Tag Archives: pushy parents

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 else do you need to know?

My last post on the subject of “What do you need to know and when” got so long that I needed to break it up.

I’m touchy on the subject of pushyparents. I just read today about the new documentary coming out about the possible art prodigy Marla Olmstead, and while I don’t dare weigh in on whether or how much of her art is not not really hers, I felt tremendous sympathy for her and her family. I know what it’s like to be considered a pushy parent when your kid just does stuff because that’s what she does. I know what it’s like when your child is being evaluated (by someone other than a professional) for signs of prodigy and decides she’d rather not perform like a trained seal, and you feel like a phony and an idiot. And I know what it’s like to feel like stepping up and prodding in those situations. I can’t imagine what doing all that in a media circus would be like.

On the other hand, I’m impatient. I do learn quickly most of the time, and because like everyone else I’m not inclined to see myself as particularly different, I am still pretty surprised and — truthfully — annoyed when someone doesn’t seem to get something as quickly as I think they should.

So again I say, thank goodness I began learning my lessons about pushing early on. It’s not that I am never overbearing–how many parents who are also fairly intense as individuals could claim that? I just try to remove myself from the situation if I sense a potential issue.

I decided long ago that I would not intervene in Victoria’s learning to read until she was five. That may seem like an obvious point, but consider that my first child was found lying in the hallway reading Carson McCuller’s Member of the Wedding at some point before turning 4. I read when I was 4. When I am not mindful, I can catch myself wondering why Victoria, who is 4 and 5 months, is not yet reading.

So I steer clear. Eggmaster reads Bob Books with her, and from what I can hear sitting in the other room she seems to read them pretty well. She recognizes a lot of words, but she still relies enough on memory and context that she makes a fair amount of mistakes. Her interest and ability seem right on time or even somewhat ahead of the “typical” expectation. (Throw in socio-economic class and parents’ education and I’m sure she’d be pretty dead center.)

I’ve also heard her quit when she makes her first mistake. Normally she is pretty persistent, but she seems pretty inclined to set high expectations for herself. The last thing she needs is me mucking around in there, transmitting my own unspoken expectations for when someone should be learning to read. When she’s 5 and 5 months and not reading, call me. Then I’ll start the gentle nudges.

One other thing about what a person should be expected to know.

I confess I’ve been tempted away from homeschooling by a fabulous charter school in our town. It’s public, so it’s free, but it’s a charter, so it doesn’t have to do all the dorky stuff required by the district. It sounds wonderful; the teachers and the principal and the parents are all very thoughtful about the aims of education. It’s rigorous. It has cute uniforms. It even seems to have a good attitude toward gifted education:

A classical education is appropriate for any student and certainly for academically gifted students. It can provide the depth and challenge that gifted students crave. It guards against too narrow a focus too early on and helps gifted students become intellectually well rounded. It can give gifted girls the confidence to get through the challenging middle years when many succumb either to peer pressure not to be smart, or to the under-challenging “Straight A” syndrome. As with most curricula, modifications for moderately to highly gifted students have to do primarily with pace in the earlier years and depth in the later years.

Most schools that use the classical model use a 6-3-3 division of the trivium, not beginning the logic stage until 7th grade. Gifted students need far less repetition and drill to master concepts and benefit from whole to parts instruction earlier. We think a 4-4-4 division is better suited to gifted students, and in fact would assume that many gifted students would be ready for analysis and critical thinking in one or more areas much earlier than 5th grade. Clustering and ability grouping will be key to making sure that students are being instructed at the appropriate level.

It all sounds so right, doesn’t it?!

Still, and this may be a minor cavil, I didn’t care as much for the rest of the statement.

