Saturday, May 9, 2015

TSL is Moving!

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Early Enrollment Myths: Social And Emotional Fit

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Image: Alkawa Ke

B mentioned a few months ago that she'd like to go to school next year.

Her request caused a myriad of emotions that I am working through, but that is a different post.

We are fortunate to live in an area with many charter schools and a good public school district. I found a small Montessori-based charter for next year, and set a time for her to shadow a classroom and see what it was like. While she visited, I sat down with the assistant director to ask some important questions.

Among other things, I asked how the school approached teaching a child who was in 2nd grade, but working at a much higher level in some subjects. The answer was reasonable - the kids are assessed at the beginning of the year to determine their academic levels. If they are working at various grade levels, they are placed in the appropriate grade for the that part of the day. Classes are multi-age. Students are grouped K/1st, 1st/2nd, and 3rd/4th. Chances are good that B will spend part of her day in the 1st/2nd class and the majority in the 3rd/4th class.

I asked about early enrollment for kindergarten. C will turn 5 a few months after the August cut-off date. I don't plan on sending her to school at this point, but sometimes life throws you a curve ball, and I like to know my options. I don't think preschool would be a good fit.  She is reading well and catching on to math quickly - she has almost caught up to B without any formal instruction. Her favorite friends are 6 & 7 and they like to play with her too.  The K/1st class could be a good option for her.

The administrator's tone changed.

"We do not take any early enrollment. We have found that it is rarely a good social fit."

She continued,

"You know, it's really much better for them not to start early. You see it clearly right around middle school and high school. It's difficult for them to be emotionally younger than their classmates.  They have a hard time fitting in."

I sighed inwardly as I heard the fallacy that so many teachers and administrators believe despite the well-researched work of Assouline and Coangelo and many others. "Acceleration is bad. It doesn't work socially. We should slow them down when they are young so they will fit in as teenagers."

She couldn't see the contradiction in her answers. According to that philosophy, won't B run into the same problems? What if B completes the work through 4th grade - will they keep her in the building so she will be with age-peers instead of moving her on to the 5th-8th grade campus?

More importantly, if you have a child who is learning at a rapid speed, whose mind is years ahead and they don't fit in with age-peers at four or five years old, why on earth would you assume that same child will magically fit in with age-peers in seven years when they begin middle school?

As Ann Shoplik wisely said, "Academically talented children may complain because they feel “different” or socially isolated from other students in their grade. Moving them ahead actually helps them to fit in better, because they share similar interests with the older students who are closer to their intellectual level."

B is still thinking her about her final decision. She's talked to me about the pros and cons and will make her choice by the end of June.

If she goes, how will I advocate for her? If C follows in a year, how do I encourage administration to look beyond her age, and to her personality and ability?  Have you been through this or have similar questions of your own?

Thankfully, my friend Celi from Crushing Tall Poppies just wrote a book that answers many of these questions, and she'll be guest posting here next week!

A few resources on acceleration and early enrollment:

Skip a Grade? Start Kindergarten Early? It's not so Easy - NPR

What is Holding Back America's Brightest Students? - Jonathan Wai @ 

Accelerated - Noah's Story

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Fog Always Lifts

March is over.

Thank goodness.

I don't know what causes it - the stars, the ides, my luck - but March has been a historically difficult month for me. Some years it's sickness. One year brought a miscarriage, two other years it was the month miscarried babies were to be born. Still a different year, my grandfather, in the early stages of dementia, disappeared. He was found a week later in our neighboring state, disoriented and looking for home. His car was drivable, but a wreck. Where had he been?

I feel a bit like that car after last month. I'm still in working order, but it's hard to say where I've been. My pen stopped writing. I felt heavy. There were far too many moments that I felt like jumping in the car, blasting my Lumineers playlist, and getting lost.

But it's April now, and it's going to be alright.

It's normal to feel like this occasionally. It happens to everyone. Studies show that the gifted may be affected by depression to a higher degree due to our heightened responses to emotions.

This particular round brought a suitcase full of negative self-talk.

"You can't do this."
"Why are you trying? You're doing an awful job."
"You have let this happen."
"Look what _____ is doing. Why can't you do that?"
"Why did you say that? You sound so stupid."

And a whole course of other unkind words.

I am a naturally optimistic person. Where others see a problem or pathology, I usually find the hope and the benefits of the situation. But sometimes the pessimism creeps in like a weed and becomes a struggle to uproot.

image: Hammonton Photography

So what to do?

1. Self-Affirmation, or Be Your Best Friend.
When I counsel teens, I often mention self-affirmation. I say, "Look in the mirror. Tell yourself three positive things about you. Do it every day. Soon, you'll mean it, and it won't be difficult to think of them anymore."

