Considering starting a Micro-school? You Need this Book.

*Links in this post direct you to the GHF Amazon Store. I don’t receive any compensation if you purchase through these links, but by doing so, you will support GHF‘s mission to change the way the world views education, at no additional cost to you.*

2016-02-03 16.50.34

Back in November, I wrote about our experience with advocating for B within the school system, and the halfhearted response we received. Within a few weeks of that post, she firmly refused to go to school and began telling everyone she had “dropped out”. Waiting until January for the school to do something wasn’t good enough. She told her dad and me, “We talk and sit a LOT. We don’t ever LEARN. I need to LEARN!”

I hear ya, sister.

Thus, we are once again homeschooling.

B misses the social aspect of school quite a bit. I wish it could have been right for her – social, challenging, exciting, pushing her to excel…but it was not.

There is another charter school in town called BASIS that is known for its rigorous academics and she wants to give it a try next year. I’m nursing a hope that it will offer what she needs, while keeping the option to homeschool in the wings. I recently read  this post about giving school a second try from Cait at My Little Poppies, and feel similarly.

The rigor might feed her intellectual OE, but does the school have room for the rest of the OE’s? She loves to learn independently, digging deep and soaking all of the details in. Her best day ever is sitting by a fire with a stack of books. I wholeheartedly believe that learning is best accomplished through exploring for interest’s sake, rather than through memorization of trivial facts, coercion or drill-and-kill methods. “Classic learning” as defined by Frank Smith, is pleasant, meaningful and continuous.

Some days, I just want to head back to the classroom and use all of the knowledge I’ve acquired over the last 7 years of raising gifted kids and be the best teacher ever. But we are talking about public schools, and as an outlier myself, it’s just about impossible to imagine fitting myself back into that super-square peg.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Jade Rivera’s new book, Micro-Schools, Personalized Learning on a Budget.

Microschools

 

In her book, Jade offers life experience of her own, then clearly walks you through each gifted characteristic, explaining how and why micro-schools for gifted/2e children can be such a perfect fit for outlier students.

Jade’s book has me seriously thinking of offering my own alternative program.  Micro-Schools is a road map for beginning this journey into progressive education and finding the right families to support and grow with, along with practical knowledge regarding the nuts and bolts of bringing it together. She states, “When it comes down to it, the programs are not about the lessons, but about the community and giving children the chance to learn on their own terms.”

She doesn’t sugar-coat the effort involved with beginning your own program, and warns that you may cry, feel exhausted and as with every new venture, there will be a learning curve to work through. She sends out a challenge:

“By now, I hope you feel inspired to create a learning environment that screams, ‘You’re appreciated! You’re accepted! We want you here!’ Gifted kids deserve it.”

Just thinking about it feels crazy and overwhelming, but after reading Micro-Schools, I do feel inspired!  I know several families who are dreading sending their kids to kindergarten next year, or are dissatisfied with their current experience. Perhaps I could begin small and informally, using Micro-Schools as a guide. It’s clear that there is a disconnect between what kids of all abilities need in the classroom and what they are getting. I can’t change the whole system myself, but perhaps I could change a small part of my world.

Are you in the same boat? I highly recommend you pick up Jade’s book. I know it will inspire you too.

 

Additional Resources:

A Review of Micro-Schools by Jade Rivera, from Bob Yamtich

#gtchat: Micro-schools with Jade Rivera 

America Hates its Gifted Kids, Newsweek

By Not Challenging Gifted Kids, What Do We Risk Losing?, MindShift

 

 

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What if My Kids Weren’t Gifted?

What if my kids weren't gifted

In an alternate universe…

My girls would have turned three and five. They would have done as most children do, enrolled in preschool and kindergarten, respectively. Learned their colors, numbers, shapes. Learned to read. Loved the hustle and bustle of the classroom, the excited sounds and noise. Reveled in the chaos that an early childhood classroom should be.

