother of a suspected gifted son. I stumbled across your blog from the link on Hoagies. Firstly may i say how helpful I find your insight into giftedness. Secondly, I was wondering what your opinion on IQ testing is, and whether you have or are going to have your sons tested?

8:28 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

I am gratified that you find what I write useful: that is the purpose and it is good to see it fulfilled.

IQ testing is both useful and limited, I think. It is useful in ascertaining whether your child has a high degree of convergent reasoning power relative to others - but I think it really fails to capture many of the aspects that make up many gifted children and adults. It says nothing, for instance, about creativity. It says nothing about originality. It says little about the ability to master complexity, to come up with new ideas - to be, in fact, a genius. I don't think it captures that. Why do I say this? Well, because many high iq people do and say nothing interesting all their lives. Yet, they have a high iq. Something is, therefore, not captured by these tests.

Special gifts are not well diagnosed with iq testing, either. A child may be a musical genius, but have little to show for it on an iq test. Or may outdraw Picasso. But no iq test will show that. There are many gifts that will never reveal themselves in what is a test of a small subset of human abilities. Thus while a high iq result will show that a certain kind of reasoning is working well, a moderate iq - which might exclude a child from a gifted programme - does NOT exclude the possibility that the child has a special gift. Therefore caution in the interpretation of these tests is advised.

I haven't had my children iq tested, so far. The only real purpose of such tests is to provide evidence of "giftedness" to a third party - perhaps a school, or for entrance to a gifted program, if they value such evidence.

I don't know about your country, but in Singapore it is very expensive to have an invigilated iq test done, by a psychologist - I have heard up to 1600 dollars per child. I have three children. That is almost 5000 dollars for the privilege of providing a piece of paper to third parties - when I already know them well enough to know that they are certainly gifted.

Maybe I will have them tested one day, but right now I think those dollars have better uses.

11:30 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I realize this is a slightly older post but felt compelled to comment. I am a homeschooler in America, and although my children are not what one might consider gifted, our decision to homeschool was based on some of the same reasons you have mentioned. My son was bored in institutional school and frequently bothered others to fill his time rather than do his schoolwork. Getting him to complete his homework was a battle, but when he finally relented he would finish in minutes. The teacher saw him as a troublemaker and seemed insulted at the suggestion that the work was not challenging enough for him.

While not a prodigy, my son was reading at a 10 year old level when he was 7. He was doing simple math before he started formal schooling (here, that is usually at age 5), and multiplying fractions two years before the introduction of this concept in school.

I just wanted to tell you that homeschooling has given my son the opportunity to learn where he hasn't learned, without wasting countless months or years on what he already knows. I believe that any child, prodigy or not, has the ability to learn massive amounts if given the chance to fully explore areas of interest. I wanted also to mention that in the few short years of formal schooling before my son's 8th birthday, he had completely lost his love of reading despite his earlier promise, and has since become worse at spelling and grammar in the written form. He no longer cares for literature, and I have devoted a lot of effort to rekindle this desire in him. Fortunately, he has found a calling in animals, and so learns everything he can possibly absorb about them. Often he asks questions about their physiology, comments on genetic evolutionary connections, or makes some such statement that I am completely unable to respond to. Thank goodness for the internet and the library!

I disagree with your comments about the child not being able to learn any more than the teacher knows, since I never attended college and couldn't be classified as "educated," at least in social circles. However, I like to consider myself "smarter" than most in the fact that I admit when I don't know something and help my children learn it (often, we learn new things together), rather than stifling their learning to spare my pride, as it seems your son's teacher (and many others) have done.

Homeschooling is the best and most logical choice for any student whose needs cannot be met by formal schools. It doesn't matter if those needs are physical, academic, religious, or otherwise. My only regret in choosing to homeschool is that I didn't make that choice sooner. I am now homeschooling all three of my children, and the idea of sending any of them into a formal school again is completely out of the question.

I hope all this very long blabbering has helped you somehow. Good luck with your decision. I will be adding your blog to my list of reads.

5:15 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks Heather for your post regarding the benefits of homeschooling. Your words are a definite push for me in the direction of deciding to homeschool my son, Ainan Celeste Cawley, and perhaps his brothers in due course.

