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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.

Are You Qualified to Teach Your Child at Home?

Are you qualified picRecently, I heard a teacher compare homeschooling your children with choosing not to take them to the doctor and (her words) “doctoring them” at home. Her point was of course that in order to teach one must have teaching credentials. I love teachers and have many teacher friends. I truly believe teaching today has to be one of the toughest and important jobs there is. NOT everyone could teach a room of first graders how to read – that is what teachers are trained to do.  But can anyone with the means and the will teach their own child academics? Can anyone can teach their own child at home?

Currently, the laws in most states say that you can. Many states only require that you state your intention to homeschool, some require some test scores and/or a professional evaluation of student progress, but only a tiny few require any kind of qualification of parents. So for most Americans, if you have the means and the will, you can legally homeschool your children.

The means and the will.

What does it take to satisfy the ‘means’ of this equation?

There is a commonly held belief out there suggesting that you need to have a two parent intact family where only one parent works. However, there is a ton of information out there showing that this simply isn’t the case (see Pamela Price’s book How to Work and Homeschool). Single parents who work while homeschooling? It can be done. There are also a ton of free or very cheap resources out there for homeschoolers, so satisfying the financial means does not require a six figure income.

But what about the intellectual means?

I don’t think there are a ton of people out there who would agree with our teacher friend from the beginning of this post. First of all, the comparison between teaching and medicine is ludicrous.

And secondly, as I mentioned before, teacher training would be a necessity in a classroom setting, but at home with your own children? No, I don’t think most people would say that there is a need for that.

But should we hold homeschooling parents to a certain standard before allowing them to school their own children at home? Can someone with, say, a GED, teach advanced chemistry? Can a high school dropout teach foreign languages? Can someone without a college degree teach advanced high school mathematics? Can someone with a college degree in English Literature teach advanced chemistry? The list is endless and clearly parents can’t be all things to all subjects.

The internet has become such an amazing resource for homeschoolers that they literally can find anything they need with the click of a mouse. And you can purchase curriculum in nearly every subject. There are free online courses in many subjects and public online high schools abound. So would teaching an advanced subject be problematic for a homeschool parent who doesn’t understand it themselves? I don’t think it would for a parent who places a high value on such study, assuming they have the ability to seek out and utilize the tools necessary.

But what if one is not motivated enough, or does not place a high enough value on a high school education to get one themselves? Are they going to impart to their children the view that education is not important? What about the parent who does not have the capacity to seek out the information they need to teach, or the ability to teach it?

I guess I would argue that the parent who does not place a high value on education is going to affect their children regardless of whether they send them to school or not. And anyone who does not have the capacity to seek out the information needed to homeschool would be unlikely to undertake homeschooling in the first place.

So are you qualified to teach your child at home? I believe that you are, but I would love to hear what others have to say.

Should you Homeschool?

Many parents might be struggling right now with a really big decision. Maybe last year was a tough year, or maybe it was a mediocre year, or maybe your child has some special needs that the school isn’t meeting, or maybe your child would like to dedicate more time to a passion in music  or art or sport, or maybe you would like to travel more – there are a ton of reasons why a parent might consider homeschooling their child. But when it comes down to it, how do you know if you can or should?

I would put money on it, if everyone were allowed to take a trial run at homeschooling (maybe take the month of October off and give it a whirl), our schools would be pretty deserted.

And I believe its safe to say that anyone who wanted to do it could absolutely do it successfully.

I was going to homeschool for a few months during a transition time, and to me that was a crazy decision. But I figured I could do anything for a short while. The big surprise came when I LOVED IT.

Suddenly doors opened for us that I hadn’t even considered. We could travel. We could do all kinds of cool activities during the week. There was so much more time in a day! We were closer as a family (I thought we would be ready to strangle each other after the second week). We never had to worry about having time to eat a meal at the table together in a day. We were all less stressed.

So I have decided to keep on homeschooling. I don’t know if I’ll do it for another year or until they all graduate from high school, but this year we are going to homeschool.

If you are undecided, I would urge you to try it. Give it a year or until Christmas or even Halloween – that’s not such a big commitment, Its the only way you are going to know for sure.

If you do decide to give it a try or if you already did, I would love to hear from you. How did it turn out? Are there more people out there like me who were surprised by what homeschooling really looks like?

For a more in depth look at the pros and cons of homeschooling and help with making the big decision, check out my book Modern Homeschooling!

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Quotable quote

“The things we know best are the things we haven’t been taught.” -Vauvenargues

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