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That Mom

When my son’s kindergarten teacher said to me ‘I think its because he’s gifted’ that’s all I heard. I was in car line and honestly wanted nothing more than to peel out to get home to tell my husband – she thinks our child is GIFTED!!

Doesn’t that sound amazing?

Little nutIt wasn’t until years later, reflecting back, that I realized she had just given me a laundry list of bad behaviors – something we had been dealing with all year, that preceded the words ‘I think its because he’s gifted’. It would take me a long time to put these puzzle pieces together.

The next few weeks another mother, finding out that my son had been labelled gifted and being much further along on her journey than I, started chatting me up in the corridors while we waited for our kids to get out of school. “CHALLENGE my child” she would complain, often loudly enough that I felt embarrassed. “Why doesn’t anyone provide any services for these kids?” she would lament in front of others. She was vocal. She was in the faces of the teachers, and the administrators, she didn’t seem to mind what other people thought when she said her child was gifted.

I was concerned about how I looked to others, I didn’t want people to think I was bragging. I didn’t want to stand out and be noticed and be vocal and loud. I didn’t want to be ‘that’ mom.

Instead I quietly watched as my son made it through kindergarten (whew). Then in first grade, every day was a ‘how was his behavior today?’ day. In second grade I found myself trying to explain to his teacher why he was refusing to write anything on his math tests – “just give him harder work” I pleaded (oh, I’m starting to sound like ‘that’ mom).

“We can’t do that. They have to work within the second grade curriculum. Besides, he won’t prove that he knows how to do this work, I can’t give him harder work yet.”

He was moved to a ‘gifted classroom’. The rest of second grade went by…we made it (whew). Third grade was the same old story. Every email, every time my phone rang, my stomach sank with dread. When I was faced with ‘yes, he is being called names, yes, he is being excluded and yes, he is being laughed at but, really, he brings it on himself’ I tried to work with the teacher and with my son to see what we needed to change. When I met with administrators and I could see their contempt for my child dripping from every word that came out of their lips, I tried to make them like me – maybe if they liked me and knew that I was trying really hard they wouldn’t be so hard on him.

When I saw my precocious, energetic, confident 8 year old start to turn pale, have crying spells for no reason, start to retreat into himself and not want to talk to anyone, I was terrified. When I saw that same child come home from school with a fury of energy and “build” his own library in his room, complete with library cards for every member of our family I was elated! I came to find out that the librarian at the school had offered to let him spend some time there every day – reading and shelving books. He was on cloud nine. But then his teacher insisted that the only way he was going to be allowed to take advantage of this offer was if his behavior was 100% perfect – not one complaint. And of course, he never got to go. Ever. Again. That’ll teach ’em.

ER quoteWhat no one seemed to understand was that he needed something different. He is wired differently. He wasn’t able to do what they needed him to do because they weren’t giving him what he so desperately needed. We ended up pulling him out of school.

Man I wish I could have been ‘that’ mom – her kid is still in school. She is doing something right. She is so much braver than I was.

So if I could offer up one trick that I wish I known from the beginning, one tip that could have saved us all so much heartache or one tool that I know every parent of any child who is different –  any parent of any child at all, needs to have in their arsenal, I would say to be brave. Be more brave than you ever thought possible. Be the brave that you imagine you would be if you had to go up against 400 pound black bear to protect your child. Be the brave you are when you know, in the deepest pit of your soul, that you could lift a 16 wheeler and toss it the length of a football field if it meant that your child would have the opportunity to live the life that you wanted for them. Don’t worry about what other people think. Be bold and courageous and brave. Be that mom for your child.

This article is written as part of the May 2014 Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop.

Click on the graphic below for more Tips, Tricks and Tools for Gifted/2E Kids.

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A Checklist For Exceptional Education

One of my posts Why Parents of Gifted Children are Turning to Homeschooling, generated some very heated comments. One very passionate teacher had this to say:

I do love my job, but I am making plans to leave it. The problem is that I just cannot meet all of the demands I’m under without compromising individuals’ experiences, and my own failure to reach some of these kids is emotionally damaging me in ways I could have never anticipated before I took on this career. Today, I had a surprise walk-through evaluation in one of the most
hectic weeks of my career (5 brand-new students, one on an IEP, one with a 504, and one who speaks no English and whose language is so rare my translator app cannot accommodate her- I teach freshmen English). Despite this week’s thousands of challenges, I was conducting a wonderful lesson in which each student took part in enlightening their peers in an investigative research report. The kids were quiet, well-managed, respectful, and they had impressive projects. I was so proud!

