What we’ve been doing with our kids

We have two children:  DC1, age 13 and DC2, age 7.

DC1 is in high school and has plenty of homework to keep hir busy all day.  Zie has also been binging on mostly terrible WWII movies for extra credit for history, which zie needs thanks to a low test grade earlier this quarter.  As is typical of teenagers, DC1 seems to be mostly fine entertaining hirself.

DC2, on the other hand, is an extrovert who thrives on attention and has a ton of energy.  If DC2 spends more than a couple of hours watching shows, zie gets super grumpy.  There’s also a limit to video games and screentime overall before grumpiness sets in, but the line isn’t as clear cut.  Usually we send DC2 to daycamp or after school care where zie can work out a lot of that extra energy.  We cannot do that during a quarantine.

So here’s what we’ve been doing instead.

We’ve been letting DC2 sleep in and haven’t been policing sleeping time.  Hir no more screens time is 7pm and hir lights out (except hir personal lamp which zie uses as a nightlight) is 8pm.  Zie will stay up reading comic books or Harry Potter or whatever zie is into well past 8pm if we don’t police this even though zie isn’t supposed to.  We have not been policing it, which means zie stays quiet in hir room after 8pm not sleeping and then sleeps in until 10 or 11am.  This is fantastic given that we don’t have to get hir up to catch the bus at 6:50am.  (This is pretty terrible when school is in session and zie has to get up.)

Add to that, we are on a system of weekend chores.  So, that means that instead of half an hour of violin practice, DC1 has to do a full hour.  DC2 has a full load of workbooks instead of just Singapore math.  We also started Hard Math for Elementary Students during Spring Break because the other stuff was getting finished too quickly and DC2 was bouncing off the walls, so we needed a challenge.

DC2’s current line of workbooks (amazon links are affiliate links) is:

Brainquest Grade 3 (I would recommend this series to anybody, gifted or not– it’s just a really thick really good series of workbooks for each grade with additional summer books as well– try barnesandnoble if amazon is out of the grade you want)
Primary Mathematics 4A (this is Singapore math, not an affiliate link)
FlashKids Writing Skills 3 (this is because zie was having trouble “letting go” with English assignments back in like October, so we added a series of English workbooks, I can’t find a link to grade 3, but here’s grade 2)
Easy Spanish Step-By-Step (I ordered this off Amazon last week because I thought we could use it for the summer if hir school didn’t shut down)
Hard Math for Elementary School (for this you need 3 books:  workbook, textbook, solutions manual)
Coloring by note music coloring book (from piano teacher)
We used to have a handwriting practice book instead of Spanish, but zie finished it and has pretty decent handwriting, so we didn’t see the need to replace it with another.

On Sunday evening, we talked with both DC1 and DC2 about how school was closed for at least a week but mommy and daddy still need to work, so DC2 needs to ask DC1 for help first before Mommy and Daddy.  They were both understanding.  #blessed

DC1’s schedule:
Get up around 8am, goof off for a bit.
Take shower, brush teeth. Eat Breakfast.
Work on homework.
Sometime before lunch: Do piano practicing.
Sometime around 11 or 12: Eat lunch. Put away dishes from dishwasher if asked to.
Work on homework, help DC2.
Squabble with DC2 after DC2 has finished chores and screentime.
Get kicked out of house for bike ride with DC2.
Terrible WWII movie or more homework.
Dinner.
Violin.
Put away dishes or laundry.
Whatever DC1 does in the evenings.

DC2’s schedule:
Get up around 11am.
Eat Breakfast. Brush Teeth.
Zoom through homework books. Ask DC1 for help except sometimes ask mommy or daddy.
Gripe about lunch options. Eat lunch. Put away silverware from dishwasher if DC1 is putting away dishes.
Piano practicing.
Screen time! Usually an hour of videos and an hour of slime rancher or stardew valley. Sometimes minecraft if DC1 isn’t using the computer.
Squabble with DC1.
Get kicked out of house for bikeride with DC1.
Watch Magic School Bus in Spanish because we only have that and Harry Potter in Spanish or Try not to watch terrible WWII movie unless it’s something like Indiana Jones or Captain America.
Complain about being bored. Refuse to clean room.
xtramath (almost done with division) or Encore reading from school
Write Bad Kitty Fan Fiction or do drawing tutorials on YouTube or play with calligraphy set from Christmas.
Hang out with Mommy and/or Daddy. Do crafts with Daddy. Do chores or read or watch twoset/tryguys videos on the couch with Mommy.
Dinner.
Put away silverware or laundry.
More hanging out with parents.
7pm: Showertime!
8pm: Bedtime!

