Ask the grumpies: What should kids know before they move out of the house

First Gen American asks:

[What are] things your kids should know how to do before they go to college[?] Socially and practically. (Safe sex, how to make eye contact, manners, laundry, managing money, dishes, etc.)

We live in a school district with zero sex ed.  DC1 got some age appropriate instruction in 5th grade when we were on leave, and DC2 has read both a boy’s and a girl’s version of puberty stuff.  I believe zie asked DH some questions about them and he gave matter-of-fact answers.  DC1 also has the teen vogue issue on sex, though I’m not sure if zie ever opened it.  We’ve spent a lot of time discussing consent.  We’ve also discussed sexual identity and sexual attraction (specifically, why DC1 may not be feeling attracted to anybody yet even though many other 15 year olds are dating).  But we haven’t yet talked about birth control/STDs (DH says they did when DC1 started going through adolescence and we got those puberty books, but it was a talk aimed at a much lower age), or, what I think is more important, how to deal with sex as a teen/young adult (other than the consent thing, which we have emphasized goes both ways).  We will definitely have those conversations before zie goes off to college (or after zie gets a significant other, whichever comes first).

We’ve been focusing on basic cooking skills, including some simple dishes without a recipe and how to follow a recipe.  Both of our kids can now feed themselves and follow a recipe well enough to feed other people with minimal help.

Laundry is another important thing.  One would think people could just read the instructions on the washer/dryer, but given my experiences at boarding school and college, no, people (including high school me) need instruction.  I’d rather have my kids be doing the instruction than the other way around.

How to make a bed.  How to be a good guest.  How to load and unload a dishwasher.

How to drive and pump gas and use a credit card, maybe even a checkbook.  And how not to get into consumer debt.

DC1’s school recently had a “learning how to adult” day, which is new.  But they gave such terrible advice!  The financial person (who works for a local bank) was 100% Dave Ramsey (name-checked him a lot) and said never to ever use credit cards.  They showed them how to write checks and recommended they call up to negotiate the price on their land-line every time the introductory rate changes.  (Which is great advice for all our rotating services, but who has a land line?)  The college person said that everyone should apply to exactly three schools (aspirational, good chance, safety– not bad advice, but for kids in DC1’s bracket, aspirational and good chance blur a lot and they need to apply to more) and either go to the university in our town, or if they can’t get in, then to a specific one of our regional state schools (one that’s about 7 hours away, which is weird when there’s others that are closer).

Grumpy Nation, what do you think kids should learn about adulting before they leave the nest?

Natural consequences laundry experiment failed

DC1 is going to be off to college in a year or two, so we’ve been trying to give some additional responsibility so zie isn’t helpless when zie moves away.

One of the things we want hir to be able to do is laundry on a regular enough basis that zie doesn’t smell bad.

Up to this point, laundry had involved a lot of us nagging and DC1 ignoring and putting off and it being a huge hassle for everyone.

So I announced we were going to try natural consequences.  DH and I would stop nagging about laundry or reminding about it and when the kids ran out of clothing or towels, they would run out.

They ran out of towels first.  DC2 stole some of ours which was annoying.  I’m not sure what DC1 did.  Then DC1 ran out of pants.  Piles of dirty clothing became mountains in DC1’s room around the laundry basket area.  Eventually zie did one load and left 2 additional loads to molder.  DH and I said that was not acceptable and zie had to do it all.  This cycle repeated a couple of times over the course of a couple months, including one time where there was something wet put into the laundry basket.

Eventually it got to be too much and I declared that natural consequences wasn’t working and the new experiment was going to be habit formation in which DC1 does laundry every Saturday morning.  Zie still needs to be reminded, but so far it has been going better.  Especially since we have a rule that if only one person is sorting the dry laundry, they can sort all of the towels to the missing person, and DC2 has math circle on Saturday afternoons.

We’re just going to have to trust that DC1 will do hir laundry when there’s nobody there to remind hir.

Do natural consequences work for you?  How about habit formation?  How does your laundry get done?  What is the secret to other people doing their chores without being asked?

Ask the grumpies: How do people screen colleges these days

First Gen American asks:

What are the tools people use to screen colleges in this era? Do people still use the us news and world report ranking? I am so out of date.

Yup, same as before for selective schools.  US News and World Reports (which has also become more important for graduate degrees) plus the Fiske Guide plus competitors like the Princeton Review rankings etc.

In addition to these, however, it has become easier to screen non-selective colleges.  There are a LOT of online pages that you can plug in your GPA and testscores and get an idea of your chance of being accepted (absent extracurriculars etc.) and other pages that you can plug in all your financials and get a good idea of how much financial aid you’ll get.

