Monday, November 7, 2011

Spicing up math and reading

One thing we do a little differently in our homeschool is to mix and match curriculum. I mix and match in two very key areas - reading and math. Normally, these are the two areas families decide to choose one curriculum and stick to it.
There are a couple of reasons why I like to pull sources from various curriculum. The first is that it allows the children to have some repetition, that doesn't really "look" like repetition. While most gifted children learn material in as little as two repetitions - I personally like to see my children show a skill more than that. However, my children can easily detect a pattern (and most curriculum goes into a pattern) and they don't even need to look at the page to tell me the right answer. This is particularly important in math.
For reading, since my eldest is dyslexic he needs a lot of opportunity to read aloud. However, reading from just one type of reading program can lead to boredom - for him and for me! Being able to spice up reading selections, but still stay within his current reading abilities is wonderful. It also keeps him from detecting the patterns of books too quickly.
I also want my children to not get too dependent on any one style of information. For instance, most math programs will stick to one font. This might not seem important on the surface - but numbers written in different fonts can look quite unique. Also - some books will give math programs horizontally while others will give them vertical. Some books use word problems, some use visuals, some use numerals only. I want my kids to get practice solving problems in a large variety of ways. We can't easily detect the future, so preparing broadly is a big factor in our home school.
With that said, we do tend to have a "spine" for our major subjects. This is a primary curriculum that I use to determine the sequence in which we will introduce new information. However, I use as many as five different reading curriculum programs and five different math curriculum programs. It takes a bit more effort in staying organized - but it really allows us to have variety and challenge from a number of different levels.
For reading, "Understanding the Logic of English" is our spine. We also utilize Reading Horizons (both the teacher led and the computer based program), Bob Books, StarFall (both the computer based program and the books). We use some Scholastic sources as well as four different handwriting workbook programs. I also throw in some Montessori materials and other hands on sources to give us even more variety.
For math, "Singapore Math" is our spine. We also utilize "Life of Fred Elementary Series", Kumon Math workbooks, Montessori Materials, occasional activities from Family Math, and lots of different hands on learning materials.
I will admit, this approach isn't for everyone. Some people like order and some children need a much more narrow focus - especially if they struggle with ADD/ADHD or some learning disabilities. If you are a family that likes order and wants to know exactly how long a program will take and when you will move on - this may not be something you want to tackle. Finally, if you are required to turn in lesson plans - writing one for this type of study is horrible I will admit.
However, if your family likes variety, don't be afraid to mix and match core materials. Also, if your child attends a traditional school - definitely give them extra practice in materials that are presented vastly different from their school curriculum. Often times, parents make the mistake of wanting to present home learning materials consistent with the school materials. While this sounds good in theory, it boxes children in. If the school district changes materials, or if you move to a new school using a completely different program - children that have been taught just one way can struggle - even if they know the material.
So, if variety really is the "spice of life" - make sure to put some into your learning as well!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pulse Check for our Home School Journey

We are three months into our home school year and I thought it would be a great time for a "pulse check". I think its good to ask how are things going thus far, are my expectations being met, and is there anything I would like to change.
The first question I will tackle is how are things going. I can honestly say things are going very well. Some of that is because I was willing to be a bit flexible in our plans. While I am roughly following the plans I had for this year, we are doing them at a different pace. We are still moving ahead in math, science, and reading - but our schedule is much more laid back than I originally anticipated. Its not that we aren't getting things done, it that things get done so much faster than I thought they would. If I dedicated the time to their "school work" I originally thought I would - my four year old twins would be doing third or fourth grade work by now! We literally do a chapter of math every time we sit down and focus on it. Its not that we are rushing, its just when the kids get into a "zone" they are really focused. So, instead of chugging along at breakneck speed - we take things in spurts and follow lots of rabbit trails along the way. I also added additional curriculum. We are following 2 1/2 math curriculum at this point. We are doing Singapore Math, Life of Fred Math, as we utilize Montessori resources. I also throw in some Kumon Workbooks for fun. All of my kids are still working at least one grade level ahead in math (this is in addition to their grade skipped levels). For reading - we are using Understanding the Logic of English, Bob Books, and Starfall. This approach is providing the depth my kids desire along with a good amount of diversity to keep their attention.
When it comes to my expectations being met - I would say we are "sort of" there. I envisioned our school days being a bit more structured than they are. I like our more unstructured approach, but this is still off base from my original intent. Thankfully our weekly newsletter is providing me an opportunity to catalog fairly well the things that we are doing. I think I will also need to add a more structured account of the things we accomplish though - for my own cataloging purposes. However, my expectations are being met in that my children are genuinely happy about their experience and they are learning a lot. They don't ask about "going to school" - which is an honest fear I had. They also don't ask for additional interaction with other children. We often see children on days at the park, my eldest takes home school science classes, and their after school Chinese Club at a local private school provides a pretty good amount of age appropriate interaction. If he really wanted "more" we could arrange it - but right now even he is content with what he gets. I thought we would be spending more time in a co-op type setting, but there just aren't enough hours in the day for that. Right now the kids are fine with that.
As far as what I would change, there are some things I really need to do in more set intervals. One is music practice. We really should be practicing at home much more and probably on a more set schedule. I just haven't found a good "time" in our day to make that happen. I would also like to see us utilize more of our resources for phonological awareness and articulation. The kids are showing good progress in the area, but I would like for this intervention to be close to wrapping up by the end of our school year. I would also like to see more focus on some of our "life skills" than what I have been doing. For instance, my kids need to be more consistent in cleaning their rooms and putting their toys away.
Overall, this journey has been more rewarding than I thought it would be and I look forward to all life has in store for us!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kids in the Kitchen!

Yes, gifted kids need to eat too! Okay, this isn't really limited to a post about homeschooling gifted kids - this is about a great opportunity to expand the experiences of children allowing them to learn more than just "book knowledge". Cooking with children teaches so many amazingly important skills!
One thing cooking does is allow children to come face-to-face and deal with perfectionism. This is a common and constant threat to gifted children - feeling they must be perfect. The great thing about cooking is that even though what you do may not be perfect - it can still be good! That cake may have fallen flat - but it still taste wonderful! You may have used the wrong spice - but that mistake helped you discover and new and still amazing recipe. You may have forgotten to add the creamed soup at the "perfect moment", but it still got incorporated just perfectly and all was not lost. Even when you face an absolute disaster - while disappointing it can still be fun. And even when its done wrong - you still get to learn something. Also with cooking, doing it well takes practice. Very few people are perfect right out of the gate. Children can learn resilience as well as realize you don't have to be perfect at something from the start (a far cry from the 100's they often get on their school work).
Cooking fosters creativity. Just think of how many things can be added to pancake batter to make a new experience with every bite! We have added chocolate chips, mint chips, blue berries - so many wonderful things. I love putting out frosting and allowing my children to decorate cake waffles (cake batter cooked on a waffle maker) in any way their heart desires. Choosing the toppings for a pizza, deciding what veggies go on a platter - the possibilities are limited only be the imagination.
Cooking allows for individuality. My children now fully understand that everyone has different tastes. The understand one brother loves chocolate while the other isn't a big fan (although he did learn he likes Hersey kisses). My daughter loves to talk about how sometimes she likes chocolate and sometimes she doesn't. They know its okay for one to like white rice while the other rice pilaf. They love being able to chose maple syrup or peanut butter as a topping. I often times will set out a platter of 5 - 7 choices and allow them to build their own sandwich or salad.
Cooking allows them to try something new or go out on a limb in a safe environment. I love how we can explore ancient cultures and customs through food. My children can learn there is "good" and "bad" in all cultures in a safe way. I like the bread, but not the fruit. Its much nicer to show the diversity within people in this environment before we get to the bloody wars and battles! It also helps them to embrace newer cultures they are learning about. My children are learning Mandarin and they enjoy eating Chinese food and even had a wonderful Dim Sum meal following a class. We are now ready to try and make some of that on our own. We can see that it is okay to embrace some things from other cultures while not incorporating the totality of beliefs outside your own.
Cooking can provide gentle exposure for the senses. Many gifted children have overexcitabilities, and mine are no exception. They can be sensitive to textures, tastes, and smells. Cooking at home allows them to gently see what they can handle and what they can't. It also allows us to gently push the envelope to develop greater capacity.
Cooking has no age requirements. Many gifted children are ready for large challenges, but are often blocked through age requirements. With proper supervision, children can challenge themselves to their hearts content. Despite their age, no one can deny what they eventually produce. It breaks down the barrier. Cooking also allows for them to branch off into other areas. For instance, they may cook a meal- then present the historical significance of that meal. They may build a structure using food. They may produce an art project with food. They may do science project by using food. They may produce a recipe, then write a story surrounding that food.
Cooking links them to their family and culture. Being gifted often means being different. Cooking a family meal or a culturally significant dish links them to others in their "tribe". Something that isn't bound by intellect or what makes them different. Being unique is great, but sometimes we want to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. Children that might fret about death or the future can see that some things last a long time - even beyond the brief time of particular individuals on earth. They can see for themselves they are connected to others, even while being unique themselves.
Finally, cooking allows for togetherness. I tend to be a distracted person and I love multitasking. Cooking with my kids requires me to give them my undivided attention at that time. They get all of me (or else the house might burn down!) and they enjoy that. There is no excuse for my lack of focus at times and I am working on that. In the meantime - kids to the kitchen!!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Great Leaps Forward - thinking things through

