Thursday, March 31, 2005

Homer Simpson Knows Me

"You couldn't fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electric fooling machine." Quoted here

I love that. I'm going to have a t-shirt made. Or maybe a plaque. HeeHee!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

What Fresh Middle School Hell is This?

#1 Son told me this morning that he had to wait in the car for a little while before I dropped him off because he "wasn't late enough to have a note." Huh? He explained to me that if you show up at 7:47 (school starts at 7:45) with a tardy note the office ladies will give you an infraction. "And if you don't have a note?" "You get an infraction for being tardy." I, of course, told him that if they tried to infract him for having a tardy note, he should get me on the phone so I could explain to them exactly how many kinds of crazy such behavior was.

On the one hand, I can kind of see their point. Why take two minutes writing a tardy note when you could just get to class on time already. Little to do they realize that I have prewritten tardy notes on a pad in my purse (yes, he's late that often) so I can rip off a note and hand it to him while pulling into the parking lot. (Yes, I'm that good! ;) I may not be punctual but I'm organized.

Anyway, he didn't call, so I assume he either a) didn't get hassled by the attendance ladies or b) didn't want Mom to come to school and make a scene. Either way, I hope his day ends better than it started.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Petty Tyrants in the Band Room

My #1 son is 2e, gifted and ADD. When he hit middle school, the whole world fell apart. First off, we didn't realize he was ADD because his giftedness masked it. The teachers at his elementary school were basing his grades on tests, not on whether he turned in his homework. Middle school seems to be the exact opposite.

The biggest problem is with Band, believe it or not. The kids are supposed to fill out practice charts every week and are then graded on how much they practice. #1 son was performing well in class and making A's on all his tests but picking up the piece of paper, bringing it home to sign and then bringing it back to school was completely beyond him. We tried everything to make it easier for him--giving a blanket practice chart approval to the band director, giving #1 permission to forge our names (he refused, too moral LOL). We appealed to his counselor, the school psychologist and the principal who said the decision was Band Director's. Even after the ADD was diagnosed, even though it was obvious through his in-class work that he *was* practicing, Band Director refused to loosen the practice chart requirement for him because "everyone else has to do it." So we taught #1 the concept of "petty tyrant" and accepted the C's on his report card. What else could we do?

To this day (that was two years ago), the requirement is the same. Luckily his medication is helping and now he turns in half of his practice charts instead of none. And the upshot is, my (school identified) musically-gifted son chose not to continue in band in high school because Band Director broke his spirit with the d*** practice charts. If I could have him fired, I would.

That lowest-common-denominator thinking just about killed him. I can only hope the high school will be better.

[I first told this story on Mensa's BrightKids Mailing list. Visit to subscribe!]

Monday, March 28, 2005

Teens and the First Amendment

Last Wednesday's Dear Abby column discussed the reader response to a student who had been punished for "respectfully disagreeing" with a teacher. Abby admitted she was wrong to have supported the teacher against the student's right to free speech. #1 son does a lot of what he calls "respectful disagreeing" with his teachers. Being 13-14, and having argued with him in the past, I wonder just how "respectful" he really is. But that's beside the point. He has a right to his opinions as long as they are appropriately expressed.

One of Abby's readers pointed out a story in USA Today, an op-ed about an op-ed from The Republican discussing a study about teens' understanding of the First Amendment, or lack thereof. The culture of "school" in this country is one of indoctrination--it rewards docility and agreement, not the free exchange of ideas. When I was in high school, the principal threatened to shut down our school paper rather than let a political cartoon critical of the new superintendent be published. This was 15 years after the Supreme Court ruled students' right to free speech did not stop at the schoolhouse door. (But before Hazelwood gave school principals the right to "edit" school newspapers.)

My point is, we as parents need to teach our gifted children their rights as well as their responsibilities in the classroom.

The Penguin Racer

Chester did the detail painting all by himself. All I did was cut out the feet (They're black plastic so they flutter when the car races. Looks like paddling. ;)

Friday, March 25, 2005

In praise of Madlibs

A couple quick thoughts today:

First, there are a number of gifted magnet schools in the Twin Cities area attempting to serve highly gifted students in the way that best meets their needs, even though the state has not mandated gifted education nor set aside funds to provide it. I tend to think that such a program, born of a motivated districts recognized need might work better than a state-mandated bureaucracy.

