Help me with DC2’s lunch!

Yes, I know we’ve been making school lunches for one or the other of my kids for the past 9 years.  BUT we have some new challenges this year now that we’re at public elementary school.  Here are the rules for my kindergartener:

  1. No nuts or peanuts (new school is completely nut-free)
  2. No red dye (DC2 gets hives)
  3. No cheese (DC2 hates cheese)  (Also no tomatoes, same reason)
  4. Nothing “spicy” because DC2 has no tolerance for spice (which is bizarre because I lived on Indian food when I was pregnant with hir and everyone else in the family eats plenty of spice, AND so did zie… hir spice tolerance seems to be going down instead of up!).
  5. Things DC2 can open on hir own (this was the big new piece of information for us).  Note that DC2 cannot open any of the individually packaged apple sauces or fruit cups that we bought in great supply in the city the weekend before school started [update: we have successfully pierced foil covered applesauces with a plastic spoon.  Plastic topped and screw topped will have to wait for more hand and arm strength.].
  6. Nothing that needs refrigeration (I am regretting my decision not to purchase the fancy $23 lunchbag we saw at Whole Foods that has a spot for an icepack– I may end up trying to find one at Target, but for now, DC2 really loves hir lunch bag that looks just like DC1’s backpack but doesn’t have any insulation much less space for an ice pack)
  7. Something healthier than just jam sandwiches
  8. Things that take WAY the heck less time to put together at 10pm than what you get when you google “what do I send in my child’s school lunch” or any similar query.  Pinterest is not what we’re looking for.

I do not know if DC2 likes sunflower butter or not.  I will be getting some at the grocery store this weekend.  BUT, even when zie was allowed nut butter zie would only permit one almond butter and jam sandwich per week.  DC2 likes variety.  If I send, say, a mini-salad for too many days in a row, zie refuses salads for weeks.  Generally I can get away with things about once a week.  The one exception is fruit– so I will always be packing fruit, but zie can’t just have fruit.

Extra points for things that we can buy on Saturday but will still be in decent shape by Friday.

We have 3 different kinds of bento boxes (two of which fit in hir lunchbag, one that’s bigger), several small plastic containers, one insulated small metal thermos that sort of fits in the lunch bag (but can’t be heated up), one reusable sandwich bag, one reusable snack-size bag, and all shapes and sizes of ziplocs.  Also I could probably be easily convinced to buy more bento boxes because they’re clever and adorable.  (I also use them for my lunch when I’m not just taking a pyrex of leftovers to reheat.)

Last year, faced with the challenge of making hir own lunches in middle school, DC1 ended up getting hot lunch instead.  That coincided with DC1 getting to be obnoxiously picky about healthy food zie used to eat without complaint at home (something that has subsided a great deal this summer).   Zie has promised us zie won’t eat French fries every single day, although that seems to be an option at the middle school.  Some of the lunch options at the elementary school are healthy, but many are not.  I’m worried about DC2 making unhealthy choices through peer pressure.  If we get too overwhelmed with lunch making and DC2 agrees, we will load up hir lunch account too, but for now we’d like to keep sending healthy food.  If we can just figure out what.

What do your elementary schoolers take?  What did you take as an elementary schooler?  What do you suggest that fits the rules above?


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


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.


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.)


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)?

Ask the readers: How do I teach my middle-schooler writing?

While we have been impressed with the math and orchestra teaching in public schools where we are, we have been less so with the humanities.  DC1 is not learning how to write.  Zie is not getting many writing assignments, and the one that zie gets are completed in-class with minimal feedback and are mostly creative writing or opinion.  (Add to that the ELA teacher doesn’t exactly show great writing skills in hir own written communications… though I suppose my blog writing doesn’t show the same level of quality as my professional writing so I shouldn’t throw stones.  Still…)

Looking online most of the recommendations seem to be “let them read a lot and write a lot”… well, DC1 already reads a lot.  And, having looked into the “research” that claims that writing cannot be taught, I am less than impressed with the methodology.  I can believe that writing cannot be taught in a single semester, and that grammar instruction without  combined writing instruction doesn’t transfer, but I have a bright 10 year old with a growth mindset for at least another 6 years of instruction, not a fixed-mindset college student for a semester of remediation.   I have to believe that there’s something more systematic that can be done than just having DC1 write about a wedding zie has attended.