One of the most interesting experiences in parenting gifted children is the "great leaps forward". Most people are familiar with amazing leaps children do as babies - the first time they roll over, crawl, walk or say "mommy". Children also complete intellectual leaps, and for gifted children those leaps can happen pretty often and be quite amazing.
Our twins just turned four years old, and the leaps they have bounded in the past couple of months have been quite amazing. For my son, his leaps have been in his amazing reasoning ability. When he isn't busy coming up with new games, running around the house, and overall being - well, a four year old - he likes to sit and talk. While the "quiet" one in our bunch (and quiet simply means not talking 23 1/3 hours a day), his soft observations of the world are quite profound. The kids had a hankering for pets, my eldest first thought he wanted a turtle, my daughter a butterfly, and her twin a bird. As we were driving to the pet store (to look only!) my bird lover started to tell me about the experiences he would have with his bird. "I will need to take him to the potty. I will have to hold him up will he poops so that he doesn't fall in". I know, potty talk from an almost four year old isn't "profound". But think about what he said. He was already thinking in details about the ways in which he would need to care for his pet. Now, we have a very active bird feeder in our yard and have identified almost ten different species that frequent the feeder almost daily - so he has seen birds quite a bit and know they don't come inside to use the potty. He realized that a pet bird would need to be taken care of differently than wild bird. He realized cleanliness would be important for a pet and he would need to be responsible for that. He understood his role would be that of protector and although he is small, he would be the one responsible for his pet. He was, in his young mid, thinking through the details of what would be needed to take good care of his pet. He was still a month shy of being four at this experience, still a baby himself in many ways, but he was able to mentally contemplate what would be needed for him to be in the role of caregiver - a sign not just of the ability to role play - but signs of empathy and compassion. This is a leap seen almost five years earlier than we would normally expect to see it. While we didn't leave the pet store with a bird, I left with a better understanding of the inner thoughts of my little thinker, my contemplater, my little guy who takes what to him are big problems and solves them quietly in his head. He will never ask for help while he is thinking and (like his father) will only speak when he feels like he has come up with a good and workable solution he can implement. Also like his father, those solutions often deal with self sacrifice so that others can helped, or happy, or a little more whole. Its funny, when people see my little guy they often say "oh, that one will keep your hands full". On the outside they see a little boy who is a ball of energy and a bit head strong. They will never hear his thoughts for taking care of his pet bird. He never shares his plans, goals, or ideas. He cherishes his thoughts and plans, he some how knows ideas have value and shouldn't be simply tossed around to those who won't appreciate that work that went in to forming them. He seems to have a built in protection system around his inner thoughts and his soul.
I wait in  anticipation at what his young mind will bring forth. I often cut through the noise of the world to try to hear him every time quietly calls me name, finally ready to share with me a thought he has been wrestling with. Sometimes its about ways to tornado proof buildings, sometimes new games he has invented, sometimes he shares solutions to problems presented in stories we read, and sometimes its other gentle and loving ways to care for his future pet bird.
My son represents a segment of the gifted population many people never see until they do something great as adults. My son is brilliant, but he only performs "on paper" when he wants to . It will take a very skilled professional to accurately test his IQ - he simply has no mind to entertain questions he thinks are silly, stupid, or have more than one valid answer - so choosing just one answer makes no sense at all. I often tell my husband I think he is the most gifted of the bunch, not because of what he knows or retains, but because of the relationship he has with his own thoughts, his own mind. He is confident in his ability to think, to figure it out, to find a way - eventually. He trusts himself enough to wrestle with an issue, to turn it over in his head, to think about it and come up with a solution. And when he is ready to defend it, he is ready to speak it out.
His brother laughed when he talked of taking his bird to the potty. Unnerved him simply replied - my bird will be able to do it, I will train him, he will want to be clean and not have bird poop in his cage. You don't poop in your room, why should my bird poop in his. You know, I am fully convinced that given the time and the chance, there will be a toilet pooping bird in our home some day!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Deep, Dark, and Scary World of Gifted Children Part 2

So what is this all about? Why am I writing this. I am writing about this because I was recently reading a blog where a woman's daughter would "guest write" from time to time. Her words were so beautiful, so well thought out, so powerful. Although her mother never mentioned it, you could tell her daughter was quite the gifted child. Not just because she had an amazing vocabulary and an extensive command of the English language, she was also good at so many things (dance, academics, etc.). She also had emotional intensity and was working her way through negative thinking that had plunged her quite often into depression. As I read her amazing words she wrote I often saw my own kids. Although there were quite a bit younger than this fourteen year old - there seemed to be a kindred heart as I read her writing. Then I got quite startled because I remembered why I was reading her blog postings - it had just been posted on a listserv that I belong to that this sensitive, wonderful, amazing young girl had just fallen to her death as she jumped from a 5th story window of an abandoned building. This wasn't her first suicide attempt, but like many gifted children she was unfortunately bright enough to eventually get even that right. Her mother's blogs showed that she had tried hard to help her daughter, but just couldn't lift her from her despair. This was enough to know we needed to continue to work hard with our children. While all three are still very young, they won't be young forever. We must build in them to skills to stop the self hate, to manage the negative talk, to have a realistic expectation of themselves and the world around them.
So, what are we doing? The first and most important step we took when my eldest was three years old. We found a psychologist. Having a psychologist that specializes in working with gifted children is key. I encourage anyone within a 5 hour (yes hour) drive of metro Atlanta to check out Spomenka Newman (, but there are other such people across the country. If you know a good one that you can recommend, please post it in my comments section! The psychologist isn't just for your children, you need an advocate who you can turn to for advice and support. This is hard, this is so very hard. I know many gifted families that co-sleep with their children. Maybe not the entire night, but whenever their children come into the room at night they make room in the bed. Its because we know that whether they be 3, 5, or 15 - they are coming to our bedroom door because they are feeling scared and alone and dealing with something deep and also a bit scary for themselves. They have come to the one place they can find comfort and support, the only place they can find a bit of rest. We know if we turn them away they have been left to fight that despair, that fear, the pain all alone and they just aren't quite yet ready. I know of families that have two mattresses pushed together on the floor - they, like us, have multiple gifted children and even a king sized bed can get crowded!
The second thing I feel is important is to find peers - you need to know other families with highly gifted children. There are just some things only your true peers can understand. You need other people that realize when your child says "I am the worst person in the world" - they truly believe that at the time. Someone who understands when your son breaks down to cry it isn't because he is a "wimp"; its because he is knowledgeable beyond his years but still very much a child and he is just overwhelmed by what he knows is wrong that he can't seem to fix.
The third thing is to find an appropriate educational environment for your child. It is estimated that half of all profoundly gifted children are homeschooled. This means that half of them are traditionally schooled. Ensure that your child has exposure to teachers that understand gifted children. This will ensure their expectations are not unreasonably set, the teacher will know to look out for perfectionism, and the teacher will be skilled in handling emotional intensity. Ensure the lines of communication are open. For homeschooling families, read the emotional signs of your children and be comfortable letting school work take a back seat every once in while for the sake of mental health.
Explore all possible contributing factors to your child's emotional needs. When we had our eldest tested for dyslexia, we found he also had some vision issues. Upon vision testing we learned he was dealing with Moro Reflex issues - are natural reflex that happens in babies in utero that should be gone by age one.  Because his wasn't, his upper and lower body were still working as one unit. This meant his "startle" reflex was still on - big time. This issue often leads to extreme emotional intensity in children. Imagine your "fight or flight" natural reaction activated all day, every day. This was the emotional life of our child. Everything that happened to him would trigger the fight or flight reflex - his poor little body was in a constant state of shock. This physical reaction was taking a toll on his emotions. He felt everything deeply, not just emotionally, but physically as well. Our first task in therapy was working on his Moro Reflex, those loose his body from this physical and emotional prison of the extreme.
A fifth piece of advice: Get educated. Thankfully today there are plenty of resources dealing with the emotional lives of gifted children. Some resources I have enjoyed, or am now reading include the following:
Living with Intensity by Susan Daniels and Michael Piechowski
Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking by Tamar Chanksy
The Out-of Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Stock Kranowitz
The Mislabed Child by Brock and Fernette Eide
Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter more than Peers by Gordon Neufeld
There are more great resources out there - feel free to list your own in the comments section!
A final note is to understand and acknowledge your own gifted struggles. Gifted children aren't planted here by alien seed - they are the product of their genetic make-up. The biggest struggle I have had is acknowledging my own giftedness; allowing myself to relive those deep and dark places of despair I visited as a child. Trying to be sensitive to my children as my natural mind tells me to simply say "toughen up" or "its not that bad" is almost cruel to hear for a child going through it in the moment. I remember being a gifted child and it did feel that bad, the world did seem the cruel, and life did seem that hard. If you have unresolved issues - get professional help. It isn't too late. And don't just do it for your child, do it for you.
Those with other advice - feel free to post in the comments section. We are a family, all in this together!

