For our peeps in grading jail: How do you motivate/reward yourself while grading?

I’m in the middle of grading final projects and exams and completely tuckered out.  And yet, I have to keep chugging.

I tend to work best when I set myself a reward like, “after grading each problem for all exams, I can watch a 4 min youtube video or read a part of a book chapter”.   If the procrasinatory mood is right, I might be able to “reward” myself with less pleasant things like switching out the laundry or loading the dishwasher.

How do you keep yourself going when the grading gets rough?  Non-academics, how do you motivate yourself to do long repetitive boring tasks that are frequently disappointing?


Ask the readers: Skip school to go to an awards ceremony?

DC1 currently has perfect attendance.

DC1 scored high on the 7th grade talent search.  This is a national thing which basically means zie had a high SAT score for a 7th grader.

The recognition ceremony is in the afternoon on a school day.

If DC1 goes, zie will no longer have perfect attendance and will miss some class.

I hate ceremonies, but I can’t go to this one anyway, so it would be DH taking time off work to go.

DC1 has been consulted and has no preferences.  (DC1 isn’t into preferences unless they result in getting sushi.)

What do you guys think?

How do you deal with dinner when everybody is scattered all over the place?

I asked this question in the Frugal Girl’s comment section on a post where she mentioned several nights where her kids weren’t there for dinner.

What do people eat when they’re out and about? That’s getting to be an increasing occurrence with us as DC1 gets older and has more after-school activities. Occasionally zie’ll be at one where food is provided, but most of the time they assume meals before or after (but there’s no time before and after is pretty late!). I am embarrassed to say that my kids had trailmix (emergency snack in the car) for dinner at least once this week (after that they weren’t hungry for dinner when they finally got home).

The comments were mostly that trail-mix is fine– maybe add a banana.

I guess I shouldn’t be implicitly shaming trail-mix meals!  And I know nuts are fine, but I’m not 100% sold on the merits of so much chocolate or sugary dried cranberries or the lack of anything green (other than pistachos).  A great snack, but maybe not a regular dinner plan… Plus there’s always the worry that kids will (gasp) get tired of it or that we’ll run out before making it into the city for more.  We’re at the point now where 3-4 days of the week are in this weird spot where one or both of the kids don’t get home until ~6:30 or later, sometimes with some downtime (sometimes briefly at home after bus dropoff, sometimes only in the car) sometime between 4:30 and 5.

What do you do for meals, or to stave off the low blood-sugar grumpies, on days where your “regular” routine is disrupted?


I think we’re going to buy a new car: Any advice before we pull the trigger?

DH’s 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid is starting to make unpleasant putt putt putt sounds.  It’s possible that the hybrid battery is going to run out in half a year or so (replacement cost:  more than the car is currently worth– 2-3K), and the brakes will probably need to be replaced (~$300) sooner rather than later.

When my sister’s Mini-Cooper, bought around the same time as we got our car, committed suicide on the highway in a cloud of dark smoke (after a few months of unpleasant putt putt putt sounds…), we started looking around at new cars as she decided what to get (she ended up with a gently-used 2016 BMW for 29K, though I am not remembering what model– her second choice was a new 2018 Mazda 3 for 25K ).  While doing this, we discovered that Honda has a new plug-in Hybrid called the Clarity.  This qualifies for the 7.5K federal tax credit, we’re pretty sure.  (We will make sure.)  DH drove it and decided he liked it very much, except that fancy new cars no longer have spare tires and the trunk is oddly shaped and won’t fit our big cooler that we take when we drive into the city (we do have smaller soft-bodied coolers and could get a smaller hard-bodied cooler).  Then he drove the Hyundai Ioniq and the Toyota Prius and decided he did not like them as much at all (we will still probably get a Prius when we swap out my car, although my sister says the new Accents are much nicer than the model we got, so it is tempting to just replace my car with another $15K Accent, even though we can afford a Prius… and I could in theory get an all electric vehicle since my car just tools around town).