I would’ve waited my few years of stay-at-home mom-ing. I would now have an amazing amount of free time, and started classes again, full-time even.

In this alternate universe, my girls are five and seven now. Kindergarten and second grade await. I have finished my Master’s degree. I am now a licensed therapist, working with children and teens, doing what I know is my calling and where I am supposed to be. I specialize in gifted families, helping teens navigate their way through the muddled waters of high intelligence and social intelligence and the high emotions that each of these bring.

My girls do well in school. They love their classmates and teachers. They learn every day and are excited to tell me about their pursuits.

Flip upside down to real life, to my universe. My girls are three and five. My five year old began reading chapter books one year ago and shows great aptitude for math and all things creative. She longs to play with the eight year old down the street and and enjoys the company of her five year old friends, but they don’t always understand the games she wants to play. She devours biographies on creative souls such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Georgia O’Keefe. She remembers everything, including my schedule, and keeps me on track better than a DayPlanner.

My three year old follows her sister, doing the same math and picking up coding games faster than I can. She talks about death and worries about when we will all pass, asks me to make sure her heart still beats as she goes to sleep. She cries when children are mean to each other, even if she doesn’t know them. She cries when we read Disney books and the characters go through tough times. We do not watch movies, only shows that have happy endings. Her empathy is deep and wide, overwhelming to say the least.

Now they are five and seven. The seven year old begs for multiplication and division to go to sleep with, and reads books I didn’t read until my teen years. She talks about how it feels to be the smartest person in the class – uncomfortable, awkward, boring, exciting. She dislikes the noise of the classroom – she cannot think with all of the chaos. She’s discovered characters like Hermione Granger, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Alex from the Land of Stories, that she relates to. She wants to learn chemistry and how to write a book. I accidentally mention the recent events in France within her earshot and find her crying over the victims of the attack, and frightened about our own safety. We talk about how you can only fight hate with love, and what we can do to change the world in our small area.  My breath is taken away while I feel overwhelmed with the thought of what this girl will need from me in the coming years, academically and emotionally.

The five year old continues in the same trajectory. She learns multiplication from her big sister while reading words I didn’t even know she could pronounce in books thicker than I would have thought to choose for her. She still worries about death, and where we will all be buried, and please can she and I be together after we die? I listen and comfort and wonder how I will support this soul as she grows older and more aware of the goodness and evil in our world. How can I protect her big heart?

They love nature and are affected by beauty with a force I can comprehend. We watch sunsets together with tears in our eyes while a voice from the backseat of the car mentions how isn’t it strange that all of this beauty comes from light reflecting off of dust particles?

And me? I am biding my time, very slowly working through classes until I can finish them without feeling like I am taking away from my family when they need me, conflicted by the thought of the other families that might need me too. So many things I would like to have on my plate, but there is just not room for everything I want right now.

I didn’t have the support that my girls have the potential to enjoy. I didn’t come to terms with my giftedness and who I am until my mid-thirties. Barbara Kerr and Robyn McKay state in Smart Girls in the 21st Century,

“Millennial girls trust their moms, share confidences with them, and often work side by side with their moms to nurture their families. For mothers of smart girls, this means a great responsibility to understand that they are, in the most profound sense, the role models for their daughters.”

I feel pressure to be here for my daughters, be the role model and sounding board, and empathetic support. It’s exhausting. It’s exhilarating.

I think I would sound crazy to anyone who didn’t understand this conflicted life with gifted children and gifted parents. Until you’ve walked in these shoes, it sounds like faux bragging of the ridiculous sort.

If you have walked in these shoes, however, you know exactly what I am talking about. On the most difficult days, when you really, really want to trade them in for some fancy heels, a cute new dress and a grown-up job where people appreciate you, you are just like me.

And then you put the shoes back on, grab some coffee and feel so fortunate that these are your children, highs. lows and in between.

I’d love to hear about your highs and lows in the comments below. What do you wish was different? What would you not change for the world?