The principal, in the four minutes he stayed, did not see several of the checklist requirements within those four minutes of student presentations, and I got a mediocre review. His biggest criticism? A student was wearing a hat when he walked in. I have 150 students throughout my class in a day. I have noticed when they are depressed, high on drugs, hurting themselves, or in violent moods. But I did not take care of that hat. I get a mediocre review.

We aren't just failing our students, we are failing our best teachers too.

We aren’t just failing our students, we are failing our best teachers too.

We aren’t just failing our students, we are failing our best teachers too.

I think her story strikes at the heart of what we are struggling with in education right now. We feel the need to measure everything with checklists and data. The problem is, the things (I think) we want from education aren’t so easily measured.

We want innovators, leaders, creators, critical thinkers, and hard workers. We want people who are going to change the world, who are going to lead in science and technology and arts and humanities, who are going to be able to tackle the big problems currently facing our planet. We want students to be confident and bold, compassionate and caring.

Faced with a hectic week and several unexpected curve balls, the teacher focused on what was important and led her class through a lesson. A lesson that resulted in impressive projects. In one period, she was able to give those students an example of innovation, leadership, and hard work. She modeled how to be confident when faced with challenges, and when she was proud of what they accomplished, the students experienced genuine compassion and caring.

She led by example, she was a role model.

But what she did wasn’t on the checklist, so she got a mediocre review. I think anyone can tell just by the paragraph she wrote above, she is not a mediocre teacher – she is what our school system needs more of.

Great Teachers Inspire

Great Teachers Inspire

 

We need to inspire curiosity, we need to empower students to take risks and make mistakes instead of penalizing them for doing either. We need to give children time to pursue their own interests, we need to teach them how to set goals and how to achieve them, we need to teach them how to value each other and how to lead effectively, we need to teach them how to co-operate, how to embrace or at least entertain radical new ideas, how to think critically and how to believe in themselves. We need to let them soak up great literature, we need to give them space to enjoy and understand art, we need to show them history – show them how it helped, hurt or changed the world, show them how we learned from it and how we can use it to create a better world going forward.

And just how can we do that?

We have to trust each other more. We have to hire great leaders who can inspire our teachers to empower our children. We have to believe in them and recognize that this doesn’t always translate into high standardized test scores. We have to spend money on art and PE and music and nutritious food, not on big corporate testing contracts or empty initiatives with fluffy names. We have to care more about students than we care about test scores and we have to value teachers who are creative and compassionate and who try to make learning about more than getting test results.

 When we are able to let go of standardization, when we are able to see children as people and not as statistics, and when we value teachers for their ability to nurture learning and inspire questions rather than memorize answers, then we will have education that can accommodate all different learning styles, speeds and abilities. Then we will have a system that will accommodate the diversity in our children instead of trying to stamp it out.

Is It Time To Think About Regular School?

Regular schoolIt was a Wednesday, and, because we had drama classes and ice skating lessons, my son was the only one of my three children that had done any school work AT ALL that week. And he had only done 60 minutes of math.

But Wednesday we had the whole day. No errands to run, no activities, no co-op, nothing on the schedule. So I was sure we would get lots done.

By 2:00, only one child had done anything; 30 minutes of math.

At 3:00, I sat down at the kitchen table where my son was eating a pear (he called it lunch). It felt like I had failed in every area – I couldn’t even get a proper lunch going. I tried not to cry and I tried not to make it sound like a punishment when I said, “maybe it’s time to think about regular school”.

The protests started like sirens –  this wasn’t what I was looking for at all. I needed to curl up in a ball, cover my head and pretend to live in a magical kingdom where laundry didn’t exist and all children have nannies. But I had caused this upset I owed it to them to at least listen to their pleas of why they needed to continue to homeschool. Part of me wanted them to be right (like the toenail on my baby toe part of me) and the rest of me, right at that moment, wanted them to want to go back to regular school.

I explained my concerns. I didn’t want to have to fight, coerce, cajole, beg, plead and bribe them to get stuff done. I wanted (needed) them to be invested in this process too. I couldn’t have them wandering around not learning anything.

“Mom, we haven’t not been learning anything (I cringed, not only at the double negative, but also at the confirmation that the irony of its use drove home). I learned about golden ratios this week”. I stared at him blankly, this wasn’t helping to convince me as I wasn’t sure what the heck that was.

My daughter said “I’m doing double digit division”. They continued,

My classroom2

“We learned all about The Grand Canyon because we went there and then you let us make a diorama and a power point presentation.”  (I let you?) “I wrote an essay for that project mom! And I learned about the water cycle because I asked you what H2O meant and you told me to look it up and I did.” (You did?)

