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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Gifted Children and Afterschooling

When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool

Quick question: What do handwriting legibility and mathematical ability have in common? If you think like me, your answer would be “Nothing at all.” That’s why it can be especially frustrating for parents of gifted children to see their son or daughter’s academic progress held back because of poor penmanship.

Yes, an eight-year-old boy could try harder in cursive. Yes, being able to write about your mathematical thinking is important occasionally. But in my mind as a former public school teacher, handwriting and expository writing should have nothing to do with a child’s grade in mathematics nor should they impede his learning progress. For gifted children, this is like throwing a wet blanket on a crackling fire.

Unfortunately, in teacher credentialing school I received almost not training in dealing with gifted children. So it is probably a safe assumption that the regular education teachers you encounter in your own child’s public school experience will have a similar lack of training in gifted education. They will most likely care very deeply about your child, but they might not fully understand how to best meet your gifted child’s needs.

This is why gifted education programs in public education are so critical. I myself and a testament to their effectiveness, having grown up in the San Diego Seminar Program. Now my own son is thriving in a similar program for gifted children in our school district. Sadly, not every gifted child in  America is as lucky.

When I taught school in Northern California the prevailing belief seemed to be that “All children are gifted in some way.” There was also the opinion out there that “If Johnny is so smart, then why can’t he behave and make friends?” Or back to the math example, “If Katie is so smart at math, why can’t she write about her explanation, and why can’t I read her handwriting?”

Even now almost ten years later, I am extremely frustrated to think about how regular education failed two of my former students who I am sure were gifted. I advocated for those children and accommodated their needs as best as I could, but in a regular education program I could only do so much.  Homogeneous grouping would have allowed them to feel normal, but I couldn’t give them that peace.

So if you are the parent of a gifted child in a school district that does not offer gifted education services, what can you do? The first thing is know that homeschooling can be a viable option. Check out Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Well Trained Mind for a virtual how-to manual for giving your child a rigorous, quality education at home. But homeschooling is certainly not for everyone. It is not a choice that would work out well in my own household for example. A better choice for us is Afterschooling.

In simplest terms, Afterschooling is when your children attend a brick and mortar school, but you augment their education at home in a structured and meaningful way. For gifted children, Afterschooling can be a sanity saver. While public school might be unintentionally stamping out your  child’s natural fire for learning, you can fan those flames at home with appropriately paced instruction and keep their spark burning.

When my son was five he was in a regular-ed AlternateDay Kindergarten program which was created due to the school district’s severe budgetary constraints. My son benefited from all of the social interaction school provided, and loved his teacher, his friends, PE, library time, and music. However, the Kindergarten curriculum itself was extremely simple for him, so in our off hours I worked with him on math, reading, and science concepts that were at his appropriate level, and which he was enthusiastic about learning.

Many parents of gifted children are already doing this intuitively but are unfamiliar with the term “Afterschooling”. Mistakenly, they might mention to their friends that “Little Suzie goes to school but I am homeschooling her in the off hours.” But if you said this to an actual homeschooling parent, they might be very offended. Homeschoolers have to deal with an entirely different set of legal challenges than an Afterschooling family. Homeschooling and Afterschooling are similar but not the same thing, so be careful to not accidentally put your foot in your mouth!

If you are new to the concept of Aftesrchooling, where should you start? Well, maybe it’s easier to explain where you should not start. Do not go to Costco and buy a workbook. Ditto with Barnes and Noble. What your child does not need is more of the same thing he or she might be getting at school, and chances are, your accelerated child has already spent a lot of time in the corner of her classroom doing advanced worksheets.

A better way to go would be to start with your child’s interests. Does he like science? Check out the free science ideas at Science Without A Net. Does she like math? Sign her up for Dreambox Learning or consider purchasing the abacus kit from Right Start Math. Is he interested in engineering? Buy a Snap Circuits kit for Christmas. Does your whole family enjoy history? Try listening to Story of the World, History for the Classical Child in the car.  Let’s not forget to add Royal Fireworks Press to your radar, where Michael Clay Thomspon has created a novel curriculum designed specifically for gifted children.