In a couple days we will ask DC2’s best friend’s parents if zie can Facetime with DC2.  We all facetimed with my sister on my sister’s birthday.  Poor Auntie being socially distanced on her birthday.

Here’s somethingremarkable asking for tips on how to keep a 7 year old occupied.

Here’s an old post of ours on how to keep a gifted kid challenged.  Here’s another set of old posts on (mostly educational) apps that our kids have enjoyed at various ages (strong recommendation for all the dragonbox games).

If you have kids, what are you doing to keep them occupied while you work from home?  Have you seen any good posts with suggestions or have other links?  (I’ve been digging the Gen X latchkey generation stuff on twitter because yeah, that was me.  Don’t bother mommy when she’s working unless you are bleeding.)  Any recommendations for videos in Spanish besides Pocoyo?  (Any anime suitable for a 7 year old?  Spanish dubbed/subbed anime used to be easily available on youtube, but they seem to have cracked down.)

Ask the grumpies: Math practice and enrichment for different kinds of learners

Natasha asks:

I have a kid who is […] having a tough time with math (3rd/4th grade): he grasps new concepts just fine, does well on tests… and then 2 weeks later he can’t remember any of it! His school math program seems to fly from topic to topic, and even though his teacher assures me that even if he missed something this year, all the same or similar topics will be revisited next year, I worry that he hasn’t had the chance to master the basic concepts. It’s more of an issue with retention of the material than understanding the concepts. I know you love math – do you have any suggestions as to what books or methods may be helpful to practice 3rd-4th grade math? I believe it is so important for kids to get solid foundation at the elementary-school stage.Teachers simply shrug and say it’s the student’s responsibility to practice old material (well, I do agree with that) and point to Khan academy. The school is using the Envision Math program. I am terrible at explaining but love doing math puzzles and fun problems together with kids – and that doesn’t seem to be enough.

On the flip side of the coin – I have a second grader who is doing really well in math and needs more challenge. The teacher gives her additional (optional) higher-level worksheets, but my daughter doesn’t seem to be thrilled about those and prefers to read or draw. We are doing some fun logic and puzzle games at home, but maybe you have additional advice on fun math activities (books, games, workbooks) that provide additional challenge without being too much like homework?

Let’s start with the older child.  There are two potential things that could be going on.

The first is that your kid is a normal kid who is good at cramming for the test and then forgetting after.  This habit is so normal that much of the US math curriculum just assumes it will happen– that repeating topics thing they’ll be doing next year even has an education jargon term.  It’s called “spiraling”.  The best math curriculum for this specific problem is called Saxon Math, which is not the most exciting math program (it can be enervating for gifted students), but does an excellent job of repeating and integrating concepts throughout the year and not doing the standard focus and forget.  There’s a good research base behind Saxon Math working well for average to below-average math students (less well for high ability and gifted).  If you’re attached to a university library, you could probably check out a textbook for 4th grade to see if it is helpful.

The second potential problem is one that I saw highlighted when I did a quick google of the Envision Math program (which I hadn’t heard of before this query).  Apparently Envision Math is  shallow (or at least that’s what people complain about along with it being repetitive) so it is natural not to remember the concepts– there’s not really anything to remember.  If what people say online is true, it’s all surface with no roots.  If you want to grow roots and approach math from a completely different angle, you can’t go wrong with Singapore Math.  That’s exactly the opposite solution of what my initial thought was, but after having read a few of these links of people complaining, I’ve reconsidered.  Another benefit to Singapore Math is that it ISN’T the same as what’s being taught at school.  Being able to do the same math multiple ways is valuable both because it keeps you from getting bored, but also because it gives a much greater context and understanding to how this magical world of numbers and mathematical concepts actually works, how it’s put together.  You start seeing the full 3-d math forest and not just the shadows of the math trees.  Those Aha! moments have always been my favorite part of math tutoring and teaching.  Singapore Math also has a strong research base, although most of this research is done on the full population of students, not any specific group.

Given my morning’s research, I take back my initial recommendation about Saxon and suggest starting with Singapore instead.  They have placement tests he can take to see which books to start with.  You will need two workbooks for each year (ex. 3a/3b) and the textbook is useful.  We didn’t find the home instruction guide or teacher’s guide to be useful– it was essentially a lot more examples and activities for the teacher to demonstrate, but your son is already getting the concepts, so the textbook and workbook should be enough.  It probably does not matter which of the three series (US/Core/CA) you use as long as you’re consistent.  We use the US editions because the other two didn’t exist when DC1 started and we wanted to reuse the textbooks.

