Random life updates

Do any of you follow the story threads of our lives and then wonder what happened since we forgot to update?  Here’s some updates:

Little Kitty’s IBS and health:

  • She had idiopathic elevated calcium levels (meaning they don’t know why).  This was the best possible outcome since the other outcomes where they know were all bad.  First she got steroids for two weeks.  Then she got taken off the hydrolized diet and put on a low calcium diet and now her tummy seems to be all better.  No more IBS even when she steals her favorite people food (chicken).  It is mysterious.
  • Once her calcium levels got balanced, she got to have her teeth cleaned.  Unfortunately 7 teeth also had to be pulled.  Also it is insane how even though these costs are expensive, they are waaay less expensive than costs of the same thing in paradise.

DH’s relatives:

  • The one with the abusive baby daddy has moved back home.  She’s not getting along with her dad because he says she frequently does dangerous things when taking care of her son and he tells her not to.  Her step-mom is doing well with chemo and is really enjoying taking care of the baby while her step-daughter works at the Walmart a few towns over.  I have no idea how the menu planning stuff went down or if now that the oldest girl is back she’s taken over some of the responsibilities.
  • The other one who was a teen mom is still living with her two kids with her husband near her biological mom across the country.  She seems to be doing fine.

Kitty saga:

  • I don’t think I ever mentioned this, but my sister ended up taking a second kitten from our back-yard cat saga since we were only allowed to take two cats with us to Paradise.  Her two still love each other and my sister seems to have bonded with them.  Problem:  her new roommate brought a bully cat and boy kitty started peeing on things in protest.  So now her two cats stay in her bedroom suite during the day, mostly sleeping while the bully cat roams the rest of the house.  :(

DC1 at public school:

  • In the end, DC1 transitioned well to public school for 5th grade in Paradise.  I think it was good that it was still an elementary school.
  • Zie seems to be doing fine at middle school for 6th grade so far this year.  Zie has to do some testing to get admitted to the GT pull-out program.   One of hir friends from private school is in orchestra with hir, which helps.  They should both transition from 5th grade orchestra to 6th grade orchestra at the semester.  (DC1 decided against another year of trumpet, which means zie has to have weekly violin lessons to ease the transition since zie is a year behind.  Zie is surprisingly not that awful– much better than my memories of that first year of my sister practicing.)
  • Zie tested into 7th grade advanced math, which is really nice.  This and orchestra are two big advantages over private school.  I do miss having a foreign language though.  DC1 had Spanish as an after school program last year (they also had French, but only for native speakers(!), so we dropped that), but it doesn’t appear that anything like that is available here.
  • The after school program is cheap ($115/mo and goes until 6:30pm) and the bus stop is literally at the corner of our house.  For now we’re doing after school instead of having hir take the bus home so we don’t have to worry about hir being latch-key when DH is out of town for work.  The law in our state is vague… it basically says, you’re ok so long as something bad doesn’t happen, but if something bad happens you made the wrong decision.  If we still had a home phone I’d feel a bit better about a latch-key situation.  If we do go latch-key DC1 will need a cell-phone.

DC2:

  • Returning to the Montessori here has been great.  So great we decided not to start K this year and to leave hir in Montessori another year.  Then we may skip K next year if zie doesn’t get into the dual-language program.  We’re playing it by ear a year at a time.
  • Zie really does miss hir friends, but many of them were heading off to public school anyway (either K or Pre-K), so…  And we’re happy zie is back to more academics and less of the creepy religious stuff.  (Nothing against non-creepy religious stuff, but even though DC1 and DC2 both attended a year of preschool from the same Lutheran branch, DC1’s was not at all creepy and DC2’s was full of not preschool appropriate stories.  Just comparing the children’s bibles they each got was pretty crazy.  Like, it wasn’t our imagination.)  Hir reading and math abilities have skyrocketed since we got back.

I think those are the big things in my online blog persona life.  If anybody cares.

Ask the grumpies: When did perfectionism start?