For those fortunate enough to live in well performing school districts, or a school with a gifted education program, Afterschooling might be something you would choose to do over summer, in a light-handed way during the school year, in the car, or through carefully chosen read alouds at bedtime. If you live in a low performing or struggling school district, the role of Afterschooling becomes more critical.  (For more ideas on where to start with Afterschooling, click here).

You the parent are ultimately in charge of your child’s education. Make sure his or her fire for learning doesn’t flicker out.

Welcome to the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour, 2012

I am one lucky mom. We live in a school district with an absolutely fabulous gifted program whose teachers understand and support my child’s unique learning needs. Not only that, but once a week when the school bus rolls away, I get to head to our local tea shop and chat with other moms of gifted children. No behavioral or academic issue is too crazy for these fine ladies, because they have dealt with it all. Not once has a conversation ever started with “If your son is so smart then why can’t he_______?”

A year ago when my son was in a regular education classroom things were very different. Even then, I was very lucky to have support. I thought back to my own time growing up in the San Diego Seminar Program, and emailed the mom of the smartest, funniest, craziest, most brilliant kid I knew. “Help me Mrs. G.” I said. “Help me help my child, because I don’t know what to do for him.” It was through her guidance and connections that I found out about SENG, which has been an enormous help.

Around that same time I also read Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s book The Well Trained Mind, and had the privilege of learning from other parents on The Well Trained Mind’s online message board, Hive-Mind. The Accelerated Learner Board there is a wealth of information.

If you are the parent of a gifted child then I sincerely hope you have your own circle of tea shop ladies, and your own version Mrs. G. on speed-dial ready to call in the face of your next parenting emergency. Real life friends who understand can’t be beat. But in reality, there are a heck of a lot of gifted children in this world feeling like nobody understands what they are going through, and if you double that then you can include their parents in that number too. I helped organize the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour, 2012 with other people I met on the Accelerated Learner Board to give these parents a virtual hug.

Each day of the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour, a new parent is sharing. Every voice counts; yours included, so be sure to leave a comment and share your thoughts too. We also still have room for more guest posts on Friday, July 21st, so please send me an email at: teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com if you are interested in writing something.

Pour yourself a cup of tea each day, and follow our blog links all across America:

On July 15th Our Roxaboxen Adventures will discuss Identifying Gifted Minority Students.

On July 16th Sceleratus Classical Academy will share Don’t Panic! Musings about realizing that your child’s learning pattern is ahead of schedule.

On July 17th Teaching My Baby to Read will feature When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool.

On July 18th Homeschooling: or Who’s Ever Home will write about A Broader Definition of Success for Gifted Children.

On July 19th A Tree House Education will feature Why Homeschooling 2E Kids Makes Sense. Homeschool in Florida will share Get Out of Your Own Way: How to Listen to the Needs of Your Gifted Child.

On July 20th Making Music With Kids will discuss Getting Teachers on Your Side. Finding the Right Fit for Gifted Young Children. Barely Educational will offer Worrying , Over-Analysis and Parenting your Gifted Child.

On July 21st Teaching my Baby to Read will feature Welcome to CruisingDancing with Dragons will write about Teaching the Visual Spatial Learner: When Your Child Thinks in Pictures.


I’ll be taking a vacation from blogging new posts this week, with the exception of my post on July 18th. Thank you to everyone who has made this blog tour happen; readers included!

A Pitiful Day

I think maybe I should reread my post about Intensity. My husband thinks I should write a post titled “If it wasn’t this, it would just be something else….”

Anyhow, yesterday Whole Foods had a Pacific Northwest Cherry sale where they were selling a case of cherries for $32 which works out to $1.99 a pound. I bought two cases and the kids and I processed 32 pounds of cherries.

Luckily, we have a cherry pitter. But even still, we 16 bags of cherries to deal with.

