## Doing math multiple ways

On gifted forums, sometimes parents complain that the teacher says the kids have to do something X way, but DC gets the right answer doing it a different way.  So why should they have to do it X way when Y way is obviously working?

It’s kind of reminiscent of the argument that elementary schools no longer need to teach math because we have calculators now.

I disagree with that sentiment.  It’s important to do math multiple different ways.  There’s value in learning a different way to get the same answer.  You get a better understanding of how numbers (and later, symbols for numbers) are put together.  That leads to more accurate math, better estimates, faster calculations even without a calculator or pencil, and a greater knowledge of the possibilities of what can be done.

Even if we have computers that can do calculus, it’s still important to know how calculus works, because you know what is possible, you have ideas about what to try for things… and that’s even ignoring that math just makes you smarter.

DC1′s school just switched from Saxon math to Chicago math, but we’re doing Singapore math at home.  I’m glad ze’s learning the traditional computational methods at school (and we practice them in hir Brainquest workbook during summer and on the weekends), but I love love love that Singapore math looks at the same things in a different way.  For example, we just hit multiplication of 2 or 3 digits by a 1 digit number.  The traditional method ze’ll learn in school (and practice in brainquest) is to start with problems that don’t require any carrying.  Probably lots of x2 and x3 simple problems (23 x 2 = ?, 12 x 3 = ?), in order to cement the idea of multiplying the ones digit and then the 10s digit (and then the 100s digit another day).  Eventually they’ll introduce the concept of carrying (23 x 4 = ?).  (Then next year, the mechanics of double digit multiplication.)

The Singapore method, instead starts with some pictures.  It says, you remember when you learned multiplication how that was like having 3 rows of 4 balls?  And 3 * 4 = 12?  Well, what if, instead of each ball being worth one, that each ball is worth 10.  So you have 3 rows of 4 (10) balls.  (In pictures this is more obvious than in words.)  They’ve done the 10 ball representation previously with place value and with skip counting and x10s, so they’ve seen this idea before multiple times.  So 3 * 40 = 12 tens, and they know that 12 tens = 120.  Then they move on to 3 * 400 with the same pictorial representation.  Finally they finish up with 6 sample problems:  5*9, 5*90, 5*900, 9*5, 9*50, 9*500.  These last problems are set up in a way such that there’s pattern matching insights there for students who are good at getting insights from pattern matching, but it isn’t forced on kids who aren’t.  (At this point DC1 asked if 50*90 = 9*500 and 5*900.)  The next day moves on to 2 and 3 digit times 1 digit without carrying, but teaches it using these insights with the distributive property (13* 2 = 10*2 + 3*2), and this is not the first time they’ve seen the distributive property either– they’ve worked a lot with it with addition.  By the time Singapore math kids get to algebra a lot of tricky algebra concepts should seem pretty obvious.

I believe there’s value to being able to do math with both of these techniques.  They each provide different insights to how numbers are put together.  They each have different numerical problems for which they are the faster and easier method of solution.  In addition, the standard US method tends to be easiest when one has a pencil handy, whereas Singapore math is often best for mental math.  It isn’t that one technique is better than the other (though I confess that Singapore is more beautiful and I can see the sneaky ways it’s introducing higher level math while working with simple numeric problems, something beautiful in itself).

Being able to use multiple methods is even more valuable, however, than the sum of being able to use two individual methods.  Because of the insight given by seeing two different ways to solve the same problem, I would argue that the value of learning a second method isn’t even multiplicative, but instead exponential (or maybe factorial…)  Each new way provides a deeper insight into the magnificent world of numbers.

And, with that pattern matching turned on… if there are multiple ways to get to the right answer in math, maybe there’s multiple ways to get to a solution in other kinds of problems too.  If everyone had that particular insight, then maybe government policy wouldn’t be quite so messed up (a long shot, perhaps).

Do you think there’s a benefit to learning different ways to get the same answer?

## On Flash Cards

One of the things parents of gifted kids get accused of a lot is forcing flashcards on their children.  In reality, that doesn’t happen a whole lot.  Gifted kids tend to learn to read and count without flashcards.  Many of them learn basic arithmetic and other facts just through repetition in day to day school stuff.

However, flashcards do have their place.

