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

Monday, August 29, 2011

It's the First Day of School

I got an email from my sister-in-law, asking about the kidlet's new school year. It was the typical questions, "Why did you decide to home school?" and "What grade is he in?" Couple that with the martial arts instructor, who said to me, "Are you teaching him at home? Are you some kind of genius, too?" and you end up with trying to answer unanswerable questions.

The simple answer to "Why did you decide to home school," is this - we had no other choice. The child needs to be intellectually challenged, but also needs to be a kid. You can't put a child like this in a typical classroom and expect that it will all go smoothly - he takes to boredom like I take to grass pollen (it makes bad things happen in our bodies). We've tried it. It wasn't successful and led to even higher anxiety, lower self-esteem, and a more frustrated everyone. We tried a school that did all one-on-one instruction, but ended up paying for extremely expensive child care, since they didn't understand giftedness and the needs of gifted students. One teacher told me she was afraid to frustrate him... um, resilience anyone? 

My answer to the martial arts master was this, "I'm not a genius like HE is, but he's still a child and it is my job to teach him." Much of learning is figuring out how to learn - questions to ask, problem solving, critical thinking. Also, because of the kidlet's asynchrony, there are areas in which he is not as advanced; although his ability to think about those areas is quite advanced - math, for example - you can't just skip over the "easy stuff" because he can think in complex mathematical ways... he still needs to learn all the building blocks so he can do the complex stuff correctly.  

Now the toughie - which grade is he in? No idea. I can tell you for sure that he is NOT in 6th grade -which would be his chronological grade. He had easily passed all the 8th grade requirements by the end of last year, so we're calling this 9th grade. But even that is a misnomer - since the work he is doing is equally from college texts as from high school. We picked 9th because that seems like the lowest common denominator for him. We expect him to complete 9th grade work by the end of Autumn and start into 10th - IF things go as quickly as we think they can. But the beauty of home schooling is that we can go at whatever pace works best - some subjects might go more quickly (I have him going through a full college text on Marine Biology in one month, as we prepare for a group trip through Johns Hopkins CTY to the aquarium at Newport, Oregon for a weekend class - but don't let that fool you, he's been "studying" marine biology on his own for years). 

Another nice thing about home schooling is that you can really tailor learning without being stuck on someone else's idea of flow. This year, I decided to mold everything to World History (that being a key element in 9th grade). So, we are taking things era by era, and most of his assignments will be linked to whichever era we are studying. For example, we start off with the earliest beginnings of the world - he will read from two different history texts about pre-history and ancient cultures, will study the geography of the middle-east then and now, is reading some ancient myths about creation and flood - as well as a book on the Big Bang theory, learning about scientific advancements in the ancient world (hello Aristotle!). For those subjects that don't fit into the plan - we'll work our way through anyway. It's not a perfect system, but I think it will work well to put everything in perspective - since no learning is in isolation, may as well make as much as possible work together. 

Who knows what this year will bring... but at least I can be sure that my child will continue to learn, will have opportunities to explore his world, and can find that spark within himself again. It has been so hard seeing his interest in learning fade - that excitement about school turned inside out into angst, boredom, and frustration. I don't know if we can turn that around in one year, but I'm going to try.

Learning is fun! School is fun! I think we'll go to the fair later this week to celebrate. :) 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Math: The Eternal Struggle

Photo of Einstein's desk from Life Magazine,  - note the written-out equations. Even HE couldn't do it all in his head. 
The kidlet is good at math. Really good. He totally gets upper-level mathematical concepts - call it the philosophy of math - and he has for a long time. In kindergarten he was solving simple arithmetical equations using a convoluted algebraic formulation he came up with himself. In his head. But it worked, so he kept doing it. 

Here's the struggle: he won't learn math facts, and he won't write out the problems on paper and work it out by hand. I guess his little algebraic formula is supposed to take care of that for him. The problem is: you can do that with simple equations, but as the problems get more complex, it gets too difficult to keep everything straight as you are walking through the steps. So, his brilliant little math mind is making a complex equation that much harder by sending it through all these extra filters, and since he isn't walking through it on paper, he can't go back and see where his mistakes are - and he is getting the problems wrong. When we sit down and work out the problems with him, he gets every problem correct. I know he knows the process and can work out the answers. 

But he is failing.

And this is the (rhetorical*) question with which I struggle as his parent - do I let him fail?

On the one hand, it would be really good for him to learn what it feels like to fail, to pick himself up and try again. It's not something he is good at (are any of us?), and he doesn't frequently have opportunities to try it out and see where it can take him. Failure leads to discovery, and discovery is all good. And failure builds resilience, which is definitely a character trait the kidlet needs to learn.