Next month as part of my A STEM Summer plans, we are going to spend a day learning about engineering, manufacturing, and the assembly line process. So yesterday while we were all covered in cherry juice, I started pre-teaching those concepts. Jenna(3) took the stems off. I was the washer. Bruce(7) was the pitter. We talked about how boring it was to stay at that one post, but yet how efficient it was too. Bruce started to develop a cherry callous on one hand from punching out pits! We were all thankful that it was a typical July day in Western Washington (62 degrees), instead of my great-grandma’s farmhouse kitchen in Kansas (101 degrees).

The kids stuck it out with me through 8 quarts of canned cherries in apple juice and then they got to watch Phineas and Ferb while I got the water bath canner going. After the first box of cherries I ran out of quart jars and had to start making jam. Then I ran out of jam jars, and had to start freezing cherries. We now have about fifteen pounds of cherries in our freezer and all of us feel a bit ill.

Engineering on Thursdays, Day 2

Week 2 of A STEM Summer’s theme is Farms. For our environmental engineering project, we built a solar oven. (Full directions can be found here.)

We did not follow the directions exactly in that we didn’t use a pizza box. So feel free to “wing it” on the materials. Since Puget Sound is not known for hot summers, we also had to be flexible about sunshine. It was only in the mid-60s when we tried cooking in our solar oven, but this was still enough to melt the chocolate.

I say “we”, but really it was just Jenna(3) and I building this today because Bruce(7) was in a bit of a funk. He did decide to participate for the smores eating portion of the project however. The good news is that we ended up proving that this was a fun project for a preschooler to do too.

A few days later Bruce was inspired to tackle the project himself using random supplies from our house. We are waiting for sun to give this oven a try!

Technology on Wednesday, Day 2

Here is the movie my son Bruce(7) made from our trip to the Woodland Park Zoo.  I am teaching him how to upload pictures from a flash memory disc and use Windows Movie Maker.  Bruce used a lot of special effects for this 3 minute film, so hopefully you don’t get seasick.  🙂

Art on Mondays, Day 2

I’ve said it before, but I have to say it again:  I AM SO NOT AN ART MOM!!!!  Oh my goodness this summer is really pushing me out of my comfort zone.  We didn’t even own any paint before I started my A STEM Summer plans.  Irene Luzbacher’s 123 I Can Paint is the perfect, inexpensive book for me because it is holding my hand through the whole process. (Here are my Week 2 plans for A STEM Summer.)

Lesson #21 (pp 8-9) is called “Light and Dark” and it teaches the vocabulary word tone.

This is Bruce’s final product. He’s 7.

This is Jenna’s work. She’s almost 3.

Here are my results. I’m 30-something. 🙂

A cup of coffee and the morning paper

My “I Brake for Moms” column in The Weekly Herald this week.

Chihuly for Kids

Last weekend my family went to visit the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. Afterwards we ate lunch at Collections Cafe, which is part of Chihuly Garden and Glass and located right at the base of the Space Needle. In all honestly, it was the most pleasant meal my family has had in recent memory.

The weather was nice, we were seated outside, there was live music off in the distance, and my children were (for once) well behaved and ate everything on their plates. Bruce and Jenna shared grilled cheese, French fries, watermelon, berries, cookies and milk. I had an excellent gluten free chicken salad with pear cider, and my husband ordered a hamburger. We paid about $15 more than if we had eaten in the nearby food court, but this was money well spent.

The surreal moment for me as a mommy-blogger, was sitting at our table and using my husband’s smart phone to look up a blog post on Exploring More that shared ways to teach your children about Dale Chihuly. My seven-year-old was instantly hooked by Mr. Chihuly’s eye-patch and wanted to learn more. So the next day we did our own Chihuly inspired art project, taking our directions from the Boston based author of Exploring More .

For our version, we painted white coffee filters with finger paint. Then we arranged the filters over plastic cups to dry. While they were drying we gave them a good dose of spray starch which I purchased at Fred Meyer for about $2. The filters were so wet by this point that it took a full 24 hours for them to dry.