If he also needs to know his addition/multiplication facts, we don’t really know any solution for that other than practice.  Flashcards aren’t much fun, but they do cement facts and make later math easier.

Turning to the younger daughter.

Second grade is the perfect year for Math for Smarty Pants.  In another couple of years you can get used copies of Aha! and Gotcha! by Martin Gardner which are super fun.  She may enjoy tessellations coloring books (and creating her own using graph paper!) or folding 3-d geometric shapes.  I am having a really time finding anything on amazon, but somewhere out there, there should be workbooks that show you how to use a compass to create a triangle and then other 3-d geometric shapes from that.  A quick google finds lots of the basics with “compass and straight-edge construction” (and some youtube videos where people put together the already made forms) but with cardstock, tape, and something to score with you can make really elaborate 3d designs.  Origami is another fun math craft– DC1 has been watching youtube videos to make shapes, but there’s also a lot of great books out there.  Tangrams are perfect for this age group.  This classic set from Tangoes is my favorite (mine from childhood was black, my kids’ is blue), but DC1 also really enjoyed a magnetic set that comes with a book that is occasionally available from scholastic.  I found the rubix cube super frustrating, but now there are online videos showing you how to solve it so it’s more fun.  DC1 also really enjoyed maze puzzle balls (and saved up allowance money to buy a second)– but I also find these frustrating.  I think it depends on your agility not just the thinking things through thing.  (And, as we’ve mentioned before, DragonBox is fantastic.)

If your son is willing, there are a number of card games that secretly practice concepts that they might be able to play together.  I tend to like the ones that Scholastic sells off and on– they have a really good one called money madness that was a money addition/subtraction game that we liked a lot.  Our kids recently each won the raffle for the university’s math day and got math games.   The one currently spread all over our dining room table is a simple memory game called rat-a-tat cat, and the one neatly stacked in a tin is 7 ate 9 which is a fast little addition and subtraction game.  They’re probably too simple for your kids.  :/

Our math tag has a bunch more suggestions for enrichment at various stages, including items our readers have recommended in the comments sections.

Best of luck!

What enrichment would the Grumpy Nation recommend for these ages?

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Ask the grumpies: Math for ages 0-5 for kids who love math

Leah asks:

How did DC2 learn so much math? And when did you start? We’ve started discussing addition using finger counting or counting treats, but I’m not sure my little gal is picking it up yet. I sometimes wonder if I should be doing something more formal (or trying more) or if it’s fine to just chill. I do fractions and percentages when we cut nails (1 nail done, that’s one out of ten, or 1/10th, or 10%, etc).

So, this is based on a comment from a post about how my DC2 is age 5 in kindergarten and is doing multiple digit addition and subtraction with carrying and borrowing as well as some simple multiplication (no times tables memorization yet).

First off– I can’t take much credit for the multiplication.  DC2’s Montessori taught all the “big” kids multiplication.  This is pretty standard in a lot of Montessoris and I think it is part of the curriculum, though I do not actually know how it is taught.

Here’s some suggestions from people in the comments:

Becca says:

If you don’t know about Bedtime Math yet, get the app or the books :-)

A big part of very early math is pattern recognition. Grouping items according to different criteria, making designs with blocks or beads are good things to do.
The vocabulary of positions (over/under) and sizes (bigger/littler) and so on can also be good to get down early.
Other stuff, from a pretty evidenced-based group: https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/299-help-your-child-develop-early-math-skills

I’m also a firm believer in counting during swing pushing at the park. It gave me something to do, and gave Roo exposure to numbers bigger than 100 (ok, so we may have both had an inordinate patience for swinging).

I have to admit that we own the first Bedtime Math book (on Laura Vanderkam’s recommendation, along with Family Math, if I recall correctly), but we haven’t really used it.  DC1 already owned Aha! and Gotcha! (and had kind of outgrown Math for Smarty Pants), so we briefly looked through it but really had outgrown it.  I haven’t dug it out of DC1’s bookcase to try with DC2.  Maybe I should.