“And I learned about Leonardo Da Vinci from that library book, and we learned about fossils, and we spotted that Mourning Dove today and we found out what it was called from our Feederwatch project.”

I got out the puzzle with the US states on it at this point. Thinking to myself, but your cousin knows where all of the states are on a map.

We quietly began working on the puzzle. My daughter said to her brother “do you remember the European Starling we saw the other day?”

All was quiet for a bit and then my daughter said “I just learned that Hollywood is right next to Arizona. That’s cool.”

My son looked up, “See mom, we’re learning all the time, even when you aren’t teaching us.”

I guess you are.

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This post is part of a blog hop on the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Click here to see more posts like this one!

Why Parents of Gifted Children are Turning to Homeschooling

gifted kids leaving school

Tell someone that your child is gifted and they’ll probably roll their eyes. They might wait until you’re not looking, but eyes will roll.

Tell someone that your child is at risk for not finishing high school, more likely to struggle with depression, at an increased risk of suicide, or even more likely to be incarcerated than the general population, and you’ll probably get more concern than eye rolling.

Of course most parents of gifted children realize that I’m saying the same thing. But many people have no idea.

Many people feel that the label of gifted is unfair – that is somehow implies that children who do not make often arbitrary sounding cut offs on IQ tests or other criteria are not smart, talented or in any other way special. And I would agree, it does imply that, and that has done a huge disservice to everyone, gifted children included.

The problem is that the label ‘gifted’ sounds a lot like ‘has gifts’. This problem is compounded by the addition of “and talented” to many gifted programs. So little Johnny goes in for testing for the “gifted” and “talented” program. Turns out he didn’t make the cut off. So now, as a parent what I’m hearing is “little Johnny has no gifts and is not talented”. See how I might find that off-putting?

The reality is that gifted kids are often difficult to understand, can be overly sensitive and unusually excitable. They can have a very hard time with injustice or unfairness and they think in ways that can make them hard for other children to get along with. They are often extremely intense. They can find themselves turned off of school completely after facing too many long days of being bored, and forced to be taught things they have already learned. They can struggle with depression, understanding big, heavy issues like poverty and world hunger on a profound level, but lacking the life experience and maturity to be able to cope.

Don’t get me wrong, they can also be amazingly empathetic, fiercely creative, able to solve problems far beyond their years and have many other remarkable qualities. Their intensity can allow them to absorb vast amounts of information when something is interesting to them. But the semantic mishap that has called this condition ‘gifted’ has left these kids and their parents accused of elitism and demanding too much from an already stretched school system. Because they are gifted people assume that they will do “just fine” without the extra help and support that they truly need.

Many parents of gifted students know first hand, they don’t do “just fine” without the proper help and support.gifted kids leaving school2

Sometimes their boredom translates into disruptive behavior. Sometimes it creates apathy for school, or worse, hatred. Some kids  become withdrawn or even depressed. Whatever it looks like, parents know something is not working. Parents of gifted children advocate for their child, for acceleration, alternatives, some kind of enrichment so that their child can get back to doing what they are supposed to be doing: LEARNING.

A lucky few have full time gifted programs that their gifted child can attend.

Some are given pull out classes. Once a week for an hour their child can move into a higher grade level of math or science.

Many are told that they could access some enrichment, that the school could provide alternatives that would engage this child better. But first he has to learn how to behave, that if he can’t do what is required of him in the classroom now they cannot even consider accelerating or enriching his curriculum. This is like offering to give medicine to a sick person on the condition that they get well first.

Others are told that, because their child doesn’t have a diagnosis, they really can’t do anything for him. Some are even told to go and “get” a diagnosis, so that funding can be allocated for their child’s education.

At some point along this path, many parents of gifted children find themselves exhausted and out of options. Needing to find some way to meet the needs of their children, homeschooling emerges as a viable alternative. Homeschooling offers the gifted child time to really explore their interests, it allows them to move freely through subjects that they grasp quickly and gives you the opportunity to address their unique set of needs.

Of course homeschooling comes with its own set of challenges, and its not for everyone. But for those of us who have spent time and energy trying to get our square pegs to fit into the school system’s round holes, the responsibility and effort of homeschooling, while at times daunting, are a welcome reprieve.

Gifted is Not Always a Gift

Too great not to share…

unnecessarywisdom

When we hear the word “gifted” we usually think of someone who is extremely intelligent, has remarkable talents or an unusually high IQ. Most people think of being gifted as, well, a gift. It certainly is, to some extent. You learn new information quickly and easily. You pick up new skills with ease. You excel in several, if not most, areas of your life. But being gifted is incredibly difficult and comes with a variety of issues and complications that are rarely observed or addressed. It’s not always a gift.