This blog post is part of the GHF Blog Hop, The Highs and Lows of Gifted Parenting

November blog hop

Words You SHOULD Say to Your Child’s Teacher

This post is a follow-up post to Celi Trépanier’s wonderful guest post, Three Words to Never Say to Your Child’s Teacher.

WordsYou Should Say

B has made it through the first quarter of school. Some of the first few weeks were difficult, and there were moments in which she was ready to throw in the towel and return to homeschooling. She had made an agreement with her dad at the beginning of the year to stay in school for a certain length of time (seven weeks) to make a valid assessment of how she felt about it and she was struggling.

I am far more emotional than my husband, so when she came home from school after a bad day crying and stating she wasn’t going back, I was willing and ready to toss the magic seven out the window and bring her home. I had seen some teacher behaviors in the classroom the same week that I wasn’t very happy with, and I was anxious to protect B. Instead, we had a family talk, and my hubby helped parse out exactly what was bothering her (the boys giving her a hard time, the work is not challenging). He and I decided that it was time to chat with the teacher and B decided she could give school a few more weeks and see if things improved.

I’ve been a public school teacher, a public school parent of an “easy” child, and a homeschooling parent of two very intense kids. I’ve never been a public school parent who needs to advocate for my high ability kid until now. Thinking of walking into a classroom and asking for more for your child is daunting, especially after hearing the many, many stories from parents whose teachers/schools have been less than supportive of their child’s needs.

Back in May, Celi from Crushing Tall Poppies wrote a fantastic guest post here about what NOT to say to your child’s teacher while advocating for them. I took that to heart as well as a few other excellent resources and advice from many parents and teachers. We met with B’s teacher and after a bit of a rocky start, the meeting had a favorable conclusion.

So then, what should you say to your child’s teacher?

1. Give the teacher the opportunity to share what they’ve noticed about your child.

Ask how your child seems to be doing in the classroom and how the teacher sees them progressing. If your child gets a glowing review, it begins the conversation on a positive note from which to build. If the teacher has concerns, this gives you a good starting place to discuss what you are noticing as well.

2. Share what you see.

If possible, start with the positives. In our case, there are several things about school that offer B what she needs – Spanish, music, and math are all subjects in which she is learning and looks forward to.  Move on to the areas of concern using words like “challenge”, “encourage”, “cooperate” and “quick learner”.

For instance, “Mrs. X, B seems to excel in (subject area). She wants to be challenged and learn as much as you are willing to teach her. She is a little frustrated at the level of work that she is being given currently, and would love to do something more in-depth. She is a very independent and quick learner, and if you are willing to encourage her growth in this area, we will do all that we can to cooperate and support that at home.”

Again, do your best to keep it positive. You know that saying about catching more flies with honey…

3. Ask the teacher for his/her suggestions. If they don’t have any, come prepared with your own. 

End your words above with, “What are your thoughts? What do you think would be the best way to challenge her more?”

Some teachers just need to be asked, and they are full of ideas and excited to implement them. Others will circle around the question and talk about the 19 or 27 other students in their class and how you can’t expect them to teach yours individually. Try not to bristle, and offer some suggestions of your own. Your child deserves to learn something new every day just as much as the others.

Some ideas we brought to the table were to let B go to the next grade for language arts, have her work on the same topic but write a report or something more in-depth, more project-based work, and less fill-in-the-blank.

4. Offer to help.

If you are able, be willing to put in some volunteer time, especially in the case of the teacher who is overwhelmed by the idea of differentiating while teaching all of the other learners in her class. I offered to come in several times weekly to work with her behind-level kids, work with my girl and a couple of others in the class who could also use more challenging work, or wherever else she needed me.

In our circumstance, there were many good ideas talked about, and the conversation felt positive and hopeful. However, several weeks later, nothing had changed.