The Deep, Dark, and Scary World of Gifted Children Part 1

Oh how I have toiled and prayed about this blog posting. However, it is time.This is the topic that makes parents of gifted children want to spit when we here "but ALL children are gifted". Really? All families deal with this? What is "this"? This is the area of raising a gifted child that sends parents to their first visit with a psychologist. In the profoundly gifted population - the visit happens rather early. For us, it happened when my eldest was just three years old.
I was encouraged to start this blog to help other parents of gifted children and hopefully build an online community of where parents can say "yes, there is someone going through what I am going through". Now is the time to tackle the issue that probably sent you searching in the first place. You see, parents of gifted children don't stay up at night unable to sleep because their child started talking in complete sentences at 15 months old, or because they found them reading Harry Potter at the age of four. Its the "other" side of gifted, the side no one ever really sees or experiences unless they also have a gifted child. Its the first time your child collapses into a heap on the floor and cries for hours because they made a mistake. Its when your child thinks they are "stupid" because they got an answer wrong while independently doing work created for children twice their age - or more. Its when your child looks at you with tears in their eyes and says "I'm bad, I need to be punished" when they make even the most common mistake. And when that child is just three years old its hurts even more. You know that look, you can see it in their eyes; the self loathing and self hate because they are not the perfect person you never even asked them to be.
"This" comes in many different categories, attached to many different labels. Sometimes it is simple perfectionism - wanting themselves to be flawless for every task, no matter how great or challenging. They can see quite clearly how the wiggled just a little when drawing their first letter "A". You try to console them "honey, its great, it was your first try, your only two - many kids don't draw their first letter A until they are five". It doesn't help, the meltdown has started and there is no stopping this flood. They have seen themselves as less than what they thought everyone else expected them to be and they feel they must be punished. While people on the "outside" are in awe at all the things your kids can do; inside you cringe every time you see a mental leap coming on. Every time you hear those words "mommy, I think I would like to learn". Doesn't matter what they are learning - advanced quantitative physics or tying their shoe - you know in your heart this is going to rip them apart, because learning takes time. And even though they do it three to four times faster than most people, that isn't fast enough for them.
Another category is emotional intensity. Oh my word most people can't understand just how high a high can be or just how low a low can be. The first time I saw emotional intensity my eldest was nine months old. He wanted to nurse while he slept, I wanted to sleep. So, while rocking him in a rocking chair I slipped his pacifier into his mouth. He sat up, took his pacifier in his little baby hand - and threw it was such force across the room when it hit the wall my husband ran into the room thinking someone had fallen. We have calmed him significantly from those baby days - with gentle parenting (no hitting, no yelling). However, those victories are only surface, because while he doesn't have violent outbursts - he has turned that rage and frustration on himself. When he does something wrong, no matter how slight - he will send himself to his room. When he fails to be a perfect little boy he will shout at himself with anger "you are so bad, I am so mad at you!" My sweet, gentle, honest, kind, loving little boy looks at himself with disgust because he sometimes forgets to put a toy away. I am left with nothing more to do but hold him and hug him and cry to myself as I try to emotionally pull out all that "stuff" - he is too little, too young, to vulnerable for feelings like this.
Yet another category is negative thinking. Gifted kids are so acutely aware of the world around them that they can find the negative in a rainbow. "But mommy, isn't the color black sad that it never has an opportunity to be a part of the colors of the rainbow". We went through a tornado and had two trees fall on our home - only to flee to my inlaws home just 30 minutes before an F5 swept through their neighborhood. It was such a scary experience - to everyone. But to my kids, this has become their life. One of my three year old twins continued to ask "how did those houses fall down". 1/3 of the homes in the neighborhood were lost and my son was confused because these were big strong brick houses. Being a fan of the "3 Little Pigs" he continued to demand to know how do brick houses get blown down like we - we had told him for years that brick houses were strong. Well, I never knew to make the exception while reading the story "except in the case of a rare F5 tornado". He had nightmares, his behavior changed, he started to frequently wet the bed. His little three year old mind is still, three months later, trying to come to terms with the fact that mommy and daddy kept this possibility from him. Now every wind brings him close to tears - could this be another tornado? Could our brick house fall down? What else did mommy and daddy keep from me - is there an F6 tornado? How do we know there isn't an F6? Why did God allow an F5 tornado? What happened to the people that were in that house the completely collapsed? What happens if we are outside and a tornado comes? What is daddy is a work during a tornado - can he get home? What happens when you "get dead"? My little three year old son should be thinking about fun things, having a good time, being a kid. Instead, he is wondering the tornado rating of every building he enters - who built it, how strong, how do we know it is strong enough, what if it isn't strong enough?
Do you see your kids in any of these stories? Do any of these experiences speak to you? If so, please read Part 2 which will be posted shortly. In part 2 I will talk about what compelled me to bear my soul and open up the box that is often shut tight and left inside of most homes with gifted children. And I will talk about the ways we deal with this dark and scary side of gifted in our home.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The "socialization" thing - again!