Have I been doing this myself? No. Instead, I've been berating myself in my head for what I have and haven't done, for what my kids are and aren't doing, for how I sounded on that phone call, for how my jeans fit...and on and on.

I have to be my own best friend. If I wouldn't say it to my best friend, I shouldn't say it to myself.

2. Reach Out. Talk to a Someone, or Write it Down.
Tell a friend how you are feeling. Talk to a loved one. If that seems insurmountable, get a journal. Write a letter that describes how you feel, maybe several. Describe the hopelessness. Ask yourself what life feels like when you are not in this place, and how you will know when it’s getting better.

Just mentioning how I was feeling to a friend, without detail, but acknowledging it, was the first step in managing my feelings. The cloud I was was under lost a bit of its force, and I was able to write about it to myself in detail.

3. Get Outside. Get Some Exercise.
Sunlight and fresh air does wonders for the mental state. It's spring now. Taking a quiet walk, noticing the budding leaves and flowers brings me some new perspective. If you are a runner who has been languishing through the colder months, put those running shoes back on and clear your head. Kara at Quill and Camera recommended this 7 minute workout app for those with limited time, and it looks great.

I've started jogging in the morning or doing yoga. Both get my endorphins going and I feel the effects for the whole day.

4. Do Something Nice for Yourself. 
Buy yourself some bright flowers. Make something pretty. Give yourself a few moments to sit in silence and breathe. Get that book you've been meaning to read.

I just bought a new spring dress, and I plan to wear it and walk in sunshine and tell myself happy things.

5. Practice Mindfulness.
You hear that so often these days that it sounds like just another buzzword. Why is it important?. It's easy to get so caught up in just surviving that we forget to stop and notice how we feel right now.

I find my most peaceful moments with my youngest, once her unending energy has calmed and she is asleep. I snuggle up and breathe deeply with her. I visualize all of my stresses seeping out of me and out of her window because they are simply not allowed in her room.

Concentrate less on how you felt yesterday, or might feel tomorrow. Be present in today.

It feels as though I am alone during these melancholy days, but I know I'm not. I'd love you to comment and tell me how you get through the more difficult times!

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Art of Carefully Stepping Out of the Way

image: Rachel Samanyl. Modifications: TSL
Do you interrupt your children's learning?

I recently found some new games for the iPad, including one called "Montezuma Puzzle". It's basically a puzzle version of Tetris. The game displays an empty box, along with a bunch of different shaped pieces and your job is to fit them all together.

The girls and I worked together at first, and then I found other things to do. I walked by to check their progress and saw that B had discovered the "hint" button. They were now using it to complete about 85% of the puzzle.

I scolded them a bit for using it to guide them. B argued back, followed by abandoning the game to do something else. Both girls were now grumpy and bickered back and forth during their play.

I was annoyed with myself. I had interfered and created an issue where there was none. The girls had been independently taking turns, assisting each other and having fun. They just weren't doing it the way I expected them to.

Over the next week, they played the game together on and off. If I had the urge to look or comment, I busied myself with something else.

And then I heard, "Ok, if you can't figure it out, use the hint."

I sat down near them to spy. B and C were completing the puzzles by themselves, asking each other for advice when they got stumped, and using the hint button on the harder puzzles.

I had failed to recognize in the early days of play that they were naturally scaffolding. The puzzles were new and challenging, and the hint wasn't cheating; it was modeling. The girls were moving through the steps of learning...examples, modeling, try it with some help, do it independently. When I got involved, I disturbed their flow. The process became frustrating and annoying, and came to a halt.

The key lesson about unschooling that I have found to be the most challenging and most necessary to learn is this: I have to get out of the way. Be a facilitator. Not a micromanager.

Adults are used to sequential learning, because it's how most of us were taught. Some kids learn well this way, some do not. No matter the method of choice, all kids LEARN, with or without adults peeking over their shoulder. I find every day that more learning is accomplished without my intervention.

It's been a transformation for me. I began as a public school teacher and became a structured homeschooler. Life happened, and we became "relaxed homeschoolers" which led to my discovery that less is more, especially when it comes gifted kids, and unschooling was the best fit for us.

B summed it up succinctly the other day while experimenting in the kitchen. I offered her a cookbook, to which she replied, "Why would I want to follow a boring recipe, Mom? It's way more fun to not know what I am doing at first, and keep trying. All of a sudden, my brain figures it out, and I know just what I need to do."

Yes, indeed.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Day My Kids Tried to Capture the Neighbors

My kids come up with some pretty crazy ideas. They are imaginative and funny, with a good dose of mischief.

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in Northern Arizona. While my east coast friends and family have piles of snow to play in, we have crisp air, and sunshine that feels like spring. 

