Tag Archives: gifted homeschooling

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?

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?

Thank you!

I am very belatedly thanking Sarah, who gave me the Beautiful Blogger award that is going around.

It’s always nice to know someone out there likes to read you! Sarah is another homeschooler of gifted children who weren’t exactly thriving in a traditional school setting — she blogs at Quarks and Quirks, and I’ll be stealing science tips from her going forward.

So this is how it works:

Award requirements:

1. Thank person who gave you the award. (check)

2. Pass it on to 15 favorite bloggers you’ve just recently discovered. I’ve picked three favorites instead — which seems to be the trend. Fifteen bloggers?! — I don’t know if I can keep up with fifteen old blogs, let alone find 15 new ones.

3. Let them know they got the award. As appropriate

4. Share 7 things about yourself. Well, I’ll never pass up that opportunity.

Three Fairly New-To-Me Blogs

1. Fieldwork, subtitled “Science in its natural state.” This is a project launched by Theresa of the venerable blog LaPaz Home Learning. And if you don’t know that one already, you should, if only for the photos!

2. Roger Ebert’s Journal. Sorry to jump on the Ebert bandwagon if you’ve been hearing too much about him lately — but it’s all true. I swear, I started following him well before the Esquire and Oprah business started. You can believe the hype. There is some really good writing — and really interesting community formation — going on over there. Or you could just follow his twitter feed.

3. This one is a super cheat, because Sarah also gave her the award, but I’m trying to do anyone reading this a service. Through Sarah I found the blog Library of Books, Links, and More, which is pretty much what is sounds like and is especially helpful to parents of PGers, PGlets, or whatever you like to call them. Do check it out!

Seven Things About Me

1. I harbor a secret ambition of writing a screenplay about the life of Voltaire.

2. I never planned to be Catholic, or an at-home parent, or a homeschooler, and yet I still entertain the delusion that my planning is essential to how my life will go.

3. Ditto the whole gifted thing — never would have gotten IQ testing for DD10 if we hadn’t basically been forced, did our school searching with the express purpose of not sending our child to the local gifted magnet, intentionally avoided “working with her” (you know, “oh, you must work with her a lot at home.”) Plans, shmans.

4. Love Love Love the Twin Cities and Minnesota. I didn’t grow up here, but as soon as I came here it was so obviously Home.

5. If I won the lottery I would probably spend all my time cooking and learning every foreign language I could make time for. Oh, and playing the piano and learning guitar too.

6. I always thought I liked traveling until I met people who really liked traveling. I just like setting up house in different places, and then returning to Minnesota.

7. My mother told me that the 40s are the best decade because you really don’t care what other people think of you. I gotta say, six months into my 40s — she was right.


Filed under Gifted Ed, I'm Catholic Why?, Oh Mother

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)

What Makes a Good Teacher, Ctd.

I’m embarrassed that I can’t come up with more examples! I feel a little ungrateful.

Searching my memory, I am not finding a lot of epiphanic moments (predictably), but I have recalled a few little saving graces.

My kindergarten teacher, for example. I was both the youngest and tallest in my class, in addition to being the only reader. She had me read books to the class sometimes, but she did it in a way that seemed natural, a way of sharing interests. I remember reading about dinosaurs, which somehow was more about sharing an interest than being a junior teacher.

I had a science teacher in my second elementary school that asked me to be her assistant in teaching younger kids. I got out of something tedious, and I really enjoyed the hands-on helping with testing acids and bases, and creating circuits.

I know that this is not how gifted kids are supposed to be treated — gifted advocates hate it when gifted kids are made into little TAs — but honestly I think these teachers were doing the best they could with the resources at hand, and they did it in a way that made me feel they were trying to help me, not just get me out of the way.

I think I can say with some confidence that I am not merely forgetting good junior high teachers — junior high was awful, and many of my teachers disliked me. I got kicked out of the honors track, though I quickly got put back in for math. (Maybe I’ll do a bad teachers post.)

High school was not a lot better, but there again there were those few teachers who made things tolerable. What I think they had in common was that they were encouraging me to look beyond where I was and consider the future. They seemed to sympathize with my situation and wanted me to know that a wider world of education was out there.

Many times I’ve talked about grade acceleration and college — how much they saved me, how much they opened a new world to me. I think of this when I think of my kids’ education and hope that I am enabling them to have the same opportunity that I had. When I consider how crucial that was for me, I can’t help but worry about high school transcripts, and having a compelling record of activities and achievements.

What I’ve also come to consider in talking with other homeschoolers, however, is that (I hope) my children won’t need saving. They won’t need me to say, “Hang in there, something better is coming,” because they’ve had something better all along.

I’m sure I need to note that “better” does not mean “better than any conceivable school experience” but “better than feeling that you must get out of school in order to stretch and learn.”

Thinking this through, I feel more grateful than before for the good teachers I had. School was always going to be an awkward fit for me, but I have tended to focus on the negative experiences that made it hard. Now I can appreciate the efforts of those who made it much less bad that it could have been.

What those teachers gave me were the gifts of understanding my frustration, helping me find funky little places to fit, and not belittling my desire for something more.

(That last one stings even now — if there is a constant among bad teachers . . . )


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

Not as Smart

I was working out this morning amongst a chatty group of older ladies. One was saying that she was so happy because her grandchild had requested books for his birthday.

