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Intensity Fades but doesn’t Forget

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True story: Last night at about 11:38 p.m. I was down in the living room guiltily reading A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. I say guiltily because an hour before I told my husband “I was just going to read one more chapter.” Ha! Yeah, right.

I heard my nine-year-old’s bedroom door open. “Mom?” he asked. “Are you staying up late reading too?” He had The Underland Chronicles #3: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods in hand. Yup. He’s a chip off the old block.

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I could chart my life as a history of crazy book obsessions.

Start with Game of Thrones  and work all the way back to Anne of Green Gables. Or take a look at the home library I’ve assembled for my kids.

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Lots of people love books. A love of reading is easy to understand. But for the gifted and highly gifted, reading is usually just one of many obsessions. That’s because gifted people tend to be INTENSE.

I'm the one holding the baby.

I’m the one holding the baby.

Even though I grew up in the San Diego Unified School District’s Seminar Program for highly gifted kids, I always thought of giftedness as something that effected me in school when I was child, but not at home when I was an adult.

Then, when I became a parent and realized that at least one of my own children was gifted, I got a fuller picture.  Part of my work to become a better mom–at one point I printed out and read every article on the SENG resource library–gave me new understandings about myself.

As an adult, I still have passionate curiosity. I move from one learning obsession to the next. My husband likes to say “If it wasn’t this, it would be something else,” every time I pursue a new interest.

I could chart my life has a history of crazy hobby obsessions.

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Right now it’s lacto fermented salsa

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…and Zumba.

Previous obsessions have included bulb planting, vegetable gardening, canning and let’s not forget blogging.

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At one point I was even obsessed with composting which is why we have three different types of compost bins.

The one on the left works best.

The one on the left works best.

A couple of years ago I randomly became interested in the life and times of Rose Wilder Lane and the true story behind Little House on the Prairie. Over the course of a few weeks I read about ten books on the subject, all while holding a two-year-old while she napped. A year later, I wrote an article for the paper called The ‘Little House’ Books still Inspire.

A similar intense study of Ayn Rand lead to the article Motherhood is the Definition of Self Sacrifice.

I titled this post “Intensity Fades but doesn’t Forget” because even after a passion fades, 80% of it sticks with me. I still compost, scrapbook, garden and blog, but those things no longer consume me. What I learned however, sticks around for the long haul.

Intensity helps you reach the 10,000 hour mark.

Intensity helps people reach the 10,000 hour mark.

So the big question is how to help gifted people deal with their intensities before they drive the rest of their family crazy.

I’m not sure I have the answer to this. But hopefully if you raise children to have a good heart, the things they become intensely obsessed with will be a blessing to themselves and their family.

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Like a mom obsessed with canning for example.  😉

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

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I hope you are enjoying the third annual Parenting the Gifted Blog Tour. The following is a guest post from a homeschooling mom:

From Kindergarten to College, Parenting a Twice Exceptional Child is an Adventure

Being the antithesis of a Tiger Mom and embracing a completely ”go with the flow” philosophy toward education, I was completely caught off guard when our family’s babbling brook homeschool turned into a confused chaos of babbling brook, flowing river, multi-level white water rapids, and trapping eddies.

It all started rather innocently. I was baking cookies with my son, then 6. As we were putting the cookies on the cookie sheet, he looked up at me smiling and said, “Did you know if we put them in 5 rows and we put 4 in each row that there will be 20 cookies?” It was a startling conversation.

Educationally, I had been so focused on how little progress he was making in reading that I had never even noticed that his first grade math book wasn’t even the slightest bit challenging for him. So our babbling brook entered into the white water world of 2E.

Those two words, twice exceptional, unlock a unique combination of amazing gifts combined with significant struggles that our son both possesses and has overcome. While his uncanny visual-spatial skills and constant questioning shout exceptional talent, when he was young, they were often over-shadowed by an equally visible deficit, dyslexia, and a real struggle in learning to how to read.

The advantages of homeschooling rise quickly to the surface when teaching a 2E child. I could read advanced word problems for him to solve while he was still working on basic decoding skills. As he progressed quickly through mathematical concepts, he equally slogged through phonics, decoding, and spelling. He could discuss complex science concepts while still unable to write on grade level because his reading skills were so lacking.

Learning how to select appropriate resources became a necessity. Literature intense language arts programs were not going to work because he couldn’t read on grade level selections, yet neither would simple lower grade level materials work because intellectually he was ready for far more complex materials. It became a balancing act of selecting on-his-level readers combined with audio books which actually matched his abilities. So while he might have been reading a 5th grade level reader, he was listening to the Iliad.