Once the filters were dry I (the adult) used a hot glue gun to attach them all together, and finish our “installation”. This ended up being a family art project, because it took all of our filters together to create one piece.

My mom and some out of town guests have already visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit and absolutely loved it, but Grandma cautioned me that it would probably not be a very fun place to take children who “had a hard time containing themselves”. Since my own kids make me nervous just standing next to my china cabinet, I don’t know if I’ll be taking my kids to the Glasshouse anytime soon. We will certainly be going back to the restaurant however! 🙂

Inspired by the Woodland Park Zoo

We are going to the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle later this week, and that got me to thinking. When we first moved to Edmonds I had never had a vegetable garden before. The kiddie farm area at the Zoo really inspired me. (See Bruce’s movie here.)   Now, six years later, my family has really copied a lot from what the Zoo’s demo garden has taught us.

We have grapes….

a mini dwarf apple orchard and blueberries…

perennials like asparagus…

sunchokes, rhubarb and artichokes…

a gigantic raspberry patch…

including yellow raspberries…

multiple compost systems…

and the capacity to grow killer green tomatoes.

Now I just need to convince my husband that we should get chickens…

A STEM Summer, Week #2

For those of you following along, here are my Week 2 Plans for A STEM Summer.

Weekly Theme: Farms

Monday/ART: Light and Dark pp. 8-9 in I Can Paint! by Irene Luxbacher

Tuesday/SCIENCE: Soda Bottle Terrarium

Wednesday/TECHNOLOGY: Visit the Woodland Park Zoo

Thursday/ENGINEERING: Build a solar oven

Friday/MATH: Fun with the Math Balance (Jenna), Hands on Equations(Bruce)

Materials Needed:

Art: green, white, black, blue, red and yellow paint, art paper, and (optional) a foam roller

Science: a 2-liter bottle of soda (with cap), soil, rocks or pebbles, a sharpie, seeds and/or small plants, and (optional) activated charcoal and spaghnum moss

Engineering: 1 pizza box, newspaper, scissors, tape black paper, plastic wrap, foil and a ruler

Build a Boat

A couple of weeks ago my kids and I went to a special event at Cama Beach State Park on Camano Island. A wonderful volunteer there named Mr. Bob was teaching kids how to build boats. My son Bruce(7) had sooooo much fun with this, especially because real tools were involved. I thought this would be a great engineering project for Week One of my A STEM Summer plans.

The first step was to use a hand drill to drill a hole in the boat’s hull.

The next step was to hammer little nails all around the boat’s deck for the “railings”.

A wooden dowel went into the drilled hole for a mast, and string wound around the nails for the deck railings.

Then Bruce added a sail and some decorations, and he was all done!

Parenting the Gifted BlogTour, 2012

Teaching My Baby to Read is very excited to be participating in the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour 2012 from July 15-21st. This blog tour is organized by parents who met on The Well Trained Mind Message boards and who would like to help celebrate SENG’s National Parenting Gifted Children Week 2012.

This blog tour is not officially associated with The Well Trained Mind or SENG, but we are parents with experience and insights to share.  We come from different parts of the country, different school choices, and different social and economic backgrounds, but we all have one thing in common. We know that parenting a gifted child can sometimes be as challenging as it is rewarding.

If you have ever woken up at 3 AM in the morning wondering “What am I going to do with this child?” then this blog tour is for you!

From July 15-21 the Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour will discuss some of the most pertinent issues facing gifted education today:

On July 15th Childhood Inspired will write about “Loneliness as a Gifted Parent”. Our Roxaboxen Adventures will discuss “Identifying Gifted Minority Students”.

On July 16th Sceleratus Classical Academy will share “Don’t Panic! Musings about realizing that your child’s learning pattern is ahead of schedule.”

On July 17th Teaching My Baby to Read will feature “When School Isn’t Enough; Fanning the Flames of Learning Afterschool”.