DC1 is ready to move on from 2nd grade math to 3rd grade.  There’s all sorts of neat new things to learn.  Unfortunately we started hitting perfectionist melt-down road-blocks.  DH finally figured out that these melt-downs were happening when multiplication was involved.  Coincidentally, DC1′s end of the year report-card came with a note to practice DC1′s multiplication facts over the summer.  (She also sent a reading fluency workbook that ze loved so much ze’s finished it, links to suggested booklists, and some handwriting practice.)

So I sat down and had a chat with DC1 about maybe learning hir times tables this summer.  At first ze was resistant, but I explained that when I was in 2nd or maybe 3rd grade, I had trouble with my times tables too and my mom had to eventually sit me down and drill me with them until I got them.  (And then I became the fastest in the class, sometimes tying with but usually beating another kid named Ahmed at Around the World, but I didn’t tell DC1 that.  Competition is out these days.)  I’ve also helped tons of people learn their times tables with flash cards, including DC1′s aunt.  So grudgingly ze agreed to try, and I promised ze’d know the times tables by the end of the summer, which was 2 months off.  Ze figured that was a good goal and was a little excited by it.

Day 1 went smoothly with DC1 giggling at already knowing all the times 0s.  Day 2 with the times 1s went similarly.  We had a few hiccups with times 2s on day 3, especially with 12.  Anytime ze didn’t know one, we’d stop and figure out how to get the answer.  Then I would put it back in the pack randomly.  If ze didn’t get it a second time, I’d put it back in the pack one card away so ze would see it again almost immediately.  We’d go through the entire deck once, removing cards ze got immediately and repeating cards ze got wrong or took time to get until the entire deck was gone through correctly and immediately.  The cards that ze didn’t know right away would show up the next day too as review.

On the times 3s, we had to take a break, but got through.  Ze started being able to figure out how to get 3*6 if ze already knew 3*5 using the techniques we’d used for times twos.

On the times 4s, we had a full blown melt-down.  Tears, daddy-intervention cuddles time, not knowing, snack breaks, the whole thing.  Horrible.  But when cajoled back, I showed hir 7*4 (a sticking point), and ze said immediately “28, but I’m just guessing”, and then 4*4 was “16 but I’m just guessing” and we explained that that’s how memorization works.  It was truly a lightbulb moment for DC1 and ze flipped through the times 4s as if ze had always known them.  Suddenly they were easy.  Ze ran off to get quizzed by DH, who was appropriately impressed.  “I’m just guessing and I get the answer,” DC1 explained.

Next day times 5s, which ze mostly knew and could easily figure out on hir own via skip counting.  A couple of the times 4s still giving trouble, but nothing major– more like 4*3 = 16 no? 12.

Times 6s were mostly unfamiliar (starting with 6*6, but reviewing 0-5*6), but we got through them without any fussing.  DC1 had gone through a mindset change, the likes of which ze probably hasn’t done since learning to ride a bike or finally being able to swim.  (Both of which happened long enough ago ze may not really remember.)  Ze realized that ze could do the seemingly impossible if ze just worked at it and practiced enough.

Next day we took a break from new numbers in order to clear out all the legacy times that could use more review.  To my surprise, after the first go-round only 6*6 remained.  DC1 was very proud of hirself and eager to do the times 7s the next day.  We also spent two days on the times 7s, with only one remaining.

And so on until we got through the times 12s.  (Honesty compels me to admit another small meltdown on the times 8s, though not as bad as the 4s.)  Then general review through all the cards, keeping the ones ze didn’t know automatically.  Then the pages of multiplication tables the teacher sent home, 5 minutes a day.

And now we can go onto more interesting math stuff.

So… flashcards.  Much maligned, but useful.  Even rote memorization can sometimes teach a real lesson about persistence and growth.

Do you have strong feelings about flash cards one way or another?

## Stupid “opinions” on gifted kids

A lot of people seem to think that they are entitled to spew their opinions on gifted kids, parents of gifted kids, and gifted education without having read *any* of the research or without even ever spending time with gifted children.

Here are some of the things you should stop saying on the internet, behind people’s backs, or to their faces:

1.  Why do gifted kids need to be challenged anyway?  Why can’t we let kids be kids?  What’s the rush?

Gifted kids who are not challenged are at a greater risk of dropping out than normal kids.  They’re also more likely to have bad behavior than gifted kids who are sufficiently challenged.  And, if they’re not challenged early on, they can flame out spectacularly when challenged later as young adults.  (All of the previous statements are verifiable from pretty much any research-based book on gifted children.)