Call me naive, but I fully expected to "not" have to deal with the whole "what about socialization" question when it came to homeschooling my children. Especially from people that know our family and realize we don't live in a cave or underground bunker. Doesn't it seem a tiny bit ridiculous to ask us while we are actually out socializing what we are going to do for socialization?
I understand individuals that don't home school might be curious about the socialization practices of our family, but that is a very different question than "what are you going to do about socialization; you realize they need to be around other kids at some point". For the record, my children have had traditional "socialization" experiences in a traditional school setting. They did one year in a private school (twins in Preschool; eldest in K). While there were some good experiences, I wasn't real happy about my five year old being threatened with being stabbed by another student - is this really the "socialization" people fear my kids will miss out on?
Instead of continuing to lament about the all the ills of traditional school based "socialization" (though I may throw in an example here and there) I will discuss how we view socialization and why we believe this route is not only healthy, but the correct route for our family - you choose what is best for yours.
According to New World Encyclopedia: socialization is used by sociologists, social psychologists, and educationalists to refer to the process of learning one’s culture and how to live within it. For the individual, it provides the resources necessary for acting and participating within their society.
This definition is important. The first thing to point out is that socialization is about people learning to live in the culture in which they live. Our children do not live in an age segregated, geographically assigned culture. The cultural values of our family are about our children learning to live in the world at large, to be contributing members to society at large - not simply learning how to live amongst age mates and peers in a public institutional setting. I got my first job at the age of 14, so I have been in the workforce well over 20 years. I have NEVER worked in a setting in which everyone was my age; I have never worked in a setting in which everyone was within four years of my date of birth. My closets colleagues and friends have been as much as 30 years my senior. How would being in a age normed setting prepare me for this? In fact, having been educated my entire life in a traditional setting, this was one of my biggest and hardest adjustments - living around and working with people that were "just like me". My entire childhood was spent with people "like me" - same geographic area, same socio-economic status, most the same race, most the same religion, and from the age of three - most of my waking hours were spent with children all within 2 - 4 years of my age. College was my first experience with people somewhat different from me, but even that was limited as I went to a mid-sized state university. So, most people were from my geographic area. I didn't form a friendship with an international student until my PhD program. I was so lost in terms of understanding that not everyone grew up poor, or in the Midwest, or in a single parent home. I thought I knew what "Black" people were like, "White" people were like, "rich" people were like - I honestly never even thought about Asian people or knew of the existence of Haitians or Greeks.
My traditional schooling socialized me well - I was perfectly capable of living around other people that grew up in my neighborhood! I had to start all over in the "socialization" process when I packed my bags and headed off to college - just two hours away. When I took my first trip out of the country at the age of 21 - I was again blown away by how narrow my world view had been. I was very good at socialization - I just had very limited opportunity to socialize outside of very narrow circles.
I didn't want that for my children. I want my children to know this world is big and vast with lots of different people, beliefs, cultures, customs, ideas, traditions, and experiences. I want them to be socialized not just for our neighborhood - but for the larger world in which they live. In the real world, people are not broken arbitrarily into age normed groups with a defined leader tagged "teacher", and a clearly defined list of assignments and rules and expectations. I want my children to learn how to navigate in a world full of people that don't always look like them, talk like them, believe like them. Socialization in a traditional school setting is easy - the groups are clearly defined and you know fairly quickly what group you belong to. The language is agreed upon and the rules for success are all defined (sometimes formally, sometimes informally). Not so in the real world - we have to learn to communicate with people that don't speak our language, learn to get along in a world where the rules change constantly, learn to work side-by-side with people with whom we adamantly disagree - and there is no defined administrative arbitrator who will declare whom won or lost.
So, what about socialization? We also agree it is very important and one of the many reasons why homeschooling is the right choice for our family.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

100 Books for fun

Having a gifted dyslexic child can be challenging. He has compensated for his dyslexia in such a way that makes intensive phonics work seem unnecessary to him (until we get to phonics rule 50 or so and it becomes "new"). As a result, I needed something to encourage him to work with me and read, read, and read. Of course, he thinks he can already read. When tested a few months ago he was reading at the First grade, six month level. Not bad, but definitely well below where he should have been (he was in K at the time). I wanted to do something to encourage him to stick with me and for him to see light at the end of the tunnel as well as progress.
Looking through an Oriental Trading catalog I saw many resources celebrating " First 100 Days of School". Light bulb went off - lets read 100 books! With dyslexia, it is important to get kids to read, read, and read. It is also important that they read out loud and become comfortable with reading (reading aloud also lets the parent hear where they are struggling). So, we are doing the "First 100 Books". I got a an amazing cardboard train with 100 numbered large and colorful train cars. We will write the name of each book he reads aloud on a train car. We will start with simple Bob Books and work our way up to more complex chapter books.
I told him he got to chose a reward for reading 100 books. In typical, gifted child fashion, his chosen reward (and absolutely nothing was off the table) was to build a robot at night! His robot building has to be during the day, but he would like to be able to stay of late to build a robot as a reward. Not your typical reward, but it is motivating him to get started on his journey! If we are successful I will continue on to the next hundred. The moral of the story is to find a passion for your child as a way of motivating them to do the hard things. Reading a book out loud is a hard thing for a dyslexic child - if robots is what is needed to encourage my little guy to read 100 of them - I am all for it!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Life of Fred - Elementary Series review

Being and admitted curriculum junkie (meaning I buy way more books and other resources we will probably never get to use), I thought I would put my "bad habit" to good use! So, this is my first of many reviews to come. This review is on the new math series by Stanley Schmidt - creator of the Life of Fred Series. Life of Fred is a common staple amongst families homeschooling gifted children - especially children that love literature based mathematics or understanding the "why" as well as the "how" of math.
The Elementary Series is a welcome addition for parents like me - that purchased his books on Fractions through Calculus knowing it would be a long time before we were ready to crack those books open! So now, here is a math series that even the youngest of gifted children can enjoy!
Here are some of the really basic things to know about the series. First, the books are sequential; this isn't necessarily obvious on the surface as the books have the names: Apples, Butterflies, Cats, and Dogs. Of course, you see the pattern (A, B, C, D) - thus for a child just starting out in formal math education, you can start with Apples. For a child already firmly adding and subtracting, and even doing multiplication and division - it might be best to wait for some of the later books in the series (there should be one released in October 2011 - with ten total books planned for the Elementary Series).
There are a couple of reasons that I LOVE these books for gifted children. The first is that it understands the "less is more" concept that gifted children often times don't need excessive repetition to understand a concept. What takes an average person 7 - 8 repetitions to learn a gifted child can learn firmly with 3 - 4 repetitions. So, Fred (the main character in all the books) will introduce a math concept (by having a real life problem that needs the concept to solve), and the child will have 3 or 4 questions to solve to show they have also learned what Fred learned. Not to worry about your child not getting a firm foundation - the books use a gentle spiral method by re-looking at a concept in later books, using more advanced formulas.
Another great thing about the books is their use of language. They don't just show math concepts, they use the proper terms for various mathematical phenomena (consecutive numbers, commutative law of addition, functions). So, children are learning very early on the proper terms for the problems they are solving, why those terms are important, and when those concepts are used. I also love that it takes mathematics out of the theoretical world and places it firmly in the real world where is belongs. In the Life of Fred series children learn from the beginning that in mathematics, numbers represent units of things - real things. That 2 + 2 = 4 means that there is now four of "something" and that mathematics is used to solve real problems.
Probably the best thing that I love about these books and why they are great for gifted children is because they go beyond just math. They introduce and cover (even just lightly) all sorts of interesting things that gifted children normally don't get a chance to explore (but are capable of exploring) at a really early level - literature from Beowulf to Robinson Crusoe, Morse code and creating your own codes, geography, and even Archimedes. Children are also allowed to quickly move from small numbers (single digit addition) to addition using numbers in the millions.
How much do I love these books? The series is brand new (just got released a couple of weeks ago) and I am so impressed with them that I am scrapping my well crafted plans of using Singapore Math as our spine and switching to the Life of Fred Elementary Series as our spine. I still LOVE Singapore Math - but we will now use it to reinforce concepts from Life of Fred instead of the other way around!
And, for those families that are not home schooling - Life of Fred would be a GREAT after school supplement. It reads like a great book series with math concepts to explore. No longer needing to just hand your child a workbook, you can work together laughing at the hilarious adventures of Fred!

Hope this helps!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Do we need gifted education?

