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!!