You have highlighted an important peril of NOT homeschooling: the danger that an unchallenging school will numb a child's joy in learning - perhaps permanently switching them off education, for life. The only thing that keeps my son's mind awake is the opportunity to do his own scientific study at home. At school, he is, as far as I can tell, rather disengaged by it all.

I will take a look at your blog, too.

Kind regards

6:29 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

P.S Heather.

Your son sounds a bright boy and I think you were right to take him out of a dulling environment. Well done on having the courage to do so.

6:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am homeschooling my gifted 7 year old in America after 2 wasted years in the school system. For us, they refused to place him out of his grade level for math and only partially accommodated reading (by moving him up one grade level instead of up four grade levels as testing indicated). He became very bored in school and refused to do all but the minimum necessary to satisfy the teacher, then drew pictures all day long. The teacher then felt vindicated for not moving him up since "he wouldn't do work anyway!" He lost the love of learning since he wasn't doing any for 6 1/2 hours a day.

Homeschooling has been wonderful since we can work at his various grade levels and he has much more time to pursue his own interests. I would imagine your son would love more time during the day to think about chemistry and physics and not elementary spelling and counting. Friendships can be easily formed through outside activities, homeschooling does not need to be isolating.

Good luck with your decision.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your post regarding your gifted son.

It is encouraging that homeschooling is working out for you. I am for homeschooling, but my wife is worried about the lack of socialization. Your reassurance that this need can be met from outside activities is comforting.

You are right about Ainan: he would like nothing better than to be immersed in physics, chemistry - and the other hard sciences. Instead of this he has to endure classes in matters so trivial, for him, that it is a pain to contrast his displayed abilities in science, with the needs of the school.

It is a big step to homeschool in Singapore - almost no-one does it and there are strict regulations regarding it. If we take that step, it will be a big one. However, I am beginning to think that NOT taking it is not to best serve our son and his needs.

Best wishes on raising your son, homeschool style.

3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the mother of a 6 1/2 year old girl whom we have homeschooled for over a year. We rather fell into homeschooling.....we were on the waitlist for an excellent school in the UK (we lived elsewhere) and we didn't want to enroll our daughter in another school while we waited for the waitlist to clear at our preferred school. However, a funny thing happened while we were waiting; we discovered that homeschooling provided everything we wanted in a school, and more. When we finally received our daughter's acceptance into our chosen school, we no longer wanted it, and turned it down in favour of homeschooling.

Our daughter is now in Grade 5 for Math and Grade 4 for her other subjects, so she clearly has benefitted from homeschooling, although it is difficult to tell whether she is doing so well because she is naturally gifted or because she is homeschooled. She does however have a musical gift, and plays excellent piano and violin under the tutelage of hand-picked teachers who appreciate and reward her dedication to these arts.

Homeschooling has not been easy, and sacrifices have been made to enable this choice. Because my husband and I both have demanding careers, we have had to engage tutors for several subjects as we don't have the time to do all the teaching ourselves, but we have the luxury of choosing the tutors we feel best cater for our daughter's needs, something we could not do if she were in regular school.

Homeschooling is not an easy path; there are regulations galore in many countries. We are in fact about to move to Singapore, and are delighted to find that there are no regulations for expat children, which will make a change from our current country. Besides the regulations, there is always the concern about whether one is "doing it right". Further, unless you move in homeschooling circles, your friends and family will undoubtedly lecture you on the inadvisability of homeschooling ("what about their socialization" is a recurring theme, as though we keep them locked in cupboards!) At the end of the day however, one has to listen to one's own instincts as a parent, and if it feels right for you and your child, then go for it!

(We are hoping to make contact with parents of other homeschooled and/or gifted children in Singapore once we move there in March 2007).

Future Singaporean Homeschooler

5:04 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thanks for your encouraging words - and your homeschooling success story.

You are right that expats are free to do as they wish in Singapore re.homeschooling...unfortunately, Ainan, our son, was born in Singapore and so the rules - of which there are many - apply to him. We are not therefore as free as you will be. We have to jump through many requirements before we would be allowed to homeschool.

