Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Education Emergency

Late night television recently aired a tape of a child who calls 911 for help while doing his math homework. Here is an excerpt of it:

Operator: 911 emergencies.
Boy: Yeah I need some help.
Operator: What’s the matter?
Boy: With my math.
Operator: What kind of math do you have that you need help with?
Boy: I have take aways. 16 take away 8 is what?
Operator: You tell me. How much do you think it is?
Boy: I don’t know, 1?
Operator: No. How old are you?
Boy: I’m only 4.
Operator: 4!
Boy: Yeah.
Operator: What’s another problem, that was a tough one.
Boy: Um, oh here’s one. 5 take away 5.
Operator: 5 take away 5 and how much do you think that is?
Boy: 5.
Woman: Johnny what do you think you’re doing?!
Boy: The policeman is helping me with my math.
Woman: What did I tell you about going on the phone?
Boy: You said if I need help to call somebody.
Woman: I didn’t mean the police!

While this is funny, it is also pretty alarming to me. Even the Operator and the boy seem to realize that being "only 4" is really young for independently doing subtraction problems! You can see from his answers that this child is clearly not understanding such an abstract concept, yet he was expected to work on his own to do it.

In my neighborhood the first of the year's parent-teacher conferences are starting, and I have seen several requests for Kindergarten reading tutors through the neighborhood list serve. What is wrong with this picture? It is no coincidence that there are many Kindergartners who are having trouble reading - they are not typically developmentally ready for it! Back when a Kindergartner's day was determined by educators, it was about playing, socialization, art, singing, napping, and the introduction of letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Now Kindergartner's fate is set by politicians with no training necessary in child development, the "fun stuff" has been discarded so that there is more time to rush them to literacy and quadratic equations. There is something truly scary to me about a 4 or 5 year old getting that much pressure to be so serious. It doesn't seem all that different than putting them on a factory job at a young age. We, in this country, find that scenario appalling but too many seem to have no trouble robbing children of their brief time to be playful, joyful, and young.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that all parents who get tutors for their children are bad people. On the contrary! I think the problem lies with what we have allowed our schools to become. The ubiquity of Kindergarten literacy expectations, standardized testing, excessive homework battles,calls for longer and more days in school, etc. have caused parents (who want the best for their children) to conform to the pressure. We have been there. My older son had a tutor in first grade so that he could attempt to keep up with the rest of his class, where ability varied dramatically. We eventually stopped the madness. No more homework, no more tutoring, no more expectations above his abilities. Once we did that, Ronan regained his childhood, his confidence, his curiosity - himself. I truly regret that year, but we certainly all learned a lot (just not what was intended).

A friend recently shared a quote by Robert Kiyosaki. He said, "Our school system is based on the fear of failure not the love of learning, if that changes, when that changes, then we will have a more peaceful world cause we will develop more peaceful people." I completely agree, and when this does change, our children will have their childhood back and we will no longer be in a state of educational emergency. And, who knows, with the world at peace, maybe 911 operators would have no more calls about domestic violence, crime, or math problems, and could focus on health and accident-related calls!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Recommended Reads - Mrs. Biddlebox and Mrs. Murphy

I love children's books that not only entertain but teach in a clever, memorable way. In early childhood, story telling is one of the most effective ways to teach many things, like values, math, history, social studies among others. There are two books on my kids' bookshelf that fit this category and have become family favorites.

"On a knotty little hill, in a dreary little funk, Mrs. Biddlebox rolled over on the wrong side of her bunk". And so begins a story about a woman in a grouchy mood having a bad day from the very start. She decides to turn the whole rotten morning into a cake, taking the lawn, the sun, the sky and baking it into submission. As she goes about the business of making this unique, from-scratch cake, the reader can see she is taking starting to feel some satisfaction in whipping her day into something better. By the end of the day her cake is done and she sits down to eat, at first taking a dainty slice, but eventually eating the whole thing. Her belly is full, she has changed her attitude, and the first contented smile appears on her face she heads to bed. The illustrations by Marla Frazee are as imaginative and fun as the story itself, bringing alive her fierce determination to actively welcome something better. My kids love the funny illustrations and the fantasy of taking a bad day and making into something really good. I like the book's message of empowerment and responsibility to meet the day with a positive attitude, no matter what happens. "Mrs. Biddlebox" is all the more poignant in that the author, Linda Smith was inspired to write the book as she battled cancer. Intended for four to eight year olds, the book is a real pleasure to read for us as well.

