Wednesday, March 30, 2011

You know your child is gifted when...

There are lots of books and websites with checklists of characteristics you find in gifted children and infants.  But what does that mean on a day to day basis? What is the difference between "smart" and "gifted"? And how does an exceptionally gifted child differ from a moderately gifted one?

I knew my kids were "smart", but was unsure if they were "gifted". I did not have much experience of young children and we all seemed "normal" in our family! But there were signs....

  • Video Boy had a bit of a lag between his first words (the usual "mama") and further words. But when he did open his mouth - out came complete sentences! At 2, his preschool teachers were amazed by his large vocabulary.
  • Both children loved books - would pick them up (the right way round) and turn the pages before age 1. Wombat Girl was reading books to the other preschoolers at age 4. She amazed the sales assistant at the shops by reading the signs out loud at age 3. Video Boy reading Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy in Year 3.
  • Video Boy has an amazing memory - everything read is retained and regurgitated when appropriate. Wombat Girl was able to describe the colour of the local swimming centre at age 2 (when I certainly couldn't tell you!).
  • Both children loved counting and letters. Wombat Girl was counting the legs on the chairs at a gathering by counting by 4s at age 4. Video Boy asked for "change" after handing over his "coins" at preschool.
  • Wombat Girl sees the patterns in everything. The creche staff at the swimming pool called me over to show me the 50-piece jigsaw puzzle she completed at age 2.
  • They are such divergent thinkers - at her IQ test, when asked to compute how many people were left on the bus if there were 20 passengers and 7 got off, Wombat Girl asked if the number included the bus driver!
  • Wombat Girl loves board games, word games, number games. Her favourite sentence is "can we play a game?" She is always ready to be mentally challenged.

But there is also a dark side of giftedness....
  • Preschool staff were concerned about Video Boy only engaging in parallel play instead of playing with the other boys with the trucks.
  • Ultra-sensitive sensory systems means Wombat Girl cries when I brush her hair and Video Boy can't stand tags on the back of his shirts.
  • They have different interests than kids of their age and make complicated strategy games that others cannot understand, but due to their emotional sensitivity, cry easily and can appear "immature".
  • They can work years ahead of "grade level" in some areas, but struggle to write fast enough to keep up with the rest of the class.
  • The need to know overrides everything - a simple "because I said so" was never enough - I was better off to explain why straight away. Video Boy could argue before he could walk.
  • Video Boy was questioning Biblical versions of creation in Year One at school, basing his argument on evidence provided by scientists.
  • The injustice of the playground frequently became too much for Wombat Girl, who would spend most of the trip home from school in tears.

There are positives and negatives to every situation, every child. Sometimes I think they are magnified with gifted children. They are so different from other kids that they can sometimes think there is something wrong with them. One of the great things about homeschooling is that we are "normal". We can think and feel deeply and that's OK.

Gifted kids are all individuals - they differ from each other as much as they differ from "average" kids. If you have gifted kids, what was your biggest "sign" that something "not normal" was going on?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 5

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week:
Forget leaking fishtanks! This week we have had a leaking house. Huge volumes of rain meant our poor roof didn't cope and rain found it's way into a crack, down the upstairs loungeroom wall, through the first floor and throught the ceiling downstairs into DH's office and Video Boy's bedroom. That's what you get for buying a "doer-upperer".

I also gave my Blog a bit of a facelift - what do you think?

In our homeschool this week:
We totally loved reading aloud "Weslandia" by Paul Fleischman! A beautifully written and illustrated book about imagination, creativity, ecosystems, being different and fitting in (see video link below). We completed an activity comparing the visual text with the written text and the effect that it has on the reader and looked into the components of Wesley's ecosystem.

Places we're going and people we are seeing:
Drove north one hour on the weekend in the pouring rain to visit a friend of Video Boy's- geez, the things we do for socialisation! And DS wasn't even that keen! He ended up enjoying himself, although I don't think we'll rush back.

Finished fractions and onto decimals. We enjoyed watching the Great Courses Basic Math DVD on adding and subtracting decimals. The kids are on top of it, but it led to a discussion about bank accounts, credit, debit and balancing budgets (can you see the natural learning sneaking here?). Off to the bank we went to open accounts for the kids, only to be told they didn't have enough staff and could we come back tomorrow! Life lesson there too! We came back and bank accounts are now open! I love homeschooling!

