Friday, August 29, 2008

Kids and "Giftedness"

I just read a brilliant article entitled, "Is your kid really gifted? Probably not." I love it for a host of reasons...

Many years ago I had a third grade class in which 1/3 of the class was identified as "gifted." What a joke! Yes, I had some bright kids. But the kids that they pulled from my classroom were not necessarily any brighter than the kids they left's just that the areas of "brightness" were the areas that are usually held in highest regard in the school setting...things like reading, math and science. The activities that were offered to the "gifted" were activities that could have benefited any of the children in my classroom. It was a shame that only a select few (excuse me, a full THIRD) were given the opportunity to get an "enriched" curriculum.

Years later, my own daughter was identified as gifted in kindergarten. Her enriched curriculum consisted of a stack of worksheets and a one-on-one teaching assistant who helped her put together a book once during the year. I felt terrible that the assistant was being pulled away from the kids who really needed help--the non-English speaking kids and the kids who'd never picked up a pencil before kindergarten...which brings me to another point...

You cannot compare a child who has had a rich early learning environment to a child who has not. A child who has never picked up a pencil and has never been read to is not going to show the same abilities as the child who has been read to every day since birth. It's just not gonna happen. (Or in the rare < %1 of the cases when it does happen, then you might truly have a gifted child on your hands.) They say that the #1 predictor of school success is how much a child has been read to. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that those who are read to are going to look heads and tails ahead (especially in the beginning) of those who were not.

When my daughter was 3 1/2, her Sunday School teacher said, "Is there a book or something that you're using to teach Lizzie? If there is, I want to buy it and do it with my daughter cause Lizzie is so smart. She knows how to write her name and everything. You can see it in her eyes how smart she is!" Lizzie was smart. She is smart. So are her two brothers and one sister. The book(s) that I used are called Give a Mouse a Cookie, Make Way for Ducklings, Bread and Jam for Frances, Owl Babies, Corduroy, Babar, Madeline,....and on and on and on. You get the point.

Incidentally, Lizzie was a preschool dropout. She tried preschool for about a month and asked to quit. I let her. Instead we were zealots about our library attendance. Every week for more than five years we made a trip to the library for storytime. It was one of the highlights of our week.

But let's look at the article again...

1. Forget about the "g" word

I LOVE this! I love it so much that when Lizzie returned to school this year I didn't even ask for gifted services. She qualifies. Frankly, I could care less. I love who she is, not what her score is on a standardized test. Additionally, schools really don't have much to offer in the way of gifted resources, at least in our area. (This coming from someone who has been hired to do some gifted education in another school district this year.) "Giftedness" doesn't matter as much as this does...

2. Start with the basics

I cannot say it any more clearly than they do here:

In the first three years of life, all children need to feel a sense of security and attachment. Being held, being loved and having one's basic needs met are all critical for future learning.

The growing brain next needs stimulation in order to change and develop. One thing it loves: novelty. Every time your baby is exposed to new toys, words, sounds, textures, tastes, smells, faces and places, she's learning. You don't have to work overtime to make this happen; everything in everyday life is new to a baby.

By late infancy and toddlerhood, some kids do dart way ahead on milestone charts, and some don't. Whether your kid does or doesn't, experts say, all babies, toddlers and preschoolers will thrive as long as they are:

• Provided a predictable life with a reasonably ordered environment.

• Held and touched often.

• Talked to (or sung to) often.

• Read to frequently.

• Exposed to interesting experiences.

• Given many opportunities to learn through play.

The only thing I'd add is that "the basics" are absolutely crucial for brain development. You want good brain wiring? Then hold your child. Talk to him. Read to him. Play with him.

3. Play's the thing

Over the last few years I've taken several post-graduate courses in play therapy. One of the most important things I learned was just how essential play is. Preschoolers don't need computers. Or Baby Einstein. Or enrichment classes. Or big expensive trips. They do need to play. And they don't need fancy toys to do it. Blocks and boxes and rocks and forts under big bushes...all are ideal for development. It doesn't need to have flashing lights or spin or use batteries. But after reading Last Child in the Woods, I am convinced that a great deal of the play time or the "being" time needs to be done outdoors.