"Mrs. Murphy's Marvelous Mansion", by Emma Perry Roberts is written for the same age group and is about the peculiarly dressed Mrs. Murphy and her quirky little house. She lives on a cul-de-sac surrounded by large, vanilla houses remarkable only in their uniformity. The neighbors try to ignore the eccentric Mrs. Murphy and her odd house, until the Very Finest Neighborhood Contest brings out their neighborhood pride and intolerance. The neighbors let her know that she doesn't belong on their street. Mrs Murphy is surprised but invites them all over to her house for lunch so that they can see for themselves that her house is lovely too. Merely out of curiosity the neighbors accept her invitation. When they enter her tiny-seeming house, they are surprised at how spacious it seems and how beautiful it is. After the guests are shown around and each has commented appreciatively on some wonderful aspect of her house, they eat lunch together and there are smiles all around the table. As the neighbors are leaving one comments, "On the outside, her house is so much different than I expected." Another neighbor agrees that when they looked only at the outside, they couldn't appreciate the inside. Mrs. Murphy closes her door, thinking to herself that "it is a fine day indeed when we learn that beauty on the inside matters more than beauty on the outside." The old message of not judging a book by its cover is brought home in a powerful way that kids can really relate to. The illustrations by Robert Rogalski are as eccentric as Mrs. Murphy, with bold, rich colors and strangely beautiful rooms that give a sense of vast spaciousness and whimsy. The book's message of appreciating and looking for the goodness that is found on the inside makes for a lively discussion and a fun read.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Schooled on Giftedness - An Apology, An Interview, An Alliance

A recent article I wrote on the subject of giftedness caused a rather heated discussion.  The end result of it (understanding and ideas) was very positive, but I wish to apologize all the same to many readers whom I might have offended.  While it did give a great springboard for discussion and learning, my attempt at humor at the beginning of the article obfuscated the message and I felt terrible that I had offended some without intention.  That humbling moment was not in vain, though.  I got to to talk to the fabulous Suki Wessling (after we both put down our dukes) and really enjoyed hearing her perspective.  Suki is a writer and homeschooler and knows a lot about the subject of giftedness.  We decided to do a written conversation on this so that others might understand this topic more.

Suki, you and I agreed that the term giftedness is a woefully inadequate descriptor.  I have never disputed that there are very advanced (gifted) children, but took aim at the lack of clarity and it revealed my general dislike for labels. You call it a different term.  Can you explain what it is and why it is better?

Parents and educators of "gifted" kids often bat around possible terms to replace gifted, which is such a loaded word because it implies a value judgment. As parents of gifted kids can tell you, parenting a gifted child can be very, very difficult, and their prospects for success are not any better, and sometimes worse, than other kids'. The term I prefer is borrowed from someone else: neuro-nontypical. A neuro-typical person is one who fits pretty easily into that nebulous region we call "typical" or "average" as far as their neurology goes (how they learn, behave, feel). A neuro-nontypical person is just different. Really, that term would include autistic people and Down's syndrome kids, and it's definitely not a value judgment. It's just an acknowledgement that when you're talking about educating a human being, a neurologically unusual child, whether learning disabled or "highly enabled," need a different approach.

Aside from the inadequacy of the term "gifted" why do you think there is such alienation and misunderstanding surrounding it?

A few reasons. One is that we live in a society that pretends to understand the value of intellect, but all indicators say that it doesn't value intellect in the least. Just look at our popular entertainment, our most revered public figures, and the relative salaries of intellectuals vs. non-intellectuals if you want proof.

Another reason is that parents are really feeling under the gun to help their children "succeed." We are bombarded with information that makes us anxious: Your child needs to know all his colors and numbers to get into the best preschool; your child needs to start reading in kindergarten to achieve testing goals; your child needs to be top in her class to get into the college you like. So when a parent says the word "gifted," imagine how loaded that is. "My child has a gift; your child is gonna have to work his butt off!" This is not true of most parents of neuro-nontypical kids, yet the word itself implies it.