We have two different sets of brightly colored manipulables that I will dig out to play math with the kids with.  One set is a set of pixel-blocks that DC1 loved to play with.  Zie has always been into small things (and not into putting things into hir mouth), so pixel blocks work well for that (not safe for many small children!).  DC2 prefers a set of bigger circular pieces that DH initially bought to use as game pieces for game design (I can’t easily find them on amazon, but there are a lot of reasonably priced options if you search for manipulatives).  We also have lots of fun toddler sorting games because apparently I never grew out of them.  (I may be messy and disorganized in most of my life, but I find sorting to be extremely soothing.  This is part of why my bookcases and spice cabinet are beautifully alphabetized.)  Back when we had access to swing sets (our town has removed them all for “safety”/lawsuit reasons), we definitely counted pushes.  Once my kids were able to talk, I would ask, “How many pushes do you want this time?” and then I’d count out that many pushes and ask again.

omgd says:

I started trying to introduce fractions by talking about sharing. As in, “There are 6 apples and your friend takes half. How many do you have left?” She doesn’t really get thirds or quarters yet, but I think it’s because of the vocabulary.

I have to admit, I haven’t really thought about teaching fractions other than what DC2 is getting in hir brainquest book.  They will become more prevalent in the Singapore book a book or three from where DC1 is right now [Update:  the day after I typed this, DC2 had to color in halves and quarters in hir Singapore Math 1b book, but only for a couple of pages].

Ok, now back to me:

When my kids are bouncing off the walls someplace that they shouldn’t be bouncing off the walls, we practice counting.  When counting is too easy, we practice skip counting.  When skip counting becomes too easy, we will practice multiplication.  Then division.  I use this technique with my brilliant but overly energetic nieces and nephews who are too excited at being with extended family to be controlled by their parents.  (Back when I flew Southwest, I would keep the small children I invariably ended up sitting next to given my need for a window seat occupied by figuring out what their math level was and teaching them the next thing.  There are kids who learned long division from me because I wanted them to stay still!)

I LOVE Singapore math SO much.  It’s really great because it sneakily builds up to future concepts.  Examples are chosen specifically to help the subconscious pattern-match to figure out new things that won’t be introduced for chapters.  It is lovely.  Plus they teach a lot of really great mental math techniques that those of us who are really comfortable with use automatically (things like realizing that 10-1 = 9, so sometimes it’s easier to mentally add 10 and subtract 1 than it is to add 9 directly).  I am extremely impressed at how much facility DC2 has with numbers right now. Here’s me talking more about the workbooks the kids do.

DC2 had learned the borrowing and carrying from Brainquest (and me)– we spent about a month slowly cranking through double and triple digit addition and subtraction.  There are a lot of problems on a page and I would have hir just do 3 a day once we got to carrying and borrowing.   But zie wasn’t really facile with it until we got Dragonbox Big Numbers which is an enormously fun and addicting game (I finished it, but I still sort of wish I could be picking apples now.  It is a really great game.)  DC2 sped through it (as did DC1 and I– I finished first, then DC2, then finally DC1 sometime after that English project finished [for those who are curious, it wasn’t interpretive dance next… they’re doing another powerpoint (or, she suggests, PREZI UGH) use MOTION!… and a bunch of other suggestions that are super bad powerpoint etiquette].)   By the end of Big Numbers, DC2 was a multiple digit addition and subtraction wizard.

DC2 is mostly through DragonBox Numbers right now and is really good at it, but it’s not really as much fun as Big Numbers was, and it’s got some bugs which are irritating.

And, as I said earlier, I do break out the manipulables a lot.  Sometimes we use them to illustrate a particularly tricky workbook problem, but sometimes we just have fun doing number patterns.  We’ll also do patterns with fingers.  I really like playing games with these and making 10s.  So you start associating 3 and 7, 4 and 6, and so on.  We can also do grids of squares and rectangles with the manipulables to get used to multiplication (which I did more with DC1 than with DC2 because DC2 came home from preschool one day completely understanding multiplication).  There are a lot of fun ways to mix and match numbers and different colors to get an understanding of the patterns (and the beauty) of mathematics.

We also give the kids an allowance at a pretty early age, at first so they can get familiar with money and learn the denominations of coins and dollars.  (After the sticking random things in mouths stage though!)

Later on, I will introduce Hard Math for Elementary Students, but DC2 isn’t ready for that yet.  DC1 is really enjoying Hard Math for Middle School right now, as well as Saturday Math Circle, and zie just started doing every other week competition-based Math Club once a week after school, though zie is skipping the competitions this year/semester.  (Mainly because the first qualifying one is at the same time as a birthday party!  But also partly because zie does math for fun, not to compete.)

Later on, DC2 will also get introduced to Martin Gardner and Aha!  and Gotcha!  But not yet.