I am most interested in teaching DC1 technical writing, especially given that technical writing seems to be completely neglected in hir classes thus far.  As I’m grading my college students’ policy briefs, I find I worry that DC1 doesn’t know how to use topic sentences or craft a paragraph that supports such sentences.  I want hir to learn outlining.  And have the ability to skim an article that has been written with topic sentences and an outline.

I vaguely remember learning in 3rd grade about topic sentences, diagramming sentences in 4th grade, and outlining in 5th grade.  (My juvenilia is actually pretty good… at least compared to the writings of many of my college students…)  A high school history teacher taught the art of transitions (though in college I learned that not all disciplines appreciate them, so I have stopped doing that final step except when writing in more historical sub-fields).  My mom did a lot of teaching me how to fix my grammar, clarity, and so on.  #2 also helped form my writing (her mom is a professional editor).  One of my grad advisors taught me discipline-specific tricks for writing in my main field.

Students at elite private schools get a lot of technical instruction in writing.  The results are impressive.  And I can’t believe it’s just their socioeconomic status or a greater propensity to read that’s the cause of it.  My sister got actual technical writing instruction at the private school she went to for high school and her writing ability and writing enjoyment improved tremendously (despite heavy amounts of constructive feedback).  There are rules that can be taught.

So I’m asking you:  How do I teach writing to my kids?  Is there a curriculum that would be good?  A workbook series or set of prompts that would guide them through the basics of technical writing? A Kumon-style academy that does a particularly good job?  How did you learn how to write?

What kinds of exercise do people like?

#2 is going through a lot of situational depression right now (bad things keep happening, starting with her FIL’s death several months ago).  Back when she lived in a hellhole, one of the things that kept her sane (along with increased meds) was weekly horseback riding.  In graduate school, it was fencing.

Horseback riding is too expensive and doesn’t work with her work schedule now that she has a day job.  She had to fire her fencing master when she found out he voted for Trump and the other fencing options are too far away.

Paradise has every single kind of exercise in the world, but you have to know what you’re looking for to find it.  She hates sweating.  She hates exercise.  But she’s thinking about maybe looking into something else even though she hates exercise and she hates sweat (so do I!).   So I said I’d ask Grumpy Nation what’s out there.

So, don’t tell her what she should do or what she should try.  Yes, she knows that John Green started liking exercise after doing it a few months in a row (we’re both watching 100 days).  Don’t lecture her about exercise etc.  That’s not going to help.  [update:  And will be deleted.]

Instead, answer these:  What kinds of exercise do you enjoy or did you used to enjoy?  What kinds of exercise do you know that other people enjoy?  What kind of exercise would you like to try?  What’s out there?

For me, I like swimming and hiking.  I used to like field hockey and gymnastics.  My sister is into ballet and yoga and modern dance.  My mom loves kickboxing.  DH used to do fencing and kendo.  How about you?

What would your the bachelorette/bachelor season look like?

I’ve never watched the bachelor/ette franchise or really any reality shows, though I did enjoy the first season of a reality show spoof where everybody but one dude was an actor.  However, as you may know, I have really gotten into this bachelorette podcast.

From what I gather, at the start you have 25 members of the opposite sex vying for your attention.  I don’t think they get to pick the 25 guys, though they do get to send a certain number home each week.  Then each episode has two group dates and one one-on-one date.  Apparently one of the things bachelor/bachelorettes get to do is to choose kinds of dates to go on.  So if they like “manly men” this could include boxing and sumo wrestling and so on.

Watching guys beat each other up doesn’t sound very entertaining to me.