By the time his reading level finally caught up to his grade level when he was around 10, he was already completing algebra. His writing skills were radically behind because of his spelling and reading skills. When he was finally ready to write something that was decipherable, his instruction needed to be significantly beyond introductory level writing. Because he was used to discussing and analyzing literature, he was able to quickly move beyond basic writing skills to analytical writing. By the time he was in high school, he was functioning above grade level in all areas, but he still faced, and continues to face, the major obstacle of slow reading speed.

As he approached college applications this past fall, he kept his reading speed in mind. He opted to not apply to many of the schools that appealed to his math and science side. He was concerned that schools that function on the quarter system versus the traditional semester system would overwhelm his ability to keep up with the reading.

The entire college application process was a roller coaster. The mantra is to find a university which fits the student. Reality, being what it is, means that the school also has to fit a family’s financial situation, not just student abilities. Our family’s situation matches what is described as the “donut hole.” The donut hole means we make too much money to qualify for much financial aid, but we don’t actually have the financial resources to pay for our expected family contribution. So, finances ended up driving our son’s decisions. Because I am sure our situation is not unique, here is what our son learned through this process.

Financial safeties are schools which a family can afford. Many universities are financial safeties because they offer scholarship money to top students to attract them to attend their institutions. These schools are not the top universities in the country, but they offer unique opportunities to attract top talent. These opportunities range from honors colleges to specialized honors programs. Our son was accepted into a specialized honors program which provides research opportunities for the 40 students accepted each year. The program guarantees the individual students the opportunity to participate in research in a field of their choice. Since our son’s goal is grad school and research, this program really attracted his attention during the application process.

When he traveled to the finalist weekend, he came home impressed. He said the students he had met during the finalist weekend were every bit on par with the friends he had made at The Summer Science Program. He felt the upperclassmen already involved in the program and the high school seniors there interviewing were definitely his intellectual peers and that collectively they represented a wealth of talent. The awards that participants in the program have received testify to the accuracy of his assessment. The program has Hollings, Goldwater, Mitchell, and Truman scholars. So, while this school might not have been at first glance a “fit” intellectually, through this honors program, our son is convinced that it is.

In addition, our son has been blessed by the generosity of this university. It allows students to stack scholarships. Stacking means that additional scholarships do not decrease the value of other scholarships. Not all universities allow stacking and will reduce monetary awards when other scholarships are earned. All in all, our son won four different scholarships from this university which translates into him attending full-ride. The cost differential between attending this school full-ride versus higher ranked schools with partial scholarship or institutional aid was between $100,000-$160,000 over four years.

Another factor that advanced students need to weigh is how universities view college credits earned in high school. For students like our son, those cumulative hours may be considerable. Since our son has completed numerous upper level math and physics courses, he will have enough credit hours transferring in that he is only a few hours short of being a college junior. In choosing a college, understanding how different schools view dual enrolled credit needs to be considered. Since the school our son has chosen allows the transferring in of credit, it opens the door for him to triple major without undue burden because he has already completed so many of the “in major” requirements.

Looking back over the past 13 years of our son’s homeschooling venture, I could never have anticipated the journey we took. I know that homeschooling allowed our son to thrive and never feel like he was incapable of succeeding. He never felt like a failure because he struggled. He was allowed to be himself and thrive where he was. Dr. Seuss penned, “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.” Homeschooling has allowed that to be true for our son.

Singapore Math and Constructivism

I am a big believer in teaching mathematics from a Constructivist perspective, which means enabling children to develop their own meaningful strategies for solving problems, instead of just blindly teaching traditional algorithms.  It also means giving children time, space, and materials to explore mathematical concepts and create their own understanding, before you start imposing your own thinking upon them.

One of my favorite at-home curriculums for teaching math is Right Start, but I have always been curious about Singapore Math because it so popular with homeschoolers.  It is also popular with families who are Afterschoolers, even if they have never heard about that term before.

Even just a casual internet search will tell you that many parents who are confused about Constructivism, or unhappy with how it is being implemented in their children’s publics schools, choose Singapore as the at home alternative to help get their children “back on track”. I have even seen a blog that is very much dedicated to how much better Singapore Math is than current Constructivist textbooks.