Chelsea asked:

I was wondering when you began to notice DC #1 struggling with perfectionism – like how old ze was and how it manifested. I have a bright 3 year old who gets so incredibly upset if any little thing is not “right” – food, toys, clothes, the order things are done in, etc. But maybe that’s totally normal 3-year-old “threenager” behavior…

Honestly?  DC1 has ALWAYS been a bit of a perfectionist.  Like at 3 months zie crawled a little bit but hated it so much and it was so hard that zie refused tummy time angrily unless it was on daddy’s tummy after (crawling did not happen until much later, and then it happened perfectly and almost instantaneously).  I mean everything has been like that with DC1, something phenomenal happens but happens poorly and then months pass without it happening again and then suddenly DC1 is doing it perfectly without any apparent struggle.

DC2 isn’t like that.  We see DC2 learning and growing. The process isn’t hidden from us.

But, DC2 is also 3 and is totally being a “threenager” as you say.  With the everything needing to be the way it’s ‘sposed to be or zie lectures us about things being ‘propriate like one of hir preschool teachers must do.  3 year olds are just OCD by nature.  I would not worry about that kind of perfectionism at all.  Most likely you’ll be telling hir to clean up thoughtless messes and reminding about putting underwear on before the pants again in no time.

Note also that you can use this (temporary) rigid adherence to structure to your advantage by say, instituting bedtime routines and asking, “What comes next?”  DC1 also responded well to the tyranny of the clock at this age, “It is 3pm, time to go!” we would say.

And we’re also seeing DC2 getting the other kind of perfectionism where zie doesn’t like us to see hir struggle with learning (for example, zie will refuse to sound words out when zie hits a hard word and sometimes says zie hates books rather than read with us).  We suspect zie is picking it up at daycare.  DC1’s perfectionism has waxed and waned– a lot seems to have to do with specific teachers at preschool and school, but we’re not sure what they’re doing wrong or right.

Perfectionism does seem to increase when the work they’re doing at school is too easy.  When they don’t get challenges.  When they’re praised for being smart and not encouraged to make mistakes during the learning process.

But if it’s just fussiness about things being in the “right” order… DC1 grew out of that too soon and really I think DC2 has just recently grown out of that, like in the past week (in fact, DH and DC2 are currently having a conversation about DC2 not ‘preciating DH stepping on hir stuff that was lying in the hallway and DH not appreciating hir leaving things on the floor in the hallway to be stepped on).  (Update:  I take it back, DC2 is still a rules-monger.)

Age 4-6 are LOVELY, and then age 7 is kind of obnoxious (or so has been our experience and so I have been told by others).  We’re enjoying 8 and 9!

Good luck and don’t worry too much about threes.  Here’s some more tips (do read the comments in that linked post as they’ve got a lot of great suggestions as well).

More on math and perfectionism

Combating perfectionism and its sequelae is an ongoing battle at houses with gifted youngsters.  It is hard to provide continual challenges for smart kids that allow for failure but also allow for recovery from said failure.  When life gets too easy, failures seem to become that much more devastating when they do occur.

I really like math.  And math is nice because it comes in different levels which can provide different kinds of challenges and generally there’s going to be a solution.

We really enjoyed the workbook, Hard math for elementary students, though when I say “enjoyed” it was kind of a love-hate relationship for DC1.  There were sometimes tears.  But in the end, zie always triumphed, and that was exciting for DC1 and created true pride (though an odd consequence was that when DC1 cranked through a page easily, zie decided that page was too easy!).  It truly was a hard math book.  We were thinking of going through it again, but DC1 hasn’t wanted to.  Since DC1 just got into brain teasers and is spending hours on them on hir own, I ordered Aha and Gotcha and am going to let hir explore by hirself.

One of the really good parts of math for perfectionist people is that sometimes in order to get things right, you have to get them wrong a lot first.  There’s a method of solving things called “brute force” in which you just methodically try all of the possible answers to see which one(s) work.  You *have* to get things wrong.