On top of that, most children find learning to be fun and to be part of childhood.  It is only adults who seem to feel the need to make learning not fun.  Fight that.

2.  It’s so important for kids to be with their same-aged peers.  It may not be important in elementary school, but just wait until they’re old enough to drive/go to prom/go to college.  Then you’ll see.

Gifted kids are often out-of-synch with their same-aged peers.  It would be great for them to hang around other gifted kids their same age, but many populations don’t have a large enough population to support gifted classes, and tracking is not currently in vogue.   A Nation Deceived makes a clear and convincing case that gifted kids actually do *better* socially on average when accelerated than when with same-aged peers in a normal classroom.  As for driving and prom… those are not the end-all and be-all.  Not all kids go to prom.  Many freshmen go to prom with seniors.  If a freshman hangs out with juniors, hir friends will be driving anyway even though ze can’t, and not all kids have cars or get licenses at 16 anyway.  In terms of college, there are many possibilities not limited to going early, taking a gap year, taking courses at the local college or community college, and so on.  There’s an exciting world of possibilities that may be even better than the status quo.

3.  I knew a kid who skipped grades and ze was totally messed up.

Correlation is not causation.  Gifted kids are often odd and out of synch compared to other kids.  Chances are they’ll seem messed up in the view of some subset of the population whether or not they’re accelerated.  Compared to gifted kids who are not accelerated, those who are accelerated do better academically AND socially, according to A Nation Deceived.

4.  Being bored/miserable/picked on/the only person doing work on a group project is a part of adult life.  Kids need to learn to get used to it in school.

When you’re gifted and do well in school, you can often sort yourself into a profession in which you’re more likely to be surrounded by other competent hard workers doing interesting things.  Being picked on is not normal as an adult.

5.  I’m so sick of hearing X complain about the problems she’s having with her so-called gifted kid, if the kid is actually gifted, which I have my doubts.  Gifted kids don’t need special treatment, not like real special needs kids.  She should just shut up.

It is not easy being the parent of a gifted child.  Gifted children are often intense.  They often do not sleep much, are energetic, are sensitive, act out, get depressed, can be crippled by perfectionism, and many other things, particularly if their needs are not being met.  And society is not set up to help meet their needs in many places.  Additionally, parents of gifted kids often do suffer from isolation.  They often cannot talk about their kids to other parents.  It is wonderful being a parent of gifted children, but there are also challenges.

6.  Kids aren’t really gifted, they’re just hot-housed by over-achieving parents.

We don’t believe there is a such thing as over-achievement (that’s an opinion).  However, gifted kids often achieve quite a bit without the least bit of hot-housing (that’s a fact).  Parents do often provide more academic enrichment for gifted kids because that is what the child needs to help behavior and happiness, but there are generally no flashcards or pressure involved.  Gifted kids often teach themselves to read.  And reading is fun!  All kids are sponges, and gifted kids seem very eager to soak things up.

Remember, opinions and facts are not the same thing, and sometimes incorrect opinions that are not based on actual facts can do real damage.  Do you really want to be one of those people who hurts an entire group?  Well, we know that none of *our* readers would, but occasionally people find their way to us via google.  If you’re in that situation and you say stuff like this, knock it off.

What are incorrect “opinions” that you find annoying, gifted-related or other?

## Thoughts on Harvard

The other month on Wandering Scientist’s blog, an anonymous poster told me that I would regret it when the dean at Harvard calls to tell me that my child has flamed out, if ze gets in.  (Why did said anon do that?  I think because six year old DC1 does workbooks on weekends, and therefore must not be enjoying childhood?)

I responded that Harvard is a cakewalk for kids who get in and my kids most likely wouldn’t have any trouble there.  And I wouldn’t encourage them to apply there because I’d hope they would go someplace where they’d get a better education.

Seriously, Harvard has really high grade inflation (yes, there “have been studies”).  They have large lectures taught by graduate students with little practice, both their own and graduate students from other schools who they hire for peanuts.  (What they offer to adjuncts in my field is a joke.)  Many flagship state schools give better undergraduate educations, and, depending on your parents’ income and the state you’re from, at a considerably lower price.

