Category Archives: Gifted Ed

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher–But If She’s Lucky, She’ll Have Lots More

Side note: wow, it’s been a while. So I guess that’s what a little walking pneumonia does to your hobbies.

Here we are in what would be the 7th- and 3rd-grade years of the girls homeschooled lives. Violet (the 7th grader) is at this point pretty fully a high schooler, academically, and our schedule shows it. Between her usual desire to do EVERYTHING and the higher level of both input and output expected, she’s having to step up her game. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I’m pretty proud of how she’s making her best effort much of the time.

One thing newbie homeschoolers are frequently asked is: “What will you do when they need to study algebra/physics/some other thing you are obviously too stupid to understand yourself?” We heard this question first when our daughter was six; though she was indeed profoundly gifted, it was hard not to be insulted by the assumption behind the question. It seemed likely that we had a while to worry about that stuff.

The time has come, however: she’s surpassed what I can do without a few extra hours of study in my nonexistent spare time. Algebra is long behind her (she taught herself, and I was able to be reasonably useful through a good chunk of algebra II,.) She insisted on studying both chemistry *and* physics this year, largely because folks in our homeschool community have organized such fantastic opportunities that she couldn’t turn either one down.

I couldn’t be happier. Her chemistry class is run by a young man who supervises the labs at some local community colleges. He clearly loves what he is doing, and he also does a great job of getting the students to think about science as problem solving and not merely memorizing a lot of terminology and facts. Learning to do high quality lab reports may be some of the toughest writing she’s ever done, and from what I’ve heard the standards are pretty high.

Her physics teacher is a theoretical physicist who works in the research division of a multinational corporation; once a week, he meets with my daughter and two other kids to help them through Kinetic Books Principles of Physics, in addition to assigning and grading homework and coming up with some cool short- and long-term projects to try. For their chapter on vectors he brought them each a pirate map and assigned to figure out . . . well, a lot of stuff I am *not* too stupid to understand, but too busy. (Right? Right.)

Their teacher is having fun: he’s got three incredibly enthusiastic students who can’t wait to come talk physics with him. The kids are having fun: they get to learn at the high school level from someone who loves his field, and then they go out and play on the swingset for a while before we head home. Violet may never be a physicist, but she gets to have one for a mentor this year and understand that physics is not just a fixed body of knowledge you need to study to graduate, but a diverse and alive field populated by interesting real people.

Oh, and she’s taking an advertising class at our co-op taught by a former brand manager at another multinational, and a programming class taught by a software engineer for a major open source software company. (Of course that second one is her father.) And her former art teacher has offered her private lessons in oils.

Add to that another year of what I’ve started to consider her homeschool homeroom, Online G3, and she’s surrounded by amazing and generous adult mentors. I cannot believe how lucky we are. I know we could have put together other solutions for these classes if we had to, but I’m thrilled that

1) She’s in new surroundings where she has to push herself a little, not for a grade but to get what she came for, and

2) She’s learning that people–not just books and computers–are a great educational resource, and

3) I’m off the hook for motion in three dimensions, because two dimensions were already beyond me.

Will Victoria also homeschool for high school? The future’s unclear. But at least I don’t have to worry what I’ll do when she gets to algebra. Her interest in welding, on the other hand, worries me a little, but there’s time.

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Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Dad and Daughter, Five Years Later

I wanted to get photographic proof of the peaceful conversation happening at my dining table today, and the results reminded me of a picture I took a long time ago.

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September 10, 2006. About 6 months into the homeschooling adventure, getting some use from one of the first toys we got to celebrate leaving school.

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Moving into the sixth year of homeschooling, talking about the unit circle and reviewing trigonometric ratios. Dad still can’t contain his enthusiasm for talking math with his girls.

Different dining room, different hair styles, different glasses: look at how much that kid has grown! What I love is the summer afternoon discussion made possible not so much by homeschooling but by the whole family being at home. Not all families have the luxury of having one parent around the house, let alone two, but for us it has been a way of life for most of our kids’ childhoods.

When Violet was first born, I mainly worked from home, but I had a freelance job that took me out of the house twice a week. Eggmaster rearranged his schedule to be home. Over the next few years, as Eggmaster went back to school and I started freelancing more, we each worked about half time, sharing child-raising duties and making not quite one whole income between us. I said we were a 3/4th income family.