Here in NSW, Australia we had a State Election. Great opportunity to discuss democracy, our system of government and voting. The kids came into the polling booth with us and helped us fill out our voting papers. We then sat up and watched the election results on TV - a new State government!

My favourite thing this week:
Watching the kids, and DH and Max, the dog snuggling up on the lounge on Saturday morning watching cartoons!

What's working for us/not working:
Being able to take things on their natural progression - banking, elections, ecosystems. How great is it that we can go out into the real world and learning doesn't just happen at school (or home!)?

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have:
Where's the excursion permission note and risk management paperwork? Oh, that's right! We can go out whenever/wherever we want! 

Photo/link/video to share:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A teacher

I'm a high school science teacher. In Australia, this means teaching Years 7 to 12 (ages 12 to 18). This year I am working part-time in a job-share arrangement two days a week so I can homeschool my own kids. 

I wasn't always a teacher. I used to be lots of other things, but I went into teaching because I thought I could make a difference and "inspire" young minds! I guess I have always been slightly delusional!

I thought I would be a good teacher.  I ran courses for engineers and farmers on stream management and fluvial geomorphology (you'll have to look that one up!).  The feedback I got was very positive. I was told I was skilled at explaining complex ideas in simple terms which were easily understood. Interstate government departments paid me to travel and run my courses.

I imagined myself maybe not so much as the "cool" teacher, but at least as the one that the kids enjoyed having. You know, the one that made learning exciting. They were going to listen and learn from me because I was interesting, I had "real-world" experience and I would capture their attention with my sparkling personality! No boring science-nerd teaching here, thanks. 

I was hoping to inspire the next crop of environmentalists. Not extreme greenies, but citizens who would engage in the world at a local and global level. Who would understand the planning process and be ready to stand up for the environment when no one else was. They would totally get the "bigger picture".

So why is it, on my paid workdays (because every day is a work day here!), I have to drag myself out of bed and schlepp to work? Where is my enthusiasm? Why don't I love teaching like I thought I would? 

The reality of students is one issue. The majority (not all, but lots) are just not interested in science, the environment and taking action. All way too much effort. They are not very good at listening - actively or passively! They have lots of distractions in their lives I never had when I was at school - mobile phones, ipods, internet, laptops, games, social networking. I'm not quite instantaneous enough for them and neither is the reward of effort, even if I am as colourful and high tech as I can be. I do not look forward to practical activities because I don't have enough sets of eyes to make sure everyone is following instructions and being safe.

The reality of schools is another issue. I teach 7 different classes, with a minimum of 25 students in each, over the course of my two days a week. That's a lot of different lesson planning in not very much time, which means I am not realistically able to plan lessons to the standard I really want them to be. Mixed ability classes mean that I should differentiate for a range of abilities. Again more planning and not enough time to do it in. I absolutely still search out new and exciting ways to present the material I am required to teach, but there is a limit to how much sleep I am willing to forgo. I teach in several different shared classrooms which means we can't keep our projects out on desks or tables or even display our work (it gets vandalised).

Teaching may not be what I imagined it to be, but I still have "golden moments" where a student will write me a note and express how much I've helped them. I have had students run up to me and hug me when they have discovered I'm back teaching at their school. The students and I have shared camps and musical productions and excursions and extra-curricular workshops. 

There are moments when I know I am making a difference.  I just wish there more of them.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 4

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week...
Back a year or so ago, I did a fitness "boot camp" with teachers from school.  We were fit and motivated.  They still are....this week they entered their first triathlon.  I looked at the photo with joy (for them) and envy (me). 

Last year I was commuting up to 3 hours a day, so fitness took a back seat to driving.  I promised myself this year would see me looking after myself better as well as homeschooling.  Well, I've got the homeschooling thing going on pretty well, but the fitness thing....not so much.  I keep telling myself "it's time".  It's time!

In our homeschool this week...
After a teary start to the week (who know cutting fingernails was so traumatic?), I figured sitting down to a tough session of decimals wasn't going to go down well.  So I asked the kids if they could learn anything at all, what would they like to learn more about?  Video Boy said "cooking".  So, cooking it was!  We have been trying to cut out sugar after reading Sweet Poison, so we were trialling some of the recipes using dextrose instead of sugar.  The coconut biscuits were yum!  