Harvard is great for graduate school.  But undergrad, it’s an easy A.  Very difficult to flunk out or even to get more than a few Bs.  You have to work at not getting As.  I suspect the grade inflation is to keep parents happy given that so many classes are large lectures taught by people who are not yet famous professors.  (They argue it isn’t really inflation, just the student body quality, but outside metrics disagree.)  [Exception:  One of the colleges doesn't have the same grade inflation that the others do-- it curves to a B rather than to an A- or A.  I always feel sorry for those students.  They can actually show up to class and do the work and still get the occasional C!]

Now students at Harvard do run themselves ragged, but not with schoolwork.  Harvard tends to accept students who did a million extracurriculars as high school students and who try to do the same as college students.  Many of them fail at that and do mediocre jobs at several things rather than focusing on doing well at a small number.

That’s not to say that Harvard isn’t a good school or there aren’t reasons to go to Harvard.  Certainly the student body is elite and a kid can make great connections that will last a lifetime.  There’s also the imprimatur on the resume.  Exceptionally good students can get research assistant work.  But all in all, I would put it up there with Michigan or Berkeley (both great State schools with the same problems at the undergrad level, though perhaps not so much killing with extracurriculars) in terms of the educational experience.

Personally, I prefer the SLAC model, and I know that ‘tech schools are far more challenging.  If my kids want to go into a field that isn’t offered at a high quality SLAC, we’d be looking for schools with strong supportive programs in their area of interest.  I can’t really see a good reason for recommending Harvard to my children.  As a parent, I have concerns about the big ‘tech schools too, but if they really want to go, we’d have to talk about it.  DC1 would definitely have to be able to emotionally manage that perfectionist streak that shows up from time to time.

Now, for a kid whose parents make under 75K [update:  see comments for actual numbers], I think is the current number, Harvard is free.  That would push it above the state flagship.  There’s also some evidence suggesting that having an ivy on a resume helps out children with low SES although it has no effect on those from high SES backgrounds.  (Our kids are high SES, even if their parents were not.)

As for whether or not my kids could get into Harvard, I know as well as anybody that at those levels it’s a crap shoot.*  One of our friends from high school had straight As, perfect SATs and was the state math champion.  He didn’t get into Harvard.  After all, there are 50 state math champions.  So he went to Stanford.  (And did very well.)

Parents with gifted kids generally aren’t about competition.  We’re more concerned about helping our kids fulfill their potential, something that can be a precarious business when the K-12 system isn’t set up to work with you.  (Also, we’re too exhausted!)  And no, a Harvard education isn’t a holy grail for us.  We know better.

*Legacies, apparently, have a much higher chance of getting into Harvard.  So there’s that.

## Ask the grumpies: When is a school good/awesome enough?

How do you know if your kid’s school is “good enough”? Should good enough even be the goal, or should you be shooting for awesome? Assume cost is not really an object.

Along the same lines, does how good a kid’s school is play a relevant role after a certain point?  Where does parent involvement take over in the equation?

Gosh, the answer to this question is going to be so different for different people.  All we (#1′s family) know is our kid, and hir unique needs.  Not only are the kids’ needs important, but family preferences could also be important.  Some families, for reasons we cannot comprehend are really interested in making sure their kids have the best competitive sports opportunities.  Some want to make sure they get training in the fine arts.

Some folks have the ability to supplement sub-par school environments at home.  Some kids have a better ability to weather or entirely avoid things like bullying.  In these cases, the school environment may be less important than for other kids.  Other kids may be more sensitive or “too different” or really want to be “followers” and a bad school environment can have a more permanent negative effect.  Here bad schools can lead to dropping out, under-age pregnancy, drug-use, emotional scarring, and so on.

Awesome teachers have had profound effects on kids from all walks of life.  In an ideal world, we’d easily be able to shoot for “awesome”.  Sadly that’s not so easy, and we may have to go for satisficing at a reasonably low level, or even making-do and supplementing.

Our kid is highly gifted and incredibly sensitive.  We really want to avoid hir having the K-8 experiences that we, ourselves, had.  In addition, ze tends to get into trouble when bored.  So we had to look outside the norm.  In some ways we’re satisficing– we’d certainly love for DC’s school not to be undergoing financial difficulties and we’d really love our time and money back.  But, for us it is worth it.