Should you be doing more or is it fine to chill?  I’m sure it is fine to chill.  But I can’t not teach math anymore than I can not drink water or keep from breathing.  It’s my nature.  It’s what I do.  And I gotta say that counting/practicing tables is the best for getting kids to behave while waiting for food at a restaurant, though occasionally it does get you dirty looks from other people who think you’re somehow harming your precious child or doing this to show off and don’t realize how much the alternative would interfere with their dining experience.  (Pro-tip:  It is often more fun when you trade off saying the next number, especially when sometimes you get it right away and sometimes you pause dramatically to think for a bit.  This also helps them to notice that skip counting by 2 is literally skipping every other one, and that skip counting by 10 is the same as every other 5.  It’s pretty amazing when they make that Aha! on their own.)

Oh man, I love math so much.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your math teaching tips?

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What are we getting for people this year?

My sister said she wanted a chef’s knife and a paring knife, so after some conversation, we got her a santoku (Shun), a paring knife, and an electric knife sharpenerThis post of ours really helped me!  I don’t know what DC1 is going to give her this year, but DC2 has been working really hard on a 4 plate pixel hobby with 8 ballet dancers on it (DC1 gave my sister a pixel hobby with a pair of ballet slippers on it at about the same age).

Sadly, the bookstore in my mom’s town just went out of business (as did the Barnes and Noble a few years back), so either I get her a giftcard to someplace half an hour or more away, or she gets an Amazon giftcard.  Aha!  I realized that she’ll be staying at my sister’s around Christmas, so I can get her a card she can use at the half price books near my sister’s place.

For everyone else it has been harder!

MIL:  She started an amazon list this year!  Woooo!  When DH found that out (on the phone on Thanksgiving while trying to pump her for any hint of what she could possibly want) his stress level visibly dropped 75%.  We popped through and got a bunch of “Nanarelated merch (I guess replacing her previous Green Bay Packers theme?) as well as a number of hard-boiled mystery novels.  (My mom runs more towards cozy mysteries, DH’s prefers the tougher stuff.)

FIL:  Now that FIL is retired, he’s spending more time hunting.  Plus he’s making sure there’s plenty of game on the plot of land he inherited from his parents.   So in addition to the Cabela’s giftcard we usually send him, we’re also sending a highly rated game cookbook.

BIL1:  DH is waiting for a game to go on sale so he can get a copy for his brother and his cousin both.  (I assume we’ll also be sending a check to the cousin, but I don’t know for how much yet.)

SIL1:  It is always a pleasure to shop for SIL1 because she has an up-to-date amazon wish list!  And she puts cool things on it!  And she has great taste in books!  This year I’m adding the Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal and KJ Charles’ regency series.

Cousins 1 and 2:  The younger has been learning braille, so we got her a subscription to the children’s braille book of the month club.  (It is pretty heavily subsidized, so we added on a donation.  What a great program.)  This is the first time we’ve known what to get hir!  For the older we’re getting the dragonbox complete math pack and big numbers which is too new to be in their complete math pack.  (Usually we also buy books for their oldest, but he’s already got most of what our DC1 likes.)

BIL2 and SIL2: This one was hard this year.  The past few years there’s been a good excuse to just write a check (a new house purchase, saving for a house, babies, paying off wedding debt, etc.) but this year none of that has been recent or immediate.  When DH tried to pump SIL2 for information on the phone, she was non-committal and said she’d update her amazon wishlist, which she always says and rarely does.  DH suggested not exchanging gifts among the adults with her nuclear family, but apparently she demurred.  I wish he’d just asked her straight up about checks vs. giftcards, but he didn’t.  We do have a bunch of $5 off amazon luxury beauty products and she does have a $20 foundation from 2014 on her list– we could get her that and the pair of $14 earrings from 2014 but that’s literally all that is on her list right now, other than a bunch of size 0-3 month onesies and diapers that will probably not fit either her rising 3 year old or her 5 year old.  [Update:  We got her the foundation and the earrings, and then a little over a week later she actually did update her list so we got her one of the books on teaching she wanted and now we are 100% done with holiday shopping other than that one game that DH is taking care of and stocking stuffers.  Yay.]

Cousins 3 and 4:  SIL did ok us buying books again for her kids (given how many toys everyone gets from the grandparents).  For the older one (about the same age as our DC2), we got Magic Treehouse and Magic School Bus books and the Magic School Bus chemistry kit.  For the younger one, ladybug girl, the Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, Elephant and Piggie books, and Beautiful Oops.

For someone who likes art and lives in Milwaukee

What are you getting for peeps this year?