DC1 is a little bummed out because the school zie was planning on applying to early has jumped way up in the US News SLAC ratings this past year.  There’s going to be a lot more competition for those slots.

Grumpy Nation residents who have recently gone through this process, how did your kids screen colleges?

More on our parenting philosophy

The Frugalwoods posted this post about how they put any learning off until the kid wants it.

Our philosophy is exactly the opposite. Introduce stuff super early and don’t stress about it. Yes it takes longer and there are more mistakes, but there’s no pressure. Plus the ability to understand that mistakes are part of learning is a really important skill.

We’ve done this with everything from potty training to reading to math to money.  Maybe not music which we started at ages 6 and 5 respectively.  And not organized sports which we didn’t start at all.  There’s only so much effort fundamentally lazy parents can make.

The thought of having to deal with poo on bottoms until age 3 is horrifying to me.  I think also with potty training, the Frugalwoods don’t realize that kids have to learn to wear a diaper.  They don’t come hard-wired with the desire to soil themselves.  That’s also a training thing, just in our society (as with many societies) we find it convenient to capture it rather than us learning to read their signals or training them to micturate to a signal (which are other common methods of dealing with non-mobile babies needing to potty).  So… actually they did teach the kid very early on.  If they were really into waiting for kids’ interests, they would be using the understand the baby’s signals version of pottying and diapers would never have been involved in the first place, since the kids never indicated an interest in them.

But I digress.

Money is a construct.  Kids don’t know what money is unless you let them know.  They can’t show interest in it until they’ve been exposed to it enough to know it exists.  And exposure is a form of learning.

Reading to your kids is teaching them to read.  You can increase its effectiveness by putting your fingers under the words you’re reading as you read them.  With a small child in your lap, this is a fun bonding activity.  Our kids also loved the leapfrog videos that had songs about the sounds the letters made and could sing them long before they could mentally do phonics.  Once that clicked, they were able to start reading.

There’s something joyous in learning, especially with young kids.  There’s so much they don’t know and will never know unless they are introduced to it.  You don’t have to force kids to learn things, but you do have to introduce the concepts.  With potty training that means introducing potties and having diaper-free time so they make the connection about using the restroom.  With reading that means reading and helping them connect the sounds to the words.  With math that means counting and adding.  With money that means involving them in the process and teaching about dollars and cents (and eventually providing an allowance).

I’m sure the Frugalwoods kids will be fine.  DC1 is taking psychology this semester and they’re on the chapter about how much parents have to do with children’s successes or failures, and if a parent is not abusive or super neglectful (and also controlling for $$ resources, which do have a lot to do with “success”), the answer is not much.  DC1 informed us we were good parents.  But the bar to good parenting is pretty low.  (DC1 also claimed to never have been a broody, resentful teenager… it seems like only DH and I remember that short phase.  DC2 claims not to.)

I do not have a discussion question for Grumpy Nation.

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Summer plans for the DCs

I think we’re going to assume that the pandemic is still a thing and won’t be sending the kids to in-person things.  If we didn’t have options for DC1 we would probably do a different cost-benefit analysis because DC1 needs to do *something*, but we figure that there’s not much benefit for DC2, particularly given the poor local options for hir age and hir increased ability to entertain hirself since the pandemic started.  DC1 and DC2 are definitely getting different summer experiences, but I’m not sure that either is better or worse.

DC1 is now old enough to work (and our state has surprisingly few restrictions on 15 year olds).  So zie will be doing an (unpaid, work-from-home) internship with DH’s company where they have a lot of low-level scut-work programming that needs to get done.  It sounds like the CEO would prefer for hir to work in the data-input group where they already have an internship program set up rather than in DH’s group.  (Though DH’s group does have quite a bit of low-level programming that needs to get done too.)  We’re all hopeful that this will look good on a college application and will be a good experience for hir as well.  Additionally it should give DC1 some “in the field” experience with programming which should be helpful.  It is nice being privileged and able to pass on some of that privilege to DC1.

DC1 will also be learning how to drive.  And will probably be doing a bit more cooking again.  Other than that we don’t have any big plans for hir.  Maybe trying out some standard college essay prompts?

As for DC2… maybe we will just continue where we left off with homeschooling?  Though maybe without the English component.  Just the parts that are less work for us.  I’ll probably also try to find fun things to do on Outschool.  It looks like NIU camps are back to being residential, so not that for us.

If you have children, what are your kids planning for the summer?