Awesome is really hard to find.  In the small town in which I grew up, there were a few awesome teachers, but there were no awesome schools.  There was the public school, there was the Catholic school, and there were a small number of scary fundamentalist Christian schools.  My parents bought in the second best school district (which had some of the first best teachers) and supplemented with tons of outside enrichment activities.  Getting through the school day was AWFUL most years.  I still bear scars from middle school.  (so does #2)  We don’t want that for our children.  And it’s hard to predict if the schools will be “good enough” in any place that we move to.  In our current situation we have a couple of private school options at least until 6th grade (assuming no big changes), but who knows what the future will hold.

How do we know our school is “good enough”?  I don’t know how we well would tell a priori.  But we tried.  With our specific needs in mind, we visited and observed different private schools.  DC1 needs mental stimulation and possibly differentiation.  Ze needs to not be bullied.  So we watched for signs of the kids being bored.  The kids misbehaving because they were bored.  How the kids interacted with each other.  We asked the teachers what they would do about DC1′s specific needs.  We crossed off our list the school that said they’d work on hir cutting skills all year because that was the only part of the K curriculum that ze hadn’t already mastered.  (Oddly, DC1 got high praise for hir above-average cutting skills in K the following year, even though we didn’t hothouse those.)

How we know now:  1.  DC1 loves to go to school.  Ze does not come home crying.  2.  Ze is not bouncing off the walls after school (most days anyway– we can always tell when there’s been a sub).  3.  Ze neither receives 100%s nor low scores on hir classwork.  Steady grades mostly in the 90s and the occasional in the 80s on classwork seem to indicate it’s at a good level for hir.  4.  Ze isn’t socially isolated– ze talks about hir friends and recess and after school.  Hir best friend cracks us up.  For extra bonus points, DC1 doesn’t seem to have learned that only girls or only boys do X, and the only comments we’ve heard about race and ethnicity seem to be things ze’s gotten from lessons on black history month or in Spanish class or Religious studies.  (And the school does have a diverse student body.)  5.  Ze tells us all about the super cool stuff ze is learning.  And it’s super cool!

In exchange for all this, we pay thousands of dollars each year, donate a bunch, and spend a ton of time with the school trying to help them with their financial situation.  We do think it’s worth it, but at some point it may no longer be.  Or we may move and we won’t be able to afford the much higher private tuition in cities or the private and public schools may both be anti-acceleration.  We’ll have to figure something new out then.  But CG said to assume cost isn’t an object and I’m getting off topic with my own concerns.

Ok, onto Femmefrugality.  The answer to this question is:  We don’t know!  We know that preschool interventions seem to give more bang for their buck than later interventions.  But later interventions still matter.  We know that high quality schools do a lot more for low SES kids than they do for high SES kids, and that high SES kids are less harmed by low quality schools than low SES kids are.  We know that peer groups at school are important, but we’re not really sure how important they are (it seems to depend on a lot of stuff).  We know that schooling is important for many special needs kids, including gifted kids, and that they will be at a higher risk of dropout in an environment that does not suit their needs.  But we have no idea what the line is where schooling starts being more important than parenting (including the parent’s abilities to supplement, not just the parent’s desires) or vice versa.  Ginormous open research question with a lot of papers but no bottom line yet.

Update on FemmeFrugality’s question:  Just went to a talk on how a teacher’s value added affects testscores, college attendance, teen pregnancy, and income.  Good teachers matter!

Grumpy nation, how important is it to you that schooling be awesome or good enough?  How do you know what awesome or good enough is?  Do you have additional feedback for CG and Femmefrugality?

## Does forcing kids to be bored teach them useful skills?: A deliberately controversial post

Related: does forcing kids to be with sucky people teach them important life skills?

We argue: no

Boredom leads to trouble and increased drop-out rates.   It would have to be an important skill to make up for the negatives.  But it isn’t.

As an adult, you have more control over your environment, so learning these skills (such as they are) may not be as applicable as we’d wish.

Better: give kids skills to manipulate their environment, so they know they can change it.

If they do have to be occasionally bored or to deal with sucky people, why not learn that on the job as adults? It’s an easier lesson to learn when you’re making the choice to deal with it because you’re getting a higher paycheck or other perks to your job.