But it’s also important to make sure that gifted students have the foundational knowledge and emotional maturity necessary to move on to higher level thinking. Gifted students often have an intuitive but not a conscious grasp of a concept (the child who taught herself to read, has a knack for writing or a head for numbers) and it is sometimes assumed that they either already know the rules, or have no need to know them. No one would ever suggest that a gifted musician with an “ear” for music be excused from learning the language, structure and rules of music. Quite the opposite. It is understood that she could never achieve true musical literacy or become an accomplished performer, conductor, composer or teacher without those very basic skills. So, should the natural-born speller be forced to copy pages of words she already knows how to spell? No, but she should be able to articulate the spelling rules and give examples. Should the gifted mathematician be tortured by having to show his work on a page full of problems he can do in his head in a minute? Of course not, but he should be able to show his work on select problems and explain to someone else how he arrived at his answers.

I guess it would depend on how the school plans to assure that the student gets that background info. Something about needing to articulate the spelling rules just . . . gave me that “little feeling”. What are the spelling rules? “I before E except after C . . . ?” I don’t know the spelling rules — I don’t recall learning spelling rules — and here I am, an “Indpendent Publishing Professional.” Is it really necessary to have to articulate spelling rules if they don’t help you spell any better than you did before? (Also, I get the feeling the musician metaphor was written by a non-musician. “Language, structure, and rules of music”? I was a piano major in college and I’m not entirely sure what that means. Then again, I’m not accomplished.)

I wouldn’t reject this school for my kids based on the spelling issue. And I may apply . . . or I may not, because if I got in (they choose by lottery, and the waiting lists are a mile long for each grade) I’d have to make a miserable choice. But the whole thing about kids knowing certain things in a certain order, or needing to know particular rules or facts . . . I just don’t know.

I have a general idea that before my kids go off to college we will have covered (at home or elsewhere) some basics:

Basic high school math: algebra, geometry, trig, calculus
High-school level biology, chemistry, and physics
History of the U.S. and Western Civ.
Literature, music, and art are such essential parts of our family life I hardly feel like listing my expectations there.
I hope both of my girls will choose to be confirmed as (well-formed) Catholics.
[Whoops, this one was really so basic to our daily lives that it didn’t even occur to me, so ETA:]
Foreign language (proficiency in at least one, any language will do)
Whatever else strikes our fancy — cartooning? manga? documentary filmmaking? weaving? choral conducting?

I’m not as concerned about the order in which we cover these things. And I would not necessarily prescribe this list for everyone. I happen to love the traditional liberal arts education: it was a great source of interest and pleasure for me. (Man, I remember studying course catalogs for various colleges — I just wanted to roll around in them, they sounded so awesome, from anthroplogy and astronomy to philosophy and physics to women studies and zoology.) Barring any unforseen major objections I want to share that with my kids.


Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Home Preschool, Music and Art, Oh Mother, Why Homeschool?

What do you need to know . . .

. . . and when do you need to know it?

I was reflecting on this the other day at our ice skating lessons. There is a little boy, a 3-year-old, who just does not like being there, but grandma picks up him and his (twin?) sister from Montessori school every weed and brings them out to the skating rink. The first few lessons he cried and cried. Now he often just sits stubbornly on the ice while grandma yells out on the rink that he is just manipulating them.

As anyone might, I reacted instinctively to this scene with disgust. I shared my disgust with friends. “Ice skating is so optional,” I opined. “Why can’t they just wait a year and try again?” But luckily my better angels began to reason with me, suggesting that I try to empathize, see where this family might be coming from.

I live deep in hockey country. Our parish no longer has regular Sunday school for kids over 5; we have given in to the reality of the hockey season. (I live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where despite what you hear on Prairie Home Companion there are oceans of Catholics, and many of them are grateful for Saturday “anticipatory” mass so they can head off to hockey on Sunday morning.) In this setting, ice skating is just a thing you need to know.

That may sound crazy, but having done the same thing to my own dear child, I can understand it. [Be warned, this is not a pretty remembrance.] When Violet was 3 and 4, I felt quite strongly that learning to swim was not optional. It was a safety requirement, and she was going to take lessons and that was that. The first summer of lessons was OK. Expectations were low, and she enjoyed the wading pool where the class was held. The second summer was tougher. They left the wading pool and went into the regular pool, where she would sometimes refuse to leave the side. Still, she said she liked swimming lessons, I assume because she enjoyed the water.

