Tag Archives: gifted education

Goodbye to Hard Work

I’m suffering a bit of too-many-thoughts paralysis lately — I want to write about everything, and so write about nothing!

But I’m a little excited about this one.

A Facebook friend linked to an article that many friends in the gifted community were annoyed with.

The title of the article pits giftedness against hard work, as if you only get one or the other. Those of us who have already endured 12 years of school hearing that nothing we do counts because “it’s so easy for you” find that tired argument difficult to sit through again.

An old grad school friend — now also a coworker with my husband — made me laugh when he commented on the article by observing that he has spent most of his life avoiding hard work, and it’s going pretty well so far.

(Of course this is not exactly true — this friend has succeeded at several different things since grad school.)

I realized, I may be in danger of passing on to my kids this obsession with “hard work” and being a “hard worker.” I follow the New Parenting Rules and praise them for effort and process rather than quality of product. My daughter wants me to read her NaNoWriMo novel and I say, “Wow, I am so proud of how much time you have put into this.” Is that what you’d want someone to say when they read your first draft of a novel?!

So phooey on that. I’m not going to teach my children to value their efforts by drops of sweat or sleepless nights.

I’m making some substitutions in my vocabulary, at least for myself:

“Hard Work” is now “Passion” or maybe even “Joy”

“Effort” is now “Faithfulness”

“Persistence” is now “Love”

This is where, I think, we’ve been going on our homeschool journey, though we didn’t know it when we embarked. The blessing of falling into homeschool for us is not that the girls “work to their potential” or get “challenged,” though sometimes those things happen. The blessing is that we are all learning and actively looking to give ourselves wholeheartedly to what we are doing.

This allows us to sidestep worries about the dire fates that apparently await many “prodigies,” and the “harsh truths” about the perils of giftedness. Much of the mainstream chatter about gifted kids — apart from the utterly contradictory advice — seems to focus on whether kids are working too hard (“pushy parents,” “unrealistic expectations”) or not hard enough (“underachievers,” “everything comes easy,” “don’t earn their successes”).

We’re exiting that conversation now.

How hard are my kids working? How hard am I working? Who cares?

Are we living and working with joy and passion? Do we love what we’re doing enough to carry on through the inevitable doldrums and frustrations?

I hope so. Whether it’s a massive Thanksgiving meal or a child-size NaNoWriMo goal, I hope that we are giving our whole selves out of joy — the joy of serving, performing, creating, feeling. If we are not — if we are only jumping through hoops, acting out of a sense of obligation, checking off the to-do list, or trying to impress — I hope we will learn to recognize that and correct it as best we can.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is)

Why Just Summer?

Have you seen this story in the NYT yet? Here’s a slice:

In 7 weeks he’ll go back to school, to a 5th grade class we can only hope will be more suited to his nature than the previous grade. His new teacher is supposed to be strong in math and science, to which he’s looking forward. I’ve promised him no after-school test prep this year, no tutor. It’s the 4th grade tests that matter for middle school, and he soldiered on for several endless months of prep last year: from the writing tutor to the school’s after-school test prep program to classroom test preparation that consumed all other subject matter. Last year’s teacher assigned hours of mindless homework. At some point, she decided our son was bright (her term) and thus eligible for enrichment — but she was in no way capable of providing it, in a class of 29 children with extremely mixed abilities. Our son isn’t the only child in the class who survived 4th grade with a perfect report card and his self-concept deeply shaken.

The thrust of the piece is that children need summer as a time to recover and just hang out. In other words, children need time to just be. So true.

It was hard not to read it as an endorsement of homeschooling: school has “hours of mindless homework,” kids trying to stay in top schools are on a “treadmill of achievement,” summer is a respite from the “endless, numbing school year.” We aren’t living that life, and I am so glad.

But it was hard not to read the piece as a lament for gifted children: her son was told to stop reading the Iliad and start reading Deltora Quest, he does most of his real learning at home. The author is pushing her son to get into the good NYC schools, but as far as I can tell it’s not because she is competitive and achievement-obsessed. It’s because she hopes that if he gets in, he’ll get something better and the treadmill feeling will go away, and she fears for him if it doesn’t.

I think in the comments someone points out something parents of HG-EG-PG kids– and creative kids — know well: the tests don’t go high enough to distinguish exceptionally smart kids, and they may penalize the creative or sophisticated thinking of kids who are several years beyond grade level. Who could blame a mother for being afraid?