This time late link love isn’t really my fault

My internet went out last night when I tried to do them.  Sure, I could have done them earlier, but it has been an insanely busy week.  (Let’s also ignore the fact that I finished DragonBox big numbers this week.)

Under Trump, Obamacare Shopping is Even More Confusing.  Here’s Huffington Post with an explanation.    The video is also worth watching.

Indivisible has a new website out with a new tool working to get principled people running and winning elections in every congressional district in the country.

More info on the GOP tax cut Also, here’s how it could (partly) destroy higher education in America.  Here’s how it might affect Californians.

At a conference recently, a colleague living in a college town in a blue state who has never so much as seen a Trump sticker in her life yelled at me that we need to be doing more to communicate with Trump supporters and that Trump isn’t racist(?) and when I call him racist I’m alienating people and she’s sure that he has some policies that aren’t racist or enriching himself.  I remember people arguing that *before* the election.  But now.  No.  “we gotta focus on enfranchising and energizing our side“.  In fact, here’s a good response from a logical person.  As David Perry argues in this excellent thread, they are only a problem for Dems if we court them.  Let’s stay the anti-Nazi party!

A discussion of the military and civilians and guns.   A discussion of the military, domestic violence records, and gun background checks.  Back in February, Trump signed a bill revoking Obama-Era gun checks for people with mental illnesses.

This thread is SICKENING.  Here’s where you can give money to Moore’s opponent Doug JonesDoug Jones is a good man who prosecuted the KKK members who killed four little girls in a church bombing in 1963.  A Jones victory would send a signal that it is NOT RIGHT for adults to “date” 14 year old girls, even with “their mother’s permission“.

Who can defend the sexualization of work environments now?

Russian trolls didn’t need to infiltrate the American media because WE LET THEM IN

If the election anniversary is hitting you hard, here’s why.

The election anniversary didn’t hit me too hard, here’s why.

If white characters were described like people of color in literature

Reviews of diverse books

More gems from marking

Why do banana candies taste like not bananas

Why it is TK not TC

Ask the grumpies: Apps for 3-5 year olds

The frugal ecologist asks:

You did a toddler app post I think, but any other apps that your little one is into? Thinking for the 3-5 set….

Ooh, we need to know the answer to this question too.

We did like endless words, but boy was it an ipad memory hog.  I had to delete it eventually.  Starfall was another favorite, though we’ve just let it lapse since DC2 has really outgrown it.  ABCMouse seems pretty similar to Starfall– I don’t know if it is worth the cost, but we just got it free for the year with DC2’s kindergarten.  It’s fun, but too easy for DC2 right now– but it would have been good when DC2 was 3!

DC2 now spends a lot of time on the PBS Kids website on DC1’s computer on weekends after zie has done hir chores.  Zie wants to play games just like DC1 does.

Dragon Box has been pretty fun, both the algebra version and the geometry (elements) version, though DC2 hasn’t been able to complete them yet because the difficulty seems to hit frustration level after a while (but zie had fun during the first parts!).  We haven’t tried the numbers apps because they came out after DC2 had seemingly mastered numbers, but maybe it’s worth trying them anyway.  Update:  After typing this up we got Big Numbers and DC2 is hooked (some knowledge of addition and subtraction makes this game more fun).  (Right now, I admit I wish I were picking apples and gathering stones and turning fish into gold coins.)

A free one if you do it on the computer instead of an app is Teach your monster to read.   DC2 is also doing this one in school (even though zie knows how to read) and is enjoying it, but I must say after listening to hir play it this weekend, some poor princess keeps getting kidnapped over and over again and one would think would have better security by now.  Or maybe a weapon of her own or something.  They should mix it up and have the crown prince get kidnapped or something.  The narrator has a pleasant Britishy accent.  Update:  Level 2 does much better on gender–DC2 repeatedly feeds a female monster cookies and helps another find her lost words instead of rescuing a newly captured princess.  (Again, this is too easy for where DC2 is right now, but gee it would have been nice to have had a year or two ago!)

But yes, we really would like to have more suggestions on this one as DC2 has really outgrown most of what is on the ipad.  Extra points for stuff in Spanish!

How to keep a gifted kid challenged

The other day wandering scientist talked about the difficulties of keeping a gifted elementary schooler challenged.  That inspired me to write this post and also to ask the Grumpy Nation for suggestions.   These suggestions aren’t tailored to Wandering Scientist’s kid– they’re a bit more general given that there’s lots of individual differences in circumstances and interests.