The game Mastermind is another example of needing to get things wrong in order to find information that gets to the right answer.  You guess and then get feedback that helps you guess again until you narrow down the answer.  The game just isn’t that much fun if you guess right on the first try.  This game too initially caused tears in DC1, but coming back to it later it has been fun.

Finally, a fun (free, online) game recommended by school is fire boy and water girl.  This is another one where you learn about the world and have to try again and again in order to get the solution.  This one has never caused tears to my knowledge, though zie has stopped playing in frustration and come back later, which is totally valid.

It would definitely be nicer if there were never tears, but the pride that happens after figuring out something that previously seemed impossible might be worth it.

Do you have any suggestions for challenges, math or otherwise?

Am I a tiger mom?

Eh, maybe a little.  DH and I push our kids.

We’re not so far up the SES ladder that our kids can rest on their laurels– we both broke into the upper middle class this generation (DH from the rural working class, I’m first-gen on one side and come from a long line of middle-class working women on the other).  And OMG is it nice to be upper-middle class.  The stresses we don’t have that our parents had and that DH’s siblings and cousins still have, I can’t even.  Every day I’m mindful of (and thankful for) this miracle.

We got here from climbing the academic ladder and playing by the rules (and, of course, luck).  From pushing ourselves, and maybe being pushed a little bit too.  Well, not maybe, definitely.  (DH’s siblings, while not upper-middle-class are definitely doing much better than his cousins.) Definitely from being pushed a little bit too.  Our kids will have more freedom and latitude to maybe not play by the rules, but having that academic ladder cleared will certainly help if other ventures don’t work out.

A’s now mean life is easier later.  Challenges now mean that there’s less likely to be complete melt-downs in college.  So we push.  Not to breaking, but occasionally to leaving the comfort zone.  So far the discomfort (often followed by breaks, and then by trying again) has always led to epiphanies and growth, just as it should.

There’s no shame in getting a B, but a B also means that the material hasn’t been mastered.  There’s room for improvement and that’s a target to work on.  So, in that sense, Bs are addressed.  Material is mastered and then some.  Even if it’s not that interesting.  Even if school sometimes has arbitrary rules.

Granted, our kids are truly brilliant, and they’re highly capable of mastering many many challenges.  So it’s easier to have a home with the underlying belief that Bs aren’t good grades.  We have justifiably high expectations.  I have students who, as hard as they try, won’t pull off As in four classes a semester.  But it’s my job to get them to master as much of the material as they can, and it’s their job to try.  If my kids go someplace where they’re truly challenged, then even Cs may be fine as long as they’re still getting where they need to go, but they’re not there yet.

For K-12, A’s are pretty important.  Especially if they’re not going to fancy high schools that colleges know by reputation.  I trust that my kids will work hard and if they don’t get As it won’t be from lack of trying, but I also know that we will work hard to stem any damage by filling in knowledge gaps should a lower grade occur so that it won’t lead to downward spirals down the line.

DH and I have both gotten Bs in our high school and college careers, but not that many.  I think DH even has a C on his college transcript.  And, possibly related, we haven’t always gotten into our top choices for things.  But we keep working and we keep trying.  And that’s the message we want to send to our children.  That’s how we push.

Did you get pushed as a kid?  Do you feel like that affected your adult life?

Ponderings on mindsets and intelligence

One of the things that the mindset literature is pretty clear on is that you’re not supposed to praise kids for innate characteristics, but for effort.  They have studies where they measure effort after a kid has been told, “You’re so smart” vs. “I can really see the effort you put in” or something like that.  Outcomes in the next experiment decline for the former but not for the latter.  Later studies suggest cheating goes up when innate intelligence is praised.

And so I’ve been keeping these ideas in mind when raising my kids.  With our first child we even went so far as to (frequently) request daycare and school teachers not to praise hir intelligence, but instead hir work ethic and interest.