  • DC1’s piano teacher told us DC1 has surpassed her playing ability and we should get another teacher if zie wants to continue improving (she’s happy to keep hir on if zie just wants suggestions for what to play next).  We’re not sure what to do about that because piano is sustainable with 15 min of practice a day and more for fun on weekends or when stressed but zie might stop liking it if zie had to do more and it could interfere with schoolwork.  If zie were willing to compete then there might be something for college applications, but zie is just doing it for fun.  We’ll have to see what DC1 thinks.  I stopped lessons in high school because I no longer had time.
  • I do think DC1 might benefit from learning how to play accompaniment– that could be a useful way to pick up some additional money in college.  Also I have visions in my head of DC2 playing the violin and DC1 at the piano and it being adorable.
  • We have somehow become those parents whose children refer to them by their first names.  Growing up I always thought that was weird when other kids did it.  But I guess we’re in that liberal hippie aging yuppie demo.  DC1 will still say “my Dad” or “my Mom” when talking with friends, though zie uses our names when talking with us, but DC2 has gone straight first name.  (Hir friends on Minecraft after a long absence are like, “Who is [DH’s firstname]?”)
  • I got invited to be a member of an extremely prestigious professional association whose goal is kind of tangential to my research… I mean, there is some overlap, but this is not an honor that was even on my radar.  DH says it’s imposter syndrome, but I’m still pretty mystified about it.  The invitation letter didn’t explain anything and it wasn’t from anybody that I know, but apparently someone thought I fit well enough that they nominated me and a committee agreed with them(!)  I did look over their current membership and recognized people I know whose work has overlap with mine, but I would also argue that they work more in that specific area (and are really amazing in their own right).
  • As a break, we had DC2 copy out poems from hir poetry coloring book (one children’s poem a day) in nice cursive and then read them aloud to DH.  It turns out that DC2 didn’t know how to read aloud a poem– zie just rushed through as quickly as possible.  So… I guess that’s another new thing we’ve taught in DH’s and my worst subject.  (Though I suspect we’re not bad at English so much as we don’t always fit with specific English teacher’s specific subjective views and never completely figure it out.)
  • The grocery store was having a sale on Alfredo sauce and I was tempted but then I remember how whenever I make it from scratch I’m always surprised both by how easy it is to make and how much better it is than the jarred stuff.  And yet I don’t.  Which is probably healthy, but if I’d never made Alfredo before I’d just buy a jar when it was on sale and instead I don’t have any Alfredo at all.
  • Our Covid numbers are still pretty high— somewhere between 10 and 20 new cases per 100k but this is so much lower than the 100s of cases we were getting back in September that people feel like the pandemic is over.  But it’s not.
  • It does sound like the university will be forced to require vaccines and masks next semester if we want to keep federal grants.  Despite our state government.  Just in time for Omicron to hit!
  • Twitter seems to think that making it difficult for me to see tweets without logging in will somehow get me to sign up.  Jokes on them– it is helping to break my addiction!  If it keeps up, maybe my attention span and productivity will increase.
  • DH thinks we should probably stay masked indoors over vacation with his family.  So I bought a cute holiday mask for each of us from (not sponsored), and then some disposable holiday masks from (which imports KF94 and is also not sponsored).
  • The weather forecast suddenly changed right before Thanksgiving so we had to do it indoors.  I cranked the heat up and opened the windows in the dining room and we kept the fan on.  I also positioned DC1’s air filter near our two guests (who I clustered away from the windows I put DC2 directly in front of the windows).  And we wore masks when not actually eating.  Overkill?  I don’t know, but DC2 didn’t get hir second vaccine shot until Sunday and somewhere I’d read that zie was probably only about 30% protected (though I don’t remember what the numerator or denominator on that 30% was).
  • DC2 got hir second vaccine shot!
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Ask the grumpies: Any benefit to shooting for an ivy?

Chelsea asks:

I would be curious to read your thoughts about choosing a college. Particularly the perceived benefits of trying to go someplace like an Ivy or MIT or Williams. My DH and I both went to our flagship state school and have well-paying jobs and live happy, quiet lives. Honestly, is there any reason to do anything other than that if we think that’s what’s in store for our kids? Meaning, we hope they have well-paying jobs and happy, quiet lives. I have one child who has special needs and I’m not sure what higher ed will bring for him, one who loves math and science and may be interested in engineering, and a 3-year-old. Obviously, I would not try to stop a kid from going to a prestigious school if said kid really wanted to go, but it seems like so much stress for… I’m not sure what benefit.