If you do come to Singapore - write a mail and get in touch. Your daughter is only a little younger than Ainan, so they should get on well.

Kind regards

11:15 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

I'm not sure if this is useful, but I'll post it just in case.

A Google search for homeschooling in Singapore will give you the Singapore Homeschool Group's website.

Many more families than people realise, including Singaporean ones, homeschool their children for various reasons.

I understand your concern about socialisation. It would be very beneficial for a gifted child such as Ainan to have opportunities for diverse experiences.

For like-minded 'peers', he could consider meeting up with children from the Singapore Homeschool Group, or Mensa Singapore [].

On the other hand, it might also be good exposure for him to socialise with those less intellectually gifted than he so that he gets a more realistic feel of the societal mix and to further develop his EQ.

Once again, all the best! :-)

4:58 AM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you Joanne for pointing our way to a homeschooling resource: we will have a look at it.

We did try Mensa - but got a rude reception from whoever answered the phone - they have since expressed apologies however. We will consider them.

Thanks for your help.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a Malaysian currently residing in UK and homeschooling my 7 yrs old son. I was in KL recently, and did some fact finding for our eventual return to Malaysia. Even tho it seems like there's not much happening within the HE community, i still think that homeschooling in Malaysia (Singapore is not much different, I assumed?) is very much possible. Considering schools normally ends by midday, and there's a lot of extra private curriculum to attend like Kumon, music lessons, drama classes, technology workshop etcs, i can see hw my child can still be part of the "kid's community", if needed. We've been homeschooling for 1 1/2 yrs, and my son is free to socialise with anybody of any age, he is mostly drawn to kids many years older than himself, maybe because he is more on their wave-lenght and this is not possible if he is in school. Plus there's so many family clubs in Asia, I believe this can help provide more social and sports activities. I could remember spending alot of my childhood time, swimming and playing with friends of all ages, at the "club". So social is the least of the homeschooling problems.

Private tutors are also definetely more affordable and readily available in Asia, so homeschoolers's academic option is possibly more than the standard UK syllabus.

Nowadays, being global with the internet, distance learning has made it possible for anyone to get a degree.

Hence, yes, homeschooling in Malaysia is very much possible.

I see the local Polythecnic is willing to accomodate your child which is quite a breakthru. I think, as chemistry is his love, homeschooling shoudl be no problem as long as he still gets access to his chemistry activities and lab. Your child will learn what is necessary to him like Maths or spelling( as he is obviouly able to read big and extraordinary words already) when there's a need for it. To keep him in school, still learning low level Maths will be sad as he is obviously so ready for more challenging formulas.

To think that if Einstein were not kicked out of school(and hence homeschooled), he might possibly not have all the flexibility and freedom to dream and explore his ideas about "mostly nothing important" (called daydreaming) for he'll have lots of learning to do, learning about other people's ideas and beliefs. We might not even know the famous Einstein who came out with his famous theory of relativity. Or if Mozart were to grew up within an education establishment who believes Maths and Science were more important than composing music or messing about on his pianoforte, perhaps we would not even have the good fortune to hear his many genuis works, results of many hours of un-hindered tinkering.

Homeschooling is not about making your child more genuis than he already is, homeschooling it's about allowing your child to go further and in any directions he wants, again, if this is what the child wants. To be able to be himself, to be able to prioritize and to have control over his own interest and whatever that clicks and makes sense to him at that moment in time, would means the need for freedom to prioritize.
And this means the opportunity to spend the whole day/s infront of his cemistry set, trying to figure out a theory he dreamed about the night before. Such determination should be encourage and applauded, and not KIV to the weekend when he's all fizzled out with all the tons of school homework is done!! Or KIVed until the exams is finished. Don't forget exams is held to provide data, informations that the governemnt required to gauge the efficiency of thier system and money spent.

Examinations again is like the IQ test, is only for the benefit of other people, rather than the child. You are right about the IQ testing. It never really help much other than told us that our child is gifted, and for the montessori to finally accept that a 4 yr old is capable of comprehending the meaning "i'm bored" and that my son was really meaning what he was saying all along.

