When Your Unschooler Wants to go to School

WhenYourUnschoolerGoestoSchool

I began homeschooling when B was two years old. We started out with a lot of structure and over time evolved into unschoolers. Unschooling has many definitions. For our family, I define it as respect-based learning. We respect each other’s time, needs and interests.

B has never been a child who liked to stay inside of the lines. She is quirky and confident. Her own person, she loves the story of Stephanie’s Ponytail, by Robert Munsch and is known to make every day crazy hair day.

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At age 5, she attended her first sleepover, a slumber party at her gymnastics center. It was Harry Potter themed, so she packed Book Four along with her pajamas and other necessities. I questioned her choices. I mentioned that people don’t usually bring 700+ page books to sleepovers. She had made her decision, though, and off she went, huge book and all. As it turned out, the theme of the night was based on the tri-wizard tournament, and her extensive HP knowledge led her team to victory. She wasn’t a weirdo; she was the hero!

In February of this year, B said she’d like to try public school. This was difficult for me to hear. It felt like a failure on my part – what was I doing wrong that caused her to want to go elsewhere? Then the worry began. How would the school keep up with her learning needs? Will I be able to effectively advocate for her if they don’t? Will her creative spirit get shushed in the classroom?

Once I finished having my fear/pity party, I looked at her desire through the lens of her needs. She wants to try something that is novel for her, something the majority of kids get to do all the time. She feels the need for deeper relationships. She’s hoping to make friends, connect with someone. She’s looking for a new challenge. Her expectations are high. She is extremely self-aware and has analyzed the pros and cons of the public school setting as well as benefits and disadvantages to her personal lifestyle. This is what she has decided she needs right now.

I’m not certain that public school will fill these needs, but with a respect-based learning philosophy, I have to respect all of her learning choices, not simply the choices that I like. I will be sensitive to her interests and give her the space and trust she’s asking for, especially when it’s difficult. No matter what happens, she will know for certain that the next time she wants to take a leap and try something new, her family will support her every step of the way.

She picked out her clothes for her first day. This child, who wears her best dress to be properly attired for a friend’s barbecue, picked out running shorts and a t-shirt covered with hearts. Comfy for play, but unusual for the first day of a new adventure. I chose my words carefully. “B, sometimes kids dress up for their first day of school. Wear whatever is comfortable for you. I’m just letting you know since you haven’t been to school before.”

She wore her comfy clothes and didn’t bat an eye at what anyone else wore. She’s strong, brave and independent, and she makes me proud.

Listening to our kids’ needs is complex sometimes, especially when they don’t coincide with our ideas. What situations have you dealt with in which your desires and your child’s didn’t fit together? How did you find a middle ground?

As Her Unique Mind Settles

UniqueMind

B likes me to tuck her in and have a bedtime chat. I snuggle down between piles of books and stuffed animals.

“Are you sleepy, Honey?”

“No. I’m waiting for my mind to remember everything it just learned. Sometimes when I learn so much in one day, it all goes to the same spot and gets scrambled up and doesn’t make any sense.”

I imagine a room full of boxes where information floats through the air and has to land in its rightful destination. She tells me it takes some time, but eventually her thoughts settle in the correct places.

After a few moments of quiet in the dark,

“Mom, how do you think Homer wrote so much if he was blind? Did someone write the words for him? How do you think he knew how to describe everything? I guess there are a lot of things that you don’t need your eyes for. Sometimes you can just see with your heart.”

We discuss this and new ideas she has and topics that I am studying.

Recently, I read “A Forgotten Voice: A Biography of Leta Hollingworth“, by Ann Klein. She was a pioneer in gifted psychology; a brilliant, dynamic woman during a time that did not offer women as many opportunities.

I tell B about Hollingworth, and how she led the way in the investigation of how the mind works, and studied people whose minds could learn more and faster than others.

“Like me, Mom? That’s how I am. I learn so fast and I feel like I can learn everything and my brain will never fill up. It’s like a notebook, and every time I fill a page, I can turn the page and there is another blank one to write on.”

Yes, I say, like you. I tell her about how Hollingworth also studied the role of emotions in those whose “brains never fill up” and how they often feel more intensely than others.

“Like me, Mom! When I get so mad I cry, and when my beaker fills up so fast and I feel like I’m going to explode!”

She asks if the people whose minds work differently feel differently in the world too.