Disclaimer:  We gave DC1 a Fiske Guide and said you can go to any college you want to with the following rules:  1.  It has to be in this book.  2.  It has to have at least 4 little academic desks out of 5.  3.  No out of state state schools– if you go out of state it must be private.  (This bummed DC1 out because the UCs are attractive, but we’re not paying private school tuition for a public school when zie can go to the honors college at our flagship at a fraction of the cost.)  This is such an important and personal decision that I don’t think we can make it for DC1.  Plus I feel really guilty for all the people I pushed into Caltech when I was a teenager.  (One of them is now a nurse, another is mid-level management at a large brewery after a stint in the marines, I’m not sure what happened to the other, but she also almost dropped out.)

Most ivies are pretty easy and have lots and lots of grade inflation. The education is about the same as at good Flagship state schools. But you get cachet and connections. In terms of the academic research, going to an ivy over a state school benefits life outcomes for low SES kids but doesn’t have any effect on life outcomes for high SES kids.  (There’s a lot of research on this topic going at it from a lot of different directions.  I think the Carolyn Hoxby/Sarah Turner field experiment has an extensive literature review.)  Ivies also tend to have extensive support networks in place and just more resources more generally.  (They may also cost less if you’re eligible for financial aid!)

Top graduate programs like taking students from ivies, but they also like taking them from top SLACs and top flagship schools.  If you’re in a state with a good flagship, it’s still possible for your kid to get into the #1 program for whatever graduate field they are interested in.  It may not be possible from a regional state school or a less prestigious SLAC.  But it will still be possible to get into a top 10 program and definitely a top 30 program, most likely.  Life is easier when you’re graduating from one of the top schools, but if you work hard and demonstrate awesomeness you can still do very well from a top 30 program if you’re in an in-demand field.  (I cannot make any claims for Humanities where the labor market is much weaker.)  Basically working harder in high school and going to a top ivy can make the rest of education easier if you plan on going that route.  But most people don’t.

I didn’t get into Williams (waitlisted *sob*), but there are benefits to (prestigious) SLACs in terms of the college experience.  It is NICE to have small classes and professors who know you and all the cute little traditions these schools tend to have.  I have school spirit for my undergrad even though our sports sucked and nobody cared about them.  One potential problem is that they sometimes have limited classes and if you want to take a specific course if only one (married) professor (with adult kids) teaches it and goes on leave or has a fist fight at a local restaurant with another professor because he’s sleeping with that assistant professor’s extremely young wife* and you can’t handle taking a class from him, you’re kind of SOL.

I also think that consortiums are really great– if a bunch of small schools get together and allow cross-enrollment, you can get the benefit of a small school but also not have to worry so much about getting the classes you need for your major in the exact semester you need them into your schedule (this is also a problem at large state schools– classes you need can fill up and make it difficult to get required classes when you need them).

We are not honing our kid to get into an ivy. If we were, we wouldn’t have skipped. Zie would have taken high school classes during middle school (meaning we’d have to drive every day to drop hir off). We would have forced hir to do competitions. And I’d probably be forcing hir to coauthor papers with me or DH would be pushing DC1 to get programming things out into the world. Not having those special things doesn’t mean a person can’t get into an ivy, but having them makes it more likely.

A small part of me wishes I’d gone someplace like MIT or Caltech as a college student (though not really Caltech because it’s so brutal). In high school and college I was searching for like-minded peers who just loved learning for learnings sake. These two engineering schools have lots of them as undergrads. Students at my fancy SLAC were way more interested in the OJ Simpson trial than in thinking or tinkering. (Not all of them– I did have my people in the math major, but not the econ major.) Any large enough school is going to have like-minded people, but you have to find them– you won’t necessarily get placed with them, and if you’re like DH or me and tend to hang out with people who are geographically close you may not connect with them.  It’s easier if you go to a school that draws more people who share your interests.

Grumpy Nation:  Are there any benefits to choosing an ivy?  Do you have a better answer for Chelsea or any interesting reminiscences?  

*Did I mention that drama may be a problem at small schools?  (I think it’s hilarious that Wikipedia has locked said professor’s wiki page with a note about slander– if no charges were pressed, it couldn’t have happened, right?)

An update on having skipped two grades: the high school years

Looking back, skipping DC1 two grades has accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish.  DC1 is being challenged an appropriate level in school.  Zie has to work to get As in many of hir classes.  It would be nice if zie always succeeded, but I’m not sure that two additional years would fix the stupidity, capriciousness, or sheer right-wing craziness of some of these English teachers or that one Spanish teacher.  I do think that getting high grades in the other classes would take less work if zie had a couple more years under hir belt, but it is good to learn how to study.