And nobody should have to put up with a sucky work environment as an adult. That’s why we work so hard so we have options and freedom to change things, even if our parents sacrificed in their own work environments for us.

This post was brought to you by our childhood selves, who were bored as crap in school and got nothing useful out of grades 1 – 8.  [#2 says, except 4th grade with Mrs. A.  She was AWESOME.]

## A warning for those who decide to accelerate: And why is weird so bad?

If you decide to accelerate your kid and if this information gets out through cross-examination from strangers, say, at the airport, then the conversation invariably goes like this: “I redshirted my kid, best decision I ever made, she’s so popular and she gets straight As. There’s a kid in her class who is younger and he’s just WEIRD. Just as a warning, maybe it doesn’t matter so much now, but when ze gets to the high school level kids who skip just end up weird.”

You will also get this argument many times should you post about it on your blog (“I know a kid who skipped and he was socially ostracized”).

People really don’t get counterfactuals– that correlation is not causation.

I think we got some anecdotal examples here about some kid being skipped and he was a sociopath and mean to his brother… as if that had anything to do with acceleration.  What I said to the woman in the airport was that the kid probably would have been weird even if he hadn’t been skipped (‘cuz I teach statistics).

But what I should have said (and I did not think about this until later that night), was that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with being weird (maybe even, “Bill Gates was weird”).

Maybe being different isn’t so bad, especially when the same as everyone else is pretty mediocre.  Maybe middle school popularity shouldn’t be our end-goal in life.  When kids who are different grow up, sometimes they do quite well for themselves, better than the folks who spent their entire K-12 career blending in.  What’s the t-shirt say, Well-behaved women seldom make history?

I think Sheldon says it very well in this comic.  (Weird kids out there… It gets better!)

Do you think that being weird in K-12 is the worst thing that can befall a kid?  Do you really believe that the only way a an out-of-synch kid can keep from being socially ostracized is by being kept with hir same aged peers, even when they have nothing in common?  (That last question there is rhetorical– not only is there a nice literature on the social benefits of acceleration for out-of-synch kids, we can assure you it is far worse to hang back from personal experience.)

## Schooling update: Spring Semester

I was looking through blog posts I wrote last year about DC’s schooling dilemma.  It’s crazy to think how much has changed since then.

At the time, DC was in preschool, all hir friends were heading to kindergarten (almost), and hir (quite excellent) preschool had run out of things for hir to do.  They suggested that DC become a teacher’s helper the next year as hir main activity.  At home ze had whizzed through all the magic treehouse books and done increasingly more math.

We were worried about DC’s increasing perfectionism.  DC slept very little (~7 hrs/night, no nap) and was bouncing off the walls while awake.  Ze was even starting to have little behavior problems of the type that a child trying to entertain hirself often gets into.  I read approximately a zillion books on giftedness for solutions to these problems, and they were pretty unanimous that starting K early would be the answer for our situation.

So we looked into schools in the area and decided on the one that called hir in for a second round of testing after ze passed the first kindergarten entrance exam.  They suggested, based on the testing, that DC start K a year early and spend half the day in first grade for math and reading.

Several readers had concern about the acceleration.  Were we destroying DC’s childhood?  What about when ze got to middle school or high school or college.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  And you know, there was that one kid who was accelerated and ze was WEIRD, so obviously acceleration (and being weird) is a horrible thing.  [Note to people:  Correlation is not causation.  That kid would have been weird ANYWAY, and probably would have been perfectly normal surrounded by kids who were more accepting of differences instead of by assholes.  Oops, were we projecting again?]

DC has flourished this year.

The perfectionism is gone.  The first grade teacher is a miracle worker.  DC is no longer afraid to try things ze doesn’t know right away.  Ze comes home with the occasional 80% exam and grins and tells us what the right answers should have been, and ze knows that now.  Ze tells us ze will get things.

Ze is learning things and excited and tells us all sorts of interesting science and history and theological and mathematical ideas.  We discuss lines of symmetry and ze stumped me on a parallelogram (they don’t have a line of symmetry!)  Ze love love loves school and learning.

At school DC has practiced the things ze didn’t want to practice at home.  Hir printing looks a lot nicer than mine did as a second-grader.  Double-digit addition is no problem.  It’s nice being able to pick and choose to only do fun stuff at home without being limited by what DC can write or compute.