“Sometimes I feel like everyone likes me and sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. Do you ever feel like you don’t fit in anywhere, Mom?”

Not long ago, I spoke with a young man who is battling depression. He described feeling much like this when he was young. His “rage to master” is still present in his twenties, but the more he learns about the world, the more it feels like a burden. Navigating the intense emotions that come along with deep understanding can be challenging. “Fitting in” is a concept he’s given up on.

B articulates how she feels and learns beautifully.  I hope that her mind’s notebook pages keep turning and filling, and that her father and I can encourage her through the passionate and lonely and expressive moments in her future. I hope she’ll find her tribe where she is understood. I hope that when she’s older,  she’ll embrace her uniqueness the way she does now.

For now, I hope our bedtime chats continue for years to come, for I love to hear her thoughts as her unique mind settles.

This post is part of the#NZGAW Blog Tour for Gifted Awareness Week. 

Click here to read more posts from gifted bloggers and children!

When You Aren’t Smart Enough for Your Six Year Old

Image: Lotus Carroll
Image: Lotus Carroll
B informed me the other night that she “gets all of her brilliance from Dad.*”

It’s rough when your own kids perpetuate your imposter syndrome.

I politely disagreed, but she explained to me that he knows far more than me. I rebutted, stating that he knows far more than me on a variety of subjects, but there are some in which I am the proficient one of the family.

(Like handling your messy emotions, Kid. Let me leave you with Daddy during a meltdown and we’ll see who you think has done more research.)

She persisted with her opinion. Again, I countered.

“You know, brilliance isn’t all about how much you know. It’s also about how much you want to learn and how much you are willing to work for it, especially when you are frustrated.”

The next morning, B got stuck on a Trivia Crack question**, and ran into the office to ask her dad for help. I told her the answer, but she disregarded my words and waited for him. He was in the middle of finishing some work, and answered her (with the same answer) just as she ran out of time.

“Dad! You didn’t answer fast enough! I am out of time!”

To which I replied, “REALLY? I JUST GAVE YOU THE ANSWER. THE SAME ANSWER THAT YOUR FATHER GAVE YOU TOO LATE.”

She shrugged. “Well, I asked him. Not you.”

I swear I’m going to start telling her to go look it up next time she has a question that involves a detailed, time-consuming reply. Because, you know, I am probably just not bright enough to answer her anyway. 😉

*     *     *     *     *

*Dad does not support or reinforce this opinion!

**We all went through a few weeks of Trivia Crack addiction in our house. It unwittingly became a learning tool. B played with her dad and me and picked up an astounding amount of knowledge from it over the course of a few weeks. Do your kids play?

Healthy Perfectionism and How to Encourage It

Healthy Perfectionismimage: Joe Hitchcock

“Overcoming Perfectionism”

“Healing the Wounds of Shame and Perfectionism”

“Freeing your Family From Perfectionism”

These are just a few of the 1,026 book results I find when I search “perfectionism” on Amazon. “Shame”, “guilt”, “not good enough”, “out of control”, “constant need for approval” are terms I see regularly when searching Google for resources.

I’ve thought I needed to fight perfectionism all my life. I’ve read self-help books like the ones listed above. I worry about my children who have inherited the same traits and hope they won’t ever feel that those words apply to them.

Then I read Giftedness 101, by Linda Silverman. In chapter 5, she describes healthy perfectionism in gifted children as something transformative that pushes them to improve themselves and enjoy facing challenges.

I had an “Aha!” moment as I read it. Her explanation described how I approach the world as an adult and many of the behaviors I notice in my children. It explained the whisper in my head that argued, “But I like being a perfectionist! How can wanting to be better be bad for me?”

So, what’s the difference between harmful and healthy perfectionism?

Harmful perfectionism can be paralyzing. It prevents us from reaching goals and taking chances. Add giftedness and anxiety to the mix, and it can become a stronger force that requires professional intervention.

Healthy perfectionism pushes us forward to meet the challenge, break the record and be the best self we can be. It’s a motivator, not a discourager.

Do you see this in your kids? I see both sides of perfectionism in my girls and I’d like to share some ways we are working to cultivate healthy perfectionism in our household.

1. Encourage Pursuits that they Love

B loves gymnastics. She works hard at practice and has a great attitude. Her coach noticed this and promoted her to the team in January. This led to a rocky period – She was a 6-year-old in a group of 8 and 9-year-olds. Her small stature was a disadvantage and her muscle development was two years behind the others. Gymnastics became really hard. Her coach talked to her about working with a different group and coming back to the team in six months.