If you had 25 guys (and/or women) vying for your hand, what kinds of dates would you want to go on?  Keep in mind you choose group dates as well as individual.  There are also competitions and the person who wins the competition doesn’t get eliminated that week.

I would definitely want a cooking contest.  (A quick google shows they’ve done this for the Bachelor, but not for the Bachelorette.  Sexist.)  I might also want something where they have to work at a daycare or after school tutoring or something (not teaching sex ed though, as they did in one season of the Bachelorette).  Also maybe a housecleaning contest.  And volunteering at an animal shelter. Pretty sure those would make great tv, because hunky guys doing housework and volunteer work is hawt. Hunky men with kittens, no brainer.

Single dates could include the opera or bookstores or cheese tasting… all sorts of other things that are quiet and boring for TV.  Hm.  Gosh.  I’m not sure how I would want to spend one-on-one time with someone that would make for good tv.  Oh wait, this is a big tv franchise so I should think big.  Like, let’s go to La Scala.  Sight-seeing in London.  On a food tour of Italy.  Bread making in Germany.  Hiking in Muir Woods.  Behind the scenes at a Hank Green concert.

Also there’s a chance to meet celebrities. So like one time they had a stand-up comedy contest coached by Amy Schumer. So you could, for example, have an erotica writing contest judged by John Scalzi. Or Alton Brown could judge their cooking. Or you could have Adam Savage or Grant Imohara just a rube goldberg contest. Whoever you want to meet.

You can get publicity for your causes.

#1: Maybe we should have our bachelors come up with ways to make the public aware of violence against women
#2: Maybe we should have them come up with a way to STOP it. A true challenge.

Should I buy this?

Long-time readers may recall that one of us has PCOS (that would be me).

One of the lovely things that comes with PCOS is dark hair growing places women are not supposed to have hair.  In me, that results in sort of a Fu Manchu facial hair thing going if I don’t pay attention.

Lately my facial hair has started to become a huge hassle.  Even with my tweezerman I’m spending more and more time plucking and/or shaving.

I paid for professional laser treatment on my legs once but even though I paid in advance, when an appointment had to be rescheduled I just sort of didn’t finish going to my sessions.  My leg hair is a lot thinner than it was prior to treatment and during some follicle cycles I have kind of weird bald spots.  I’m sure I would have more of those bald spots if I had finished the treatments.

My skin, btw, is super pale and my unwanted hair is super dark, making me the perfect candidate for laser.

In the best of all possible worlds, I would do laser again, this time on my face and I would go to all the treatments and I would be happy.  I don’t trust myself to actually go to appointments.  I can’t even get my hair cut more than once a year (and then only if I have free time during business hours when I’m in Boston).

So I was watching a youtube video and the commercial suggested I get a Tria home hair removal laser machine.  They are $450, or IIRC, about the cost of two-four professional laser treatments (it takes about 6 treatments done with the right timing for permanent hair removal).

$450 is a lot.  We will have money leftover from our year in Paradise and other expenses.  So we can afford it.  But should we?

It’s got 4 amazon stars on average, with 45% giving 5 star and 23% giving 1 star.

So… what should I do?  Buy this?  Laser?  Electrolysis?  Nothing?

This totally came without attribution from some random pinterest page. I don't know where it originally came from!

What would you do to avoid [the above] beard?

How do you watch videos?

Netflix?  Amazon?  Hulu?  CBS?  TV?  Redbox?  Youtube? Your local library?  Cable?

Do you use your mobile or laptop or tablet or full-screen projector or giant tv?

These days I’m mostly entirely watching 4 min Youtube videos on the ipad.  The kids watch 20 min videos on the ipad or with the full-screen projector from Amazon and Netflix.  In paradise they get dvds from the library once a week but once we get back home we’ll probably start using our netflix subscription again.  Ah paradise, we will miss you.

#2 uses her computer and a large screen tv.  Old school cable, baby.