DC now sleeps 9 hours per night on weekdays.  (Still less than that on weekends, but what can you do?)  That extra grown-up time is wonderful.  At home ze is so much calmer (again, not so much on weekends unless we get that hour of exercise and hour of thinking in).  We don’t have to do homeworkbooks on weekdays because DC doesn’t need extra thinking to help hir settle down, just on weekends.  (So we’ve greatly slowed the pace we’re getting through Singapore Math, and I am fine with that.)  We don’t think this is just getting older– when the 1st grade teacher was gone for two weeks, DC started reverting to previous behaviors.

All reports tell us that DC is an angel at school.  So far ze has gotten two “yellows” all year (every other day is “green”).  One for rolling off hir mat during naptime (during the horrible 2 weeks that the first grade teacher was out with a family emergency), and once for leaving the room without permission (“I didn’t know what that meant”) to go to first grade early.

All the kids are pretty well-behaved and DC is something of a pet among the older grades.  They love to ruffle hir hair.

Socially, DC isn’t even the youngest in hir class.  Though, as always, ze prefers spending time with the older children.  Hir best friend is a 6 year old who moved here mid-year and goes with hir to first-grade for half the day.  DC likes to use the word “noodle” in place of everything and hir best friend has played along and decided to be a meatball.  The V-day card was adorable– to Noodle (picture of noodle) From Meatball (picture of meatball).

Of course, all has not been smooth sailing.  The school has sucked hours upon hours of our time and thousands of our dollars in donations.  The headmaster is afraid of numbers but also can’t let go of control… and most recently has quit (long-term a good thing, short-term a bad thing).  The board is weak and also not so good with numbers.  In fall, the school came out with press announcements that it was going out of business unless they raised 500K (the actual number needed turned out to be closer to 400K, and would have been less had they been capable of cutting anything that the finance committee suggested cutting).  Because of poor management going forward, we opted not to give them the second installment of the large donation my father had offered.  We’re still not sure if the school is going to be around next year.  The finance committee told the headmaster she needed to come up with a bare bones budget that ensured the school would be around next year without assuming an increase in students.  Instead, her budget assumes an enrollment increase of 20 students.  That isn’t going to happen.  And it isn’t going to happen because current students cannot recommend the school to their friends if they don’t believe the school is going to stick around next year, which they could believe if the head had listened to the finance committee.  This is why not being afraid of numbers is so important.

The first grade teacher will not be returning next year.  She wants to get paid more than 23K and to have job security.  We’re bummed about this.  The replacement teacher, the current 2nd grade teacher, has a good reputation and DC would have been spending half the day with her anyway.

So we filled out the form next year, and would have put down the deposit had it not been waived.

We’ve looked into a local preK-6 Montessori and we think this will be a good option if the school does go under, assuming we can get on the list quickly enough.  (And as members of the finance committee, we may get insider information in that respect.)  They’re on board with DC starting in the elementary room as a nominal first grader next year (rather than K with the 3-6 room), and they are completely self-directed and have materials up through standard 8th grade.  I love their New Math curriculum (combined with more traditional Singapore math workbooks).  You should have seen me drool over their units on math with different bases. The main problem with them this year was that they closed at 2:30, but for the first time ever next year they’re adding an after school program until 5pm.  Which is still cutting it close, but since the Montessori turns to be very close to my work it should be ok so long as I do pick-up.  (Sadly, it is far from our daycare Montessori for #2!)

Starting in public school kindergarten next year cannot happen.  That much is pretty obvious right now.  Going back to a year of learning letters and numbers and colors after this would be frustrating for everyone, especially in a large class with a lot more kids with very different needs from DC’s.  Heck, it would have been frustrating for this year!

Did we make the best decision (or at least a good enough decision) based on our options?  Unequivocally yes.  All the things people warned us about with acceleration would probably have happened had we not accelerated.  Instead DC fits in well, is challenged, behaves well, has friends, and loves school.  This year has been a good one for hir, and by extension for us.  The sacrifices we’ve made have been worth it, though we wish we would not have had to make them.  We hope the school is still around next year, but all we can do is one year at a time, one month at a time, one challenge at a time.