When I went to the website called "Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted" ( I found a brochure on how to identify a gifted child.  I think that part of the problem in identifying giftedness is that is not very clear.  It includes characteristics like being very curious and observant, strong vocabulary and reasoning, pattern recognition, problem solving, and strong memory.  I realize that there is a matter of degree here, but it is understandable why so many people think there child is gifted.  What is gifted and what is it not?

It depends on the situation. Our public schools use certain measures for gifted programs, so some people would use those definitions. Psychologists who work with gifted children may use others. I think it's important to think of it similar to autism: parents of autistic kids often use the phrase "on the spectrum," meaning that a child is autistic, but is in his own unique place on the spectrum of the disorder. "Gifted" just means "good at something" in its most colloquial use. As a term for diagnosis, it's something you can certainly test: does the child learn in a different, faster way than typical children? Does she have any of the corresponding sensitivities and personality traits? Does he have special schooling needs because of the way he learns?

One reader used "smarter" as a synonym for gifted.  Does that mean smarter in every category?  If we just focused on the pure academics, does that mean a child is smarter in algebra, geometry, zoology, chemistry, writing, reading, geography, etc. or is it in a certain area?

This gets back to that "value judgment" aspect of the word. Frankly, a highly gifted person can be darn stupid in many ways. I remember a friend when I was at Stanford saying, "Why is it all these really smart women we know are so stupid about love?" What she was pointing out is that being good at test-taking, being articulate, good at analysis and dissection -- all those things that got us into Stanford -- have no relationship to good interpersonal skills, good hand-eye coordination, a good sense of humor, or any of the other many traits that we value in human beings.

Gifted people are usually not better at all academic subjects, and the more gifted (i.e. the more removed from the average set of learners out there) a person is, the less likely they seem to have average skills in a wide variety of areas. We all knew the math professor who forgot to wash his clothing, or the really smart 8th-grader who would get hit by balls on the head in P.E. because she was lost in thought, or the kid who hadn't learned to read but had diagrammed the entire New York City subway system inside his English textbook. These are examples of people whose brains were really good at some things, but were not able to function in situations that other people take for granted.

Most gifted people have wide areas of strength, though, so it is probably safe to say that a kid gifted in math would do well at everything that takes mathematical skills (including music, which is often tied to mathematical skills).

What about the Theory of Multiple Intelligences?  Beyond academic ability, what about musical, social, athletic, and other skills many of us are blessed with?

Some public school GATE programs take that into account, and include some non-academic areas of giftedness in their programs. The reality is, however, that academic giftedness is that one that causes problems for kids in school. All the other ones you mention are an asset to a student. Yes, a highly social, musical, or athletic child might not be doing great in academics because their passion is taking up so much time, but we don't really see that as so much of a problem. Does anyone know what Barry Bonds' high school grades were?

I think that the theory of multiple intelligences is a great way to integrate all children into a social group, and teach that we should value all children. However, I have seen at least one teacher use it to try to "put the smart kids in their place," which was very destructive. Multiple intelligences should not be used in a school setting to equalize, because we aren't all the same. It is our difference that makes us strong! We are the most highly varied species on the planet, and that is one of our greatest assets. We need to value all the skills that people have. Frankly, even the class clown who disrupts a test with farty sounds is an asset to a classroom, and teachers need to understand that and figure out how to work with it.

We talked a bit about IQ tests.  I don't feel they are a good measurement of a person's needs and abilities and have read a lot of Sir Ken Robinson's views on this subject.  He insists that IQ tests and scores are outdated, flawed, and changing.  Indeed the 100+ year history of the test has had it share of critics, including Alfred Binet, who pioneered the first intelligence scale.  Many critics point out that it is impossible to measure intelligence when we have not even defined it properly.  What are your thoughts on this?

My parents chose not to have their kids' IQ tested, and my husband I have chosen the same route. The number really doesn't matter to us, because we have found ways to create a positive learning environment for our kids: one of them is thriving in a public homeschool program; the other is thriving at a very socially positive and supportive private school.