Another very valid question I am asked is do we need gifted education. It seems as if all of a sudden, parents of gifted children are asking for a different type of education for their children. The answer is, it isn't gifted children that has changed, its the schools.
My husband's grandfather - an amazingly gifted man in his 90's tells us often about his growing up in rural, poor, and segregated Alabama. At that time of turmoil and strife, he was education in a one room schoolhouse. One story he likes to tell is how he started school in the 1st grade. By the end of the week, he had finished 3rd grade. Back in the days of the one room school house, students were allowed to work at their own pace and ability level. Once you successfully read the primers (which would put many books in the schools today to shame), once you completed the math lessons - you were allowed to move on to the next grade. No waiting for age mates, no fear or "running out of work", no fear of getting too smart too fast.
The argument of whether or not he was "properly educated" is thrown out the window when you sit down to have a conversation with him. He is brilliant. He also has a career history that proves his intelligence and wit. He is credited with saving the power company he worked for (and retired from) millions of dollars. He was able to solve problems by taking a minute to examine the situation and utilize deductive reasoning. One story in particular is a stand out where the company brought it a group of engineers to solve a problem on a machine that had gone down. They spent days trying to figure it out. Grandpa Moss decided he had enough of sitting around waiting on someone else to solve the problem. He asked the highly skilled, highly educated engineers to step aside while he looked at the equipment. Figuring out a very nonstandard solution, he asked the men to help him adjust a part. They were hesitant (remember, this was rural Alabama and this Black man with only a high school diploma was claiming to have found the solution well educated engineers were baffled with). His boss assured the men to listen to Grandpa Moss, they made the adjustment together and the machine started up - working perfectly.
See, his intellect, his ability to solve problems, his ability to think outside the box was never educated out of him. The one room school house was filled with self directed, self paced, no holds barred learning. No one had to wait to be taught. If you needed help from the teacher, she would help you. However, you were under no obligation to wait for the class, not work ahead, or leave your eagerness to learn behind. As long as there was a primer and a math book waiting for you, you could advance ahead. When there were no more books, no more primers, when you had completed the entire curriculum - you were done. You graduated. No waiting for a special birthday, no filling in the time with busywork - go ahead and start your life.
Grandpa Moss isn't just good at fixing mechanical machine problems - he built the house he is currently living in with his own hands - brick by brick. He designed it, he piped it, he wired it. No, he didn't learn that from reading primers - another thing the one room school house gave gifted kids was time. No eight hour days in the classroom, no hours of homework at night. There was enough time left at the end of the day for exploring independent self study, even becoming an apprentice. You had time to tend to the garden, milk the cow, and still learn how to build a house.
As I watch my own children building with wooden blocks and Lego's, I mourn just a little. Even though we have tried to turn our home into the one room school house - there is still something missing. Something Grandpa Moss (well, Great Grandpa Moss to them) had that they won't. I often try to put my finger on it and I just can't quite do it. The closes I can come is normalcy. Grandpa Moss is most likely profoundly gifted, just like his great grandchildren, but he wasn't entirely unique in his day. Yes, he was probably the "smartest" person in that one room schoolhouse - but everyone in that school was a self teacher. Everyone finished their primers and their math and moved at their own pace. And while not everyone ended up at the power plant, being one of the few machine leads without a college education - no one starved. They all left with more than just a primer education. They were able to farm their own land, process their own meat, build their own houses, and read books in elementary grades that would stomp most college students today (Moby Dick was considered an elementary school text). While not everyone was gifted, there wasn't even a need to identify gifted. Everyone got what they needed. It wasn't unusual to start college at 13. Not everyone did it (Grandpa Moss didn't go to college), but there was no need for special permission to enroll. I am by no means trying to romanticize the past - life was hard, often times unfair, and hardship and pain were mainstays. It just makes me sad that as we worked to correct the past, to improve upon our yesterday - we managed to throw the baby out with the bath water. I truly hope we can find our way back - we need more Grandpa Moss'.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Why diagnose giftedness?

One question I get a lot from other parents is why it is important to identify a child as gifted. This is a very valid question, what makes being labeled "gifted" so necessary? For many people, being labeled "gifted" is the equivalent if being labeled "pretty" - while its neat and cool - it really doesn't affect your life and serves only to make the "non-gifted" feel bad.
Giftedness is more than just being "smarter" than your classmates, in fact - the most gifted children would probably not even be recognized as "smart" in a traditional classroom. This is one of the most important reasons for identifying giftedness - misdiagnosis. Out of its proper context, a gifted child can present very closely to a child with ADD/ADHD and even Autism Spectrum. The book "The Mislabeled child" by Brock and Fernette Eide covers this very well. The intensive focus, extreme sensitivity, and even turning into themselves and not interacting with peers can get a gifted child diagnosed with ADD or placed on the Spectrum. Their emotional responses can be so intense its scary and their focus on a subject or topic and keep them engrossed for hours, even at a very early age. In our society, "weird" behavior (what really turns out to be non-age appropriate behavior) is seen as a problem to be "solved", not as a possible ability to be explored. Knowing if your child is indeed gifted will help you to put any future diagnosis (or mis-diagnosis) in perspective.
Another very important reason for identifying if your child is gifted is that the more gifted a child, the more they are likely to be able to mask a true learning disability. Without our great relationship with our children's psychologist (who specializes in working with gifted children), we never would have gotten a clear diagnosis for our eldest with dyslexia (and subsequently vision issues and auditory processing). He looked "fine" based on the standards of age normed children. When we approached his K teacher and the entire board at his private school about our concerns with his reading, they looked at us like we had three heads (one big reason we are homeschooling now). How could this child have a reading disability, he was the best reader in the class! This isn't uncommon for gifted children and possibly the norm for profoundly gifted children - they are so good on so many levels they can compensate for their disabilities - for a time anyway. It isn't until their compensation becomes inadequate that they are identified - oven times when it is much harder to remediate their issues. A gifted child with disabilities may very well be in the middle if not the top of traditional class achievement. Without a gifted diagnosis they may never be identified as needing intervention to allow them to work at their own personal best. And, as a side note - if they are identified as having a disability, they still may not qualify for state sponsored remediation (yet, another reason we are homeschooling). And I am by no means stating that homeschooling is the answer for every family with a gifted child, just that our children's giftedness and our state system not set up to handle such children helped lead us to this decision. I just think it necessary to inform parents of gifted children that if they do have a twice exception child - they may be forced to pay out of pocket for the remediation of any disabilities. It may not be fair, but it is the reality you may face.
The final reason it is important to identify if your child is gifted is so that you can find a community in which to network. It is estimated that roughly 10% of the population is gifted, around 3 - 5% of those highly gifted, and less than 2% of those profoundly gifted. Gifted children are not all the same, but many share similar characteristics. Being able to talk with others that have a family like your own is important. Having someone else to discuss the "sock issue" (many gifted children have sensibilities to clothing - they cannot stand tags on clothing or the seams around socks) can be liberating. Being able to discuss the conversations your child is having with you that would normally get you angry stares or looks of disbelieve is important. Having someone who understands you aren't "pushing" your child toward academics - you are simply holding on for dear life as they blast full speed head is liberating. And yes, having a place to vent and brag is important as well. Your gifted child is special, your gifted family unique (because gifted children aren't randomly born - there is giftedness inside of you as well) - it is important to find your "tribe", your community in which you feel safe and free to be you. I hope this blog becomes such a place, but even if you don't connect here - please connect somewhere. There are lots of online sites, listservs, and blogs. There are also real life communities (mostly in large metropolitan) areas where you can connect with other gifted families. I would also recommend at least one visit to a psychologist that specializes in working with gifted children. You may need a professional to help you advocate for your child in their school setting, or help you get a more proper diagnosis for your child when a label doesn't seem to fit quite right, or just someone to let you know you aren't crazy - your five year old really is ready for physics.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

To one's full potential

One of the hardest concepts for a parent of a gifted child to contend with is "full potential". People love to talk about allowing children to work to "their full potential" until they encounter a gifted child - especially a profoundly gifted child. We found this out with my eldest. He had been grade skipped into Kindergarten, was reading a a First grade level, but something just wasn't "right". So, we took him to a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children (and who is amazing by the way!!) and our suspicion was confirm - he was dyslexic. As we searched deeper into his issue with reading we also found he had severe vision issues.
Now, fixing the "reading problems" of a child reading two grade levels above where he should be age wise becomes a challenge. Not to us, but to the traditional world of education, which we found we just couldn't bear to navigate. "Problem, what problem? He is the best reader in the class!" Okay. That might be true, but that wasn't his full potential and that wasn't okay with us and it shouldn't be okay with anyone.
I found people are very comfortable encouraging a child to work to their potential when you are talking about a child below the norm. Of course we want every child to be all they can be! Really? I had hoped this would be the case. Unfortunately, I began to feel the push to isolate and conceal. Conceal the fact that our three year old twins would be doing First grade math in the fall. When a gifted child begins to work to their full potential, it can become very uncomfortable for those around the child. It seems unnatural - does this little kid really like math that much? Yes.
I believe one of the hardest things people must fight against is comparison. My children working at advanced levels in academic subjects in no slight against any other child on the planet. My husband and I don't think our children better than any other children, we don't look down on anyone and don't consider other children "behind". Honestly, we are so busy trying to hang on for dear life as our children learn and grow we don't have time to think, let alone think ourselves "lucky" or "above". How can I think of myself as above, I need to wear a life preserver to keep for sinking under the weight of the challenge and responsibility of educating these three children that refuse to fit into a box called "age appropriate".
That is really what this blog is about. Wanting to finally give a voice to all those parents like us, hanging on for the ride. To show the people there is no formula for a gifted child, if they learn to read at 3 or 5 or 7, it really isn't the work of brilliant parents - these kids are just made in a unique way. Having at least one "twice exceptional" child (a gifted child with a learning disability) is an even bigger challenge. Have you ever seen someone park in a handicapped parking space - only to get out of the car looking perfectly healthy? This is the plight of the twice exceptional child - no one can "see" the disability - so they believe you are a fake and a phony trying to get some unfair advantage. So, here we are - dealing with the jeers and the sneers as we struggle with challenges people can't see with the naked eye. Its okay though - my child is worth the the struggle of giving him the opportunity to work to his "full potential". I'll admit, its amazing to watch.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Your kids are doing what?