What we are missing out on is DC1 being clearly one of the top genius students in the school for hir year.  Zie is definitely in the top 10% and is taking all 5.0 courses (except one required semester of PE and the first two years of Orchestra which are only 4.0) and a packed schedule of AP classes, but zie is not Tabitha (valedictorian, name changed) or Rylan (top junior, name changed).  Zie isn’t blowing away scholastic bowl (name of team changed) or qualifying for nationals at all three exams for math, chemistry, and physics (in fact, DC1 FORGOT to even take the qualifying math exam last year!!!!).  DC1 isn’t much of a joiner and hates competition… I assume with a couple of extra years zie would have more free time and it would have been easier to bully hir into one of these things.  With more free time, I suspect DC1 would have a bigger sound-cloud and maybe more stuff on hir youtube channel, as well as a potentially viable video game or two under hir belt.  I don’t know how attractive those would be to colleges, but …

Skipping two grades in many ways is much less impressive than single-subject acceleration would be.  (But soooo much easier on the parents who don’t have to drive to middle school to drop a kid off at the high school in the middle of the day.)  It’s more impressive to be a freshman in AP physics than it is to be a junior of the same age in that class.

With two more years, DC1 might have been more attractive to schools like MIT and Harvey Mudd.  (And depending on how viral hir hobbies got, maybe someplace like Stanford, who knows!)  Zie could always take a gap year to explore life and become more attractive to top schools, and that may still happen.

But, I think having skipped two grades, it’s ok to go to a college that isn’t insanely difficult.  Like, I understand why Obama had to transfer from Occidental. Occidental is great, but I would literally have run out of classes to take at my level before I hit senior year.  I’d have had to transfer or graduate early (or get a third major if that’s allowed…).  If DC1 had not skipped a couple of grades and done single-subject acceleration instead, I think zie would be in the same situation that I would have been in given college credit as a high schooler.  Skipping two grades means that it’s ok to get that additional difficulty while picking up a masters (or maybe a PhD, who knows what DC1 will end up doing?).  So going to one of these smaller schools that is likely to take hir is not off the table (for example, zie was really impressed with the love letter the Fiske guide wrote to Grinnell).  I don’t know how competitive zie will be at the regional ivies (ex. Northwestern, Vanderbilt. etc.) but those would probably be fine too, though DC1 seems less interested in them.  I mean, sure if you’re going that level it would be nice to have the cache and excessive grade inflation of a Stanford or Harvard, but these top private universities give excellent educations.

Sidenote:  In the larger scheme of things I’m glad my (prestigious SLAC) alma mater got rid of legacy admissions, but at a personal level I’m a little annoyed!  I do think that it would be perfect for DC1 in terms of difficulty level and support networks, but DC1 is not really that good a fit from a what-they-say-they-want in admissions standpoint.  (I really was a perfect fit in terms of what they wanted outside of grades and test-scores in a way I wasn’t for the prestigious SLAC I was waitlisted at.)  DH’s uni still has legacy.

Before I get too derailed about college admissions, let me get to the part that inspired this post.

So DC1 is a junior now and is the same age as the average Freshman, give or take (younger if there’s a lot of redshirting).  Spanish 3 was so awful (see above note about the terrible teacher) that a ton of current juniors just decided not to go on to Spanish 4.  That means that DC1 is one of two juniors in a class with a bunch of dual-language Freshman who took Spanish 1-3 in middle school.  Originally Tabitha was in that class, but she decided to drop and take study hall so she could devote more time to being the best at sports and extracurriculars.  The other junior in the class was thinking about dropping too, but DC1 begged hir not to– “Don’t leave me alone with all these freshmen!”

There’s also a Freshman in hir AP Physics class.  I’m like, this is great, what’s hir name?  You can get to know other high achieving people your age.  And DC1 is like, but zie’s a freshman!

Zie completely and totally identifies with the junior class and with being a junior.  Because of some course selection choices and being in varsity orchestra, zie also knows a few of the high achieving seniors.  Zie mostly socializes with what I would call “normal mostly college-prep kids” and not the other kids who are taking all AP courses.  Zie seems to fit in with them just fine, though this semester in order to protect hir sibling zie is not sitting at their lunch table because they are ignoring social distancing protocols.  Zie says they talk across the table and wave.  Zie does not get invited to things (there was a birthday party once pre-pandemic at a friend’s mom’s apartment, but that’s really it) and doesn’t go to dances or anything like that.  Zie doesn’t text hir friends (I don’t think?) but does have an active life on Discord on a minecraft forum playing and hosting text-based mafia-style games (I think?).  Zie seems really happy with hir level of socialization.  Zie is just kind of a low-key chill person (much like DH).  Most of my friendships throughout my life have been situational as well– just whoever is around without any deep connections.  DH may have been my first really close friend.

Sidenote 2:  DC1 also noted that zie sleeps a lot more than hir friends and gets teased about it.  (Zie is usually in bed by 10pm.  But gets up on hir own around 7am every day including weekends.)