I just felt moved by the kid’s story — a kid the same age as mine, a kid who could excel at all things school and still be miserable there in every way. I know this mother is doing just what we are doing — taking a hard path, making sacrifices to try to offer her son something better. Maybe homeschooling really isn’t for her, for reasons known only to herself. But shouldn’t she, and he, have some other option?


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

Just checking in

I have been unwell all week, so if anything interesting happened, I was unable to remember it, much less write about it.

After a week in near-hibernation, however, I did manage to get to about half of our state homeschool convention. I missed the keynote, I missed the “planning for college” session, but I did attend an inspiring session about using the state DNR (department of natural resources) for lessons. I am hoping to attend an educators’ workshop soon for their Project Learning Tree curriculum. I am really excited to find out more, as this is something perfect for Victoria that I think Violet can also benefit from.

I also attended a session about “putting doubts into perspective.” I did have a flash about why I like to attend the local gifted conference as well. Much of the conversation was about kids who aren’t hitting state benchmarks or who show gifts in nonacademic area (i.e., “Someone needs to be the pipefitter,” etc.). I am in agreement with what was said — I am among the first to pipe up that a child not reading at age 6 or 7 does not necessarily require intervention, and I offer the story that I know of a English doctoral candidate who did not learn to read (in her Montessori school) until she was 10 and finally decided she wanted to. And I hope it is obvious that hands-on technical work is incredibly important and valuable.

But those aren’t really my doubts. As we discussed how turning to “experts” can undermine our confidence, I realized that my doubts were more about the risks we’ve been threatened with for gifted kids: higher rates of depression and possibly for suicide, Imposter Syndrome, lack of challenges translating to lack of initiative and self-motivation, burn-out, alienation. As I said, sometimes it seems like if we don’t parent just right, our children will explode!

I wasn’t feeling the love when I raised that issue, and I kind of regretted it. A room where some parents are worried about kids not hitting certain developmental milestones is not the best place to say, “Oh, and I’m so worried because my kid is bright!” (which is not quite what I said, but you know . . . ) Still, the presenter did give some good basic advice: when the “expert” is making you feel worse, look elsewhere.

I like experts, by the way. I’m not anti-expert. I hire experts when I need something done that I can’t do. I read and research. And I came to think of higher education as an opportunity to pick the brains of experts, not just to get information, but to get their help in making myself a better writer and thinker. (Wish I had cottoned onto that earlier!)

Still, none of those things need make you feel bad, even when you learn you need to change your ways.

The challenge, I suppose, is that folks who write about gifted education are usually writing about gifted education in the schools, which means that they are trying to convey a sense of urgency as a way of advocating for gifted students. So as a parent, I’m reading and thinking “oh my gosh, wow, there’s danger everywhere!”

I’d like to find the “gifted experts” who let me know that it’s going to turn out OK, I can do it, and more than that my kids can do it.

And now I have to go watch Elizabeth with my husband!


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Heart and Soul, Oh Mother, Resources -- Gifted, Uncategorized, Why Homeschool?

This is Our Curriculum?

In an effort to start tracking our homeschooling in case Violet might enroll in outside classes somewhere (by that I mean a language class or something similar), I typed up some formal-looking lists of what we’ll be doing in various areas. I feel compelled to point out that when I say “high school level” I’m not trying to say “wowee!” but rather “not college level,” which is what you might expect given the provider.

I felt a little guilty that Victoria’s curriculum seems thinner until I realized, hey, she’s 5.

Final caveats before the big reveal: as all homeschoolers know, it’s not like all these things are going to be going on all the time, and who knows which will be discarded as dull or unworkable. And it’s not like we follow the prescribed schedule: a book a week, a geography flash quiz each day, etc. These are just the resources we’re starting with, made to look semi-official and hopefully mildly impressive to high schools or colleges who might allow one of the girls to try a part-time class some day. Also: I don’t have the actual books listed that will take up much of our time. It almost seems like they should go without saying. I look at these and think: this is such a weird representation of how we actually spend our time!