And I thought that was the right thing to do until recently.  For the past couple of years, I’ve had an extremely successful student, a young woman, for two classes who has low confidence.  She’s easily one of the best students our program has had and lots of professors agree.  But she has low confidence.  She wanted to go to graduate school.  It took a lot of pushing to get her to apply to top programs that she should have gotten into based on her testscores, perfect GPA, and research experience.

She didn’t get in to any of them.  I’m guessing her essay wasn’t any good (she was too embarrassed to show it to professors before sending!) and most likely they wanted more work experience.  Plus she was on the low end for pure math courses– a few more probably would have helped.  I also wonder if she made the right choices of letter writers.  Maybe her research supervisor wasn’t as effusive about her as the professors in my department are.

Contrast that with one of her friends who is similarly situated except has an extremely high self-confidence (even if she has far less intellectual curiosity).  This friend didn’t apply to graduate school but did get into one of the most prestigious RA positions you can get as a feeder to top graduate schools.

I met the parents of both women at graduation and got an insight into the difference in confidence.  The parents of the second girl thanked me for being a great professor and for giving their daughter opportunities and said they were really excited about her job for next year.  They had normal proud parent reactions as we went back and forth praising their daughter (and me) and discussing her future.

The second set of parents (divorced, so I got this conversation twice) was also effusive in their praise for me, but not so much in their praise for their own daughter.  “She works hard,” “she’s always worked hard,” was a constant refrain from parents, step-parents, and siblings.  But there was something about the way they said it, as if they were excusing the praise rather than accepting it.  This was fixed in my mind when her mom’s response to my praise of her daughter was, “that’s sweet of you to say.”  “No, no it wasn’t,” I said. “I’m from the midwest.  We don’t just say things unless they’re true.”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about the world telling my kids that they’re smart.  They are smart.  That’s just a fact.  (And, to be honest, I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about being told I’m smart… I mean, yes, I’m smart, but so what.  Praise my accomplishments and things I’ve done, not my innate nature.)

Growing up my family took being smart for a given.  Of course I was smart.  I’m smart but so what.  Being smart isn’t enough (wasn’t enough), it’s what I do with it.  I wasn’t allowed to let my brain atrophy.  I had to keep exercising it.  My mom always told me I needed to keep pushing myself so that I could grow more dendrites.  Working hard would make me smarter.

Early on I really did believe that I just worked harder and had more opportunities than the other kids.  And that’s definitely true– my parents sacrificed a lot to give us opportunities and focused on our academic growth.  My mom picked up a lot of good child rearing techniques while working for Head Start back in the 70s.

But in the past few years since having children, I’ve come to suspect that there’s actually a bit of nature in the equation as well.   Maybe it’s not just in utero health and stimulation as an infant and so on (though these things are obviously important).  I sometimes wonder if gifted kids were just born with a bit more curiosity than non-gifted– and it’s the energy and curiosity that causes us to explore and grow dendrites… or maybe the lower sleep need is what allows more connections to be built, who knows.  Other kids can get as smart, but it’s more of an uphill climb.

Nature cannot be everything.  At university, I see my students get smarter, quicker, and more curious over the 2-4 years that I know them.  That blossoming is amazing.  Taking kids with cruddy high school experiences and fewer family advantages and teaching them to think and aspire and question is one of the most rewarding things that I do.  People really can get smarter.

I don’t want my DCs to feel limited.  I don’t want them to think they’re not capable of great things.  Maybe it is ok to say, Yes of course you’re smart, but what matters is what you do with it.  What matters is what you love, how hard you work, what interests you, what you care about, how much you focus, how many times you try.  And luck, of course, but we can control that about as much as we can our intelligence, which is to say, we can help create our own luck with measured risks just as we can increase our intelligence by focused study*.