And some of the play time needs to be with mom or dad if you want it to have the additional benefit of creating relationship. Nothing can quite substitute for what you learn when you get on the floor and actively play with your children. It's the place where you learn secret sads and mads and scareds...and happinesses...that you may have never learned about another way.

4. Tune in to your kid

The fancy name for what they're describing is "cognitive dissonance." If something is too easy, you don't learn anything. If it's too hard, you don't learn anything. Somewhere between being sure of yourself and being totally clueless you find the wonderful middle ground...where you don't know the answer but realize you have the power and ability to figure it out. Cognitive Dissonance is scary sometimes. But the younger you are, the more it's just a part of life. What's scary about looking at a cocoon and wondering what it looked like before this stage and what it will look like in a few days?

I remember one of the richest educational experiences we ever did while homeschooling. Ants. Yup, ants. We'd take a long walk down the street every day to watch the ants and see what else we could learn. One day my daughter got up at daylight to accompany me on my jog down the street just so she could see what the ants were doing. We were marvelously surprised to see that they were barely moving...sluggish in the morning fog and cold. A few years later we rejoiced at learning that ladybug larvae look like creepy miniature alligators...ugly creatures that we would have squished had we not known what they would eventually turn into. Learning is in the everyday. But it's in the everyday that we find brilliance.

5. Be a guide, not a coach

This sums it up:

Above all, don't overfocus on cognitive abilities. "You also want your child to be resilient, empathetic, and creative," Schader said.

And you both want to enjoy his childhood....

So relax. The best gift your child can have is the gift of time with you. Reading, singing, playing, dancing, catching fireflies -- it's all good. The rest is gravy.

Enjoy every firefly moment you can get. And ant moment. And ugly ladybug larvae moment.

P.S. If you're really into labeling your child as gifted, then this is an article worth reading. I by no means agree with the article but I think the concept of "levels of giftedness" is interesting...especially after being told that 1/3 of my class of 3rd graders was gifted. This article would have been helpful to help sort out what was meant by "gifted"...gifted at what level?

I Don't Get It...

I might make someone mad by saying this. But as far as I know only my close personal friends and a few cyberpals read this anyway, so here goes...

What becomes of an infant and the other four kids in the family when their parents both work full-time jobs...and one of those jobs happens to be running the largest state in the U.S. while consecutively campaigning for the second biggest office in the nation????

I am not opposed to women working. I work. I work a creative schedule that allows me to be home with my children the bulk of the time. If I were to go back to work full-time, we would figure out a schedule that would allow my husband to be home. If all our kids were old enough to be in school we would try to arrange for one of us to be home as much as possible when the kids weren't in school.

But I fail to understand how Sarah Palin's infant son is going to get the dedicated time from his parents that he needs when his father works full-time and his mother is Governor of the state of Alaska and running for VP. And that doesn't even begin to address the fact that he has special needs (Down's Syndrome) or the fact that he has 4 brothers and sisters....only one of whom is old enough to be out of the house and on his own.

Why do people have children and then voluntarily take 24/7 jobs that do not allow them to do the job of raising them? This isn't a matter of of their incomes would do just fine. She is only 44 years old...still has many campaigning years ahead of her. But she has only a matter of months in which to make the most impact on her son's neurodevelopment...and the brain wiring that is being laid now will affect him for the rest of his life.

And, yes, I will feel tons better if I hear that her husband has quit his job to become a full-time dad. A full-time DAD...not full-time campaign manager. I don't care WHO takes care of the kids, but I think kids deserve to have a PARENT. Especially the very young.

Ugh. Thanks for letting me vent.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Trip to Vermont

I am NOT very good at mixing work and play.

I was hired for a 2-day job in Vermont. Since dh and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary, we thought it'd be fun to combine a work trip (he was able to do some work at an office just 2 hrs. south of my location) with an additional day of sightseeing.

But I am not very good at post-job relaxation!!!!

After teaching a workshop, I am wiped out. I just want to kick back, relax, and do nothing. Instead, we got in the car and drove around Vermont. We did have fun, but it was hard for me to let go of thinking about the workshop and just enjoy the here and now. It was also VERY hard for me to leave my children 3000 miles away and fly with dh in a jet. I don't like to fly. I especially don't like to fly knowing that my children's only parents are together in a jet.