One part of the high school experience that DC1 is missing is the drama(!)  My colleague is always telling me about the dating tribulations of her senior (the salutatorian) and their friendship group (which includes Tabitha).  I reported back to DC1 and zie said, “Why would it take so much time to get over being dumped?  Shouldn’t it be like just a few hours?”  Which… there’s something to be said for doing hardcore AP classwork while *not* worrying about your crush or any of their drama.  (DC1 mostly hangs out with same-gender peers who are also not dating, whereas the super high-achieving friendship groups are mixed gender and sound pretty incestuous in terms of dating– meaning they all date and dump each other.  I am so glad I am not dealing with teenage dating angst either as a participant or first-level observer anymore!  The stories through my colleague are more than enough!)

I do feel a little bit guilty that DC1 is unlikely to be finding true love in high school because we skipped hir two grades, but there’s no guarantee that zie would have followed DH’s family norm (they all have married their first significant others that they met in high school) instead of the more random could happen at any time norm in my family (or indeed, most families).  And zie will still be a good catch in college or out or may decide never to date at all.  That’s up to hir.

So, as a whole, no regrets so far.  DC1 seems to be happy too.  Would zie have gotten into Stanford with another two years?  Who knows.  Is that worth it over wherever zie will end up going instead?  No idea.  We made these decisions for DC1 back when zie was 4 and 5 years old (and zie would have started Kindergarten even earlier if zie had been the decision-maker!)  What comes after is up to DC1.

Ask the grumpies: Children’s chapter books for sensitive young readers

Alice asks:

To the best of my knowledge, my kid read her first independently-read word when she was about 2.5. Now, at 5, she’s technically proficient. If we do every-other-word in a new book, she reads them all with some mispronunciations for more complex words. I’ve really struggled and failed to find books for her that she might want to read independently, though. She’s reluctant. The problem is that from an emotional level, she Does Not Want to encounter (a) rule-breaking/bad choices, (b) mean behavior between characters, or (c) things that scare her. She will ask me to stop reading a book to her if the drama level is too high for her. And it seems like all of the books I can find at her technical reading level are too high-drama for her, even things an adult would look at as no big deal. For more than a year, I’ve been reading nonfiction to her at bedtime, along with a couple of beloved Boynton board books. Nonfiction doesn’t bother her, and the Boyntons are meant for a pretty young audience.

I was a voracious reader, but didn’t learn to read until 6 and didn’t fall in love with it until 7. I’ve been worrying that I’m not setting her up to be a big reader because I haven’t found the books she loves yet. I would very much like for her to be someone who enjoys reading, though. A love of reading has brought me so much good, I want the same for her.

High sensitivity is not uncommon among gifted kids.  DC1 and I were/are very similar (DC2 OTOH, delights in books about protagonists behaving badly– during our last poetry unit, one of hir poems is dedicated to Bad Kitty).  I’m still a little traumatized from Matthew dying (spoiler, but not from Bad Kitty).

Non-fiction is great.  DC1 read a ton of it in preschool and early elementary school.  Scholastic was wonderful for increasing our non-fiction library.

For fiction, one thing to look into is older books.  There are a couple of types of older books.  There’s books like Penrod or The Great Brain that are horrific to our 21st century sensibilities in terms of kids casually abusing each other or their pets– you’ll definitely want to avoid those.  But there’s also early-mid 20th century slice-of-life books where nothing bad ever happens and you just don’t get that emotionally engaged with the characters.  So *early* Henry books from Beverly Cleary, but not later Ramona books (where the reader actually identifies with Ramona and her feelings, or, in my case, with Beezus).

The Five Little Peppers are another series of books in this genre.  The first two in particular.  From our adult eyes, bad things seem to happen (and are overcome), but the way it’s written kids don’t really pick up on the problems because of all the “good cheer”.  Similar is All of a Kind Family.  Eleanor Estes has a number of these (here’s Ginger Pye — the Moffats might not work out as I’m vaguely remembering that DC2 loved them and DC1 and I cringed a bit).  IIRC I didn’t have any problem with Betsy-Tacy, but once Tib got added to the mix things got a bit more dramatic (as an adult reading these to DC2, who loved them, there’s a lot of very interesting and pretty modern social commentary on class, religion, and immigration that completely went over my head as a kid).

Similarly, Pippi Longstocking has all sorts of adventures that should make one cringe, but they don’t because she’s so irrepressible.  (Though be careful– Pippi in the South Seas is kind of racist and definitely colonialist.)