That winter I kept the lessons going. My friends’ kids took lessons, and my kid needed to learn to swim too. She like the idea of swimming lessons and was always willing to go. But she was almost never will to do what the teachers said. In particular, she refused to jump in the water. Not refused, exactly. She stood in line and waited, but when the time came she would take a deep breath and . . . “no wait, just a second.” Another deep breath and . . . “OK, next time I’ll do it.” Another deep breath and . . . “I just can’t do it!”

Here is where I stepped in and made a mistake that I regretted but learned from. I could see that she wanted to jump. I knew she liked the water. Just a tiny push from me, I thought, and she move past her fear and plunge in. So next lesson I made a deal: jump in the water, and I’ll take you out for ice cream. A win-win deal, right?

Not really. Instead I had a devastated child who neither jumped nor got ice cream, but instead cried all the way home from swimming lessons after another failed attempt. All she got was the idea that she had let mom down in addition to once again disappointing herself. The child was not ready to jump, and no amount of cajoling or enticing was going to change her readiness. If anything, I had increased the intensity of the situation in a way that made it harder for her to jump.

Still, she claimed she wanted to go back the next week. And we did — I had not yet figured out that even a very bright 4-year-old was not necessarily a reliable source for choosing whether or not to continue an activity.

I think the nail in the coffin for swimming lessons came the week that her shrieks echoed through the high school: “Help me! Help me!” She was in no danger. The very lovely swimming instructors were encouraging her to use a kickboard while they also held her afloat to move her across the water. Violet hates being held in the water, even now. The sense that she might not have total control of her body in the water makes her panic.

We discontinued lessons, and she’s never taken another one. We started taking her to indoor waterparks, where she could play in the water and have a great time and maybe even feel motivated to try some of the things kids her age were doing, but only if she wanted to. She has taught herself to swim, a strange-looking dogpaddle that has her nearly vertical in the water, but effective enough to allow her to pass the swim test at Concordia camp this summer. She does not like to play in the water the way I did as a kid; that is, she loves to play, but she does not like to be touched or even to think that you might be about to touch her. I’d love to pick her up and toss her like my dad used to do to me, but she would hate it.

My idea seemed so logical. We live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, we go boating with grandparents in the summer, we love the water. Ergo, swimming lessons are a necessity, if only for safety reasons. Ergo, my child needs swimming lessons, and she needs them now so she can be safe in the water.

Of course a 4-year-old is only safe in the water if a parent is there, no matter how well she takes to lessons. I certainly don’t plan to send my 8-year-old to the swimming hole unattended either, even if she were a brilliant swimmer. But at the time I felt so sure that learning to swim was just what a person does, and it wasn’t until my water-loving, reasonably even-tempered child had a public meltdown that I considered another perspective.

This episode helped open my mind to the idea that we learn when we’re ready, no sooner and no later. Violet learns a lot of things sooner than expected, but if she’s not ready for something, there is absolutely no pushing. Thank goodness she helped me figure that out before Victoria, who is even more unwilling to be pushed than Violet. I try to handle learning with a lighter touch than would be “natural” for me, especially with Victoria, because the pushback can be so strong that we end up delaying learning rather than helping it.

But I think that may have to be part two of this post!


Filed under Gifted Heart and Soul, Home Preschool, Learning Styles, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

“Yes, but she’s a real klutz”

I told Patience that I’d link to an old post that also linked to another blogger talking about the way parents of gifted children often try to downplay their kids’ abilities.

So the old post is called Dirty Words

But if you don’t want to read that, I’d still suggest looking at the post linked there, from the now-defunct (I think) Yet Another Homeschool Blog.

Since this is a blog about homeschooling and giftedness, it may seem strange for me to say that parents of gifted kids downplay their kids’ abilities. But this is my one outlet — my one place to connect with others in the same boat without having to see the looks on the faces of those who disagree or disapprove. Most of the time we’re on “orange alert”; I can say one of the benefits of taking up knitting is that in groups of parents talking excitedly/heatedly about school or education, I can look intently at the needles without feeling too awkward!


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