The value that parents have found in the IQ test, as far as I have heard, is just that it sometimes can point out important things about how a child learns. Sometimes when trying to educate a child who seems ineducable, finding out that he has a top-of-the-charts IQ can help you understand how to reach him. Another value is that a child who has been pegged learning disabled in a school can be tested and be found to be profoundly gifted, which sometimes looks very similar to learning disabled, oddly enough. The number in that case is ammunition the parents can use to get their child the services she needs.

I don't see any value in IQ testing as a matter of course. It just seems weird to pin a number on people and then write them off. Rent the movie Gattaca!

Another point about IQ as it relates to determining giftedness is that the cut-off seems fairly arbitrary.  Who is to say that someone with an IQ of, say 129 is not gifted, but someone with one of 130 is?  It seems to me that the number does not change the fact that you still must meet the individual needs of each student.

Totally arbitrary. You suggested in your post that all kids need IEPs -- I agree with you. That is the beauty of homeschooling and smaller school programs: each child can be given what she needs and what inspires her. Once you get to large public schools, however, that cut-off is sometimes the difference between being stuck in a class that is going to drill the information for The Test yet again for the umpteenth time, and a class that's going to dissect frogs! That's when you get parents tearing their hair out trying to help their child "succeed." And that's when you get parents feeling like they're in battle with each other to get services for their kids. It's similar to the parents of kids in special education who feel they have to justify that their child has an aide when the classroom doesn't have enough money for crayons. If all students' needs were funded, I believe the cut-off would just be an arbitrary place for the school to start to say, "does this child have special needs that we haven't noticed?" Otherwise, yes, it is totally arbitrary and divisive.

In my original post I suggested that rather than focusing on our differences (high or low IQ, learning disabled or gifted) I thought it would be better to focus on meeting every kid right where he is (this was meant to be the main point).  I like the approach of each kid getting an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), which are typically given to struggling students.  Why not give each kid one?  Sure, it would not fit with the conventional model found in most schools and it does not do much for standardization, but the fact that we are talking about the challenges of giftedness doesn't speak much for the reality or goal of standardization.  In a Democratic School, students are given far more independence in their learning so that it meets their interests and needs, adding a level of maturity, responsibility, and customization to their education.  (See my post about a school in Denver that does this:
).  What about offering more schools like this?

I'm all for it! I have spent my kids' school years trying to keep them in programs that suit them. Here in Santa Cruz County (California), we are blessed with a huge population of families who care about education, and thus a higher than average number of special programs, charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling options. As my children age, I start to see their former preschool classmates trickling into these special programs as parents realize their children's needs aren't being met.

My utopic vision of a public education system is this: Each county (or whatever geographic area makes sense in each location) would be one district. The schools would be small and fluid: Some kids would go to the same school every day. Some kids would only go to school certain days and learn independently other days. Some kids would go to different programs at different schools depending on their needs. Some kids would never go to school. All kids would be able to take part in the programs that they enjoy. Testing would happen just a couple of times, perhaps 3rd and 6th grade, just to make sure that nothing is being missed as far as the basic tools of modern life are concerned.

Unlike many homeschoolers, I do believe that there is a real reason for public education, and I do strongly believe that education needs to be compulsory. How you put together an education for a child, however, would be much more fluid than it is now, more focused on what "success" means for each student rather than what "success" means for administrators of a school district.

What are the alternatives for students who are not challenged enough in schools?

That depends on the location. Private schools can often offer more, but that is not necessarily the case. Parents should pay very close attention to the peer group at a private school to make sure it's the right fit for their child, since private schools tend to have a student population that is more narrowly focused and often their educational approach is very specific, such as Montessori.

Some public school GATE programs are run with the child in mind, and really do offer a more appropriate education within the public school system. Some, however, are just geared to pile on more busy work, faster, which doesn't serve most children, gifted or not.