I sat in the back yard working on a paper for a class while my girls played, They both mentioned riding bikes, so I suggested that we ride bikes to our neighborhood park, where they could continue playing together, and I could concentrate on my work. 

Once we arrived, B decided that she wanted to climb a tree, study nature and write in her journal. C was lonely and needed someone to play with. Her attempts to cajole B out of the tree were met with disdain, so she turned to me for entertainment. 

I played for a bit, but I really needed to get going on my paper. I asked B to please find it in her heart to come down from the tree and play with her sister. 

They raced around and had a snack, and interrupted my train of thought about every 45 seconds. This was not working.

"Guys. PLEASE figure out something to play. Make up a game. Have a contest. Please play without me for fifteen minutes."

Off they went, and I was able to make some good headway on my assignment. 

About ten minutes later, a school bus dropped some high school students off at the sidewalk. I looked around to see what the girls were doing. I saw C, waving at the bus driver and students, but I couldn't see B from my place in the grass. I stood up, and spotted B under her bike. It looked as though she had taken a spill. I quickened my pace.

"B, are you alright? What happened?"

"Mom, go away! You'll ruin our plan!"


"Yes. We are trying to get someone to come help us so we can capture them!"

Upon further investigation, I discovered that the point of the pretend game was to make drivers think that B was in peril (she was also mouthing "help" so drivers could see her, but I wouldn't hear her), and then when someone stopped, B & C would capture the unsuspecting helper and tie them to a tree!

I was torn between laughing hysterically and tying them to a tree. ;)

I decided that it was time to go home.

I am pretty sure that this will not be their craziest scheme, considering they are only 4 and 6. 

What is the wildest plot your kids have come up with? Share it with me in the comments - I'd love to know I'm in good company!


Monday, January 19, 2015

{GHF Blog Hop} Gifted in Reel Life: Those Quirky Red Boots

One of my favorite movies depicting a gifted person is "All About Steve" with Sandra Bullock. (Warning: the movie/trailer is PG-13. Also, this may post may contain spoilers. And, to be fair, the trailer is a terrible representation of the movie. But I digress.)

In the movie, Bullock plays Mary Horowitz, a crossword puzzle constructor (a cruciverbalist - don't you love that word?) with an awful lot of quirks.
The synopsis from IMDB describes the story as such: 
"Crossword puzzle constructor Mary Horowitz (Sandra Bullock) is smart, pretty - and a natural disaster that shakes news cameraman Steve (Bradley Cooper) to the core. Set up on a blind date with Steve, Mary thinks the chemistry is undeniable and just knows she's found her soulmate. She decides to do anything and go anywhere to be with him. Mary's escalating infatuation is encouraged by the self-serving actions of news reporter Hartman Hughes (Thomas Haden Church) who enjoys torturing his insolent cameraman at every opportunity. As the news team crisscrosses the country covering breaking news stories, Steve becomes increasingly unhinged as Mary trails them. But when the overzealous Mary becomes embroiled in the news story of the year, Steve and Hartman begin to see her differently. Mary has fallen down a mineshaft and steve feels guilty for knowing its his fault she is down there. Mary manages to get out of the mineshaft and races into the arms of her new odd-ball friends."

When I first heard about the movie, my thoughts were, "Bradley Cooper and Sandra Bullock? Fun romantic comedy? Sure!"

Instead, I found a fairly accurate depiction of a highly gifted woman, living unapologetically in a world that just didn't get her.

The movie critics and the majority of online reviewers gave this movie an average of 1.5 stars, and had nothing nice to say about the plot or the characters. They saw Mary as a ditsy, emotionally clueless woman looking for love. One reviewer called her referred to her as "intended as the kind of crazy tornado who makes all the normal people reconsider their lives, but just unbelievably irritating in practice".  The first part of the movie depicts her as a sex-starved woman, desperate for human contact.

Pretty harsh. Are you wondering what I found positive about this movie?

As the movie progressed, I saw in Mary's character a brilliant, kind, enthusiastic, endlessly optimistic person who is able to see far beyond the horizon that most people look at. I loved Mary's dialogue in the movie...a constant stream of information and language, banter that few around her appreciate.

Mary tells jokes that only she laughs at. She loves words with a passion, and it pains her when they are used incorrectly, or are misunderstood. She is a walking thesaurus and encyclopedia on just about every subject. She is awkward.  She jumps into the deep end of a relationship with abandon, and doesn't notice when others don't follow.

*     *     *     *     *

...sound familiar yet? Or am I the only one who has "The Secret Life of Pronouns" on my bookshelf?

*     *     *     *     *

Mary has a pair of favorite red boots that she wears every day, every where. They don't make sense to other people. It makes others uncomfortable, somehow, to see Mary wear these ridiculous boots all the time. Why can't she just wear something normal?

Mary is intense, and this really bothers people, fictional and non-fictional.