The problem that I see with all of this public school curriculum bashing is that when I look at the Singapore Primary Mathematics Standards Edition textbooks, I see a lot of Constructivism.  In fact, there is enough of a Constructivist influence in the 4A book, that I have no problem with my son Bruce(6.5) using it on an Afterschooling basis.  Here are the main, Constructivist elements that I like about the 4A book:

  • Metacognition: There is an emphasis on helping students think about thinking.  There is also guidance through the thinking process.  This is very Constructivist!!!
  • Spiraling Curriculum: Most concepts are taught, and then revisited again and again throughout the year.  The Constructivist public school curriculums that I have seen also use this spiraling method.
  • Visualization: There are a lot of pictures and modeling.  A good Constructivist classroom would also encourage pictures, drawing and modeling to help reach visual learners.
  • Multiple Strategies: Again and again I keep seeing examples of more than one way to solve a problem.  Alternatives are shown beyond just traditional algorithms.

This is really surprising to me because some of the most vocal critics of Constructivism I have seen online are also parents who choose Singapore as their children’s math program.  They tend to keelhaul Constructivism and hail Singapore as their mathematical savoir. This is really bizarre, because comparing Singapore with a public school Constructivist curriculum like Dale Seymour Investigations is not like comparing apples and oranges; it’s more like comparing apples and pears.

If you were to think about math as a continuum with Back to Basics “just-teach-her-to-borrow-and-carry” on one hand, and pure Constructivism “she will discover every new bit of knowledge herself” on the other, then in my opinion, Singapore would not be considered a Constructivist program nor would it be considered a Back to Basics program.  It would fall somewhere in the middle, like Houghton Mifflin’s Math Expressions.  Falling closer to the Constructivist end would be programs like Right Start, Dreambox Math, and Hands on EquationsSaxon, Horizon and Life of Fred would be closer to a Back to Basics philosophy.

So what do I think of Singapore Primary Mathematics Standards Edition?  I think it’s pretty good, but for a complete homeschool program I still prefer Right Start.  For Afterschooling though, I can see the benefit of using a cheaper, more colorful program like Singapore, if your child preferred it.  The pages are smaller and easier to complete, so if your kid gets a “buzz” from completing pages, then Singapore would facilitate that.

If you do use Singapore Standards edition for a homeschooling program, then you really would need to buy the complete program, including the word problem book.  As a former public school teacher I have to say that there are not nearly enough word problems in the textbook alone to adequately prepare kids for state standardized tests.

Our own experience with Singapore remains limited.  I brought the 4A textbook home for my son Bruce in the middle of Christmas break last week and he completed 23 out of 161 pages in about three days.  Part of this is because the Singapore 4A geometry section is much easier than the third grade Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions work Bruce has been doing.  The multiplication section was all review for him too, because he has completed Dreambox 3rd grade.  But Bruce liked the Singapore textbook.  It is a lot more “fun” to look at than Right Start Level D, and he willingly plowed through pages in 4A.

For a more experienced opinion of Singapore, I’d like to include my friend Claire’s earlier comments from my K-1 Summer Bridge page:

For parents who have sticker shock at the price of RS, I would recommend Singapore Primary Mathematics. Note that these are *NOT* the “Singapore Math” workbooks sold at Barnes & Noble (those are by a different publisher and are substantially “dumbed-down” from the original program).  I prefer using a “hands-on” program like RS to a workbook-based one like Singapore in the primary grades, but RS is pricey and very parent-intensive. Also, Singapore is easier to accelerate and/or up the challenge level for a bright student.

I would recommend getting the Primary Math textbook and either the workbook or the Intensive Practice book (depending on whether the student is average or advanced).  The Intensive Practice book is only available in the U.S. edition but it is very easy to match up the topics in the Stds. ed. text with the ones in the IP book. The Stds. ed. text is full-color and has more of a “cartoony” look to it. I actually prefer the “cleaner” look of the US ed. books myself, but overall feel the Stds. ed. is better.  The books are available at Singaporemath.com, Christian Book Distributors, and Rainbow Resource Center.

Thank you Claire!  Finally, I would like to add my own thoughts about Singapore Math and gifted children.  Just because my six year old can burn through 23 pages of 4A in a few days doesn’t mean he should. Gifted children deserve instruction too.  The deserve attention. They deserve good teaching, and they deserve experiences. They do not deserve to have their curiosity or love of learning drowned in busywork, endless workbooks, or too much isolation.