5. Get squeaky.

You know what they say about that wheel…Don’t be afraid to take it to the next level if the teacher is unwilling to try something new or doesn’t implement the ideas you agreed upon.

Set up a meeting with the principal and share your concerns. Begin positively if you can. Share how the meeting with the teacher went and the solutions you and the teacher came up with if applicable. If the meeting with the teacher did not go well, start with #2 and work your way forward with the administrator.  Best case scenario – the administrator will understand your concerns and work with you to meet your child’s needs. Worst case scenario – they won’t, and at that point you’ll have to revisit your options. I always hope for the best and expect the best out of others. Sometimes people rise to expectations, sometimes they don’t, but either way I find that optimism helps my personal perspective a lot.

I met with our school administrator about B, and it was a warm and encouraging talk. I shared my concerns about the teacher, and although she was quick to support her staff, she was also supportive of finding a solution for B. She agrees that putting B in a higher grade level for language arts is a good idea, but wants to wait until after the winter break for an easier transition. (I wanted to ask “for whom?” but decided to bite my tongue.)

In the meantime, B is frustrated with the lack of challenge, and half of the school year will have passed by the time we try something new. It’s difficult to stay positive and patient sometimes.  We’ve made a new compromise with B – stay in school until January to give the new class a try, and take a “mental health” day now and then. We could just withdraw her from school and homeschool again, meeting her academic needs, but the school atmosphere itself is wonderful and I’d like her to be able to keep enjoying it while learning something every day too.

Every situation is different, and some teachers/administrators are much more difficult than the few I’ve dealt with. That said, I hope sharing our experience gives you a starting point to begin the conversation and advocate for your gifted child. I’ll let you know how it goes in January.

More resources:

Imagine a World Where Gifted Kids Don’t Have to Wait, Paula Prober

Advocating for Gifted Children for Beginners, Planet SmartyPants

7 Ways to Advocate for Your Gifted Child, Elgar Mummy

Are you an Advocate for the Gifted?, Sceleratus Classical Academy

Yes, My Gifted Child is a Know-It-All: A Case for Acceleration, Crushing Tall Poppies

Hoagies’ Gifted: Academic Acceleration Page – so much good stuff here!

{GHF Blog Hop} Budget-Friendly Homeschooling for the Gifted Family

BudgetFriendlyHomeschoolingfortheGiftedFamily

When the average person thinks about homeschooling, I feel like they imagine children sitting around a kitchen table, books stacked beside them, diligently writing in their notebooks.

It does look like that for some families, and that’s okay.

At our house, homeschooling looks a little more like this.

homeschool mess

And if I bring out the textbooks, it looks a little like this.

#ds368 - Rebel Yell
Image: flickr

There are a million terms out there for what we do…homeschool, life school, unschool, child-led learning, child-directed learning, self directed learning…

Our days are rarely the same.

I am often asked about what curriculum I use, how we structure our days, how I keep track of what we do.

The answer is…<<gasp>>…we don’t. How do I facilitate any learning around here without curriculum? Let me share some of our favorite low-cost resources with you.

History and Science

Most of B’s learning is gleaned from books. She knows more about history than I may ever know, unless I read the Magic Tree House series like she did. She has learned all about animals, artists, ancient cultures, weather, etc. from the Magic Tree House Research books. She has learned to cross-reference with other books to check the facts. We recently discovered Horrible Histories and they’ve replaced her stuffed animals in bed.

historysleep

Much of her science knowledge comes from the Basher books. We own Physics, The Periodic Table, Biology, and The Human Body. These books break big subjects down into understandable pieces and make us laugh as well.

I recently purchased the Biology book, which sat on the table untouched for a few days. B finally, reluctantly picked it up, and hasn’t put it down since.

“When we first get Basher books, I’m like, ugh – not those. Then a few days later, I’m like ‘Woo-hoo! I love those!”

Horrible Science and the Monster Science series are our most recent finds, and they are fantastic!