L. Frank Baum has a number of short stories set in Oz or related places where nothing at all bad happens– they’re dreams of magical lands made from candy.  DC1 and I could also handle the first two Oz books without problem– there are adventures and from an adult standpoint it seems like bad things happen, but as a kid they weren’t emotionally bad.  In the third book, there are some genuinely terrifying creatures, like the nome king, the wheelers, and a princess who cuts off people’s heads so she can change her head depending on what she wants to look like for the day (this last one, oddly, I did not find as horrifying as the former two when I was a kid).

A more modern book with “just the right size” adventures is The Adventures of Miss Petitfour.  The worst thing that happens in this book is running out of marmalade and that is easily solved by a trip to town (with a bit of magic thrown in).

Books recommended by commenters:

Nate the Great — these are very short mysteries.  They do hit a perfect sweet spot, but they just don’t last very long… they get outgrown pretty quickly.  Cam Jansen is somewhat similar, but has longer staying power, and you may need to screen some of them first.

Frog and Toad — DC1 loved these with what would have been to pieces except they have extremely good binding.  There are a few bits here and there that are uncomfortable but they get resolved very quickly and everything is going to be ok.

minca recommends:

– Sophie Mouse
The Owl Diaries
– My Furry Foster Family
– Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
– Zoey & Sassafras
– Calvin & Hobbes
– Magic Treehouse (she’ll skip any “scary” parts)

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle does have situations that *should* set off people behaving badly triggers, but for some reason, especially in the first two books, they didn’t.  Again, I think it’s that it seems more abstract than personal in a lot of these early-mid 20th century books by American authors so the logic centers are engaged rather than emotions?

As your kid gets older, 20th century American magic books like those by Edward Eager will be readable — they do have bad situations but you KNOW that everything is going to turn out ok… in the end everything always seems to happen for the best.  The same is not true for British books of the same vintage (exception:  Bed-knob and Broomstick … though also compare The Borrowers to The Littles and it’s clear that the American version is more optimistic and fun)– with those there often seems like if anything is going to go wrong it will, and at best they will get back to where they started but with more knowledge, after a lot of fighting.  For a more modern take on adventure where it’s obvious everything is safe underneath, try Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Grumpy Nation, what books would you recommend for sensitive children?


Our first attempt at a plan to homeschool 5th grade

I made this.  It’s hard to see but I can’t get wordpress to allow anything bigger.  Sorry!

Weekly home schooling schedule (described in more detail in the text below).

As always, all Amazon links are affiliate links.

DC1 did 5th grade in a different state so we don’t have anything leftover from hir experiences that would translate here.  Some subjects we’re fine with following the state standards.  Some subjects we really need to know what is being taught this semester compared to next semester when presumably DC2 will be vaccinated and back in school.  And some subjects I am just fine throwing away whatever garbage is being required by an evil state legislature that cares more about propaganda than educating or protecting.

While DC1 did not do 5th grade here, zie did do 6th grade and it was a total waste of a year with the exception of math and orchestra.

So here’s what we’re planning:

PE:  On M/W/F, DC2 will join DH in the morning for calisthenics.  On Saturday and Sunday we will do something outside in the neighborhood (ex. bike riding, basketball, scootering, roller skating, tennis, etc.  Probably not swimming because there’s more risk there given our neighborhood.)  T/Th are free choices for DC2– 15 min of exercycling, ringfit, YouTube videos, whatever.

Music:  As always, DC2 has 15 min of piano practicing every day and a 30 min less on Thursdays.  New this year is the violin.  DH and I were both brass players so we have no idea what to do here and you can’t really teach the first semester of violin virtually.  Fortunately, DC1 has gotten really good at violin (including tuning!) and remembers learning it and is on board with helping us out.  DC2 got the violin a few days ago and they are ADORABLE.  So far they’ve just been practicing how to hold a bow and hold the violin.  DC1 told me I needed to order fingering tape, so I have done that but it hasn’t gotten here yet.  We’ve also still got Suzuki book 1 and DC2 has been listening to the cd that came with it (DC1 runs away or starts practicing piano or hir own violin which this happens as zie is thoroughly sick of twinkle twinkle little star and all its iterations.) These lessons are for 15 min a day, which isn’t very long and even so I’m concerned about them fitting into DC1’s schedule once school heats up.  But in the worst case scenario, DC1 played trumpet in 5th grade switching to violin in 6th and started placing at regionals in high school so all is not lost.

Math:  This one is easiest for us.  DC2 is in 6th grade math.  Zie is going to continue working through Singapore Math (Not affiliate) and Brainquest Math.  In addition zie will work through Khan academy 6th grade math.  We’re not sure if we should do Khan academy by time or by topic, but we’re trying by time first.  I’m not worried about losing number sense from missing some of the new new math because the new Brainquest has some of that and Singapore math has some of it, and zie has gone through Hard Math for Elementary School at least once and will probably be doing virtual Math Circle this year.