I come from a family of extremely intelligent and talented people going back several generations. They accomplished world-renowned feats in science, art and education. These talents have been passed down for several generations now. My biological mother graduated medical school and college simultaneously. I was considered gifted and earned multiple awards and scholarships, graduating from high school early. Now I…

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Holiday Survival Guide for Parents of Gifted Children

holiday graphicSometimes the holidays don’t feel like ‘holidays’ at all. For gifted kids they can be tougher than normal days. Gifted children can have a hard time with everything from clothes to noise to lights to crowds to foods to expectations and just being ridiculously excited. When holiday time happens it usually means spending a lot more time with other people, whether they are coming to your house or you are going to theirs…whether they are coming for dinner or staying for a week. It can also mean parties and crowds and loud music, which for a gifted child can sound like no fun at all. And if your gifted child is an introvert or is anywhere on the sensory processing spectrum it can be downright nightmarish.

We’ve been through it a total of nine times and counting, and every year we get better at it. So here are a few of my best tips and tricks for surviving this holiday season.

Sleep

Surprising right? Of course not. We all know how important it is, so I won’t waste time on it. This is your reminder.

Nutrition

See sleep above. You know it and I know it so just make it a priority.

Keep them in mind

Don’t forget about your gifted child when making crazy plans. If you promised you would read four chapters of Harry Potter but you know that after nine hours of shopping you will be too tired to read four chapters of Harry Potter then don’t shop for nine hours. Keep the promises you make and be aware of how your schedule affects them. You don’t have to accept every invitation that comes your way. I have heard from many other parents that other family members can make them feel the most pressured and other family members are who they are most afraid of offending. Talk it out with them. If your family is anything like mine they’ll probably tell you its fine (then they’ll wait until they are all together and you’re not there and talk about how crazy you are). But at least you’ll get what you need. And if that doesn’t work, think in terms of compromise. If being over at your parents’ house from 8am until 8pm causes meltdowns and winds up being no fun for anyone, then skip one end of the deal; tell them you’d love to come for dinner OR come over in the morning but you just can’t do both. Or go for breakfast and presents and then go home for a few hours (if that’s feasible) or go for a long walk in the snow or drive around to look at Christmas decorations pop over to a friend’s house. Then come back later in the day refreshed and ready to handle the second leg of the journey. Whatever gets you through.

Set them up for success

This time of year we are all busier than usual and this is one thing that almost every year I let slip by me at least once. Tell them where you are a going, what’s going to happen (I mean no need to spoil the Santa surprise here or anything, just a general idea), and what is expected of them. If you know there are going to be things that bother them, talk about it beforehand and come up with a plan. If too many people upsets them, find a way to give them some space. Take a walk or bring a book with you and ask Grandma if they can have a little spot to be alone and read for a while. If your child likes using code words those have worked well for us in the past. For example, my son is a ‘texture’ fusspot when it comes to food. So he’ll eat some people’s mashed potatoes but I’ve seriously seen him gag trying to eat others – its all in the minute differences in texture. So when we are eating a Christmas dinner somewhere else he can use the ‘code’ word to tell me discretely that he’d like me to take his potatoes off his plate. (He gets that grossed out if they are “wrong”). I think the code word thing works so well because they feel like they are in on some fantastic secret with just you. Or you can plan ahead and just not put potatoes on his plate. Whatever gets you through.

Being alert to changes and heading disaster off at the pass

When things move or change in a different direction, keep an eye on your kiddos and watch for subtle changes that may mean you are on the road to meltdownville. When you see that coming it might be time to make an exit, or if that’s not appropriate, sneak out for a ten minute walk and give your child some one on one time and a little quiet time without the noise and people so he can calm himself down. It’ll also help because if it starts to happen again he’ll know he can come to you and you can problem solve together.

Perspective

Try to zoom out of December, look at the big picture. This is only a few weeks of the year, remember to look outside of all the craziness hopefully you can make decisions with a calmer head and not get caught up in “perfection” or trying to do it all. Sometimes I can find myself feeling pressure because its a ‘special’ time of year. Remember that everyday is special, and whatever greeting card memory you don’t get to recreate, you will have 335 other days of the year to make amazing. Don’t burn yourself and your kids out with expectations – you don’t actually live in a snow globe, so you won’t actually look like that family on the Hallmark commercial.