On the other hand - this is an expensive (online) class, and I'm not sure we are going to be very willing to pay another hefty sum to have the kidlet retake a class he should have passed the first time. And since the kidlet is already bored and impatient, I can't really imagine trying to do this again. He has been surprisingly cooperative this time around, but I don't see that happening again if he has to retake the class (performance anxiety rears its hideously ugly head). 

And so... the math drama goes on. As I'm sure it will in the next class, and the class after that.  

*I say this is a rhetorical question, because I know that Daddy and I will come up with the best answer for our family. I am not asking for you to answer this for us. Not that I don't appreciate your comments, dear readers, but we will make our decision based upon far more complexity than a blog post can communicate. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ups and Downs of Vacation

97 F with 90% humidity
...and long sleeves.
So the kidlet has been saying for three years that he wants to visit the Smithsonian museum. We thought this summer would be a good time for three reasons: 1. 5th and 6th grades are US history grades, and since kidlet hadn't really had any US history in 5th grade we may as well take him to Washington DC to whet his appetite for it; 2. we haven't taken a family vacation in several years that was just the three of us, and 3. we were already going to be half-way there, in Chicago, for a celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. So, here we come, Washington DC. It was a grand adventure... but I learned a few things.
Mommy's mistake, packing: I told kidlet it would be hot where we were going, but I didn't explicitly tell him to pack clothing that would be appropriate for warm weather. He wore long pants and long sleeves. Fortunately, he did pack mostly short-sleeved shirts, but no shorts. At all. He roasted. As a Northwestern-born weather-wimp, the 90+  temperatures plus high humidity really got to him. But, he was a star traveler and didn't complain too much (although his favorite time of every day was in the hotel swimming pool!). 

Kidlet with his headphones
around his neck.
Mommy's stellar planning: I had purchased ear plugs and an MP3 player for kidlet to help with noise modulation. We were going to two big cities (Chicago and Washington DC), and I knew we would be in some places that would be quite loud. He used ear plugs for the plane ride to Chicago and for one night in the hotel, but sleep wasn't really the issue for him. Places where noise bounces around a lot was. Shedd Aquarium - where he enjoyed the shows and looking at the fish, otters, sea lions, dolphins, beluga whales, etc. was loud. L.O.U.D. LOUD. My brother and I both got overwhelmed by it (why didn't I take my own MP3 player???), and I ended up leaving for an hour and a half to take a walk through downtown Chicago just to get away from it. But kidlet had (wisely) taken his MP3 player that day, and even if he didn't have music playing sometimes he'd just put the headphones on to mute the noise. He did great. Even after a very long day of a lot of walking, noise, chaos, and a professional soccer game (fortunately not one of the more well-attended stadiums in the MLS, so the noise was there, but not too bad), and staying up WAAAAY too late - he was, once again, a star traveler. 

I think I did a good job of setting up expectations, but even so the kidlet was disappointed that we didn't get to any museums on our first day at Washington DC. He was anxious that we wouldn't get there, which made him impatient with all the walking we did as we toured the US Capitol, wandered around the White House and federal buildings, and visited all the monuments  and memorials along the Capitol Mall. And he was hot. By the time we hit the Lincoln Monument at the south end of the Mall, he was ready to head back to the hotel and swim. This became a consistent refrain throughout the rest of our trip, "why don't we go back to the hotel now to swim?!" By our last day of vacation, my husband and I had begun joking about how the only things the kidlet was going to remember from this trip would be the hotel pools. The kidlet joined in on the joke and now, if you ask him, he will say, "We did a bunch of boring stuff, then went back to the hotel and swam in the pool!"

As great a traveler as the kidlet is (and he really is a stellar traveler!) I think I have learned a bit more about trying to pack too much into one trip. We did a lot, frequently felt rushed and as if we wanted to see more, but couldn't. The kidlet learned quite a bit about the Battle at Gettysburg while we toured the battlefield (daddy is a great teacher and tour guide!), but he didn't care. He also didn't care much about the colonial days as we visited Williamsburg ("we should go back to the hotel to swim!"). He was ambivalent about the Capitol and government sites in Washington DC, but he loved it when we started singing songs from Schoolhouse Rock. But best of all was going back to the hotel to swim.
"I'm just a Bill, yes I'm only a Bill,
and I'm sittin' here on Capitol Hill..."
So I guess the whole adventure was successful - even though the kidlet didn't appreciate much of what we did, he did learn about it. He watched and listened as daddy explained the back-and-forth nature of the Battle at Gettysburg, and would pipe in about if a particular spot was a good defensive position. He read the Gettysburg Address on the site where it was orated, and seemed to understand the significance of what both sides were fighting for in the Civil War. He understands our government, how checks-and-balances works, and the roles of Senators, Representatives, the President, and the Supreme Court in making laws that fit with our Constitution. And he saw real trilobite fossils and a really big giant squid (that was the thing for which he'd been waiting three years!).

And he really liked swimming. 

Lovin' the sweaty hair style in Williamsburg's 100 F.