I worried that she would feel defeated and give up. I prepared to convince her to persevere and not let a setback ruin something she loves. I began thinking of other activities she could do instead if she didn’t want to continue at the gym. That was my harmful perfectionism talking. The “why try? You’ll never be good enough” voice that plagued me as a child. 

Thankfully, she hears a different voice of perfectionism – one that encourages her to keep going until she gets it. Her motivation grew stronger. She began practicing at home every day and working even harder at the gym. Her attitude stayed upbeat. It paid off – she’s been asked to come back to the team in June instead of September. She is so proud of herself and enjoys gymnastics more with every challenge she overcomes.

What does your child enjoy? Whether it’s art, sports or competitive chess, encourage activities that they love. It’s much easier to face a challenge when it holds personal satisfaction for you. When the pursuit becomes difficult, help your child to see how much progress they’ve made. B loves to watch old videos of herself doing gymnastics – it’s a visual reminder of her improvement over the last year.

2. Be Understanding

Remember that asynchrony plays a large part in your child’s perfectionism. If your 7-year-old has 10-year-old ideas, the distance between what he wants to do and what he is physically capable of may be frustrating. Be empathetic. Share a personal story about a situation that turned out to be much more difficult than you thought it should be and how you handled it. If your child needs to rage about it, let him. It’s good to work through the negative feelings. When the smoke clears, discuss why the goal is important to him, and encourage him to try again. Show him how to break a big project into smaller steps and celebrate taking risks along the way. Help him focus on the joy of the process, not the product.

3. Be a Good Example

I am not athletic at all. I have terrible balance and trip over my own feet if I am not paying attention. I married a natural athlete then had adventurous children and they all like to rock climb. I am terrified of rock climbing. I used to blame it on my short legs, but the truth is, I hate looking stupid. When I rock climb, I feel so inadequate and uncomfortable. I act cranky and came dangerously close to throwing a fit once during some perilous hiking a climb my four-year-old handled with ease. I reflected on my poor behavior and admitted the cause – I didn’t want to fail in front of my family.

I talked to the girls about it and apologized. We came up with worst case scenarios and had a good laugh at the thought of me sliding down a hill on my bum. They encouraged me. “That could happen, Mom, but it didn’t! We’ve never even seen you fall!”

It’s important that they see me fall every now and then so they can watch me get back up, dust off and try again.

 4. Offer “Safe” Opportunities for Failure.

Games have proven to be the best venue for “safe” failure in our home. It hasn’t been easy. We’ve purchased several games recently that involve strategy, taking chances and uncertain odds. I usually introduce a game in a modified version with fewer variables, and we work our way to playing by the rules. The first time we played Rat-a-Tat Cat with all of our cards face down, B had a breakdown. She could not handle the possibility of guessing and making the wrong choice. We talked it through. What was the worst thing that could happen? Would it matter later in the day or tomorrow? Finally, she was able to work through her anxiety and play the game, and it’s one of her favorites now. I’ve seen her generalize these strategies to other areas of her life and it makes me proud.

5. It’s Not Your Fault

Some kids are born more anxious than others and lean toward self-critical perfectionism. You’ve tried read the books, tried the strategies, are endlessly encouraging…and nothing helps. You are a good parent. Perfectionism, along with many other quirks, is a typical part of a gifted child’s wiring and is rarely caused by poor parenting, despite what our judgemental society often tells us. If you feel like your child’s version of perfectionism is beyond healthy parameters, a good therapist can help.

Healthy perfectionism fuels the Olympic athlete, the best-selling novelist,  and the mathematician who spends years proving a theory. The attitude behind perfectionism makes all the difference.

Embrace it. Let it motivate you. Teach your children that mistakes are hurdles, not roadblocks, and prepare them to leap.

Resources on Perfectionism:

The Many Faces of Perfectionism, Linda Silverman (summary)

Perfectionism: The Crucible of Giftedness, Linda Silverman (More extensive overview of perfectionism and how it relates to Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration – excellent read!)

What’s Wrong With Perfect?, Silvia Rimm

Real Learning: Meet the Perfectionists, Lisa Natcharian

This blog post is part of the May 2015 GHF Blog Hop – Perfectionism and Other Gifted/2e Quirks. You can find more posts on this subject here

Three Words to Never Say to Your Child’s Teacher

Last week, I wrote a post discussing common myths about early enrollment and acceleration. What should you do when educators hold on to these fallacies at the expense of your child’s social growth and academic development? 