At school

The first suggestion is to ask the school for help.  This will not always work– it is very school dependent.  #2 and I grew up as tracking was going out of fashion and our parents had an extremely uphill battle trying to get the schools to make any accommodations.  DH and I have not had as much trouble, although part of that stems from us so far avoiding working with the high SES K-4 schools that have refused to accommodate our friends’ children (we sent DC1 to private school and the dual language programs are not in the high SES zones).  The private school we sent DC1 to tested and anticipated our needs and made suggestions to us for keeping DC1 engaged.  The middle schools here have been very helpful when we’ve asked for help.  One of the main suggestions when talking with schools is to avoid at all costs saying that your child is bored– instead say that the child needs more challenge.

What schools can do will vary on the district, the school, and sometimes even the teacher. We talk more about options with a few links to research and books in this post here.

Single-subject acceleration allows children to stay with their same peers but to spend part of the day, usually during Reading and/or Math in a classroom a year older.  I did a lot of single-subject acceleration for math and/or reading when it was offered as a child (it varied by school and by year) and always enjoyed it.  DC1 did single-subject acceleration in K, going to 1st for math and English and is currently doing single-subject acceleration for math, though because 30-40 other kids in his grade are doing it as well, there are only same-grade level kids in hir class.

Whole-grade acceleration, in which the child skips a full grade, is another option.  DC1 has technically skipped two grades– zie entered K early, then did K and 1 at the same time, effectively skipping 1st grade.

Classroom differentiation is fantastic for students if teachers can pull it off.  Teaching Gifted Kids in Today’s Classroom (an update from Teaching Gifted Kids in the Regular Classroom) is a great resource for teachers.  Great teachers can give the same project assignments but have some kids dig deeper than others.  They can also do things like set up stations for independent learning at various times.  For teachers who aren’t as comfortable with differentiating, you can still talk with the teacher and come up with things that your child can do if zie finishes tasks early.  This could be something as simple as allowing the child to read a book of his or her choosing, or could include more complicated work.  Often teachers have various kinds of fun logic puzzle worksheets they can give out as a first pass and today’s schools often have purchased software that can be used for individual learning.  We talk about some options for additional work below.

Gifted pull-out is better than nothing.  We’ve been less than impressed with it and the research is kind of meh on it.  I assume how it is done is important– I like to think my students got something out of it when I did pull-out math for fourth graders (especially the lesson on adding in different bases!), but who knows.

Outside of school

Enrichment outside of school doesn’t do anything about the “bored at school” problem, but it can help after school and on weekends.

After school activities will vary by what’s in your area.  These were great for us in paradise because they were held at school and effectively extended the school day allowing us to get more work done before DC1 got home.  Where we live now, they require chauffeuring which is a pretty big drain on our time.  Still, playing a musical instrument, learning a new language, doing a sport, art class, academic competition, and so on can allow a gifted child to experience challenges and growth that zie is lacking from school, especially if allowed to learn at hir own pace.  Challenges are especially important for gifted kids so that when they hit an academic wall for the first time they don’t give up.  Classes like robotics, drama, math circle, etc. can also be fun.  Some tutoring programs will also have programs for gifted kids or on topics not taught at school.

At home

Workbooks

At the #1 household, we are big fans of workbooks.  My sister and I grew up doing workbooks and I learned a lot from them.  DC1 has been doing them since zie was 3 (mostly on the weekends and holiday breaks) because zie desperately needed at least an hour of mental stimulation (along with at least an hour of exercise) or zie would be literally bouncing off walls.

There are a couple of directions you can go with workbooks.  First, you can accelerate– introduce knowledge that won’t be introduced until later that year or in future years.  Acceleration is especially useful (in my opinion) for mastering basic materials that are the building blocks of more complicated learning (phonics, addition, etc.) and for when you’re not sure that your student will be getting foundational material in school (because of grade skipping, school absences, poor teaching, or changing school districts).

For acceleration, we really like the Brain Quest series which cover K-6 and now also have special summer workbooks.  DC1 worked through grades K-6, and DC2 is currently on their Grade 2 (also we’re concurrently doing the Summer between Grades 1 and 2 book).  Scholastic also often has great workbooks available for sale, but their stock seems to vary a lot.

The second thing that you can do is go deeper and/or sideways.

I strongly believe that learning math different ways is important.  So we can cover the same basic material and will do it traditionally in school and in the Brainquest workbook, but will do it from another direction using the Singapore math books (Singapore math link not an affiliate link– they’re not really available on Amazon).  If your school uses Singapore math, then you could instead supplement with more traditional US math.  Again, DC1 went through K-8 in Singapore math and DC2 is currently on grade 2A.  The material is the same for each grade, following essentially the common core, but the methods and what is emphasized in the two curricula are different.  My children will be learning different ways to get the same answer and thus gaining a deeper understanding of how the number system works.