Violet’s resources:

Magic Lens Grammar
Word Within the Word vocabulary
English 7/8 literature via BYU
Creative writing via co-op (local children’s author, instructor)

World Languages
Chinese: Chinese pod and character practice (Beginning Chinese Reader, DeFrancis and/or Reading and Writing Chinese, McNaughton)
German: German 101 via BYU (high school level)

Pre-algebra, assorted textbooks (particular goals: review and become more confident in pre-algebra topics such as linear equations, graphing equations, negative numbers, order of operations, radicals and exponents)
Problem solving techniques

US History via Teaching Company (high school level)
Continued exploration of History of English sources

Trail Guide to US Geography, GeoMatters

Fine arts
Art class via co-op (local artist, instructor)
Private piano lessons, including music theory
Drama (Upstages Musical Workshop, includes theatrical and vocal training)

via coop
1st semester topics: Genetics and Health (genetic traits, human cells, DNA, immune system); Physical Science and Space (changes in state, gravity, simple and complex machine, space exploration)
2nd semester topics: Ecology and Earth (Minnesota geological history, rocks, growth/decay cycle, decomposition); Life Science (classifying plants and animals, parasitic and symbiotic relationships); Careers in science

Faith Formation
Faith and Life curriculum (4th grade) via local parish

Victoria’s resources:

Five in a Row, Vol. 1


World Languages
Spanish via co-op

Five in a Row v. 1
Cantering the Country, GeoMatters

Fine Arts
group piano, including music theory, singing, and ear training
art class, via co-op
dance (combined tap-ballet)

via co-op
1st semester topics: how humans and other animals grow, cells, illness and immunity; physics including friction, magnets, gravity; observation and classification
2nd semester topics: biology and environment, animal habitats; classifying living and non-living things, plant and animal adaptations

Faith Formation
Kindergarten Sunday school
Catholic Mosaic books and activiites


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Resources -- Gifted, Schoolday Doings, unit study -- history of english

Word within the word

We’ve been trying a new resource lately, and I’m ready to report our initial response.

I had never heard of Royal Fireworks Press or Michael Clay Thompson until commenter Kit suggested the RFWP/MCT curriculum.

I had a really hard time choosing the right level. The suggested grade levels listed for each text is pretty broad. And though they are designed for gifted kids, you never can tell just what that means. In the end I started with the secondary level series, The Magic Lens and The Word Within the Word.

I confess, we started off overwhelmed. Or at least, I did. I saw that they looked like workbooks, and I thought we would use them as workbooks. But they aren’t designed that way. They’re designed to be used as a classroom text, with discussion and group processes and lots of looking things up in the dictionary on your own. This threw me a little at first. Plus — OK, I’m sure MCT is a brilliant man with a great love for language but — editor, please! This must be what it feels like to talk to Violet at times: you turn on the faucet to get a little water and you get a full-on 30-second firehose-strength blast in the face. Or maybe I was just tired. And when they say designed for gifted kids — they mean it! It’s not just about jumping ahead a grade or two, it’s about thinking differently. Which is good, but for a few days I questioned whether I should have started with the last book in the earlier series. Now I think I made the right choice.

We have not had a lot of time to explore The Magic Lens, which is the grammar text, but I have started to give some regular attention to Word Within the Word. This is something we do together, and it has been pretty fun.

I’m not sure what kind of book to describe Word Within the Word as — it falls in the “Vocabulary” column of the RFWP/MCT scheme, but it’s not really a traditional vocabulary study, or a traditional spelling study. It’s mainly based on learning word roots, so our focus has mainly been an extended etymology study.

One of the examples MCT gives for his style of study is learning the stems for respect, “re” — again” and “spect” — as in looking, so to “respect” is to look anew at something or someone. A “circum” -(around) “spect” person looks around before taking action. It’s a fun and interesting way to talk about words.

One of our favorite discoveries so far is “supercilious,” which we had to look up because though I had a general idea of the word’s meaning, I really didn’t recognize the “cilious” word stem. Aha! “super” = “above,” and “cilium” = “eyelid.” “Supercilium”=”eyebrow.” So a “supercilious” person is one who looks down at you with a raised eyebrow. We laughed out loud at our discovery.

My hope is that this will enable Violet’s reading a little more. Yes, she is reading at a post-secondary level, which means she is reading at a level when it is absurd even to talk about it (you have no idea how much time I’ve spent on Youtube trying searching various combinations of “Simpsons” “Lisa’s wedding” and “I read at a 78th grade level” to illustrate this point.) But working on the history of English study has given me a sense of where she’s at beyond that, and what she needs to do to keep progressing in order to keep up with her interests.

Plus, hey, she’s got lots of years to qualfy for Scripps-Howard! Remember the goofy kid in Spellbound, the one who made crazy jokes and talked all the time? I’ve got the female equivalent, right here — calling aspiring directors of Spellbound 2: Electric Boogaloo!


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Schoolday Doings, unit study -- history of english

and I’m spent

Oh man, I just don’t have the strength to update here. Even when I read a recent article from a Va. newspaper —

But I believe it is time for someone to fight for the students who lose role models and friends to the “smart” classes and internalize their exclusion as confirmation of their own deficiencies.