This week, I am happy to share a post from my friend Celi Trépanier, author of Educating Your Gifted Child: How One Public School Teacher Embraced Homeschooling, as she relates some insightful advice on what you should and should not say to your child’s teacher. 

**Also, see follow up post, Words You Should Say to Your Child’s Teacher

Advocating for Your Gifted Child: 
3 Words to Never Say to Your Child’s Teacher

Gifted children need and deserve an appropriately challenging education as do all children, but as the educational system focuses more on improving test scores and teaching to the middle, our gifted children have found themselves left out in the cold—unchallenged and not making sufficient educational progress.

As parents of gifted children, we find ourselves in the position of having to advocate, trying to convince our child’s teacher and the school to implement the needed educational accommodations our gifted child needs. It is most certainly an uphill battle. Schools and teachers face increasing demands on their time from their administration to focus on children who need to meet grade level standards. And guess what? Our gifted children frequently already meet the grade level standards and attention then focuses away from their educational needs.

And, there are times, many times, in which a regular classroom teacher just doesn’t understand gifted children. Many of these teachers have had one too many parent push to get their high-achieving child identified as gifted and into the gifted program. When a parent arrives at the classroom door wanting to talk about their gifted child who is apparently under-challenged, teachers become jaded. A teacher’s predisposition to believing you will be that parent doesn’t make them a bad teacher, just one who forgets that there can be gifted children in their classroom who need more.

Trying not to appear to be that parent is a situation you will have to contend with, as unfair as it is. But when your gifted child is suffering because she needs acceleration, accommodations or differentiation, you have to step in and advocate.

Need some help? Here are three things you should probably not—no, maybe never—say to your child’s teacher when advocating for the appropriate education your gifted child needs.

1. NEVER USE THE WORD “BORED”.

Telling your child’s teacher that your child is bored is like telling the teacher she is boring, how she teaches is boring and that her class is boring. No one wants to hear criticism, especially a teacher who cares about her students and is working tirelessly for all of the children in her class. And bringing up the negative points never helps a discussion move in a positive direction.

2. AVOID USING THE WORD “GIFTED”.

Yes, your child has been identified as being gifted. And yes, “gifted” is the clinical term used in psychology, education and in the medical field for a child who has a higher IQ and above-average intellectual strengths. But, yes, “gifted” does trigger emotional reactions such as resentment, frustration, anger, indifference and envy which can be detrimental to what you are trying to achieve. Instead of using the word “gifted” to describe your child, point out your child’s achievements, strengths and abilities using test scores and classwork as proof.

3. TRY NOT TO USE THE WORD “YOU”.

Avoid making the conversation about the teacher—“you need to give my child more challenging work”, “can you differentiate her classwork?” or “why can’t you accelerate her?” Instead, keep the conversation focused on your gifted child and her needs. Express clearly what negative behaviors you are seeing in your child due to her being unchallenged, and state the educational accommodations your child needs to succeed. Keep the focus of the conversation on your child, not on what your child’s teacher has not been doing or should be doing for your child.

Advocating for your gifted child is a tough gig and the odds are, you will likely get some push back from the teacher and the school. Be diligent, but thoughtful when advocating for your gifted child because your child needs you to be in her corner. She deserves an appropriate education.

About Celi:


Celi Trépanier was born and raised in south Louisiana. She grew up with a strong Cajun French heritage, eventually married a French-Canadian, and has three wonderful sons. She currently resides in central Iowa with her husband and youngest son.

Celi has a vast and varied background in education. She received her B.S. from Loyola University in New Orleans and her M.Ed. from the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, then taught in Louisiana, Ontario, and Alabama, in public schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops.

Celi became a passionate advocate for gifted children after tiring of her family’s painful battles with traditional schools and the misunderstanding and neglect of gifted students. Through adversity came her passion, her strength, and her voice. She advocates for the educational, emotional, and social needs of all gifted children, and her dream is for schools and society to one day understand the truths about giftedness in children. Her writing centers on her advocacy for gifted children and her own journey with her three gifted sons. Her emotional and sometimes pointed posts can be found on her website, Crushing Tall Poppies.

You can follow Celi on Linkedin, Twitter, & Facebook