Second, Madlibs are one of the best games you can play with your gifted child, imho. The basic premise is a short story with a number of words removed. Without knowing what the story is about, one person asks the other for a word that matches the part of speech of the missing word. Hilarity ensues!

If you don't have any Madlibs books lying around your house from Scholastic book orders, you can play Madlibs on the web here or here. (These sites are not related in anyway to the Madlibs published by Scholastic, but they sure are fun.)

Madlibs are age-appropriate at any intellectual age, lets your kids (and you!) show off your huge vocabulary, and are also educational, by helping kids categorize the words they know as adverb, adjective, noun, etc. Last night my boys started challenging each other to think of words that could be used as more than one part of speech--moose (single and plural noun), fish (single noun, plural noun and verb), dogged (verb and adjective). I was even able to teach Chester a number of new words including voluminous (adj.) and Oy Vey! (exclamation). One caution, though. If you use the multiple use words too many times in a single Madlib, it will start to make sense and then isn't funny anymore.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Penguins, Cars and Asynchrony

Chester's Pinewood Derby is Monday night. Last year, one of the Tiger Cubs (first graders) brought in a Model A Ford to the Derby which won the design competition hands-down. But apparently some people complained that his dad had really done all the work which gave him an unfair advantage over the scouts who made their own cars. So this year, our Cub Scout pack laid down a rule that parents can do the cutting and use the power tools but the boys have to do all the sanding, painting, finishing, etc.

Penguin-lover that Chester is, he wants to make a penguin Derby car. We've been discussing the physics of penguins-turned-downhill-racers and drew (badly) several designs. Now Chester and Dad have finished the woodworking part and I've been appointed to show him how to mask the parts we don't want to paint and to supervise the painting process.

It's so very hard not to do this for him. The gifted experts talk about asynchrony--the famous example is of five-year-old hands trying to keep up with an eight-year-old mind. I know the frustration of trying to create something and having it fall far short of what I imagined--the watercolors muddy, the subtle line of highlight becomes a big white blob, the sculpted head looks leperous--I have the same problem even now. But my instinct is to try to help the boys avoid the self-disappointment that this asynchrony provides. My hand, while not particularly talented, is steadier than his. Why not "help" him achieve his goal?

I've noticed that my boys know if they ask for help on a big project, I'll usually end up doing it for them. Chester needed to clean out his fish tank the other day. I told him to make some more clean, treated water while I brought the tank into the bathroom and found a bowl to put his fish in. Even after I'd made it to the bathroom with the fish-transfer supplies, he was still standing there, waiting patiently with an empty water jug in his hand. Next thing I knew, I had taken his jug and started filling it up in the tub. Luckily, I realized what I was doing before the jug filled and I left him in charge of making the fish water. Yes, I still did most of the tank cleaning--it was a more thorough cleaning than we'd done in a long time--but I was careful to let him help by doing more than fetch and carry.

My hope for today is to let him do most of the penguin-car painting himself, too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Is Giftedness Pathological?

I've noticed a trend that disturbs me. There seems to be a tendency to lump gifted children in with disabled children in terms of school treatment. In fact in Florida, they are all served by the Exceptional Education department. Many teachers and parents are discussing gifted education in terms of pull-outs, special tutoring, IEPs (Individualized Education Plans)--are my kids being mainstreamed without my realizing it?

I mentioned yesterday that #1 son attended a magnet school for gifted students when he was in first grade. It was a terrific experience for him. Personally, as a former gifted student, teacher and current parent of gifted students, I think the teaching methods that work best for gifted children--working at their own pace, using outside-of-school resources, indulging their curiousity and creativity--are the best ways to teach all children, no matter how they've been labeled. I understand the difficulty of having a class of 30 all working on different levels, but if a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse could do it, I don't know why a present-day classroom teacher with more life experience and more education than most of those old schoolmarms couldn't pull it off.

After three years at middle school, #1 son is finally getting a good number of services from the GT department, including advancement into a more appropriate math class and a writing mentorship. He's also being forced to attend what are essentially group therapy sessions with other GT eighth graders to discuss how difficult it is to be gifted. Mind you, he's not been showing any more signs of stress lately. The program is just assuming that all GT kids are bullied and picked on and ostracized, and therefore must have low self-esteem. I remember similar attempts at intervention when I was in school based on absolutely nothing but my IQ score. A waste of programming time and money, imho.