Reciprocate

If friends and family aren’t supportive of the little extra accommodations you need for your child, then you are not obligated to be supportive of the little ‘extras’ that they expect for the holidays. For example, above I mentioned bringing a book and asking Grandma if there is a quiet place to sit and read for a bit. If having that conversation with Grandma is going to result in her giving you the gears and if it ultimately is too much for you to ask, then don’t go. Or go, but leave early. My point is simply that making yourself and your child miserable isn’t doing anyone any good. Try your best to just do what works for you and let go of the guilt. This is your time to make memories with your child, prioritize the people who make you and your child a priority and ditch the rest. I know, I know, there are just some situations where this doesn’t work. In that case, have an extra eggnog and keep smiling – January is right around the corner. Whatever gets you through.

What about you? What do you do to survive the holiday season? We could all use some fresh ideas, so please share!

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The Glorification of Busy

“I have to pick up one child at school at 3:10 and be across town – a 20 minute drive, with another and have her ready in her leotard for Ballet for 3:30, then I have to race back and get the third one to a scout meeting for 4:00 and then back to the dance studio to pick up the second one for 4:15 and then get over to the other side of town for the first child’s football practice that goes from 5 until 7. At some point I have to leave there and grab my second child from scouts at 5:30. After 7:00 I still have to get dinner, homework and baths done!”

She says this as though these horrifying conditions have been imposed upon her by some higher power that would mandate that, unless her and her children are running ragged all day every day, she is not fulfilling her motherly duties. And she is looking at me as though I should be impressed. I’m not. I feel sorry for her and her kids.

But what’s really going on here? Do some parents really feel that their children need all that? Or is this some kind of strange competition for busiest parent of the year? Are these schedule run-downs that seem to happen any time you ask “what have you been up to?” their way of excusing themselves from the PTA? Or that play date you talked about six weeks ago? Or just making sure you know they aren’t lying around eating bonbons all day?

I try really hard not to judge other people’s parenting. But I have to ask, what is the benefit of having such a packed schedule?

What does this teach our children? Do they hear that, for time to be well spent it must be spent doing some formal activity? What would they do with themselves if they had some lengthy span of unscheduled time?

What values are we imparting during this mad dash? How are we cherishing our time…or theirs? Are we suggesting that we, as parents, have very little to teach them ourselves so we have to rush out at every opportunity to pay someone else to teach them something? Or even that every usable minute should be used to learn something?

I used to think it was an over-indulgence of the child’s requests for extra curricular activities, but having heard parents complain about how their children detest piano lessons or how hard it is to get them to pay attention for the entire dance class, I don’t think it is. I’ve also heard parents comment on how well their child ‘held up’ given the grueling nature of their schedule, or what a ‘trooper’ they were for having endured it. I think it holds some kind of value to the parent, not the child. A status symbol, or the ability to partake in a discussion about nearly any child related activity from experience. Maybe its a justification of what they ‘do’ as a parent, a strange sort of accounting for their position as mom or dad. A way to feel that not working outside of the home is justified, or a way to feel that working outside the home doesn’t negatively affect their children’s lives.

Whatever it is, I don’t share their admiration of their own impossible schedule and their insane quest to fulfill it.

I treasure family dinner times, together, at the table. I adore when my kids want to show me some crazy game they invented or some contraption (like the “exercise machine” they recently invented…a box, tied to a string, tied to one of their ceiling fans. Turn the fan on and it chases you and you run…voila, exercise machine!). I crave the days when they beg me to read just one more chapter of Magic Tree House and I’m not completely exhausted and I kind of want to know what happens next too, so we do. I love to do something we hadn’t planned on doing, or call some friends over on the spur of the moment for game night.

That’s not to say that we don’t do activities, we do. We have skating and scouts and karate and gymnastics, and next semester we’ll have a handful of things that take us from here to there. But we choose carefully and treat our time with the same care and thoughtfulness that we give to anything that we place a high value on in our lives. And when we do get to skating or scouts or gymnastics, I want them to enjoy it, not endure it. I want them to be ready, rested, well-fed and clear minded. We only get a finite number of seconds in this life, and I would rather cherish every one of them, then be so busy scheduling them all that they race by in a blur.

Minecraft

Fellow homeschoolers, school at homers, regular schoolers, pretty much anyone who can help me…please sound off about Minecraft. My kids love love love it. And we have struggled with it since February. While it seems to be a great creative exercise (lego online?), it also seems to gobble up time like Cookie Monster gobbles up cookies. It can be all they want to do / think about. We limit the time they are allowed to spend on it and they always want more. They always want to know when they can play it (“if I finish this lesson can I play Minecraft?” “If I do extra chores can I earn more Minecraft time?”).

I am at the point of wanting it out of my house. My kids are super creative, they love to build and imagine and create, and I feel like Minecraft gets all the best of them. Their real legos hardly get touched.

I would love to hear from other families. Is this an issue in your house? Have you embraced Minecraft or banned it?

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