Public charter schools and special programs can sometimes be a great fit for a student who needs more challenging work. It's important to note that "challenging" does NOT mean more busy work! Most kids whose brains function at a higher level tend not to be satisfied with yet another worksheet of math problems that they can do. Instead, they will excel if they are offered experiential programs that incorporate and expand their skills. Find out about local charter schools through your school district office or at

Homeschooling is a very good option for gifted kids who are extremely unusual learners or who have emotional/social difficulties. Homeschooling can happen within all sorts of different programs or outside of programs. In California, any family can set up their own private school and homeschool that way. If families want to be attached to a school, most districts have homeschool programs (either charter schools or special programs). We also have multi-locale charters that families can sign up with if there's no homeschool program near them. (Some of these take kids from a wide geographic area.) To learn more about homeschooling in California, visit the Homeschool Association of California -

Describe the emotional issues of neuro-advanced students.

You mentioned -- I highly recommend that parents of gifted kids go there to get help. Neurologically different kids are usually not just different academically. Common issues that can show up in neuro-nontypical kids include high sensitivities, difficulties with social skills, asynchronous development, behaviors that resemble oppositional disorder, ADHD or bipolar, and more. Often these problems cannot be addressed sufficiently unless the whole child -- including his advanced intellect -- is considered as a package. A significant number of gifted kids are probably given unnecessary drug therapy when a change in learning environment or help with life skills might suffice.

Tracy, thank you so much for responding the way you did to criticism from parents of gifted kids. We need to learn from each other so that we can figure out how to make education better for all kids. I know that the tight budgets and balkanized educational theories make us all defensive, and I appreciate how you are doing your part to break down the barriers. -- Suki Wessling

To read more from Suki, check out her blog at

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Waldorf and Montessori - Fantasy Versus Reality

Many parents are familiar with the Waldorf and Montessori education models but not always clear on the differences between them. My children have been in both types of schools, so we had the pleasure of learning about both models in theory and in practice. I appreciate and respect many things about both modalities and I do understand that there can be a great deal of variation in many Waldorf and Montessori classrooms around the world.

Typically Montessori encourages a firm grounding in reality for a child and their materials help to cement that understanding. At the Montessori school my children attended, children were not to play with the manipulative materials in a way that is not in keeping with their purpose. For example, the math beads were to be used for counting in a certain sequential way when a child is ready to use them for math purposes. The classrooms emphasize order, with tidy workstations and plenty to do as a child chooses. While I do love the way Montessori encourages a child to learn through the use of manipulative materials instead instead of more abstract methods, I also appreciate the way Waldorf encourages fantasy play.

In a Waldorf classroom, play is considered a fundamental part of learning and fantasy is viewed as essential to creating happy and imaginative students. Waldorf teachers capitalize on the power of a story to teach children. The classrooms are beautiful and inviting. They are dreamy and colorful with found items from nature and plenty of gorgeous, natural fabrics draped to create a sense of space. In addition to creating the setting of the room, fabrics are also used to play make believe. Waldorf advocates for plenty of imaginative play and the teachers encourage it by providing natural toys made of wood or cotton that are minimally finished to encourage a strong sense of imagination. I love how the stories about Andy Add and Sammy Subtract help to bring alive an abstract idea.

In the Waldorf school we were a part of, there were plenty of stories on fairies. Children were told stories of fairies that mirrored their lives and helped them to make sense of their world and the world they cannot see. My children have built many a fairy house, using found objects in nature or a cardboard box. I love how it brings out the nurturing side of them (building a comfortable shelter for them) and their creativity. My children have written to their fairies and received answers and an occasional small gift from them. It is sort of like Christmas each time it happens, but it is not about the material item they get (a fortune cookie, a few coins, a figurine, some stickers) but the delight at the special connection and attention that they love.

In an eclectic education, the best of both can be used. I try to make use of manipulative materials and a story to make sense of an abstract concept. We do frequent nature walks, taking pictures of items that we will later use to learn. For example, we went on a photographic scavenger hunt this week, taking pictures of things that are brown, things that are dry, things that are soft, etc. to use for a sorting exercise later for my four year old. I am grateful that we can draw from the wisdom of both modalities to make our homeschooling experience all the richer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"All kids are gifted; some just open their packages earlier than others"

That great quote by Michael Carr brings to mind a story. One of my children got his first tooth quite early, compared to his peers. We knew he was dentally gifted. We made sure he tested into the top dentists, we surrounded him with other dentally precocious children, and we gave him a special diet that would encourage his gift to grow further and faster. I also got a bumper sticker for my car to advertise his advanced toothiness.