Writer Stephanie Tolan suggests that education specialists are so used to looking for pathology that anything that deviates from the norm is considered pathological (see second half of the interview). She was discussing the link between giftedness and ADD, which I will take up at a later date, but I have to agree that the way the schools are treating gifted children--they're certainly "not normal"--is causing more of a problem than it helps.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

How Do You Know They're Gifted?

One of the most difficult problems facing parents of gifted children is getting acknowledgement that their children really do think differently than other children do. And once you get past the parental bragging hurdle, the "gifted" bar is always moving. For example, despite #1 Son being identified as gifted and attending first grade in a gifted magnet school in Colorado, when we moved here, one of the principal's I interviewed actually told me, "Just because he's gifted in Denver doesn't mean he's gifted here." Huh?

The schools are better here than they were in Denver which, #1's kindergarten teacher explained to me, is an "inner-city" school district. (I think that means they're allowed to have low test scores.) But a 150 IQ is the same all over the country, is it not? For those of you who are wondering what, if any, difference there is between the gifted and the A student, there's a great comparison here.

An illustrative story of my own:

At dinner one evening, about three years ago, #1 Son, then 11, asks, "If you were stranded on a desert island, what one thing would you want to have with you? I'd want a monkey to keep me company."

Mom says, "Internet access."

"Ketchup," says six-year-old Chester, the picky eater.

Wolfie (age 7) thinks about the problem a moment, then smiles. "Control of the whole world!" he says, and proceeds to explain how that would help him get back to civilization.

Monday, March 21, 2005

To Camp or Not to Camp, That is the Question

It's Spring Break time which, at my house, means the summer learning plans are in full swing. #1 Son (age 14) will be spending two weeks at Mori No Ike , the Japanese camp of the Concordia Language Villages. All three boys spent five days last August at Mori No Ike. #1 Son had no choice--he hadn't taken a language during middle school because "they don't offer Japanese" like they do in the high school. When I found out Concordia had a short-term "try-on" camp, I figured it would be the perfect way for him to find out if he actually hated Japanese and wanted to switch languages, so he wouldn't be two years behind the other French, German or Spanish students. Luckily, he loves the language and loved the camp, hence the two week visit this year. Concordia also offers month-long high school credit camps and study abroad programs that we'll look into for next year.

#2 Son, aka Wolfie, (11) liked Concordia but doesn't really like camp. He tends to be shy and two weeks isn't really enough time for him to warm up to anything. He went to overnight YMCA camp (less than a week) when he was 8 and was very uncomfortable. At Concordia he had both his brothers around, but it's not an experience he wants to repeat. (And #1 Son would like to go by himself this time, please!)

#3 Son, aka Chester, (just about 10) hated Concordia, not because he doesn't like camp, but because the immersion technique completely threw him. Chester is very concrete and likes things spelled out neat and orderly, not "Guess what I mean when I say X." He's a joiner and likes new experiences, but language camp was not a good fit. I thought he might like it once he got the hang of it, but he never got the hang.

Wolfie was tapped by the Midwest Academic Talent Search this year, so we've been getting all kinds of information on academic camps. Many of them sound like a lot of fun, but Wolfie is determined to do nothing but play video games this summer. We even found him a two week camp at a junior high near his grandparents' house so he wouldn't have to stay in the dorm and deal with the social stuff that is so disconcerting for him, but no. "I already have Orchestra. Isn't that enough?" (He will be in middle school next year, so has summer orchestra through the schools.) I'm torn about whether I should force him to go for his own good or let him stay home like he wants to.

Chester is hoping to take an acting class at the local children's theater during the summer. The class is boys only, thank goodness. ;) Signup starts April 1, so keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Fascinating Introduction

Welcome to Growing Up Gifted! I think too often parents are reluctant or even afraid to share the positive side of having smart kids for fear others will think they're bragging, rather than astonished. This fear isolates gifted families and we each end up having to reinvent the wheel to get our kids' special needs met in the school and in the community. Growing Up Gifted is intended to be a place for gifted families to celebrate their children's gifts, as well as a resource and support during difficult times.