I think that parents of gifted children should have a clear and consistent message. Too often society says: “Oh, that child is so smart.  Just send him off in the corner with an advanced book and he will be fine.”  In my opinion, that does a huge disservice to gifted children.  I would hope that nobody reading this would use a curriculum like Singapore that way.  Instead, here are some of my favorite 4th grade level activities that you might consider combining with the 4A Standards edition, to “jazz it up” a bit:

Fractions

Geometry

 More to come!

Harnessing a Racehorse

We just got back from preschool story time at our local library, and it got my mind spinning in many directions.  Jenna(27m) can sit through the half-hour story time curriculum for 3-5 year olds and participate like a champ. She pays attention, answers questions, makes meaningful connections when appropriate, and behaves like a come-to-life doll in just about every respect.  I’m sure that when other library parents look at me they probably think, “That lady must be a good parent.  Her daughter is a little angel!”

Taking Bruce to story time when he was little was a different experience altogether.  He would do okay for the first ten minutes, and then get really bored by the level of material being presented.  Sitting still, listening to the responses from his three-year-old peers, and not being able to share his obscure literary references were just too much for him.  After a few attempts to make story time work, I finally gave up because I was positive the other parents were looking at me and thinking, “That lady must be an awful mother!  Her child is sure acting like a brat.”

Parenting Bruce(6) is like trying to harness a racehorse every single day.  The years pass and some challenges fade away, only to be replaced by new ones.  The good news is that my son is now attending our school district’s gifted program and for the most part thriving.  There are still lots of time when people look at how spirited he is and think I am a bad parent.  But now people know he is “officially” gifted, and that helps a little bit with the judgment.

Speaking of judgment, I’ve only apologized to my mother-in-law about 100 times for thinking she was a bad parent every time I heard about the wild exploits of my husband’s youth.  My husband and Bruce were both the types of two year olds you would have to pick up by the back of their overalls and physically remove from intense toddler situations, with both fists still flying in the air.

Jenna on the other hand, manifests her intelligence in entirely different ways than Bruce.  Like me, she is very well behaved and eager to please.  My parents claim I only ever threw two or three tantrums in my entire childhood.  Growing up in the San Diego School District’s Seminar program, I was surrounded by a lot of gifted students with this same temperament: intensely articulate and curious children who were also well-behaved.  But it seems that there was always at least one kid in every class who was the harnessed-racehorse type, like my husband and son.

At the library story time today there was a three year old girl who was this exact type.  She was a thoroughbred filly, trying to attend story time with neurotypical children (and Jenna.)  🙂  This little girl kept interjecting, interrupting, offering suggestions, getting up to dance, and when she was allowed to speak, spewing forth long involved sentences that nobody could understand.  Even our wonderfully patient and experienced librarian was at her wits end.  To me it was like deja vu.

When story time was over I went up to the mother and offered my unsolicited opinion that her daughter should be tested for our district’s gifted program when she was in Kindergarten.  The mom looked at me like she was about to cry.  She said her daughter was in speech therapy and was being recommended for a developmental preschool.  My teacher-ears perked up and I inwardly thought Asperger’s Syndrome?    But then I asked her if she meant speech therapy for articulation of language delay.  It turns out that the little girl just needed articulation help.  It was no wonder, because this child was using high level vocabulary and sentence structure that nobody expects a three year old to have mastered. 

So I told this mother, “Many people here might be seeing naughtiness but I’m seeing a child who is highly verbal, inquisitive, energetic, intense, and clearly bored with the material being presented because it is probably too easy for her.  Those are all signs of giftedness.”  That’s when the mom shared that her husband was gifted, and had been in gifted programs throughout his childhood.  She didn’t know what to do about preschool, but was at her wits end.  I suggested she look into Montessori, and that she check out Dr. James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, Ocd, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders.  (There is also a SENG article about this subject.)  Then we said goodbye and she thanked me profusely.

Was this little girl gifted or not?  I don’t really know.  I’m just a non-qualified random stranger making an unsolicited assessment based on a thirty minute observation.  But I am also a teacher, parent, and gifted person myself.  Sometimes you just see a kid and know.  The trouble is, I’m seeing “harnessed racehorse” but everyone else in the room is just seeing “brat”.

P.S. The metaphor between the gifted brain and a harnessed racehorse is something I first heard about at the 2011 SENG conference.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember at which presentation, otherwise I would give proper credit where credit is due.