All right, that's not true, but it is what I think of on the topic of giftedness. Any time someone talks about their child being gifted, I want to ask them "in what area is your child an early learner?" Giftedness is such an inadequate and highly charged word. It seems to imply that a certain group of children are blessed with an all-encompassing, ever-advanced intelligence while the rest of the population is hopelessly average or worse.

Some kids learn to read quite quickly but have no aptitude for math. Others are great at understanding patterns, but are verbally behind their peers. I know many little boys who have an early propensity for dinosaurs - they know the names and habits of every dinosaur known to man, yet they are socially or physically awkward. The term giftedness does not adequately describe a child's singular area of proficiency, but instead tends to confer a blanket of superiority around the child, leaving others in the cold.

Does early achievement really mean permanent giftedness? Well, what if you do have a child who is an early reader? By, say, 6th Grade, does that child actually read any better than the child who learned to read a year or two later? At age 10, can you tell which child learned to talk or walk earlier than the others? Just like those that are dentally gifted, a head start in a particular area of growth and development does not necessarily make for an enduring advantage. By the same token, a delayed start does not equate to mental inferiority. Albert Einstein is a great example of that. Not only would he not have been in the Highly Gifted and Talented Program as a young student, he would likely have had an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to help him up to average.

And what about the theory of multiple intelligences? Does giftedness take into account a particularly athletic girl if she horrible at algebra? Does giftedness include the musically talented boy who is an awful speller and grammatically delayed? Is a child with advanced social skills less gifted than a child who can read a Harry Potter book at age seven?

It is natural for parents to notice and take pride in each of the developmental milestones our children achieve. We are supposed to marvel at them and cheer them on, but we should stop short at pressuring them too hard or setting them on a pedestal above others. I overheard a woman talking to the head of our pre-school as she complained how hard the Highly Gifted and Talented test was. She had had her son take the test three times and he failed to qualify each time. I have to believe that is damaging to the child in some way. Why is it so important to her to have the title of giftedness for her child?

It is the job of every parent and educator to recognize the strengths that lie in every child and to facilitate further development in those areas. How would it be if we honored all learning differences in every subject, whether they were advanced or delayed, kinesthetic or auditory, etc.? All children should have an IEP custom-made according to their strengths and learning styles! What if we treated all children as gifted and we optimized the education of each child according to his specific gifts? Our schools and communities would be stronger if we were to recognize and grow the gifts that each child possesses to everyone's benefit.

Just like on their birthdays, I look forward to seeing what gifts my children got and how they will use them!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

In Praise of BaLaNcE

Ronan got his first bike with training wheels on his third birthday, though he didn't want anything to do with it for a few months. Eventually he rode around on it until he had a minor biking accident that hurt and scared him and he stopped riding it again for awhile. Over the course of almost four more years we tried a few times to take the training wheels off so that he could ride a big boy bike but each time he requested that the training wheels be put back on. He wasn't ready. One day, we took off the training wheels, the crank and the pedals and made our own balance/push bike. He tried this out for a couple of weeks, getting the hang of balancing his body to keep the bike upright. On the last day of school when he was almost seven, I took him to a consignment bike store to pick out a bike that was appropriate for his size in anticipation that this would be the summer he would be ready to ride a big boy bike. He picked out one he liked and took it for a test drive and I let go. He took off, riding off down the sidewalk as if he had been riding without training wheels for months! We were both so thrilled!

Although he had a year of pedaling practice with a big wheel, we decided to start Jude off with a balance bike, which he got for his fourth birthday. Just like Ronan, he wouldn't touch it for a few weeks. Then he started riding it cautiously, and within a week he was not only balancing, but even doing tricks on a moving bike. Within a month he asked to try a big boy bike with pedals and without training wheels. On his very first try he rode off down the driveway like a seasoned rider. Again, parent and child were thrilled!