*     *     *     *     *

Are you, or your children attached to certain pieces of clothing, a blanket or other item that just feels right? As Mary says when asked why she wears the boots, "Because it makes my toes feel like ten friends on a camping trip, that's why."  Don't let anyone tell you that's not okay! 

*     *     *     *     *

The depiction of Mary throughout the movie  can be painful to watch.

She is continually mocked, misunderstood, and portrayed to be a crazy stalker who doesn't understand social nuances. Her good will is taken advantage of for the benefit of others.

There is a scene in which she talks to a group of children about her job. She describes the joy of writing crossword puzzles, but the children can't get past the fact that she lives with her parents, is single, and doesn't appear to be very successful. She is ridiculed by a roomful of 10 year olds.

Her relationship skills leave something to be desired. She is placated by her date, Steve, who creates an emergency work situation to get out of his date with her. "Yeah, I wish you could be there with me..." She takes his words seriously, literally and directly to heart. She plans the future with these words.

*     *     *     *     *   

One time at the doctor's office, B asked many questions about a surgery the doctor told her he was performing the following day. She asked him if she could come watch the next one. "Oh sure," he replied. "You can come watch me any time."  As she planned the rest of her week around the surgery she was going to get to assist with, I told him that she was going to expect to join him in the OR if he said things like that. She was crushed when he explained that she couldn't really watch him, and he was just joking. "I've never met a kid like her before..." he mused as we left. 

*     *     *     *     *   

Mary travels via bus across the country after Steve. While on the bus, she dispenses data and fun details about everything she sees and hears. Her knowledge is extensive, and she loves to share. She doesn't notice the reaction of the people around her. They are annoyed, frustrated, and just want her to be quiet. The bus driver tricks her into getting off of the bus and strands her at a gas station in the desert.

For talking too much.  For being different.

"I'm not good at...silence. 'Mary doesn't do quiet', that's how my grandmother always said it. 'What's that hush?' she'd holler at a party. 'It's Mary about to talk', then she'd laugh and laugh and laugh. Everybody would...but I knew something they didn't – that is you keep talking, if you keep on talking, you don't hear people saying they don't like you. And if you're talking, you just might not hear it when some kid...calls you a freak.”

Words can be a great comfort in a world that doesn't understand you.

*     *     *     *     *

In our household, we have a high volume of long conversations that begin with, "Mom, want to know something?"  There is always a new thought, an idea to consider, or knowledge to share. It's painful to consider how this would be perceived and reacted to in many venues.

*     *     *     *     *

Along the way, Mary gets involved in various social actions, and demonstrates the depth of her empathy, and ability to see the good in others. She makes friends with people who are also a little off the beaten track, and love her for who she is, red boots and all. As Steve says, "She sees things other people don't...she doesn't pretend to be anything she's not."

She finds her tribe.

image: Graham Keen

I can't help myself. I love this movie, I love her character. I relate.

Have you seen this movie? Did you hate it? Love it? What movie characters do you see glimpses of yourself in?

This blog post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers' Forum January Blog Hop - Gifted in Reel Life. Please join me in reading the insightful and humorous blogs about how gifted children and adults are portrayed in books and media here, or click the image below! 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Grammar Lessons: Learning is a Verb

I am starting my graduate program today.

I will be studying Marriage and Family Therapy over the next few years, and hope to primarily counsel gifted adults, children and families eventually, and use my skills and knowledge to help this exceptional subset, among others.

I am a kid on the first day of school.

I woke up several times thinking about my classes. I only hit the "snooze" button twice this morning. I logged on to my computer at 5:30am and read my course plan, my goals and assignments, until the excitement to write about it overwhelmed my need to memorize my syllabus.

This is what being inspired to learn feels like. This is the spark of passion, the eagerness to follow a new path.

Learning and school should feel this exciting for our kids.

Let's teach them that learning isn't sitting at a desk for eight hours, listening to an adult tell them what to think and how to understand, then completing hours and hours of homework in the evening.

Let's teach them that learning is passion - self-directed, need-to-know, delve in deep passion. Learning is questions that keep your mind awake far past your bedtime, discussion that exhausts your parents, and a book that you just can't put down.

Acquiring knowledge is not accomplished by sitting still. Let's teach them to move, to fidget, to run, to pace, and let their brains sort through all of their thoughts and ideas.

Learning is not a one-dimensional activity. Enable the children to pick their own resources and topics, permit them design their projects. Allow them to sit and just think for awhile, without feeling pressured to answer.  Accept that "the project" can be simply letting the information be absorbed and become imagery in their heads, that will materialize once it is processed. Be patient.

Learning is a verb. Let's get out of the way, and let our kids show us which direction they'd like to go when we stop treating it like a noun.