For more challenge, I cannot say enough good things about Glenn Ellison’s Hard Math for Elementary Students.  It’s best if you get the textbook, workbook, and solutions (3 books).  We’ve had DC1 go through the workbook twice over a 3 year period with a break in between.   We’ve also done a few of the Zaccaro challenge books and they’re ok, but they’re not as good.  We never finished going through the Flashkids Math for the Gifted Student books I got, so I can’t recommend them at all.  Sometime next week we’ll start Hard Math for Middle School Students which finally has a workbook to go with the textbook (solutions without hints are in the back of the workbook, so there’s no separate solutions book).

For just plain deep and sideways math fun (without workbooks) get used copies of Martin Gardner’s Aha! and Gotcha!  They’re even better than Math for Smarty PantsFamily Math is popular for younger kids (we have it but nobody really got into it, but lots of people recommend it).

I don’t have as many recommendations for workbooks outside of math, so I look forward to people’s suggestions.  We are going through Spectrum Writing Grade 7, but that’s more of a remedial thing than acceleration or depth.  We like it.

Online

Just like with Workbooks, you can go accelerated vs. deep/sideways with online programs.

Khan Academy is the easiest way to accelerate (or review!).  It is also a popular way for teachers to deal with kids who get their work done early.  DC1 finished K-8 math in Paradise as a 5th grader (though they have since added some sections).  I would say zie didn’t really master 7th and 8th grade math via Khan Academy, but it did help DC1 skip 6th grade math by passing the relevant exam when zie got back to where we normally live.

Some schools will also have access to a fun (but expensive) program called ST Math that lets kids go sideways or deep on math.   I’m not sure it’s worth buying yourself for $200 for a one-year subscription (though there are discounts available online for home schoolers), but maybe.

Your school may have purchased other online programs that you can access from home– they’re worth checking out.

Less expensive and just as fun (though not as extensive) are Dragon Box products.  We loved Dragon Box Algebra and Dragon Box Geometry (called Elements).  Even DC2 (almost age 5) can do some of the earlier puzzles.  These are well worth the $5-$8 they cost as apps.  (I stayed up late one night finishing up Elements myself– it was pretty addicting.)

Reading

There are lots of great books for kids, fiction and non-fiction.  Kids can also enjoy some books for grownups.

DCs this summer

This summer our 10 year old is doing:

2 weeks regular daycamp (canoeing, archery, etc.), playdates with friends, 1 week game design (got permission even though zie is younger than the limit), 1 week grammar and flow daycamp, 1 week electronics daycamp, 1 week orchestra camp, 2 weeks math daycamp.  Some of these daycamps are half-day only, some are 9:30-3:30, give or take.  Some weeks we signed up for before/after care, some weeks we didn’t.  1 30 min piano lesson each week, 1 30 min violin lesson each week.

Each day:  1 page hard math workbook, 1 page writing workbook, 15 min piano, 30 min violin (it had been 15 min violin, but his violin teacher insisted on upping it), typing (required class for middle school that can be taken over the summer, finished last weekend), Stata (finished the basics last weekend), 1 hour video games (optional), rest of the time is free unless zie is needed for household chores.  On weekends there is unlimited video game time.  Zie has been spending free time reading, creating games, modifying already existing games, playing games, and writing.

Our 4/5 year old is doing:

Preschool, 1 week of children’s museum daycamp (when the preschool was on break), 1 15 min piano lesson each week, 1 30 min swimming lesson each week.

Each day:  5 min piano practicing, on weekends and when zie requests it or is bouncing off the walls 1 page Singapore math and 2 pages Brainquest (1 math, 1 reading or science or social studies) either from the regular book or the summer book.  Zie has been spending free time reading, playing with toys, doing The Magic School Bus science kit with DH, playing games, watching shows on amazon.

I was a bit surprised when I googled “how to keep a gifted kid challenged” how little concrete advice there was in the first couple of pages of results.  The advice that is there seems to be pretty contradictory (praise vs. don’t praise, let them decide vs. remember you’re the grown-up, etc. etc. etc.).  So, grumpy nation, I’m asking you, what concrete recommendations do you have for keeping a gifted kid challenged?  Any specific programs, books, materials?  What did you do as a kid?  What do you do for your kids (if applicable)?