## Ask the grumpies: What do you say when people in public say your kid is smart or shy?

I would love advice on what to say when your kid is in earshot and another adult says something like “Ze’s so smart!” or “Ze’s shy!” Because I often hear both, especially the latter, and I do NOT want to reinforce that in my four-year-old. I am both gifted and socially awkward and have no idea what to say in these situations…

This question is great.  According to research by Carol Dweck and others we do not want to help foster a fixed mindset through praise of intelligence (or other fixed traits).  Praise for effort is good, praise for smarts can lead to the bad kind of perfectionism, fear of taking risks, and so on.  Similarly, saying that a kid is shy may reinforce that behavior.

With the “smart” I always focus on, “Oh, yes, DC LOVES to read!” or “The Magic Treehouse books are really exciting!” or “Ze’s been working really hard on hir handwriting.”  I try to enforce that these things are fun and that practice is important, and get away from the “smart” with a gentle correction that way.

In preschool we also talked to the director about teachers not saying that kind of thing and praising effort (which she already knew about– she teaches childhood development at the community college, but some of the newer teachers needed reminders), and that helped a little.

When DC was much younger I admit to rounding up hir age when asked, not so it was incorrect, but giving the most generous rounding I could do (almost 3, rather than 2 years 6 and a half months)… I’m not sure how I feel about having done that.

Over the past year we’ve been avoiding situations with DC’s same-age peers… ze fits in much better with kids about a year older.  This is easier to do because ze started K early (when people ask, we say, “Ze just missed the cutoff, and all hir friends were going to kindergarten,” which is true, for some definitions of “just.”)   People just assume ze is small for hir age.  That has helped a LOT.  Ze doesn’t seem quite so abnormal around other kids when the other kids are at similar levels, even if they’re not really the same age.

In terms of shyness:  We usually get that DC is mellow, which I don’t mind so much, and I always say ze takes after hir daddy.  Ze definitely likes to check out the situation before jumping into it, and the teachers at after-school recently told me ze is always shy at first but then warms up.  So maybe, “It generally takes hir a little while to warm up to people, but ze will be fine.”

Dear grumpy readers:  What would you do in these situations?  What advice would you give?

## RBOC

• I don’t understand when parents complain about their kids growing up.  My kid just keeps getting cooler and cooler with each new stage.  I can’t wait to see what adulthood will bring, while still enjoying every moment of the present.  Of course, I’m not crazy about kids as a general thing– there’s about a 2 year moving window around my own kids that I find other children adorable.
• We are happy to see women’s heads returning to book covers.  What a weird fad.
• Did you know that the first practical use of the birth control pill was as a fertility medication?  Some women (those with PCOS, for example) with no cycle or irregular cycles are fertile right after going off the birth control pill.
• DC seems to be hooked on the Chinese-American version of Dora the Explorer: Ni Hao Kai-Lan.  Not sure why this one is so interesting when ze has seriously outgrown Dora.  (Not that *I* have outgrown Dora…)
• Dear anonymous commenter who says she is sick of reading about working moms who have it all but OMG have messy houses (“because they’re chic now”… not a comment I had heard yet, though it would be awesome if they were– I would totes be a trend-setter, and I would *LOVE* it if people stopped feeling guilt about having messy houses because that’s healthier), and when we talk about how we’re awesome we’re just trying to convince ourselves, and when she has kids she’s going to take time off to be with them because otherwise why have kids… Sorry I’m more awesome than you are (as are a small handful of other working mothers who are brave enough to openly admit that their lives don’t suck!  Even though we get attacked when we do, probably because the patriarchy hates it when women do anything with their time besides raise boy babies…) and btw, it is possible to enjoy kids and have a career at the same time.  Even if your brain can’t imagine it.  In fact MOST mothers are not secretly falling apart… perhaps most mothers on the internet are (or at least pretend to be because dude, otherwise the anonymous patriarchy-bitches attack!), but perhaps mothers who don’t spend hours on the internet are just better at using their time wisely.
• Adding to that… I don’t get it when people say they hate reading about other people’s happy lives.  If your life isn’t happy (and you’re not dealing with a chronic disease etc.) then why don’t you @#\$3ing change something?  Why be a victim?  Sure, we rumble grumpily, but we don’t put up with crap we can change either.  We’ll whine about the patriarchy, but we’ll keep on fighting it.  We’ll keep reading Georgette Heyer because we like the happy endings.  We love happy endings in real life even more and wish more people had awesome partners like ours and so on.  The world would be a much better place.