It took us a long and hard work to "recover" our son as I believed the school regime did took away all his joy of learning and discovering. He basically couldn't see the magic of learning anymore other than to view it as "boring repetitive schoolwork", and he claimed to hate maths and reading despite the fact that these 2 subjects is still very much his strong subjects till today. We're lucky that we took him out of school early before alot more subjects is tarred with the dreaded "school work" label. So today he's very happily read about another country on the newspaper. He doesn't seems to think reading all his Star Wars comic is consider reading or that pocket money budgetting is Maths or looking for cheatcodes on the net is reading and he's recording it down neatly too!!

Here's a blog that might help:-

Here's the Malaysian newly formed homeschooling group that might be of help-

All the best with your decision, To decide on Homeschooling's not an easy one, and can be a rather daunting one too, but seriously, it's not as scary and difficult as many people think, life changing yes, but not life upsetting. .

Best Wishes,

11:00 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

I wonder if you already sorted out your childrens' homeschooling.

Julia UK

11:38 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you for your interest Julia.

No...not really - you see official permission is still being withheld. So, Ainan is having to go to school and do what he really wants at home, (science, maths, etc) when he is free to do so. He learns nothing from school, and everything at home. It is such a waste of time and, since he has to get up at 5.30 to go to school, he gets very tired. Singapore is very inflexible place - and isn't entirely truthful or open about things it says you can do in theory but can't in practice. Tellingly, the homeschool unit is called: "The Compulsory Education Unit" - which rather tells you their real attitude towards letting anyone homeschool. Very few people are given permission...and they are curiously reluctant, so far, to let us do so.

Our patience won't last forever, however...

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I read your blog about 2 years ago whilst we were still in Singapore when I was researching about giftedness suspecting my children to be so.

Our children (Singaporeans) are now being homeschooled under the jurisdiction of both Canada and Singapore.

We immigrated to Canada in 2007. You are right that homeschooling is tough to do in Singapore.

Apparently tougher now that they have received some bad press over the unfair expectations on homeschoolers in the PSLE results.

Even if we do return to Singapore, our children would not return to public school.

I am surprised that your son isn't allowed to be homeschooled. You could always say that your wife is the homeschooling mum whilst you work. You could be the "brain" behind the curricular planning whilst your wife executes the homeschooling.

Currently, my son (9 y.o) gifted in hard Sciences as well has been homeschooled for a year. This poor kid tried 4 different school systems (public school in Singapore and a private school -you could enrol in one if your get homeschooling approval.)

He has also tried public and private schools in Calgary. After going to 4 schools in 2 years and wasting time dealing with school organisations who either refuse to make accommodations to my son's needs or just being bullied somewhat, we decided to homeschool him.

It's the best decision we have made thus far.

Although my husband is probably the best to homeschool him since he is inclined to hard Sciences, a homeschooling parent's job is simply to be an active observer and resource provider not so much in actually teaching. So it is still workable for your wife to do it whilst you continue to earn the buck.

You may wish to look at this "quasi" school system that my son is enrolled now. It's really good.

It's called Self Design. You can read more about this at or even read the book written by the founder, Brent Cameron. The title of the book is also Self Design. It is possible to enroll as an international student and I don't think they charge very much as compared to other programs. At the end of the day, your child can still get a BC diploma which allows him to use that as an entrance to Universities in Canada, at the very least!

Self design's basic principle is that schooling should be child focused. So a child is allowed to explore whatever they choose to and as deep as they want as long as they are enthused about it. Ultimately, we are just guides in their educational process. This approach is quite cool although the philosophical part of the book is a little too hard for me to stomach.

An enlightened Singaporean overseas

1:48 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Thank you, Jo, for your suggestion.

Yes, I was surprised, too, at the way they interfered with Ainan's needs...but I am no longer surprised. We have gotten used to being opposed in our aims of providing what he needs. They have a certain way of viewing things and their way is not ours.

I am glad to hear of your success in is actually hope inspiring to hear.

We will try again to see if we can be allowed to do what we need to do. Thanks.

1:01 AM  

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