Even when Eggmaster worked out of the home, we would all pile in the car and drive him together, and we were fortunate that his schedule allowed him to work any time, as long as he was working. Just over three years ago, he started working from home full-time again, which makes homeschooling so much nicer.

For one thing, I have another adult to vent to when it’s all too much. He takes the longer view and reminds me one day of trouble doesn’t mean our children will be living under a bridge someday. I can’t be so sure about the two of us, but I hope for better for them.

I can also escape the house without worrying about the kids (though now they are old enough to handle themselves). Or I can take one kid somewhere and leave the other one home: little sister doesn’t have to get dragged along to big sister’s stuff, and vice versa. As big sister gets so busy with high school-ish stuff, that really helps.

The best part, of course, is that they get him too. I have learned to be fascinated by math since starting homeschooling, but that’s all I can share. I can be interested, but I can’t be knowledgeable, especially not now that truly advanced math gets ever closer to our reality. I am also not passionate like he is. And when I listen to him teach Victoria a drum beat or record a song with Violet on his electric guitar, I cannot imagine a happier sound.

Any parent can be an involved parent, of course, but I love that we are all here together, living and learning and playing at 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon.

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Filed under Family Fun, Gifted Ed, Why Homeschool?

Library Finds 8/2010 — Ulysses

We went for our first time as a family to the lovely, recently (completely) renovated Minneapolis Central library. It’s a great looking library, with a wonderful children’s room.

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As I did my own browsing, I noticed that as soon as I stepped off the elevator on the 4th floor a display of homeschooling books greeted me — chic, indeed.

One (non-homeschool) education book I am very excited to read is Disrupting Class. I’m excited to learn more about online education and how it can bring freedom in education to more and more students, so that homeschool/private school/public school/unschool become increasingly meaningless labels.

I found this insanely cool, gorgeous version of the Odyssey for Victoria (and me).

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We have been sporadically listening to Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, which features Circe, Polyphemus, and lots of other characters and events taken from the Odyssey.

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The book’s artwork is only tied for trippiest thing found at the library, however. Eggmaster came out of the mens room reporting that he found ample evidence of someone packing blunts on the 4th floor. (Google it.)

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Love This, Love this Book, Why Homeschool?

Why We Homeschool, Revisited

A lot of times when people ask why we homeschool, I just say “Because we enjoy it.” When it was a question about why we pulled our child out of school, the question was harder to answer without a lot of care taken not to offend, but now that answer seems to cover it. It’s not a “schools suck” or a “my kid is too special” kind of thing; just “we like it.” It’s the truth, most days.

Still, sometimes the other reasons come around to beat me over the head.

As the school year ramps up, I’ve heard a lot of talk from parents with gifted kids in public schools. Across the state, a common theme has been that schools—teachers, principals, administrators—are refusing to follow state law in allowing parents to play a role in teaching their kids.

According to Minnesota state law, parents are free to object to a curriculum and substitute one of their own, provided that the family pays for it and does the teaching. The law originated with sex ed, naturally, but was written broadly to allow all kinds of flexibility. Parents of gifted kids have used the law to provide appropriate content for their kids in specific subject areas.

Yet in school after school, parents are being denied that right. Principals are stating flatly, “we don’t do that,” even upon being shown the relevant statute.

The reasoning behind that puzzles me. What does the school gain by refusing?

It’s hard on my liberal, teachers-union-loving self to look at that and not question the assumptions behind the blatant disrespect for parents (not to mention the law). While I have no fear that the government is trying to brainwash my children, I do see a clear assumption on the part of those representatives of the school system that a parent has no right to participate in the formal education of her child – even something as simple as providing a laptop and an alternative math program for 45 minutes a day – except at the discretion of the school.

Were it just one teacher, I’d be ready to accept the “bad apple” excuse. But as parent after parent chimes in with similar stories, it’s hard not to see a pattern. And it’s a pattern that reminds me of the battles I’d rather not fight. Tough as it is to get along with my volatile little snowflakes some days, that’s my job as a parent. I have a lot more invested in weathering those storms than in fighting battles with someone who doesn’t even know me, who sees his school as his own private fiefdom, where state law doesn’t apply.