But we did see some fun stuff. First off, Vermont is beautiful. It's one of the few places in the U.S. that I've visited that I could say, "Yeah, I could live here." Our home area is so beautiful that I rarely see any place that compares to it. But Vermont did a pretty good job. I especially could get used to the teaching conditions. When teachers told me about their classes of 13-17 kids I about had heart failure. In comparison to the 30+ kids/class around here, that was shocking.

We drove around a lot of country roads just looking at the scenery, houses, etc... We saw Stowe and the Trapp Family (Von Trapps...Sound of Music) lodge. We toured the Ben & Jerry's ice cream facility and had a sample. We stopped in Jericho and accidentally came across an exhibit on "Snowflake Bentley." I was excited about it since Snowflake Bentley is one of my favorite books. We especially enjoyed walking Church St. in Burlington and watching the street performers.

Loved Vermont. But so glad to be home again!!!

I'll load a few pix when I have a chance.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Summer Trip Highlights

First stop was to Crater Lake. Gorgeous! And fun to play in a little snow in June!

"MOM! It peed on me!!! A LOT!!!!" (Nebraska toad. I guess he didn't want to come with us.)

"Mom, this is so cool! It's all squishy!" We drove a couple miles outside Walnut Grove, MN, to the farmland where the dugout once stood "On the Banks of Plum Creek." It was a fun experience...we just drove up the driveway of a farmhouse, put $4 in a drop box (honor system) and drove back to Plum Creek. Then we got to walk in the creek. The creek itself was warm, shallow and beautiful. But my 13yo DD was most intrigued by the mud along the banks.

The day we visited the Badlands, it was about 105 degrees. They don't call it the Badlands for nuthin'!

Mt. Rushmore. Pretty much speaks for itself, dontcha think? The biggest observation we had was that it was smaller (at least from our observation point) than we woulda guessed.

We saw many, many buffalo at Yellowstone. You'd think the poor guys would get sick of having their pictures taken. More flashbulbs going off around the buffalo at Yellowstone than there are around Paris Hilton.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

On-Line Game Challenge

The kids have been playing with Magic Pen (online game) this afternoon. It's quite the challenge. I like it because it's an intellectual challenge. Try it and tell me how you do. ;)

12 Foods You Don't Need to Buy Organic

Here's an article about the 12 foods that you don't need to buy organically grown.

  • Broccoli
  • Eggplant
  • Cabbage
  • Banana
  • Kiwi
  • Asparagus
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Mango
  • Pineapple
  • Sweet corn (frozen)
  • Avocado
  • Onion

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Want to Post, But No Time....

It's that time of year! I'm only sitting here for a moment while I wait for 'LilDude's gluten free bread dough to rise. The rest of the family is at the fair and I'm trying to get odds and ends done.

I think August is the busiest month of the year. I often have workshops in August (do this year!) the same time that I'm trying to put food away for the winter. This morning the kids picked the green beans and I snapped most of them, blanched them, and put them in the freezer. I think I did about 12 quarts. I also blanched and froze a couple bags of broccoli and about 5 bags of zucchini chunks. It'll all get used this winter. We had emptied one of our three freezers and turned it off to save electricity, but it's time to turn it back on...the other two freezers are full to overflowing and my parents are still storing a bunch of frozen blueberries for us.

We're eating like crazy out of the garden: cucumbers, broccoli, beans, lettuce (tons of salads!), snowpeas, zucchini. Today 'LilDude picked a few delicious remaining strawberries, the sweetest we've had this year. The blueberries are coming to an end, but there are still a few out there. The tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage and corn are on the way.

Sunday dinner was fun. Grandma and Grandpa came to church with us. Eating out was discussed, but I couldn't see taking eight people out to eat when the garden is overflowing with produce. So we came home and I sent the kids out to gather whatever they could find: snowpeas, zucchini, yellow squash, green beans, green pepper, broccoli, greens. The kids helped me wash and chop. I pulled some of our cooked chicken (the free range birds we buy) out of the freezer and made a huge stirfry to eat with rice. Added a bowl of blueberries for dessert. Delicious! I think we were done faster than if we'd gone out to eat.

So now you know where I've been...

Off to check my bread. ;)
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