We then completed in a fractions worksheet from Enrichematics which I thought was a pretty clever way of linking in maths with recipes!  See, I'm starting to get into this natural learning thingy!

The other HUGE interest this week was history.  It had been bothering me that we had not really touched on history at all.  So I pulled out an old History of the World book I got when I was young, and we started at the beginning (a very good place to start, I'm told!) - the stone age.

A couple of YouTube videos later from the Horrible Histories series and they were hooked!  We finished up our stone age day with a notebook , which I had wondered about but not really looked into, and a timeline.  

Video Boy got right into it and started a very detailed cartoon of his view of stone age life.  Wombat Girl found the task a bit too open-ended and more tears ensued.  What a day!

We went to the local bookstore and purchased the DVD of Series One of Horrible Histories - it has been on constant play ever since - I think the kids have learnt more history in one week than I have in my life! Not what I had planned, but who can argue when they are loving learning?

With all that history, it was Pi Day and we missed it...never mind, we will revisit when we get to geometry.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
We ventured out to meet up with a local homeschooling group on Wednesday - our first one! Wombat Girl fit in straight away with the other kids, while Video Boy had a good time once he was introduced to the other boys (those teenagers look so old!).  I had a nice time getting to know other homeschooling mums from the local area and found we homeschool for such a variety of reasons and the people who homeschool are just as varied as the kids we teach.

My favorite thing this week was...
The cooler weather! Such a relief - I was melting.

What's working/not working for us...
Wombat Girl had real trouble with the notebooking concept. Other mums suggested she might prefer the more structured approach of lapbooking - something I will have to look into.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
What's lapbooking and will it work for us?

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...
My turn...

Friday, March 18, 2011


This week, it seems the theme is "love".

Both my children (bless them) constantly say "I love you Mum".  They may say "I love you so much" or "I love you lots", but the take-home message is that they love me and want to let me know.  I'm glad we've encouraged them to be able to say that phrase and have a way to express their feelings.  

It's not necessarily the case with my own parents - it just wasn't something we did a lot of. But I'm glad I was able to utter the phrase to my Dad before he died and I'm getting better with my Mum.

Wombat Girl has recently taken to shortening the phrase to just "Love."  She will come up and give me a hug and say "Love."  She will call out down the stairs as she goes to bed "Love."  That one simple word, conveys so much!

The last paragraph in this article and the lovely words in this blogpost  make me very glad I'm homeschooling and have lots of "love" moments - moments I would never have or share if my kids were at school every day.  Love!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 3

The Homeschool Mother's Journal
In my life this week...
A teacher friend of mine had an article about her life in the local paper (not much happens here obviously!), and she commented that she loved teaching teenagers and that the key is to have an interest in your students as individuals.

Although I’m only teaching two days a week, I’m finding it a bit tough going, especially compared to homeschooling. The negative parts of the school system seem to overwhelm me and exhaust me. So this was timely advice, even if it seems a bit difficult when I teach over 150 kids in 7 different classes...Even the most difficult of teens have a story behind their angst and a sympathetic ear or understanding adult is what they need more than facts and timetables.  Approaching my teaching with this attitude has improved my days at work.

In our homeschool this week...

We had our first foray into Freewriting this week!  We set the timer for 5 minutes (because we are newbies and reluctant writers) and wrote.  Me too!  The kids were very proud of their results and Video Boy is keen to build on what he started next week.  Wombat Girl very clearly expressed her frustration with writing tasks and that horrible "mental blank" feeling.  I am looking forward to see how we progress in the next few weeks.

Fractions – tick. Wombat Girl was NOT looking forward to fractions – because she feels that they have been done to death at school last year.  Her strength and passion is maths and she keenly felt the frustration of waiting for the rest of the class to grasp concepts she already knows or got instantly, even though she was in a gifted class last year.  So we moved fairly quickly through them – simplifying, converting, adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.  And sure enough, she had a good handle on it all.  Video Boy coped well enough, but might need a bit more revision/consolidation later on.

We also had a bit of focus on healthy eating and put a chart up on the kitchen whiteboard to see if we could achieve our 5+2 of veges and fruit!  Think we might have a bit more work to do on that...And I think we will so some of the activities on the website.