I don’t think those short-term lab experiments by Carol Dweck et al. exclude this idea, the idea that you can combine praise for intelligence with emphasis on hard work.  So maybe I’ll go back to doing what seems right to me and not worry so much about how people praise my kids, so long as my kids know that intelligence isn’t everything.  Maybe praising solely effort isn’t the only way to create perseverance.  Maybe a little self-knowledge won’t hurt and will allow them to reach farther so they don’t keep themselves from taking opportunities.

Where do you fall on the praise spectrum?  We know all our readers are intelligent– do you think how you were praised as kids affects your perseverance and self-confidence as adults?  (And in what way?)

*standard disclaimer about extreme situations and not blaming people in poverty or with mental disabilities

School districts, housing, and having a grade-skipped kid

So, DC1 is grade-skipped by two grades.  Ze is in a private school.

That means that we have no idea what grade ze is going to be in next year when ze goes to public school in a new state.

Which means we’ve been calling around a lot.

And getting a bizarre range of answers about how schools would determine grade level for DC1 in our situation.  How big a range?

1.  DC1 starts in 3rd grade, period.  Then the teacher observes for 6 weeks.  Then a team including the principal discusses the situation and most likely keeps DC1 in 3rd grade, even though ze would be the oldest non-red-shirted kid in the grade.

2.  It’s up to the principal.

3.  The administration would assess DC1 to determine what would be appropriate.  If ze is ready for 5th grade, that is where ze would go.  In additional to educational components, they will assess emotional and social components.  Writing it out this way makes it sound a lot nicer than how they sounded over the phone, which hit both DH and me with a lot of bad memories about our childhood, with the emphasis on emotional/social.  (Because if you’re out of synch with your same-age peers, you’re failing at emotional/social which means they won’t let you skip… Catch-22.) (#2 is still mad about people not letting me skip a grade for social reasons… guess what, I didn’t have friends in school ANYWAY so at least I could have learned something… grumble.)  (#1 would have had friends if she’d been grade skipped.)

4.  Need to take educational documentation including letter from teacher/principal and report card.  The documentation will be reviewed by school administration.

5.  Based on age it would be 4th grade (different cut-off date?), but school records indicating completion of 4th grade would allow DC1 to be placed in 5th.

6.  Ze would be placed in 5th grade automatically.

7.  Ze would be placed in 5th grade and then given a placement test for homogeneous math grouping placement.  Bring materials to help teacher/administration work with DC1.  Would need special reasons to be placed in a grade below 5th.  (“Is it because you’re calling from the South [and worried that a blue state education would be too advanced]?” the confused administrator asked.)

8.  Skip approved with proof of why skipped for special reasons.

So we’re narrowing down our search to #4-8, mainly because #3 gave off such negative vibes.  #7 sounds great, but has very few, if any, houses, mostly apartments and the apartments are interspersed with undergraduate housing.  So we might look out there, but not until we get closer.  #6 is a substantial commute for me and very suburban… not unlike where we live now.  #5 has fifth grade in middle school, not elementary school like all the other districts in the area.  #4 is a pretty good bet in terms of houses, commute times, and walkability, but I’m a bit nervous about where they would really place DC1.  Still, they have some really nice (not cheap!) houses and the commute is great.

I guess the moral is that different places do things widely differently, sometimes even in a smallish geographic area?

Ask the grumpies: Best school environments for gifted children?

Sarah asks:

What does the research say about the best school environment for gifted children?  We are looking at kindergarten options for the 2015-2016 school year for our child and I cannot find any conclusive research about what would be best for him – we feel paralyzed.

Back story: At 4.5 our child tested at a highly gifted level in math (~4th grade level) and simply above average in reading kindergarten-1st grade level).  He responds the best in the classroom setting when there is structure and order, but needs to be constantly challenged, otherwise there are some minor behavioral issues.   We have the ability and time to supplement at home, but our preference is to minimize that in order to allow him as much time to be a kid. The three options are all public schools and within the same district:

1. Skip kindergarten and send him directly into 1st grade at a solid school.  This school also has a system of individual differentiation that allows children to “walk” up grade levels for specific subjects; up to two grade levels ahead, I believe.  This is the only chance we have within the district to skip a grade, so it is now or never.