[i.e., When gifted students get an appropriate education it hurts other students, both by hurting the other students feelings and by depriving those students of the opportunity to model the gifted students. That’s what life is like as a highly gifted student right? — all your classmates are lining up to use you as a role model?! 😉 ] —

I just don’t have the get up and go to go after it. Nor would it really be worth it to do so, but I am still surprised to see actual people saying this stuff in public.

What have we been doing?

Nothing school-y, that’s for sure. The girls’ grandparents came last week, which was an occasion for much frolicking, goofing around, and playing in the sun, which decided to make a rare appearance for much of the in-laws visit. Then it was time for Shakespeare’s birthday party, which was also Violet’s 9th birthday party. The kids acted out the Pyramus and Thisby performance at the end of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Violet was Pyramus/Bottom, and was quite enthusiastic in performance, though she kept turning away from the audience. (There were 2 audiences, however — the Athenians, and the parents — so in our small house it was not easy to face both.)

I made up scripts for each of the kids with parchment-like paper, and in the back there were a few word games, including Shakespeare or Not Shakespeare? As you may know, Shakespeare is one of the leading sources of idioms in the English language (along with the Bible and nautical terminology). Here’s a selection — care to try your luck in deciding which are Shakespeare and which are Not Shakespeare?

1. Dead as a Door-Nail

2. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush

3. Foul Play

4. Vanish into thin air

5. Bite the dust

6. In a pickle

7. The Fly in the ointment

8. In the red

9. In stitches

10. At his wit’s end

On an unrelated note, our art teacher at co-op mentioned that she has always noticed that homeschooled kids tend to look out for each other in a way that she doesn’t see in her school groups. (Luckily this came up in the context of my daughter being one of some children who stuck up for a friend.) Your milage may vary, of course. I’m just always pleased when people observe that homeschoolers get “socialized” just fine, thank you.


Filed under Family Fun, Gifted Ed, Socialization, unit study -- history of english

Gifts are for Giving

When we were having so much school trouble with Violet, one of the ways we tried to handle it was to get her to work harder in school. [Warning: I am about to reveal one of my less admirable parenting moments.] She was bored in school, hated being the odd one out, hated wasting her time on stuff she’d mastered years ago. Not surprisingly, the simple addition worksheets handed out in class usually went unfinished. The “Great Books” gifted pull-out discussed a picture book with about 5 words per page — not a great fit for a kid keeping The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe in her desk — and so she just sat there and waited for it to end.

Naturally, these things were brought to our attention when we began advocating for a more appropriate academic placement. “Look,” we’d explain to her. “No one is going to give you more challenging work until you actually finish the work you’ve got.” “OK,” she’d say, and then carry on with more of the same, though still complaining about the “dumb” stuff she was doing in 1st grade.

We did not think the teacher’s concerns were entirely unreasonable, so we continued prodding. When explaining the practical reasons why doing busywork was necessary did not motivate her, we turned to guilt. “Much is expected from those to whom much is given.” “People who have gifts need to use them.” “You have a responsibility to use your gift.” And so on. All in the hope of compelling her to do what everyone knew she could, so that she could have an education that was appropriate for her.

Pretty heavy words for 6-year-old, hey? Imagine, all you wanted was to be learning new stuff instead of stuff you learned 3 years ago, and suddenly you have a holy, moral obligation to complete addition worksheets and act enthusiastic about some book about a dumb duck — maybe a book you’ve been watching your mom read to your 2-year-old sister.

It’s not a proud moment for me, and it pains me every time I read a parenting book reminding me that such “motivation” is in fact discouraging, oppressive, and unfair. Whoops.

In addition, many gifted kids have several talent areas — the great writer is also a great singer is also great with foreign languages and a natural diplomat. Does that child have the responsibility to develop all of those talent areas and “give” in all of them? Of course not!

Another e-list I’m on coincidentally has been talking about ways of making a worthwhile contribution. I guess I’d call it being of service, or in church-y terms I’d call it ministry. Reading through the discussion and developing my own thoughts on it has brought me to conclude that I need to be concerned with just a few things:

1. How am I being of service?
2. How am I teaching my children that they are called to serve?
3. How am I offering my children opportunities to learn to discern how they are being called to serve?

What is not my concern is how or when they are serving. Part of a Catholic worldview, I think, is understanding that we have many different roles to play, and we often don’t know what role we are playing. [Note: not limited to a Catholic worldview. Don’t flame me.] Remember that animated film about Moses, The Prince of Egypt? It has a lovely scene in which someone shows Moses a tapestry and tells him that up close, he can’t see the whole pattern, but from a distance it is beautiful and perfect. Moses is like a thread in the tapestry — he can’t see the significance of the part he has to play.

