A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative. -definition of giftedness written by the Netherlands Study on Giftedness in Adults

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Education Puzzle

Every step of the Teenlet's educational career has been fraught with roadblocks and detours. To say it's been frustrating would be like saying that losing a leg is inconvenient. It doesn't do justice to the experience.

From earliest years in preschool, when we had to decide whether to keep him back to help his maturity (we didn't, and it turns out it wouldn't have helped if we had), to changing schools every year until third grade, to fighting the school district for services, to the incessant "he's too young for..." that makes me want to poke my eyes out - we haven't had a single year that was simple, when we didn't feel like we were being blocked from accessing programs or services that could have helped him gain the skills he needs or the academic challenge to keep him engaged.

Now, at 14, the challenges haven't stopped. We no longer have the option of rapid acceleration of "regular" subjects. Up to this point, we've been letting him go - at his own pace, piecing together educational experiences from various places in order to create some semblance of a well-rounded education. But we can't do that any longer. He's topped out that which we can option for him. So again, we are piecing together and making our arguments that age shouldn't limit options - for him or anyone else.

I always thought that if I had the documentation to back up my claims, it would be enough. But so far, this isn't proving to be true. The SAT scores don't matter. The Coursera certificates "with distinction" don't matter. The current course load doesn't matter. Even the entrance exam, passed with flying colors, doesn't matter. All they see is the age.

All we want is to see our son keep learning, and loving it.

There are options, sure. Some of them might work for him, some definitely will not. If I wasn't concerned that complete mental laziness could set in, I would suggest he spend the next year doing Coursera courses that sound fun to him (read: science). But he does need to keep moving forward in his writing (which he hates), and math (which he's very good at, but he says he hates). Colleges like to see full math load for four years of high school, but I have no idea what that looks like for him since he's completing calculus in "8th grade." The community colleges around here tend to be a bit constrained by rules, and the school district hasn't proven to be much help in overcoming them. He's not yet ready for full college entrance.

But this is a child that rises to the occasion with consistency. He matures when he's forced to do so. He figures out how to get the work done when there is no other option. Taking this next step will be another occasion for rising to - but he has to be given the opportunity first.

It's my job to make sure that happens. Let's hope I'm up to it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Adolescence: A New World

Parenting an adolescent has a bad rap. For every parent who loves this stage of growing independence, raging hormones, and intense emotions, there are 10, maybe 100 or 1,000, who want to run and hide. Add to typical adolescence the challenges associated with gifted intensity and twice-exceptionality, and you have a dangerously challenging mix, right?

Contrary to how the rest of parenting has been for us, adolescence has been kind in our household. Yeah, we have some eye rolling and a little 'tude every so often, but overall the teenage years have so far proven to be more pleasant than any other stage we've been through as parents.

I'm sure there are multiple reasons for this, but I believe there are two main reasons why this stage is so much easier than earlier ones. First, we have been fighting the adolescent battles for many more years than he's been a teenager. Second, those raging hormones have fast-tracked the maturity that has been dragging behind - way behind - in earlier stages.

Let's take the teenage battles first. Teenagers are known for emotional outbursts that rival the "terrible twos," and frustrating parents by making irrational decisions. The Teenlet's special mix of high IQ, hair trigger emotions, over-excitabilities, and immaturity that has complicated every aspect of our lives, have given us a 14 year history of "doing the teens" already. We've fought many of the battles we've watched other parents of teens fight,  but we did it when our son was 5, 6, or 7, when the consequences of poor decisions were difficult, but not life-changing. He knows we are his parents, he knows we mean business, and though he has us pushing him towards independence almost more than he is yet striving for it, he knows that we are there supporting him but he will always have to face the consequences of his actions - good or bad. His decisions have become wiser, not perfect by a long shot, but he is learning responsibility and the freedom that comes with it.

Pair that growing wisdom with hormones that have shot his maturity through the proverbial roof (relatively), and it is fantastic to see this child, who has been wringing tears from my heart since he was in preschool,  flourishing in ways I sometimes thought if I would never see.

I used to dread these years, thinking I couldn't imagine things getting worse, but that's all I had heard about adolescence - how challenging it is for parents (it's no cakewalk for teens, either). And we may still have that coming. But for now, I love seeing him grow into manhood - becoming independent, passionate about his interests, accepting challenges and stepping up to meet them. I love seeing him stretch his executive skills to work out his own system of organization, and watching him take responsibility when it falls apart and he has to try again.

It is, indeed, a new world. But it is the same one, too.

This post is part of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop on Homeschooling & Parenting Gifted and 2e Kids

Friday, January 17, 2014

Traveling with Intensity

The Teenlet and I are going on an adventure. This is a trip I've wanted to take my whole life, and the opportunity came up to do it, so we're going. We are going to India.

Now, everything I've heard about India is that it's an intense experience that will touch every emotion, sense, and engage the imagination. I hear about the huge crowds of people, the smaller personal bubble that you must live with when there are that many people living in so little space. According to World Population Statistics, India's population is about 1001 people per square mile - that's compared to the United States' population, which is 88.6 people per square mile. So... lots of people, especially in the cities. With lots of people comes lots of noise, smells, things to see and taste. Add to that India's love of color and beauty, and you get the potential for being overwhelmed even if you don't have extra sensitivity to all of those things. Three of the four of us who are traveling together experience significant sensory sensitivity, so this will be interesting (I suspect the fourth does also, but does not show it).