Rataouille and Gifted Children

There is some debate in the education community as to whether or not you should tell gifted children that they are “gifted” or not.  To me, this debate is utterly ridiculous.  Truly gifted children will already know that they are different.  I can’t understand knowing the name or explanation for their difference offering anything but relief.  To think about it in another way, would you ever consider not telling a child with diagnosed allergies, “By the way, the reason you are sneezing so much is that you are allergic to dust,” or would you just let that kid sneeze for the rest of his childhood without knowing that there was a name for his condition?

One of the best vehicles I’ve seen to start a conversation with gifted children about their differences is the 2007 Disney/Pixar movie Ratatouille.  In this movie Remy is clearly different from all of his rat friends and family.  His sense of smell is so acute that he can detect rat poison.  He feels more comfortable walking upright, rather than on all fours.  Leading and ordinary rat life depresses him because he thrives on challenge, stimulating conversation, and activity.  To put it bluntly, Remy is Highly Gifted.  If you gave him the WISR, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Rats, he’d score a 146 or above no problem.  (I just made that part about the WISR up, btw.)

As a gifted rat, Remy has different social and emotional needs than his peers in the rat community.    Leading and ordinary rat life depresses him because he thrives on challenge, stimulating conversation and activity.  Intellectually, Remy fits in much better with humans with whom he shares equal curiosity levels about food, flavors and creativity.  But socially of course, he does belong in the human world at all.  This is very reminiscent of how gifted children so often relate better to adults than to their age level peers.   Just like Remy, gifted children have the raw talent, but not the skills, expertise, education and experience that adult humans have.  Like Remy, gifted children are constantly navigating the rat world and the adult human world, trying to forge a path that works.

So if you are the parent of a gifted child who ever happens to go through some tough social situations, try checking out “Ratatouille” from the library.  It will be a good jumping off point for lots of different conversations you can have with your son or daughter.

Tantrum Solutions?

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to attend the SENG conference in Seattle. It was very expensive, but worth every penny. I not only learned valuable information about parenting gifted children, I also learned a lot about myself, my husband, and many of our family members.

I am working on sharing as much as I can from the SENG conference, and helping children manage big emotions seems like a good place to start. If you are familiar with gifted children then you know that they can often be and act very differently from neurotypical children. One way this uniqueness often manifests itself is through intense emotions that can be difficult for everyone to handle, including the child herself. If you have ever seen a gifted child throw a tantrum you know what I mean, and if you have been the parent of that gifted child you probably have special empathy!

Finally, I’d like to point out that these ideas might work with kids from all brain backgrounds, not just gifted ones. I also understand that not all gifted children throw tantrums. My parents say that I only threw two tantrums my whole childhood, for example! But for those of you who are dealing with these issues, maybe some of these ideas might help.

1) The Acronym HALT: Hungry Angry Lonely Tired

If you can remember HALT, this might help you ward off behavioral meltdowns. New research is being done on gifted people in relationship to hypoglycemia. More information can be found in Dr. James Webb’s book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults which at one point talks about MRI research on gifted people. Dr. Webb mentioned this research as an aside during his keynote address. Taking an informal poll of who in the audience dealt with hypoglycemia issues, over a third of the attendees raised their hands.

As I remember from the book, when a gifted brain solves a problem or responds to stimuli, more areas of the brain light up on an MRI then compared to a neurotypical brain. Since the brain is a part of the body and uses glucose, gifted people might use up glucose quicker than neurotypical people, just through ordinary thinking. So hypoglycemia can be a big issue for some members of the gifted populations, especially skinny children. If your child has meltdowns at 10:00 AM, or 3:00 PM then maybe you should bring this to the attention of your pediatrician.

2) Labyrinths

One of the sessions I attended was called “Fostering Affective Needs of Gifted Using a Contemplative Education Approach. Presented by Michele Kane, Ed.D.”. One of Dr. Kane’s suggestions was to lay out a labyrinth or spiral with masking tape on the floor. When children (or adults) felt like they needed to calm down, they could excuse themselves and slowly walk the labyrinth and take deep breaths. She had seen this done at a school before, where they also kept a tally of how many times the labyrinth was utilized. At the end of the year it was most popular with teachers!

3) Breathing in I calm my body… Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is a wonderful moment.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

This was also a take-away from Dr. Kane’s session. It is a simple, one minute exercise you can do for people of all ages to help them relax. She suggested printing this out and sticking it on our refrigerator so that you would remember to try it with your child (or yourself) when you could sense a tense moment coming on. There was also a teacher in the audience who had this exercise embedded into his classroom schedule between subjects, and reported that it worked well with fifth graders. The key is to actually force yourself to smile when you breathe out.