Have you ever had "this" conversation? If you are the parent of a gifted child, the answer is probably yes. If you are the parent of a homeschooler, the answer is more often than not yes. If you are the parent of a gifted homeschooled child - the answer is definitely "YES"! It is often hard for many people to come to terms with what it is like to homeschool a gifted child. The is particularly true for young gifted children. Due to asynchronous development, it is not uncommon for gifted young children to have a curriculum plan that looks like Frankenstein went and got a PhD in Education. When I talk of our children doing both phonics and physics, people look at me like I have 2 heads, and only because the third just fell off and dropped onto the floor!
But, it is our life, so I thought I would write about. This isn't so much for others, but just to help me organize our lives. And yes, it is June and I am preparing for Fall. It will honestly take me that long to get everything organized. Mainly because with gifted young children - you are constantly balancing developmentally appropriate with age appropriate. Writing is limited by fine motor skills. Reading is limited by vision development and font size. Diving into an online "live" course is limited by nap time! And no matter how open minded another robot "geek" is, it just isn't cool to say your best buddy and collaboration partner when it comes to robot design is five years old - especially when you are 12! So, we are always walking a tightrope, finding resources that will work with our lives. Deciding just how "deep" we can go with certain issues. This is why we have chosen to stay clear of history for a bit. Not because I deem history unimportant, but because I know the types of questions my three year old daughter asks, and she isn't emotionally prepared to handle the "why" of slavery or war or human sacrifice or many of the other issues that would take place when we studied anything from American history to Egyptian history.
So, what are we doing?
This fall we will be doing the following subjects:
Intensive Phonics
Nature Science
Music Appreciation
Each child will also continue in their musical instruments (one on drums, one on violin, one on piano)
We will be doing one weekly coop (we think) and one occasional coop for field trips and special events.
We will also be doing some "specials"
Bible/Ethics/Moral Development

The kids also get to do some clubs at a private school that are available to us through their afterschool program:
Mandarin Club
Dance Club
Art Club
Science Club

My eldest will also be trying out  a Science Club through a local organization.

Here's to preparing for a great Fall!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Young, Black, Gifted, and Homeschooled?

I believe there is within every human a desire to belong. Unique is wonderful, within reason, but we all long to find our tribe. One of the reasons I was so happy to have three children was I felt they had a better chance of having their "built in" tribe at hand. Thankfully, it worked out that way. If each were an only child, I am not sure how easy it would be to find their piece of "home".
First let me say, we are not isolationist. We are very happy and very comfortable with our large diversity of friends. Our friendly gatherings generally have every color, culture, and custom represented in our neck of the woods - it brings a smile to my face and a dance to my heart! However, I also realize family reunions have a much different fell than neighborhood cook-outs and picnics among friends. There is a familiarity there that is unspoken, an acceptance of faults as well as gifts. There is an amazing freedom in being able to be your complete, imperfect self.
Blacks (or African Americans depending on your liking) represent just under 13% of the United States population. Gifted people represent less than 10% of the population, with profoundly gifted people representing less than 2% of the population. Home schooled children represent less than 2% of the school age population in the United States. With those numbers, my children have very few people in this country, let alone this world - that live a life similar to their own. Now, we know other Blacks, we know other gifted children, we know other Black gifted children, we know other profoundly gifted children. However, I am not sure we have had an opportunity to for my children to step into a room and find another family of children "like them". There is always something different about them, something not in common, some gap of experience. Kind of like walking into a classroom and being the only Jewish kid that celebrates the Sabbath in a school full of Protestants and Catholics. You realize that no matter how much you have in common, most birthday parties will be on a Saturday and you won't be able to participate. It takes nothing away from your classmates and friends, you just always have that tug of being, at least on this point, a bit alone.
One of the reasons I started this blog was so often coming up with a void when looking at things on the internet from other Black, Gifted, and Homeschooling families (wait, did I forget to mention Twice Exceptional children as well - add that one too). Its not so much that we only associate with others "like us" or we want to only associate with others "like us", its just sometimes wanting to have that conversation with someone who "gets it".
It really does get hard sometimes when you are at an event and no one looks like you, then you go to another event where everyone looks like you, but no one educate their child like you do, then you go to another event where some people look like you, they even home school like you, but they don't have a first grader that took a course on the "Anatomy of the Human Brain" like yours did, 2 years ago - when they were four.
Race generally isn't an issue for me, but I had the recent experience of looking at an article online about a researcher who "proved" Black women were categorically unattractive. As I looked through the comments I saw Blacks referred to as ugly monkeys, big fat welfare queens, and other things I would rather not mention. It wouldn't have been so bad if those comments didn't have 300 likes and only 4 dislikes! However, even my White friends couldn't help me from feeling a bit alone and overwhelmed. I don't just have to prepare my kids to for academic life, work life, religious life, I have to prepare them for a world where my daughter may see someone posts about Black women looking like monkeys and 300 fellow humans "liking" the comment. Those are the times when it feels overwhelming. If they were just young, I could ignore such nonsense. If they were just Black we could probably go to school and sit with friends. If they were just gifted I could post to other parents of gifted kids and ask what resources they pulled out for their inquisitive, yet sensitive little ones. If they were just home schooled I could shield them from even knowing about such people. But we don't  get to ignore it - they are intelligent enough to pick up on the subtle things that separate them from the rest of their fellow Americans. And while they are proud to be Black, they understand we live in a diverse country with many wonderful races and faces and they must learn to live with and love them all. And I can't just pick up a book or show them a video and help them understand the intellectual faults and limitations of racism and prejudice, for they will be living in a world filled with good as well as bad people. And I can't just shield them, because at some point they will live this nest, and being profoundly gifted they may leave for college or other intellectual pursuits much sooner than their age mates. At those times, my heart is heavy. At those time, I tremble a bit with fear. At those times, I want a tribe. I want someone who not only understands intellectually, but feels my hurt, my pain. I need someone who also read those comments and cried. Cried not just for herself, who looked in the mirror at her natural twists and mocha complexion and wondered just what the world saw. Cried not just from the anger of it being 2011 and there still being this type of hate in the world. Cried not just because it hurt that even though she has a PhD she is assumed to be an uneducated "welfare queen" by some in this world. But cried for her beautiful daughter; cried for her beautiful young, black, gifted, and homeschooled little baby girl. I cried because her brothers have each other, but sometimes a woman needs a girlfriend to talk things over with. As I held my baby girl in my arms as she fell asleep that night, I cried at the weight of my task. I know the numbers, I know how hard it is going to be for her to find another person "like her". She is a social butterfly, she will have plenty of friends her entire life. However; I cried, because I realized that I must prepare her that somethings she will be facing in this world completely alone.

Monday, May 30, 2011


In an earlier post I said that we separate reading and writing. This is because writing is a fine motor skills and has little to do with comprehension. One of the reasons homeschooling was so important to me was the push for writing to be the main form of instruction in schools today (public and private). My eldest did K at a private school (they grade skipped him in to K one year early). I almost fell over when I realized they were expected to write almost 100% of all of their reading and math work. His teacher would tell me for math "I know he knows this, he can do it in his head. However, since he can't write it down I can't give him credit for knowing it." She was sweet, but it confirmed what we already knew - homeschooling was going to be our only option. We have put handwriting back in its place and it has become something neat to learn as opposed to holding the kids back from other intellectual pursuits.