“All of these books sound really expensive! How do you budget for that?”

We use the library for the majority of our reading. If our library doesn’t have a book on our list, we utilize the wonderful interlibrary loan system and find it somewhere else. When I notice the girls checking out the same book multiple times or we find a title we just can’t live without, I begin watching for it in a variety of low-cost places. We frequent the used bookstore a lot. We trade in books the kids read less for new books they’ll enjoy more. We find $1 and $2 deals. Thrift stores have many hidden treasures when we have the time to search. Ebay and Amazon Marketplace often have books for $0.01 + shipping.  For the amount of books we own, we spend remarkably little.

We have memberships to most of our local museums and our local observatory. Quite a few offer an educator’s discount to homeschoolers – just ask!  Many science  centers and observatories are affiliated with the Association of Science-Technology Centers,  which means membership to one center offers free admission to all of the centers on the list. For $60/year, we gain free admission for the whole family to Lowell Observatory (Flagstaff), Arizona Science Center (Phoenix), the International Wildlife Museum (Tucson), Flandrau Science Center, Planetarium and Mineral Museum (Tucson) and Kitt Peak Observatory (Tucson). These are all within a four hour drive in Arizona, and there are members of ASTC in each state if we decide to travel.

Math

Math is another subject that usually involves expensive curriculum and high cost materials. How do we do it?

The girls and I have many math conversations, play lots of math card games (deck of cards – $1) and read many living math books. We are able to find most of these books at the library and have found some great titles at thrift stores for $0.25 each. Math placemats have been a huge hit in our house. C studies her addition/subtraction and B studies multiplication/division while they eat. They have made up countless games to find and remember facts using these. They learn and play without my intervention. I’ve been able to find these for $1.99 at our local Target, and similar sets are often available at the Dollar Store.

Placematmath

For the families who are more comfortable with following a curriculum, NY Engage has their entire math curriculum available at their website for downloading and printing – for free. If you do a quick Google search, many other companies offer this as well.

Every other subject

Most of the learning that the kids and I do occurs naturally, as part of our daily lives. B recently told the dentist when he asked about school, “Well, we are homeschooled, so we mostly just play.”

It’s true! We do what we love, and we learn all day. We go outside a lot, bring along our $0.50 notebooks and clearance rack markers and notice the world around us.

More Free/Low Cost Online Resources:

www.LetsPlayMath.com

www.LivingMath.net

www.FunBrain.com

www.Starfall.com – (For $36/year, you can upgrade to more.starfall.com, which offers reading and math games and stories up through the second grade level. We’ve subscribed to More Starfall for years and still love it.)

www.ShepperdSoftware.com

www.KhanAcademy.com

www.igamemom.com

www.pbskids.org

**Links for books direct you to the GHF Amazon Store. I do not personally receive any benefit if you purchase books from the GHF AStore, but GHF receives a small commission at no additional cost to you.**

This post is part of the GHF September Blog Hop. Read more great ideas about how to homeschool without spending an arm and a leg here!

Teen Suicide is a Serious Issue. You Can Help.

This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention estimates that Americans attempt suicide 1 MILLION times annually. Untreated depression is the number one cause of teen suicide. 

SuicidePrevention

When I was a child, I knew I felt a little different. I had big ideas, but it was challenging to find everything I needed to carry them out. (Or my mom’s version: I got into EVERYTHING and it took both her and my grandma’s constant attention to keep track of me.) I enjoyed pleasing the adults who I felt understood me and was adept at hoodwinking those who did not. I was a handful.

When school began, I quickly assessed which teachers “got” me, and which didn’t. I remember my kindergarten, second and fourth grade teachers well – they saw me and it was easy to shine for them. As I found adults who understood me, my peers identified with me less. They spent recess making fun and teasing me with the familiar chant, “Teacher’s Pet, Teacher’s Pet”. I didn’t like it, but I had a safe place inside the school with teachers who challenged and supported me. I didn’t mind being my teacher’s pet one bit.