And that’s just the people who work there. What about other parents?

Many of my friends were saddened by a blog post by a journalist who decided to lash out at parents who think their kids are gifted. The sad part isn’t that a minor blogger doesn’t like the word “gifted.” Rather, what came out of the discussion was how many people had someone in their lives say the same things to them directly, in person, about their own kids or parenting, and how hurtful it could be.

The blogger also reiterated one of the weirdest, but very common, anti-gifted-ed arguments: parents of gifted students seek more challenging classes for their children because they are trying to eliminate life’s challenges for their children. Chew on that logic for a while. Yet it is so common: some parents seem determined to believe that there is something elitist or nefarious about trying to put your child in a setting where she has the opportunity to learn something new. Frankly, I have even less interest in coping with those parents than I do with the school. At least I can cite statues at the school; being an ignorant jerk is still fully legal.

I can’t lie – homeschooling intense children is hard. Being a driven, impatient, introverted person makes homeschooling hard. Is it harder than dealing with that other crap? I’m not sure, and besides, dealing with that other crap isn’t an essential part of my job description as a parent. Dealing with my kids’ ups and downs is, and sending them to school wouldn’t change that. But it might just add a bunch more BS to the pile, and I’m already shoveling as fast as I can.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, In the News, Why Homeschool?

A Different Kind of Learner

Today at dinner Victoria and I discussed the delicious fresh, organic lemonade I got at a great price today, 2 for $5.

After I mentioned that we had a second jug waiting for us in the fridge, Victoria said, “So we have a gallon all together.”

I was impressed — I don’t recall discussing volume measures with her, and half-gallon wasn’t printed on the container, so I asked her, “How did you figure that out?”

Victoria: “I used math.” (Duh!)

Me: “Oh, so how big is one container?”

Victoria: “I don’t know. A skinny jug is a pint, but this isn’t a pint. So maybe . . .” (trails off)

Me: “Well how did you know that two make a gallon?”

Victoria: “I read something in a book.”

And that’s all I know. Did she visually combine the two jugs to approximate a milk gallon jug? Did she read the 2 quarts (or 64 oz.) and add that up to a gallon but assume that I could not be asking her such an elementary question?

She’ll never tell.

What does she know? How does she know it? She holds these things close to her, secret agent-like.

We’re going to do some educational assessments this year with Victoria, which may or may not tell us something useful about our child. What I know already is that she is our little engineer, and the tiny guru, and the 7 year old going on 27 — not just to us, but to Sunday School teachers, cashiers, hairdressers, and friends. I know that if she tells me where to find something, 99.8% of the time she is dead on. And when she tells me what she likes about her different friends, she has a depth of understanding that blows my mind.

I don’t think any of that will be on the Woodcock Johnson or the WIAT-II, and I don’t think they take answers that start, “Well, maybe . . . ” Is she smart, or gifted? Probably. But what stands out more strongly is that she really is a different kind of learner, and she’s not giving up the keys to her mind to me or anyone else.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Learning Styles, Why Homeschool?

Recommitting

It’s been four years since we started homeschooling. Four years and a few months ago we started down an exciting path of learning about homeschooling, learning about educational theories, learning about types of giftedness. We had the usual issues of dealing with skeptics, figuring out what the change would mean for our family life, but that was more an adventure than a chore.

Eventually, the excitement wore off. That was a good thing, really. Homeschooling wasn’t a battle we had to fight or even a wheel we needed to reinvent. It was just what we did, like eating three meals a day — some great meals, some bad ones, a lot of unmemorable ones.

The honeymoon ended, but we were happy with the mundane reality of doing whatever the day called for. It was a nice break from feeling like salmon swimming upstream.

Then, somehow, happy everyday-ness started to feel like a rut. In addition, after four years of homeschooling it became clear that wonderful as homeschooling is, it’s hardly a panacea. Children still hit puberty. Intense children are still intense. Intense parents are still intense. I developed a lot of sympathy for the teachers who didn’t know what to do with my kids — neither do I. Nor do the kids — it’s lovely for people who can manage their intensity and whatever else life hands them with minimal support or guidance, but that’s never been me or my husband, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s not my kids either.