On July 18th Homeschooling: or Who’s Ever Home will write about “A Broader Definition of Success for Gifted Children”.

On July 19th A Tree House Education will feature “2E Issues”. Homeschool in Florida will share “Get Out of Your Own Way: How to Listen to the Needs of Your Gifted Child”.

On July 20th Making Music With Kids will discuss “Finding a Good Fit for a Preschooler You Suspect is Gifted”. Barely Educational will offer “Worrying Too Much and Overanalyzing Parenting”

On July 21st Teaching My Baby to Read will feature guest posts. Dancing with Dragons will write about “Teaching the Visual Spatial Learner: When Your Child Thinks in Pictures”.

Teaching my Baby to Read still has room for more guest posts, so if you have something on your heart that you would like to share, please email Jenny via Teachingmybabytoread at gmail dot com.

King Tut Here We Come!

Our family has tickets to go see the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center this summer and everyone but our two-year-old is super excited. In order to help prepare my seven-year-old for this experience, I purchased a copy of Who Was King Tut? by Roberta Edwards, which is written at the third grade reading level and includes lots of pictures.

Another book we already own that talks about King Tut is Historical Heroes, Wickedly Funny Profiles of Six Time Honurored Megastars! No, I am not misspelling that. It is a British book, and really funny. You can check out my full review here.

We are also going to reread pages 99-102 in Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World Volume 1, which has a great introduction to King Tut as well.  My SOTW #1 review is here.

Basically, if I’m going to spend $50 on King Tut tickets this summer, then I want to make sure that we get the most educational bang for our buck. 🙂

Leap Frog Scirrble and Write

Today has been a bit frustrating. We had to rush off to the doctor to get antibiotics because of an owie on Jenna’s hand that has become infected, the comments on my blog are only sometimes working, I found something blue and sticky on my living room couch, and just now when I was adding the Amazon Affiliate link for our latest Leap Frog purchase I noticed that Amazon is only charging $19 for it. I paid $25 at Toys R Us earlier this week! Argh!!!!  Okay, I’m taking a deep breath and letting it all go… 🙂

Back to the Scribble and Write, this one is a real winner. There are lots of Leap Frog items out there that are not worth it, but the Scribble and Write is almost as good as the Word Whammer.

The Scribble and Write is like an electronic Magna Doodle. Upper and lower case letters light up and your preschooler traces over it with the stylus. Then you pull the orange tab to erase. There aren’t any corrections offered, so if you write something incorrectly there is no feedback. But I’m okay with that, because 3 year olds don’t need any performance pressure. There are phonics lessons built in to the audio, so when the letter B appears it also gives the sound “buh”.

I’ve seen this toy on the shelf a whole bunch of times this past year but always held off on purchasing it because I’ve been burned on Leap Frog products before. Thankfully, the Scribble and Write seems to have been money well spent.

Desalination Experiment

Here’s a really easy science experiment to do with your kids that will make you feel like a hero-mom after just five minutes of prep-work…try desalinating water. This is a project my kids and I tried on Tuesday this week, as part of our A STEM Summer adventures. Our theme for week 1 is Oceans, so this was a good fit.

What you do is mix water and salt in the little bowl. Then you dump the salty water into the big bowl, and clean out the little bowl.

Place the little bowl inside the big bowl of salty water and cover the whole thing with plastic. Put something heavy (like Grandma’s broken watch from the dress-up box) in the center of the plastic. Place the whole contraption out in the sun and wait.

Confession time. Here’s where we had to totally cheat. Tuesday, July 3rd was so cold where we live that the furnace turned on, I was wearing fleece, and we had to fudge a bit with the “put the bowl out in the sun” part of the experiment instructions. Instead, we heated up the salty water in the microwave and then put the plastic back on. This time, the experiment worked!

By the way, you can of course use a rock instead of an old broken watch.  We were just pretending to be castaways on a dessert island.  🙂