As if the sensory overload isn't enough, India also presents an emotional challenge. We will be in big cities and smaller towns, and I've heard that poverty in India is inescapable. Even in making our travel plans, we've seen the incredibly low wages that people in India make (200 Rupees/day for our driver - that's about US$3.25). Contrast that to India's fascination with technology and the wealth that tech jobs bring, and I'm sure we're in for an emotional ride. If you want to read a heart-wrenching but lovely book about life in the Mumbai undercity, check out Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo.

We will see the most beautiful building in the world, and we will see slums. We will see palaces, forts, lakes and forests. We will see rail lines that go forever. We will see Hindu temples and Muslim mosques. We will see bazaars that extend beyond what the eye can see. We will hear and tell stories from times gone by as we seek out places we've only read about in history books and personal letters. We will see tragedy and beauty, melded together in a way that will make them almost interchangeable. This - all of this - is fodder for the imagination, and I'm sure the tales we live, and those we spin, will live on for years to come.

So for those of us who experience overexcitabilities anyway, this will be a fascinating experience. We have definitely padded our time there, to give spans of time for our senses and emotions to engage, process, and release what we are experiencing. I have my brightly colored kurti and even more brightly-colored shalwar kameez so I won't stand out (oh the irony!). Books have been read, itineraries planned, and bags are almost packed.

India is a place that has a huge place in my personal mythology and has been part of my imaginary world since I was a young child. Now it will become part of my real world, my life experience.

Oh how I love adventures.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

This is How We Homeschool

Teenlet doing physics problems.

Since first grade, the Teenlet has used this spot, right here in the picture, to do his homework. It isn't a desk. It's not a table. This is the floor. There is a little step that goes from our family room up into the kitchen, and he uses the kitchen floor as his "desk." He leans up against the edge of the step with his stomach, which helps to comfort and focus him (it's a sensory stimulation thing). 

This is one of the many reasons we homeschool. Most classrooms would not allow him to work on the floor, but it helps him concentrate (though Ms. Rushing did let him work on the floor in 2nd grade. Once she figured out how much it helped he didn't even have a desk in the classroom). 

The Teenlet is taking two real for-sure classroom classes now, and we'll see how the whole "desk" situation works out for him. This is a step towards the next bigger step, which is in-person college courses. He needs to master the desk-work before he can get there. The college courses he is taking now are going smoothly, so we know that the academic level is appropriate. His high school physics and calculus classes have upped the work-load, and it is getting done (though slowly and not without some frustration at the amount of work they require), so we know he will be able to manage the workload of a rigorous college course. So classroom management skills - figuring out how to get that same sensory input without the step and the floor - will be the next major key to college readiness. 

He's getting so close. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

If School Isn't Doing It, Who Can?

The question often arises, from within groups or from individuals, about students who need additional "gifted" support at school, and how to help them if their school or district won't - or aren't able to - do it. For some it comes down to their child not scoring well on a standardized test, so they don't qualify for programming that does exist. For some, it's a school or district that doesn't offer gifted services. For others (as in our case), the services that are offered are not sufficient for the needs of the child. In any case, you end up feeling very alone as you try to figure out how to help this child rise up to his or her intellectual potential.

I recently had a conversation with a friend which started like this, 
"I believe my friend's 12 year old son may be gifted but is slipping through the cracks. Apparently he is science wiz but is suffering in all other classes. They tested him at school for [the gifted program] and he did not score high enough. I was explaining to her that it sounds to me like he's bored. What's the next step in a situation like this? I've never met the kid but the idea that he may not achieve his full potential because a standardized test meant for his entire school didn't keep his attention keeps me up at night."

My question to my friend in response to this was the topic of this post - "If school isn't doing it, who can?" Many parents aren't able to make the same choice we've made to homeschool, but certainly every parent can enlist the help of others who have interests similar to their child's, to help engage them in the topic on a level they won't get at school. If the child loves science, find a scientist who would mentor the child. If music is her passion, find an adult who also loves music and would be willing to hang out every so often to talk about composers or create music together. If history, who is it who loves history so much they can't help but turn every conversation into a story - and lesson - from the past?

If you don't know any of these people, check again at the school. Teachers and principals know other adults who love their subjects and would love to have a conversation on a completely different level with a student than what they have in their normal course of the classroom day. Churches, synagogues, or other places of worship also are a great source for finding mentoring relationships because they involve so many people with so many interests. If your child is beyond talking elementary-level biology, find a college student or professor with whom she can discuss a level deeper than what she is getting in her 4th grade biology class.

I can't tell you the difference these types of mentorships have made for my son. They've never been formalized, but he has really loved meeting people who know about the same things he knows about - and they want to talk about them! The soccer coach who was a biology major in college, with whom teenlet (then 2nd grade) could discuss photosynthesis while they kicked the ball around; the rock hound at church who would bring the teenlet rocks he found and they would talk about their characteristics together; the biology professor who welcomed us into her college classroom even though teenlet was then only 11; the pyrotechnics expert who showed the teenlet all about fireworks and blowing things up (safely). These have been formative relationships for the teenlet - even though none of them was an official "mentorship," they allowed the teenlet to discover something new about himself and about a field of study in which he was passionately interested.

Those relationships - each in their own way - helped keep him going when he was still in school and not getting the intellectual stimulation he needed otherwise. I am eternally grateful for those people who shared their interests with him and allowed him to be part of it. And I continue to look for those people to inject into my son's life to enrich his learning and his personal growth.

Celebrating Gifted Education Awareness Week in Ireland, 2013