So I’ve been considering school. School, where someone could deal with the intensity for a while. School, where someone else could create structure. School, where my kids couldn’t be fighting with each other over nothing!

It didn’t take long to realize that for lots of reasons traditional school wouldn’t be happening for Violet. It’s Just. Not. A Fit. It’s not a giftedness thing so much as, well, a lot of other things that are really her business.

But for Victoria I thought it might be a great idea. If nothing else she would have the opportunity to make friends without a domineering older sister around. Yeah, yeah, it’s great that homeschooled kids can be in mixed-age groups and be great friends with siblings, but now that we’ve done that for a while it’s clear that not all children benefit in the same way from that situation. And someone else could try giving her instructions and see if she listens to them!

But once we started discussing school as a real possibility, I could see the potential problems — vacations were just the beginning! We struggle to deal with the asynchrony of her interests and abilities in a homeschool setting — her handwriting and math skills are not anywhere near the level of her science interests. Would she be getting the foreign language education she wants and we want for her? She gets frustrated with the noise and roughhousing of the kids at our homeschool co-ops — wouldn’t school be more of the same, for more hours of more days? And she just plain doesn’t like most kids her age. Where her sister has always been eager to act like a younger, crazier child, Victoria really doesn’t enjoy it. She wants to go sit and talk somewhere quiet, or “enjoy nature.”

I’m not saying school would be a *bad* place for her, but I can’t see how upending our current family style to accommodate school would offer enough benefits to be worth the effort. It wouldn’t seem to address any of the issues that are making life tough for her, and us.

The thing about being a salmon swimming upstream rather than a lazy sunbather floating contentedly down the river is that it requires intention. When the struggle ends, the mindful intention can slip away eventually as well, and when you find yourself with a punctured innertube in rocky rapids, it’s much easier to freak out than it is to find that mindful intention again.

So I’m recommitting, bringing myself back to that beginning place of learning, shaking things up, paying close attention because new things are happening. It’s a lot of work, a lot more work than it was four years ago, to haul my mind back to what’s happening right now. As far as I can tell, however, it’s probably more pleasant work than the terrible grind of the alternatives.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

Creating Space

Several years ago, when we moved from an apartment to a house, we had an extra dishwasher. It was a good dishwasher — better than the one that came installed in the house — but it was a freestanding dishwasher and we had no use for it.

I tried and tried to sell it, but I could get no takers. Finally, I listed it on freecycle — which was new to me then — and a very grateful person came and carried it away to a cousin who had lots of baby bottles to wash or something. Finally, no portable dishwasher in the dining room.

Later that day we were driving through the neighborhood when I saw a yard sale. Someone was selling two very cool chairs that would fit perfectly in our living room, where we had a definite furniture shortage. I was pleased — move something out, and suddenly there’s space for something better to come in.

We had a similar experience this week. We agonized and argued, but finally determined that Violet won’t take science at our co-op anymore. It’s in part a financial decision, but partly an acknowledgment that the class served more of a social purpose than an academic one. We have much cheaper ways of meeting our social needs.

Still, I want her to be studying science regularly, so I knew I would have to come up with some alternative by next fall. Lo and behold, one possibility has presented itself to me already — one that will be much better academically, and one that she is extremely excited about. I don’t know if it will work out, but I’m so pleased. We made a space, and something better came along.

To cap it off, we found some Teaching Company biology DVDs that I had purchased used and then forgotten about during the busy fall and winter — just what she needs to shore up her biology foundation before doing a new science activity. Yay! We settled in to watch the first one, and in the first few minutes she was saying, “I’m not sure I’m gonna like this . . . ” Soon afterwards, however, the professor was explaining various theories of how organic matter could have arisen in a totally inorganic environment, and she was talking back to the screen and saying “Yeah, that’s good question,” and “That’s so cool!”

And what really warmed my heart was that my little preteen girl was wearing a cape and sitting a giant box she called her boat throughout the video, sharing a bag of Cheerios with Victoria, who had packed the provisions for their sailing journey in her own laundry basket/vessel. Sweet!

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Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?