1. Cursive first. While my eldest didn't get the pleasure of starting with cursive, he is able to learn it as new along with his brother and sister. The know what print looks like and they will learn to write print as well. However, they use computers quite a bit, so they are getting plenty of print exposure. Please see my blog post: Cursive First, for more information on why we start with cursive.
2. Montessori sandpaper letters. I LOVE Montessori Outlet - they have the best prices and highest quality Montessori supplies I have found. We have the upper and lower case cursive sandpaper letters. I love this for giving the kids a feel for how the letters are formed.
3. Cursive letter strips - these are tapped to their desks so they can always see the correct formation of letters if they get stuck.
4. Games for Writing: Playful Ways to Help Your Child Learn to Write by Peggy Kaye. This book has some really creative games for practicing handwriting!
5. Modified Basic Skills: Correcting Reversals by Penny Groves. At times the kids need to print and this book has been great with helping my dyslexic eldest who sometimes reverses print as well as instruction for teaching a left handed child to write as one of my twins is left handed.
6. Play dough letters. We will use play dough to form various letters in cursive as well as print. Its really just kind of fun to do!
7. Supplying paper, pencils, pens, and crayons for them to practice writing as they please.
8. I have several cursive practice writing pads, including some HUGE pads for them to practice with. However, I am choosing to wait on those until we finish our phonics instruction.

Intensive Phonics Part 2

I'll be adding some pictures a bit later, but wanted to get the plan up now (while I am organizing things). I always cover information in at least four ways with the kids. This covers there different learning styles, and allows me to reinforce information in fun and new ways.

Spines that influence the way I set up our curriculum
1. Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide
2. Find the vawol: Read the Rime Learn to Read by Miriam Cherkes-Julkowski
3. Reading Horizons Intensive Phonics at Home

These two books are written for the parent/teacher to help you have a more foundational understanding of the reading process. Reading these two books before designing our curriculum was key in helping me to set things up.

The main four ways the kids learn reading/spelling through intensive phonics is 1) parent-led instruction, 2) computer-based instruction, 3) reinforcing DVD's/videos, 4) arts and crafts/games. Since I separate reading and writing, our main source of interaction is through communicating - I can tell if the children understand by their responses and interactions with me during our lessons. I also use magnetic boards. I have several sizes of magnetic boards - from lap boards to wall boards. I have tons of magnetic letters and hundreds of words.

Parent-led instruction:
Using the principles from my two spine books, I set about with certain activities we will do on a weekly basis. We will cover a minimum of 2 phonic rules a week. Weekly activity include:
1. Parent-led intensive phonics at home - one or more sections each week
2. Webber Phonological Awareness Photo Cards - these are flash card that deal with a unique set of phonological awareness (such as syllable deletion). These are really important for my dyslexic child
3. AlphaTales books - these are 26 books that focus on the different letters of the alphabet. They are neat stories that utilize a number of interesting words that start with the various letters
4. Starfall books - these are books to coincide with the various stories on the Starfall website.
5. Bob Books - we have the entire set and I like these because the children can use their phonic skills quite quickly to read the books. Mind you, the books are a bit boring, but they work for us.
6. Dr. Seuss books - Dr. Seuss books are AMAZING at reinforcing phonics. Especially with the made up words that coincide with phonetic skills. Just a great tool to use. I LOVE Dr. Seuss books!

 Computer-Based Instruction:
1. CD-ROM based intensive phonics at home (my eldest, age 5, enjoys this program a lot in this format)
2. Help Me 2 Learn Super Star Phonics CD-ROMS. We have the entire set, so they can do computer based activities based on what we are learning
3. Hear Builder Phonological Awareness CD-ROM - great for ear training, again necessary remediation for my dyslexic child
4. Starfall - a great free website that teaches phonics skills

 Reinforcing DVDs
1. Rock-N-Learn Phonics DVD - we may do this depending on our mood and if we need some reinforcement
2. Tad Letter Factory and Tad Word Factory DVDs - these videos are fun ways to reinforce things we are learning
3. Classic Electric Company DVDs - fun way to reinforce some of our learning
4. Word World - a great program for letter substitution

Arts and Crafts/Games
1. Wood and Card board letter decoration. We are starting with the alphabet and phonics associated with the different letters, then moving on to blends. Each new letter we do gets decorated as we discuss it's phonic sound(s), the role it plays in words (consonant or verb), what is special about it (like Q always needs a U after it or Y is sometime a noun and a verb).
2. Games on the magnetic board - like Hangman, Scrabble, etc.
3. Felts - I have quite a few nursery rhyme felt scenes, so if we are doing sounds that are common in a nursery rhyme I have felts for, we will act those out. I also have felt letters so they can write a word or sentence that has to do with the felt scene showing.
4. Rory's Story Cubes - these are nine dice with different pictures on each side of the dice. You pick how many dice you want the child to throw (the more dice you use, the harder the story to develop). We will start with one die and kids will have to try to come up with a story utilizing at least one word made up of the phonic rules we have learned.
5. Story development. Just to have some fun, we will sometimes take an object or even a painting and each child will make up a story around it. I love this as a way for them to utilize their language skills and expand their vocabulary.
6. Letter bead bracelets. There are times when they may want to learn to spell a particular word. Especially if it is a new word we learned during story telling or in science or from reading a new book. Instead of just telling them how to spell the word, we will spell it out with beads, then make a bracelet with the word spelled out. They can wear the bracelet around as they learn to spell and sound out the word. If we haven't gotten to the correct phonetic sounds yet, I will just tell them the rule and let them know we will learn about it more later. They will eventually have enough bracelets where they can wear messages on their arms. Also have necklace strings so they can create long words or even sentences to wear around their necks.
7. Painting and coloring based on different words we focused on while learning our phonic rules.

These are some of the things we do weekly. I want to keep things interesting and focus on the outcome of learning. Since my kids are at such different levels - intellectually working quite far above their ages, but also dealing with dyslexia and limits in fine motor skills based on age - we have to be creative. Hopefully things work, but if we need to try something different - we will do that too!

We will discuss Handwriting in my next posting

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Intensive Phonics Part 1

For some reason, complete phonics is often referred to as "intensive phonics". The reason is because most children never get to opportunity to have a complete phonics education when they begin to learn to read. I absolutely LOVE the book "Uncovering the Logic of English" by Denise Eide. I use this book at the "spine" for our trip through intensive phonics.
I teach solid phonics first for many reasons. The first is that my eldest is dyslexic, so it is immensely important that a dyslexic person have a solid foundation in phonics. The second reason is that English is a phonic language. I have no inkling why we teach English often times as if it were a pictorial language like Hieroglyphics! Sight words are pictorial, so the absolute worst way to teach English. By teaching intensive phonics you can teach 104 phonics rules that will explain 98% of all English words.  It isn't at all too much to assume that even a young child can learn 104 rules - it would be similar to a child learning the 100 sight words they are expected to know when they complete First grade. So - do you spend your time teaching 100 words so that at the end of the day they know 100 English words, or do you teach 104 rules so that at the end of the day they can read 98% of the over 40,000 words in the English language?
Our lesson plan begins with us learning 2 rules a week - which means we should be finish learning all 104 rules in a calendar year. We will adjust faster or slower as needed. We are starting with the alphabet because they know it already, but it really needs to be re-taught from a phonic perspective. We will learn each of the sounds that the letters make - teaching all the sounds associated with each letter. For instance, when starting with "A", we go learn the three separate sounds that the letter "A" can make. We then will move on to blends.
It can seem as if it takes longer for a child to learn to read when they are taught intensive phonics. However, the wait is worth it. While sight words give a child a fish, phonics teaches the child to fish for themselves.
I have found many people start with phonics, and quickly to sight words. This is like starting to carefully work a puzzle with a child, the quickly fill in the rest of the pieces and show the child the picture. While the child started to learn the puzzle for themselves, the learning process simply stops and they see in whole pictures instead of pieces. This becomes a problem when a child sees new words that have some of those same puzzle pieces. The child just doesn't know how to effectively use those clues to put the new picture together for themselves.
This is the reason there are "sight words" for every grade level as children are given more and more words to try and memorize. At some point, the capacity to memorize gets overloaded. Some children learn to decode for themselves, although it can be hard to learn when to use "f" and when to use "ph" without given explicit instruction. English starts to feel random when it isn't random it all; in fact - English is very logical!

Intensive Phonics Part 2 I will reveal our year long curriculum for Intensive Phonics

Great "free" color matching game!