Still loving chemistry and exploring physical properties of our favourite elements (yeah, I know, what a bunch of nerds, having “favourite” elements!).  We know why tungsten is used in light bulb filaments!  Wow – that’s a high melting point!

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
More gymnastics for Wombat Girl and tennis for both kids.  On Saturday night we (excitedly!) went to visit another homeschooling family in the area.  The kids are different ages, but are also gifted, and it is wonderful to watch them get on so well. The adults also had a very nice night, with new friendships being forged.

My favorite thing this week was...
It’s (slowly) getting cooler here in Oz, so our backyard pool is not as warm as it was.  So I took the kids to the local indoor swimming pool, where we worked on our swimming skills.  I used to be a swimming instructor, so I know how hard it is to coordinate arms, legs and breathing!  They are coming along, and I think a few weeks of help from me will see big improvements.  Didn’t enjoy all the high school kids there for sport...”Hi Miss!  What are you doing here?”  Might have to go in the morning next week...

What's working/not working for us...
Liking being able to adapt curriculum to suit us.  Cutting out all the ‘busy work’ worksheets and questions and get to the work that challenges us.  I love being able to cater the work to suit my kids and keep them interested.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
I can see that I may have to differentiate maths for the kids – I can see Wombat Girl starting to need more advanced work.  I’m sure I can cope with that (she says confidently!).

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...
Video Boy showing off his cool "Think" t-shirt composed of elements from the periodic table.  We got this t-shirt at Cafe Press

Wombat Girl wearing one of her favourite t-shirts - she really does love wombats! We got this t-shirt from Nowra Wildlife Park 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The "G" Word

This week I had a meeting to discuss an Enrichment Program for gifted and talented students at my school.  When discussing who to include, the question was asked: “What sort of gifts are we talking about?  Sporting, music, or whatever?”  The outcome of the meeting was that the program should be extended to include middle and lower ability kids too, because it had value to all students.

ARRGGGHH!!!  I don’t know why we are so afraid to use the term “gifted” as it relates to intellectual giftedness!  And why do we feel anxious about providing gifted kids with education that meets their needs?

When we use the word “gifted” to describe children or students, there are many around us that find that term a little uncomfortable and indeed confusing.  In fact, many people are reluctant to use the term at all, because they feel it is suggesting that children who are not gifted are somehow of less value.

“All children are gifted, in their own way” is a statement we hear often from those who feel uncomfortable with the g-word.  Perhaps they are confusing “gifts” with “strengths”.  All of us have at least one area in which we can do better or enjoy more than others.  But all of us are not tall.  All of us are not the fastest runners.  All of us are not gifted!

I love this presentation by Michael C Thompson Are All Children Gifted?.

Perhaps if we viewed intellectual giftedness as being an issue of need, rather than one of worth, we could feel more comfortable using the term.  If students are gifted in an area, be it sporting, fine arts, social leadership or intellectual pursuits, then those students have different needs from most of their peers and we need to respond appropriately to those needs.  Maybe we need to rethink the term "special needs" to include the other end of the bell curve too.

Back to the enrichment program...there are plenty of opportunities in school for talented sportspeople and musicians.  I don’t see how opening up enrichment opportunities that are meant to be for GATs kids helps serve them.  I like Passow’s criteria for judging the suitability of curriculum for gifted learners:
1.       Would all learners want to be involved in such learning experiences?
2.       Could all students participate in such learning experiences?
3.       Should all children be expected to succeed in such learning experiences?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then the “enrichment” course is not sufficiently differentiated for gifted learners.

I left the meeting feeling frustrated and disappointed.  I also felt that until the majority of educators aren’t afraid to use the G-word and they truly “get” what gifted kids need, then my kids won’t be part of that education system, because I can do a better job at home.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal - 2

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week...
A decluttering week - we only have a tiny house and any clutter seems to fill it!  Our dining table seems to fill with not only homeschooling activities, but newspapers, letters, laptops, and miscellaneous junk.  I've also been watching Hoarders, and am very keen to not hold on to "junk" - love or lose it has to be my motto!  The kitchen it sparking clean now and has lots spacious bench tops.  What a pity I went to my favourite kitchenwares store today and bought more stuff!

In our homeschool this week...