It is not cheap.  MSRP is $33,400.  But there is that $7.5K tax credit that brings is more in line with what we were expecting to pay for a new car for DH.  This is also the first year that this model has been available, and there are some small annoying things that reviewers and current owners say about it.  Like, they wish there was a knob for the stereo instead of a button (DH doesn’t mind the button– he uses the steering wheel button, but I LIKE the knob as a passenger).  They think the middle of the car looks kind of weird (DH doesn’t mind).  The lane correction isn’t as good as in other cars that have it.  These and probably many other small annoying things will probably be fixed in the 2019 and 2020 models if the Clarity stays in production.  It really isn’t like us to buy a first of anything– we generally buy the most popular and tried item that we can afford within the set of what we’re looking for.  We got a Honda Civic Hybrid, but not until they’d ironed out the kinks.  Of course, by the time the kinks are ironed out, that phat tax incentive is gone.

If/When we do pull the trigger, I’m planning on emailing all the dealers in a 2 hour radius to ask for a walk-away price to see if I can get them to compete.  This is the same strategy that I wrote up for a guest post on Get Rich Slowly many years ago.  Some dealers are making it harder to find an email, but generally they do provide emails of individual sales people even if they don’t have an easy to find inquiries email anymore.

My work has a free plug-in station for electric vehicles, though over the past year it has started getting actual use meaning one cannot just drive up and plugin anymore.  I assume that they will start charging for it eventually (all the other plug-in stations charge!)

We also have to figure out what to do with the Civic.  We can’t keep it because we have a 2-car garage and a 1-car driveway and our HOA tows cars that stay on the street overnight.  Kelly Blue Book thinks we’ll get something like 2-3K for a trade-in and 1-2K if we sell it.  Donating it would probably get $45 (that is not a typo) *if* we itemized, which is unlikely.  DH also considered giving it to his relative who is down to one car (as a hobby, his relative’s father likes to drive and pick up and drop off cars and people all over the country without getting anything in exchange), but after thinking it through he realized that giving his relative something that is soon going to need $300 brakes and won’t work without a $2000 battery is probably not a great idea.  On top of that, the Civic Hybrid needs a pit to do oil changes and the closest Honda dealer is 40 min away.  I feel a little bit guilty about springing all that on whatever unsuspecting college student would end up buying our car as well, though there’s also the chance that the car will be fine for the next few years and DH is too pessimistic, and if things aren’t fine for this hypothetical college student, there’s a dealership in town.  Most likely we’ll trade-in and take very little for the trade-in because it’s too hard to negotiate that part.  Oh well, we’re not trying to completely optimize money here.

So, what are your thoughts?  What are we missing?

Ask the readers: How to get the word out about ACA enrollment?

The Trump administration is trying to kill the Affordable Care Act administratively since they’ve failed legislatively.

Open enrollment is open from Nov 1st to Dec 15th this year.  (In previous years, people had the chance to look over their plans during their winter holiday vacation.  This year that’s out.)

The website will be shut down every Sunday from Midnight until noon for “Maintenance” except for Dec 10th.  I assume that’s to keep people from getting help before or after church.

Advertising has been cut, money for people to help navigate the system has been cut.

Then there’s some bizarre stuff going on with the previously most popular “silver” plans– rates on these have skyrocketed because of government malfeasance, and it may actually cost the same (possibly less!) to get a “gold” plan than to get a silver plan.  (“Bronze” plans will cost about the same as before, but are generally high deductible.)

Forbes has an excellent article detailing these and other points as well as giving advice.  Huffington post also has a great article/video giving advice for navigating the system.

I’ve seen various twitter accounts reminding people to sign up for the Affordable Care Act.  But I wonder, what can we do to get to word out to people who don’t follow activists on Twitter?  I’ve posted a sign on my door at work and am considering mentioning it in class.  Most of my students (at least in the past when I’ve asked) are still on their parents’ plans.

Let’s brainstorm… any suggestions for how to get this information out? 

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)?