Okay, we spend a lot on curriculum and supplies. So much so that I hate to even consider posting the amount. However, there are times when I salivate over the word "free". So, while walking through a big name home improvement store getting supplies for a DIY project with my husband I walked past the paint isle. As I walked past the cardstock paint samples I thought, "Eureka"!
Color matching is something I really wanted to do with the kids. Of course, since they are a big old for matching simply primary colors, I thought this was an excellent opportunity. While color matching is often done with younger children, it really is important to do this with older children as well. I will get to that later, first to back to the "free" part!
Here we had all these wonderful card stocks in almost every shade available using the colors of the rainbow. And they were FREE! Okay, they didn't have a sign saying "take one for a homeschool project", but I really was thinking about painting a room and needed some samples. So, I thought - what a perfect opportunity! I got two of each for several different color shades. For extra challenge, I got two each of textured paint samples in slightly different shades. The wonderful thing is that the names of the colors are on the back of the paint samples. It is really as if they were screaming - "use me as an educational tool".
Now, if you do utilize this idea - please be reasonable. Don't grab more than two cards for any one color, don't take the last card in the slot, and please don't load up on every single sample there! At my store there was literally more than 100 different color samples to choose from and I took about 15 colors, 2 cards per color.
The reason why I think this is excellent for 3 - 6 year old set is that it goes beyond the normal primary color matching. It allows children to see the result of color blending. It can also alert you as the parent to vision issues with color processing. It is easy to distinguish red from yellow - it is a bit harder to see the subtle differences between off white and ivory. Adding in textured samples with slight shading differences can even up the challenge and allow for a 7 or 8 year old child to join into the fun.
An expansion activity can be to use crayons, paint, or colored pencils to try to color blend to match the shades on some of the cards. If you do a color science activity with water and color bath tablets - matching the shades can become a pretty good scientific study.
So, if you are ever in a large home improvement store and happen upon a wall of card stock paint color samples - consider grabbing a few for a great game of color matching. This could easily morph into an arts and crafts by cutting the cards into shapes and making a neat mosaic. There are really scores of things you can do with these neat little kid sized blocks of unique, funky, and new colors.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cursive First

It really is a shame that most schools have chosen to stop teaching cursive and that print is taught before cursive. One of the big arguments for print only is that typewritten work, the most common type of writing today, is in print.
While this is true, it really fails to recognize that reading and writing are completely separate skills. So, while it is important to learn to read print, it is equally important to teach cursive, traditionally referred to as "handwriting" and rightfully so!
So, why is it important to teach cursive writing first? Well, I will give you several reasons:
1. Cursive writing is easier to master. Why? Don't believe me? Well, the good thing about cursive writing is that it has less intensive pencil strokes. This is particularly important for younger children just gaining control over their fine motor skills. It also has all the lower case letter starting at the same place - the lower line.
2. Stops reversals and letter confusion. Being a dyslexic with at least one dyslexic child - this point is particularly important. While the "b" and "d" in print can be easily confused, this isn't the case at all in cursive. It is also pretty hard to write a letter backwards in cursive.
3. Equalizes the playing field for lefties. What do you know, I also have a lefty! Since cursive has a natural slant, this works in the favor of left handed children that need to slant their paper in order to effectively write without covering up their words.
4. Helps with spelling. Yes, it is true, writing in cursive helps children (and adults) with spelling. How? With cursive, you must think about how a word is spelled as you write it. This is because where a cursive letter ends depends on the letter that comes after it. This means the child must think about how the word is spelled before they start writing it. Having a child do copy work teaches the child to write the word correctly, feeling each pencil stroke and providing motor memory for the formation of the entire word - this will help with their retention of how the word is spelled.
5. Helps with word recognition. Cursive creates natural breaks between words. This is because all the letters that form a word are linked together. A child will see exactly which letters go with one word and which go with another. Have you ever seen a child write a sentence in print, and you have no idea which letters go with which words? Well, that won't happen with cursive - you will immediately see how a child is spelling every word they write.
6. Personality is allowed! While we always expect printed words to look the same, there is a universal acceptance that cursive writing is personal - this is why your signature means something. Your child gets to find their own voice in their writing from the beginning.

Some people think starting a child with cursive is too hard. However, research has already proven that the best time for a child to learn a foreign language is before the age of 10, and the younger the better. If this is true for a child to learn words to a language with completely different symbols, structures, and rules - why wouldn't it be true for a child to learn to write in cursive and read in print? Children are very capable, we just have to trust them.
And speaking of trust, you also have to trust yourself. Almost 100% of the materials you find aimed towards young children will try to get them to print. This means for the most part you will be on your own with teaching your child cursive. There are many approaches you can take. You can go for it fully on your own. You can take materials geared towards slightly older children and adapt them. You can do a combination.
There are some materials that are designed for you children, mainly Montessori materials. While they tend to be a bit expensive, I truly think they are invaluable. I particularly love Montessori cursive sandpaper letters. We have upper and lower case sandpaper letters - which are individual letters on large wooden boards with the letters done in sandpaper. This creates a tactile surface so your child can not only see, but feel how the letters are formed. You can also trace letters in sand. You can make letters with play dough and even bake bread letters.
It really is amazing when children first begin to pretend to write, they naturally start to form cursive "words", designs that are fluid and flow naturally from the pencil Rather than pick up the pencil after each letter, they link them together for structure as well as grace. We do seem to "educate" the knowledge out of our children in our traditional school structure and mind.

Now, what if you didn't start with cursive? You can always add cursive. It will be a bit harder, but that is okay. They are older, they can handle it. Trust yourself and trust your child! Cursive is your friend!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Gifted Dyslexic

Being gifted and dyslexic myself, and having at least one gifted and dyslexic child (my other 2 are a little too young to make a good determination for dyslexia, but they are definitely gifted) I can't say I am an expert - but I am definitely well versed on this topic.
These are probably two of the most over quoted and misunderstood dualities a person can have. For one thing, being dyslexic can mask giftedness; however, giftedness can often mask dyslexia. Talk about being a "man without a country"! Thankfully with my eldest (5) we were able to have both diagnosis confirmed early in his life. When it comes to giftedness, my eldest is pretty close to the top of that category - being well in the upper 99th percentile of intelligence for his age. This makes him not only "bright", but he also has many of the other and lesser known characteristics of giftedness - emotional intensity, good and advanced sense of humor, excellent memory, perfectionism, heightened sensitivity, vivid imagination, etc. We knew he was gifted at a very young age, and the entire package of giftedness can be quite a challenge. There are all these giant emotions, abilities, interests, ideas floating around in this tiny package. The mind working so much faster than what the body can handle. Singing the alphabet song before the age of one might be cute to passerby's on the street - but being gifted isn't just cute intellectual feats. Being gifted also means being different. Around 10% of people would be considered "gifted", around 3% "highly gifted", and less than 1% "profoundly gifted". All three of my children fall between highly and profoundly gifted. This can be a lonely place, when no other child you meet is quite like you.
Then we add on this dyslexia. Dyslexia is often referred to as a "reading disorder", but that isn't really the entire extent of it. This is especially true for a gifted dyslexic. My eldest actually reads above grade level. However, he struggles with phonetic awareness, being able to see the words clearly, and even being able to mentally retrieve the words he is reading - even though he knows them. Reading for a gifted dyslexic is kind of like being conscience that you have amnesia - you know you can't remember or retrieve something that you know you know! It is frustrating and lonely. This is a child that can build a working robot from scrap parts at five years old, yet he will look at the word "and" in a book as if is written in Mandarin. What makes dyslexia even more confusing with gifted children is they are great a picking up context - so the longer a passage or even a book the more they understand. So, while reading Bob Books might be slow going, having a math book read to him can be quite enjoyable and enlightening. And again, even with his struggles he reads above grade level.
My eldest also has vision issues that many don't understand. So, his eyesight is 20/20 without glasses, but the way his eyes work with his brain causes problems - specifically with tracking and teaming. Basically, his eyes don't always work together to focus on an image and will fight to show him their own isolated image. Imagine trying to read with the words dancing around on the page and the pictures jumping from eye to eye. Yet, though it all, he still shines.
He is just now at an age where we can work on these issues. His homeschool First grade curriculum is quite unique - basic phonics to improve his phonological awareness along with physics. Yes, being a gifted dyslexic is a unique place in the world. My goal is to make it not so lonely for him, help him find his tribe, and help him to realize that unique isn't a curse - but a blessing. We will correct those downsides to dyslexia and vision issues with 12 months of intensive vision therapy. However, there are some upsides of dyslexia we don't want to harm - like the creativity, the ability to see what others do not, the ability to find your own way in problem solving since what you are seeing is uniquely yours and yours alone. I now see why the call gifted children with learning disabilities - twice exceptional. They really are often doubly gifted. Its their unique way of overcoming challenges that make children like my eldest so amazing to watch.