We continued reading A Chemy Called Al.  This book is linked into our Acid, Acid Everywhere unit of work on acid base chemistry, and the kids (and I) are loving it and it's prequel A Gebra Called Al (which conveniently also linked into order of operations in maths!).  The author, Wendy Isdel, wrote the first book when she was in school.  There is also a Teacher's guide which has lots of fun activities which match to the chapter.

Video Boy did a fabulous oral description of a banana (before consuming it!) and Wombat Girl did a detailed description of a carrot - both part of the Writer's Jungle course.  They spoke and I typed and we will use that later to create a descriptive paragraph.

My reluctant writer Video Boy then shocked me by requesting to write a booklet - a procedure list of the Okami Brush video game.  It is very detailed and well illustrated and I was so floored that he voluntarily wrote something!

Wednesday was Dr Seuss' birthday, so we digressed with lots of read aloud Dr Seuss and a trip down memory lane watching the DVDs of The Sneetches and Cat In the Hat.  What a fun morning!  It was also World Maths Day, and so many hours were spent trying to out-compute kids from around the world!

Include Fibonacci numbers, Lego mazes, discussions about Australia's legal system, listening to Peter and the Wolf, finding out about the parts of an orchestra and thinking of an orchestra as a system, we had a pretty well rounded week.

Places we're going and people we're seeing...
More gymnastics and tennis.  Outing with the dog to the park and the quaint Mogo where fudge and kitchen gadgets were purchased!

My favorite thing this week was...
Watching the kids finally riding a two-wheeler bike!  We have been slack in this regard, and I didn't want them to have to learn when they were adults (like I did!).  So it was a sight that warmed the cockles of my heart to see them balancing away!

What's working/not working for us...
Having a plan of action for the week (well, for the term), but being flexible enough to go with the "flow" when events such as Dr Seuss' birthday and World Maths Day come up.  This keeps us loving learning and enjoying homeschooling.

Homeschool questions/thoughts I have...
After a discussion with a teacher from the kids old school in the supermarket (as you do), I don't feel as though they are missing out on anything by homeschooling.  This week we went further and faster in maths, discuss history and civics, developed our love of music, made huge gains in gross motor skills and loved our learning.  They are friends with their friends, enjoy meeting people from all walks of life and importantly, are happy.  What's not to like?

A photo, video, link, or quote to share...
A Chemy Called Al has a bunch of "periodics" - horse-like creatures that represent the elements.  I showed my kids this video and they loved it!  

Then we found this video of Daniel Radcliffe from the Harry Potter films showing what a cool dude he really is!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Whole New World

If you have gifted kids, especially highly or exceptionally gifted kids, you probably at some point have considered whether you would be better off homeschooling them.  Instead of dealing with endless meetings with teachers, principals, gifted education coordinators, counsellors etc etc in a desperate attempt to get appropriate curriculum for your children.

If you factor in your child's mental health issues, like depression, anxiety and stress, you may wonder on a daily basis if there is a better way.  Aren't gifted children supposed to be, you know, a "gift"?  Some days it doesn't feel like it!

I always imagined homeschooling would be something we could do "if things got really bad".  It was a last resort option.  Schools are where we send our kids to be educated, right?  They are supposed to cater for "individual learning needs".  They provide your child with "socialisation".  Well, what if they don't?   What if your child is so far from the "norm", that realistically, it is impossible to provide what they need educationally and socially?  When your 10 year old child has the cognitive function of an 18 year old, how on earth is the school supposed to cater for that?

And so, when crunch time came last year, we had gradually come around to the idea that maybe homeschooling could solve a lot of our issues.  Being the scientific researcher I am, the house became full of books on homeschooling (to add to the generous supply of gifted resources) and the computer became full of homeschooling bookmarks.

It still felt very "scary" making that decision, but deep down it felt right.  This year we would undertake the path less taken.  We would be those hippy, alternative types.  We would be homeschoolers!

If you are homeschooling, how did you come to that decision?  Was it after a bad school experience?  What it that nagging feeling that there is a better way?  Have you always been "brave" and known you were going to homeschool?

Embroidery Project - Blue Butterfly

I downloaded this pattern as a PDF from Hoop Embroidery Co on Esty as my first attempt at the technique known as "thread painting"...