2. Attend the excellent “gifted” school.  This school doesn’t cater to gifted children specifically, but rather works at an advanced pace, ~ 1.5 years ahead.  The class moves together as a cohort, with some differentiation within that specific class, mostly in reading.  My impression is that  the school benefits bright children, but that outliers get left behind – my child being an outlier in both reading (low end) and math (high end).

3. Start kindergarten at a solid school that specializes in math and science. This school has one of the better math programs in the district and does a decent job allowing for differentiation within the classroom.

The district makes it incredibly difficult for children to change schools once they commit in kindergarten, so the pressure is on to make the right decision the first time

This one is easy… from a research perspective.  A Nation Deceived (soon to be updated with A Nation Empowered!) talks about the research base for the different options.  Also the Iowa Acceleration Scale that you can take discusses things that make acceleration a better or worse option (parents caring about sports being a big negative, for example).  (This post talks about my favorite books from the endless # I read when we were originally facing these problems: https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/reading-books-on-giftedness/ )

From a practical perspective, not as simple.

IIRC, research would say that a gifted school with like-ability peers is best for the average gifted kid, followed by acceleration and/or single-subject acceleration, followed by I think differentiation and then pull-out.  But that’s on average.  Individual situations are rarely average.

What we’ve been doing is we’ve been looking at all of our options and making decisions on things like teacher quality, how well the schools understand basic concepts of gifted education/are willing to work with people, etc.  Teacher quality and administration with a positive attitude can be far more important than school type.

If you haven’t visited these three schools, visit them.  Ask them what they would do for your son in his situation.  Ask them what they do when children have already mastered the material.  Ask them how they handle squiggly kids.  Ask them any and all of your concerns and listen to not just their specific answers, but how they deal with the questions.  Do you feel that these are people you could work with if you needed to?

Also, as you’ve done, think about ability to make changes if you decide your decision was the wrong one.  Even if you can’t change schools easily, you can undo acceleration if necessary.

Honestly, all your choices sound like promising choices on the surface.  One full skip plus individual subject skipping is great.  Gifted schools can be great (and a gifted public boarding school could be a really great choice a decade from now, or one of the fantastic magnets in your city).  Math and science schools can also be good targets for gifted kids both because of their focus and because they often attract like-minded kids.

But the devil is in the details– how good are the teachers, how accommodating is the administration?  For example, our local math and science charter has enormous K-3 classes… it does not give a good education for those years.  Some gifted schools really just function to be white oases in minority-majority cities and thus get heavily watered down and end up not serving gifted kids at all; others are. as you note, more inflexible with outliers than non-gifted options.  Being accelerated has benefits (academically and socially), but there’s something amazing about being able to be with other gifted kids your own age if your city has a large enough population to support that.

I will note that a lot of kids will not be reading at all in kindergarten and will not be at quite 1st grade level in first.  Unless you suspect a learning disability (which I wouldn’t at this point, but I’m not an expert), then I would guess that that reading ability is going to shoot up over the course of the next year.  I strongly recommending getting a pile of Cam Jansens (possibly a few Nate the Greats and similar books– the librarian can help you) and as many Magic Treehouse books as you can get your hands on soon after.  Non-fiction books are also really popular at this age (Magic School bus is a good series, but really anything by Scholastic at this reading level is fascinating depending on the kids’ interest.  Dinosaurs?  Planets?).  Reading for fun is still being a kid!  So I wouldn’t be too worried at this point about the difference between math and reading skills– the reading will really just skyrocket once your kid finds something worth reading.

With luck, all of these will be as wonderful choices in reality as they sound and it will be impossible to make a bad decision.  If it were my kid (or if your kid were my kid…), I wouldn’t be able to decide based on these descriptions and DH and I would visit and go with our gut instinct.

Good luck!

Grumpy Nation:  What are your thoughts?  For those of you with choices, how did you make schooling decisions for your kids?