Given the popularity of balance bikes, we are not the only ones who have found that they are great for learning to ride a bike. I think that the balance bikes are a great metaphor for education. Just like on a bike, each kid learns at his own natural pace and what makes him ready is not the external work, but something from within.

A child will learn to read not so much by constant effort and badgering by another person, but by being ready and willing on a timeline that is natural and unique to each person. True, it does take effort, and practice, and plenty of opportunity to learn both bike riding and reading, but neither can be rushed. Both will happen when there is a sense of balance, confidence, and willingness - the internal pieces that must be in place for the independence on bikes or books to occur.

In education, a child that is pressured to read through nearly constant practice and tutoring has no balance. Academic balance comes from not only exposure to literacy, but to other important aspects of humanity, like nature, art, science, math, socializing, history, play, etc. Through the exploration of all of the interesting aspects that make us human we achieve a vital sense of balance that enables us to grow in each area. Not only is a maniacal focus on ever earlier literacy unnecessary and developmentally inappropriate, it also robs us of the opportunity to understand and explore other subjects. At a young age, breadth is what allows us to understand our world. This foundation gives us balance and the ability to grow. It allows us to achieve not only literacy but a strong foundation of knowledge in any other subject.

Balance and biking and literacy will all come if we act as facilitators for them to naturally unfold at their own rate with enthusiasm, encouragement, respect, understanding, and patience. Then, look out! They will take off with joy and confidence to fuel them forward!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Slowing Down

One of the greatest gifts and the hardest thing to adjust to homeschooling is the pace of life. People in my office used to hear me coming by the sound of my hasty footsteps approaching them. I used to drive over the speed limit even if I was going to be early. I love to get things done and I have often stacked a lot on my plate just to savor the goofy happiness of crossing it off my to-do list. Homeschooling has a way of slowing you down and redefining efficiency. It has a way of forcing you into being in the now and being present.

I am always planning things. I've planned pregnancies, fundraising events, social engagements, and now lesson plans. I even plan great vacations and then don't always enjoy them to the fullest because the planning stage is over and I don't know what to do with just relaxing. But I've noticed that homeschooling requires a lot of attention and executing on the plans, with little time for more planning. I have learned pretty quickly that I need to keep the momentum going with the schoolwork, or I lose my kids to chaos and play. I have to give them my complete attention for everything to go smoothly. On days where I succumb to looking up one more book on the library website, or looking through an anthology for just the right story, it does not pay!

I have also come to understand that getting things done is not going to feel like it used to. I used to get through a whole day's worth of work-related tasks, not to mention picking up children in two different schools, cooking dinner, cleaning up (well, sometimes), and getting everyone ready for bed. Now, an errand or two can eat up the entire day and leave me feeling panicked that not enough learning took place. Even on days when we do not leave the house, I have the notion we will get through reading, writing, math, time-telling, calendar work, geography, Spanish, sociology, art, music and cooking with plenty of time for play and lunch. I have yet to have a day where we worked all of that in! However, I have come to the pragmatic realization that, like nutrition, it is what you do over the course of the week that counts. Getting everything done every day is not practical or possible, so I am learning to relax about it and shoot for the larger goal over the course of a week or the month.

Jude, who learned how to ride a bike with no training wheels and no assistance recently, asked if we could ride bikes to the zoo instead of drive as I had planned. It's only about three and a half miles from our house, so I agreed. I knew it would be a slower ride than I am used to, but this was the kind of ride that was actually difficult for me to stay upright due to lack of momentum. A person with 12" bike rims has to pedal a lot more to move than a person on an adult's bike, but we made it to the zoo without any complaints. On our bike ride we noticed tree houses, birdhouses, dogs, gardens, leaves, and puddles. (Here's a tip: although drafting works well for Lance Armstrong, it is not a great idea to draft a four year old!) I would not have noticed any of these had I been driving or riding at my own speedy pace, in a hurry for no reason. Not only did we appreciate all of the sights and sounds along the way, it was so gratifying to see the obvious pride on Jude's face, having completed his first impressive bike ride and keeping up with the rest of us. That was definitely worth being present for!