I confess I live in a small world, where the vast majority of children and adults love books, so I smiled to myself when she said, “He couldn’t have said anything to make me happier.” Really? Nothing? But maybe this was a big change for him, a reason to celebrate. Who knows.

She then carried on to say that the younger sister was “not as smart.” Apparently she does not read as much. (It was later revealed that the less smart sibling of the great reader had just turned 5.) Someone suggested—a little pained, like I was, to hear a grandmother comparing her grandchildren’s intelligence—that the younger sibling perhaps had other interests.

“She plays with Barbies,” said the grandmother, sealing the deal—clearly the younger sister was never going to be a member of the family brain trust.

I spoke up then, saying that while early reading is very often a predictor of high intelligence (however you want to measure that), not being an early reader is not a predictor of anything.

She looked back at me just as you might expect a smart, affluent grandmother to look at young, sweaty, disagreeable stranger waiting for the biceps machine, and said nothing. Another lady took up the discussion with me, thank goodness, so that I did not feel so much like a big turd in the older ladies’ flower garden.

We talked a little about my girls, my oldest, who read her first word before turning two, my youngest, now a good reader at five, but who also suffered from unfortunate comparisons between herself and her early reading sister. (Not anything anyone said out loud, of course, but people do ask me about it, and I wonder about it myself sometimes.)

As I told her, now that Victoria is getting older and expressing her curiosity more verbally, we get a little window into the scientific, engineering brain that is always observing, always thinking. She was not an early reader, and I don’t have a number to say she is “X-points smart,” but I know it is way to soon to say she is “not as smart.”

As we spoke I thought about my father-in-law, a successful and caring physician, who as far as I have heard has never been a great reader. I remembered that one of his sons, my brother-in-law, came in for some teasing because he had never been a great reader, though his wife seems finally to have converted him at least a little. He’s the chemical engineer; his wife is an epidemiologist. They are smart.

And of course I thought of myself, my children, my friends, my children’s friends, my friends’ children—Barbie players rife among them. (Well, my girls were not great Barbie players, but they do play with dolls.) I know I am spoiled by having children who actually have to be told to stop reading and go outside, but really, why should a five- or even ten-year-old child be expected to prefer reading to imaginative play? The cognitive and intellectual benefits of imaginative play are in the newspaper and on the radio regularly these days. And I think the learn-to-play window may be narrower than the learn-to-love-reading window, at least for children who live in a house where reading is valued by adults.

(I will spare you my rant about putting down traditionally girlish forms of play—it is a pet peeve I have spoken of before.)

Moving up and down on the stairstepper, I thought about my own prejudices about education and intelligence and decided to give the grumpy grandmother a break. I did not fall into homeschooling and gifted education without having to alter a few assumptions, erase some stereotypes, and even confirm the validity of some negative observations about homeschoolers.

Though don’t you wonder if there is just one awful homeschooling family out there introducing themselves to everyone? Otherwise, how is it that everyone seems to meet that rare bad homeschooler when the vast majority of the homeschoolers you know are so normal and nice?


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Socialization

Recent Resources

Whew! It has been a crazy week, with a million little blog posts I let go.

But I have come across a few things worth sharing.

First off, we are trying something really different for us. We bought a boxed curriculum on the East. It’s from a well-known Christian curriculum provider, with a missionary and evangelical slant, so we have also joined a Yahoo list about how to use the curriculum in a more secular way. (More on that another time.) One of the resources suggested on the list was Material World, a book that was well-known a while ago. In it, families from all over the world set all of their possessions out in front of their homes for “The Big Picture,” which is accompanied by info about each family’s life and the country they live in, plus some extra photos. For each country a small table highlights things like the percentage of family income spent on food; the number of possessions such as radios, bicycles, TVs, computers; yearly income in US dollars.

This is a wonderful book, and Violet immediately started poring over it. But I found something possibly even more wonderful at the library. There is a series of books for children based on the Material World book, using many of the same photographs plus several more, and including more information about family and children’s lives. The font is larger, the data is more manageable, and in general the book is a better fit for younger kids. There are about 10 of them in the series, such as A Family from Vietnam, A Family from Germany, A Family from Guatemala, and so on.

The books don’t really advertise their connection to Material World — Violet noticed it after I had grabbed A Family from China off the shelf at the library. They are a great way to present this interesting project in a more child-friendly way.

A Facebook friend has pointed me to a very fun resource for Victoria. I put out a call for resources on microbes, especially bacteria and viruses, on Facebook and an e-mail list, and one cool thing I got back was the Microbe Zoo.

I also found these coloring pages.



We went to see Azur and Asmar, and it was beautiful and amazing. Violet really enjoyed it, though we left Victoria at home. (She assumes that most movies will be too scary in the theater.) It is touring arthouse and museum theaters, but may get a wider release. If it comes to you, go!

I did have to write a letter to the theater about the violent previews — they were violent documentaries, with gunshot victims, men pointing machine guns at children, blood-soaked clothing. Violet had a friend with her, and I nearly grabbed them and pulled them out of the theater, but I kept thinking the worst was over. Her friend’s mother later reported that he said, “Those previews were totally inappropriate for this movie. What were they thinking?!” I haven’t heard from the theater yet, but I did also notify the distributor to suggest that they encourage future venues to use better judgement, and I did hear from them, at least.

Will I ever be able to write more than tidbits again? I’m not sure. I have hopes that when the sun comes back more regularly, my concentration and mental acuity will return with it.


Filed under Curriculum, Love this Book, Love this Movie, Love this Resource