By extension, what may not seem like developing a gift to a parent may in fact be exactly how a child is called to serve. I remember years ago seeing a heartbreaking interview with Paul Simon, in which he alluded to the fact that despite the incredible success he had acheived, despite the great music he had contributed to the world, his father was dismissive of that “musician thing.” I don’t want to be that parent.

I feel like I have some damage to undo with Violet. Like many parents, I take special care to praise both of my children for being kind, patient, thoughtful, and helpful. Squabbling sisters give me many opportunties to remind my children that people are more important than any toy or game. We’re all blessed in this house that Victoria is one of those people with a natural gift for consideration, quickly noticing other people’s feelings and expressing her concern for them. She teaches all of us!

I recently purchased a neat book for Violet that I would like to explore with her over the summer. It’s called The Uniquely Me Book from the Zondervan Young Women of Faith Library. (It’s explicitly Christian, maybe a bit Protestant, but still fine for Catholic families.) Through characters in the series, the book explores the idea of gifts, breaking them down into speaking gifts, serving gifts, and gifts that include both speaking and serving (leadership gifts).

Various exercises and stories encourage girls to consider their own gifts and how they might use them. The book also observes that “later in your life, you may discover God-given gifts . . . that will mature as you do,” while there are other gifts “you can use and develop right now.” Many gifted kids are big idea people and good leaders, but they are not mature enough to bring those things to fruition. I like how this book states directly that some gifts they will grow into; that takes the pressure off the kid whose mind instantly goes to organizing a concert for world peace and ending hunger. And I like how the book uses different characters to demonstrate the different gifts that all people have, gently recognizing that some gifts may be showier than others (*not* the language the book uses), but all are important. I am looking forward to hearing her 9-year-old thoughts on the subject.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, I'm Catholic Why?, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

Scary Teacher Stories

It’s a fact — I won’t deny it. Homeschoolers love to laugh — or fulminate — over scary teacher stories. Similarly, parents of gifted children have more than their share of scary teacher stories to bond over.

As a homeschooling parent of a gifted child, the temptation to kvetch about teachers is doubly great, and tonight I gave in. I was with some other moms from Violet’s theater group, hanging out while the kids were at rehearsal, and we started swapping “how I started homeschooling” stories.

What’s always striking about these exchanges is the similarities. One mom I was talking with has a son the same age as Violet, also very gifted. Even at his “Open School,” however, where the 1st and 2nd grades were combined in one classroom, his teacher refused to give him 2nd grade math. We started laughing as we recognized how familiar parts of this story were.

“We can’t do that, or all the advanced 1st graders will want to do 2nd grade math.”

“His desk is so disorganized — that shows he’s not mature enough for more challenging work.” [A one-year skip in math — is that so big a challenge?]

When I told her one of my favorites from our experience — “She’s always slow to put her things away after recess” — she laughed and nodded and said, “Yep, we heard that too!” Yes, I’m sure these kids had every reason to rush back to their desks to watch the other kids learn. If being disorganized or slow to hang up your coat is a reason to force kids who are reading the Narnia books at home to memorize sight words like “the” and “are” at school, it’s a wonder there aren’t more 12-year-olds in 1st grade.

Both of us also swapped stories of how our kids’ 1st grade teachers shamed them in various ways in front of the class. Both teachers seemed to have a mini-tantrum in front of the class, yelling, “You’re no smarter than anyone else!” and “I don’t know what to do with you!”

Is there a factory churning these people out, the same chip in different android bodies?

I should say right now that both of us also said good things about our kids’ Kindergarten teachers, and since she had an older child she added that all of her daughter’s teachers had been great. I know that there are many great teachers out there, and that these teachers shouldn’t have to represent all teachers anymore than wing-nut isolationists ought to represent all homeschoolers.

I’m just sayin’.

I know there are lots of parents with gifted kids who make school work for them, and more power to them. I know there are lots of parents with gifted kids for whom school isn’t working, but their circumstances are keeping them from considering homeschooling. And then there are lots of parents who’ve decided to homeschool — the number of highly to profoundly gifted kids we come into contact with through homeschooling is quite high as a percentage of the homeschoolers we know. Most of them have a scary teacher story that sounds just like ours.

Scary teachers . . . there’s another “S” word for the 117th Carnival of Homeschooing, “S” word edition, hosted this week by PHAT Mommy.


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