Spanish is a hard one.  DC2 is in dual language and in theory half of hir classes would be in Spanish.  My Spanish is just not good enough to support that.  Based on a commenter’s recommendation, we’ve hired a tutor from Overcome the Barrier (not affiliate), which is ridiculously inexpensive.  The first few lessons have been great but also pretty remedial and the teacher uses too much English (saying, “What color is” instead of “Que color es” for example), but DC2 had some embarrassing summer slide this summer and forgot some pretty standard words (though zie still understands them) so perhaps understandable on the teacher’s part.  (DH says we should wait and see before addressing it with the teacher.)  We figure even if nothing else, this will add someone else to talk to besides us.  DC2 has been doing 15 min of duolinguo all summer, but that’s obviously not been enough.  So M/W/F zie is going to watch a video of hir choice in Spanish (this could be anything from Harry Potter dubbed to Pocoyo), and on T/Th zie will spend 30 min reading books in Spanish.  I have started hir with little kids’ picture books, but the hope is to graduate to chapter books (of which we have many interesting looking ones!)  We also have an unused 3rd grade biology textbook in Spanish along with solutions that zie will do (but that’s listed under Science).

Science:  We’re going to completely ignore what the state is doing and just watch a Sci Show or Crash Course Science video each day, starting with earth science.  On M/W/F when zie is not reading Spanish books for Spanish, zie will do a section of the science textbook and answer questions at the end of it.  Weekends we will try to do experiments.  We still have a few leftover from a virtual summer camp on weather that got cancelled that should be fun!  (We already did a couple that were, but needed to get hairspray and alka-seltzer and freeze ice cubes to do the remaining experiments.)

Social Studies:  Other than acknowledging that this is a US history year rather than a state history year, we are going to throw out whatever the school/state is doing and just watch Crash Course US History.  After that Crash Course US Black History.  Then if we’re still going, Lies my Teacher Told me (which DC1 told DC2 was very interesting, but DC2 tried to read it and said it was sooo boring, which suggests to me that it’s still too advanced for DC2… maybe we should get the younger kids’ version…).  We may also supplement with historical novels sort of as a History/English crossover (lots of Jean Fritz and Mildred Taylor out there… though I find Jean Fritz too “from the perspective of the plucky White boy” so maybe not her).  But that’s going to depend on English.

ELA:  I have no idea what this class is going to cover when.  We emailed the ELA teacher to ask, and she said she’d get back to us but hasn’t yet.  My sister also asked one of her friends who is taking the year off from teaching because she has a newborn and doesn’t want to be exposed to covid, but we haven’t heard back from her yet either.  So… we have Brainquest and DC2’s Spectrum Spelling (6th grade) workbooks.  The spelling workbook is almost done, and I am planning to replace it with a workbook of Latin and Greek roots when it’s finished.  In the mean time, I stole a list of 5th grade novels off a random California teacher’s website and we’re starting with From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, for which I have stolen another random teacher’s questions.  It is shocking to me, but DC2 has never had to read a novel for school before, much less one with comprehension and discussion questions.  DC1 didn’t do that in 6th grade either– all they did was crafts.  DC2 is going to read and fill out questions for 2 chapters a day, and then after work, DH (who is reading the book perhaps for the first time, which also seems crazy to me) will do a little book club discussion with her (questions for which I found online) each day.  This will be very much like my 4th-8th grade ELA experiences back in the day.  In theory, next week the book of children’s poetry I ordered will be here and I plan to have DC2 practice cursive by copying one of the poems nicely and then we’ll have some discussion questions for whatever poem it is.  By then I’m hoping that we’ll have heard back from the 5th grade English teacher to get more direction.  If we hear back affirmatively from my sister’s friend we will just dump all of this on her.

We have a few more rules that we’re hoping will help everybody get work done:

  1.  Hold questions and do not interrupt a parent to ask.
  2.  Mom will stop by to check on you every couple hours when she needs a break, ask her questions then.
  3.  Dad will have a dedicated time to meet with you after his lunch meeting every day and at the end of his work day.
  4.  If you’re stuck, try to figure out how to get unstuck (Google is your friend!) or move on to the next task.
  5.  If you run out of tasks and are still stuck on something, try to figure out how to get unstuck or do more Khan academy or more Duolinguo
  6.  After you’re done with everything you can have free time to read or play or whatever (no screens unless they’re Spanish language only), but if you’re stuck on something you cannot move to free time until you get unstuck.  See 5.

We’re open to suggestions!  Especially for getting DC2 to have virtual human interaction.