I moved several times during late elementary school. Some dynamics were constant. I was still an outlier. I was still teased at recess. The most dramatic change was the attitude of my new teachers. Instead of getting to know me better and providing a safe place for me to thrive, they would blatantly turn their back and ignore the playground bullying, adding to the fray with sarcastic or hurtful comments of their own. I knew how to deal with kid-size bullying. I was not prepared for the teachers to be on the bullying side.

The preteen years are an impressionable age and I began to feel worthless. By my teen years, I felt lonely, depressed and completely misunderstood. Some nights, suicide felt like it might be a good friend. I couldn’t tell my family – they didn’t even realize that anything was bothering me. I wanted to handle my life and my worries myself, and telling them I felt so bad that I wanted to die would be a failure of the worst degree.

This was many years ago, but the same scenario persists for many teens. Years of feeling misunderstood, bullied and alone in addition to hormone changes and our increasingly stressful school environments can lead teens to feel as if there is no hope and nowhere to turn.

Teens, especially gifted teens, often keep their feelings of failure, depression and stories of being bullied to themselves. They say they don’t want to worry their families, they feel like no one will take them seriously, or feel like no one cares. Perfectionists may hold themselves to impossibly high standards and may see reaching out for help as failure to succeed on their own. Sometimes teens don’t realize how stressed out they have become until it reaches a critical level. Adults may not realize that teens can have great relationships with their families and strong support systems, while simultaneously planning their suicide.

That’s where Crisis Text Line enters the picture.

Texting is the average teen’s primary method to communicate with family and friends. Nancy Lublin, founder of  CTL and then CEO of DoSomething.org, worked with many teens at DoSomething.org and discovered that they were shockingly honest while texting. This observation led to the idea of a crisis text line and eventually the birth of CTL. (Read more about CTL’s beginnings here.)

“Life doesn’t seem to have meaning anymore.”

“All of the sadness is too much to bear.”

“I’m exhausted. I have to be perfect all the time, and it’s killing me. I can’t go on like this.”

“I’m being bullied at school and now they’re bullying me online. I just want to end it all.”

“I just want to do something worthwhile and good with my life, but I feel like all I do is let everyone down.”

These are words I read on a regular basis. Volunteers like myself offer empathy, active listening and strengths-based supports to help teens (and now adults, too, as of a few months ago) work through these intense emotional moments and stay safe, find coping techniques or simply breathe through a panic attack.

As a parent, it’s frightening. I feel like I know my teenage daughter well, and that we have great communication. At the same time, I know this could be her at any given moment, and I am so thankful that she has a support like CTL available to her.

What can you do?

  1. Make sure your teen knows about CTL.

CrisisTextLine

2. Notice changes in your teen’s behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or simply remind them that you are available to listen if they need to talk. Remember to actually listen and let them explore their feelings without judging them or trying to fix the problem. Teens often just need to think out loud and feel empowered by coming to their own solution.

3. Become a volunteer or donate. Volunteering requires just four hours of your time per week. My brief shift is one of the most meaningful parts of my week. You can help save lives too – just apply HERE.

4. Get your teen involved in something meaningful. Helping others and spreading kindness is a purposeful way to feel worthwhile. Do it together as a family or help facilitate a group of teens. DoSomething.org has many simple yet important campaigns that are easy to join.

This is a difficult subject but an extremely important one. Keep the lines of communication open with your child and seek professional help when needed.

 

Resources for Teens:

www.reachout.com

If You are Thinking of Suicide, Read This First

99 Coping Skills

Mindshift App for Handling Anxiety

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

81 Awesome Mental Health Resources When You Can’t Afford a Therapist

Resources for Parents/Adults:

Suicide Myths

Facts about Teen Suicide

Texting that Saves Lives

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

7 Essential Steps Parents Can Take to Prevent Teen Suicide