Choices

   My husband and I just returned from taking four teenage boys to Chicago to look at universities. We’ve been taking students along on Fall Break for almost ten years now, and I love the vision the students have after spending a week in a place with so many choices. While many have gone on to choose Chicago colleges, most just see that there are choices beyond their home state.

    Giving students this opportunity means accepting the risks that inherently come with choices. Many parents today would be happiest if they could eliminate all risks around their children. They do not seem to understand how incredibly unhappy that makes their kids. It is the children of those parents who run and never look back when they finally experience “choosing.”

      Making choices is always risky. No one is guaranteed a risk-free life. Every time we eat out, we risk sickness from food preparation or an infected cook. Strapping ourselves into a steel vehicle and traveling at high velocities is a risk every time. We accept these risks, though, because we’re too tired to cook or walk the miles to Wal-Mart.

     Gifted kids want the freedom to choose more than the average kid. They feel smarter and more mature (even when they are not!), and they are anxious to prove how wise they are. I have found over the years that sometimes the best teachable moment comes in the humble minutes right after a wrong choice. That’s a time when the gifted kid is vulnerable and just wants to make sure he never feels this way again. A forgiving reprimand about better choices can make a big impact.

     We as teachers and parents cannot be afraid of the pain of choices. We must let our children understand why a choice is good or bad. Sometimes this requires that we let our kid do risky things… like travel out of state with his principal and his PE teacher to look at colleges in a big city. There are so many things we do daily that public schools would deem too risky. The “risk” of which they speak is the risk of a lawsuit. Who knows? We might get sued in the long run, but for now, the risks we’re asking our kids and their parents to choose to take have been nothing but beneficial. After all, isn’t that the point of private school: choice?

                                                                                                Michelle

            Choices are something Americans seem to take for granted.  We grow up believing that by being a citizen of these United States, we have freedom of choice guaranteed by our Constitution.  In some ways, that belief is correct.  However, we do not have freedom of choice when it comes to harming others to satisfy our own desires.  I really had this thought driven home to me this past week as I spent our fall break from school in Branson, Missouri.

            People are still talking about the tragedy that occurred on Tablerock Lake, when a hurricane force wind came up suddenly and caused the sinking of an amphibious vehicle called a duck, thus taking the lives of many of the forty passengers aboard. One family lost eleven members in that accident.  The news coverage notes that the company chose to do the lake tour first in spite of the weather warnings and postpone the land tour until afterwards.  There is a lawsuit now because the tickets were refundable if the water tour wasn’t completed.  So, it seems the change in tours was to protect the profit of the company.  Since the driver of the vehicle also drowned, no one can ask him if he had a choice in the matter.

            I’ve always taken choices as a very serious matter.  Perhaps that is because my father, a long distance truck driver for over seventy years, constantly made me aware of the dangers that lurked in the everyday world of driving: avoiding road hazards; passing trucks quickly to avoid possible rupture of truck tire retreads hitting my vehicle; keeping speed up after passing a truck so the trucker didn’t have to shift down as his truck gained speed going downhill; and avoiding drunk drivers.  With all these things drilled into my mind, I try to stay alert and to make safe choices when I drive.

            Yet, daily choices don’t seem nearly so startling as the two paragraphs above have shown.  Most of our choices seem insignificant in comparison.  I saw a billboard while traveling that said simply one sentence: “Two days absence per month = failure in reading.”  I get the point the sign is trying to make; however, I would have to do a lot of investigation to verify the fact.

            We certainly want to make correct and wise choices.  That is one of the primary lessons I try to teach my students.  Each day begins with us making a choice as to what kind of day we will have: good or bad.  We can’t prevent bad things happening to good people, but we can choose how we handle all things that come our way.  My husband always taught his clients to “reframe” situations in a positive manner.  I have learned to do this…although I am not successful one hundred percent of the time.  But I have improved with age!

            My daughter Michelle has helped me over the years by having extraordinary faith in God to provide in times of need.  She’d always say, “I wonder how God will help me in this matter.”  God has always provided for and rewarded her faith in Him.  I still have a small tendency to try to help God solve the problem…but I’m getting better at waiting upon the Lord.

            The statistics of assaults upon teachers by students in the U.S. is astounding!  Walter Williams has once again provided some of the statistics in his editorial last week.  Many teachers have quit their jobs rather than put up with the abuse.  I wonder what will happen when good teachers are no longer available to teach.  Our own state is suffering from acute teacher shortages.  We see teachers making a choice to leave their chosen profession…will students make a choice to change classroom behaviors?  I fear the crisis will become even greater in the coming years.

            The families in our school have made choices to send their children to our private school.  Many have made great sacrifices.  My staff and I made the choice of working for salaries below the state mandated salaries of public school teachers because we prefer to work in a positive and safe environment.  We do all this so that kids can have more choices in their futures.

-        Kay

Your alarm goes off in the morning. Do you snooze or wake up? You open your closet and you have to pick each article of clothing that you plan to wear that day out of an entire wardrobe. Next you walk into the bathroom- to shower or not to shower? Do you brush your teeth before breakfast or after? Maybe you even decide to pick up breakfast on your way to work or school. But then where are you going? Dunkin Donuts, McDonald's, or the neighborhood coffee shop? Is it cold outside? Should you wear a coat? Before you even make it out the door in the morning, you have already been faced with a dozen choices.

Throughout your day, you experience countless choices that vary in complexity and importance. In the same day you are deciding whether to get a bagel with breakfast, you might also be making choices at work that affect major budgets and the livelihood of other’s working beneath you. All of this decision-making wears down our psyche to a point in which we come home exhausted and depleted from choices and can’t decide what to do, eat, watch, etc.

This causes a phenomenon called ego depletion. When your brain is exhausted, it is harder to maintain self-control. For instance, if you started the day out with a healthy breakfast and a jog, then went to work and exhausted your brain with too many decisions, it is likely that when you come home, you will eat the frozen pizza in your freezer rather than preparing a healthy meal.

There is another occurrence that affects our decision-making, resulting in a condition called choice overload. This is similar to ego depletion in that your brain is working too hard and under producing quality outcomes. Choice overload occurs when there are too many options for an individual decision. Think about when you are at a restaurant like Cheesecake Factory, where the menu reads like a book. While after several visits you might confidently walk in and say, “I’ll have the teriyaki chicken,” no doubt on your first visit, you struggled and skimmed for minutes before making a halfhearted choice.

Many studies have covered this topic of choice overload, concluding that our brains are more equipped to choose between 8-12 options, depending on the person. Think about the restaurant menus you regularly encounter. Do any of them have as few as eight options? If they do, you probably turned up your nose upon first glance. Similarly, I think I would be hard-pressed to find a person in my life with only eight outfit options in his closet.

We live in a society in which we are constantly depleting our brain power with decision making. This overabundance of choices leaves us with less functionality when it comes to the really important decisions. It’s important to establish routines that eliminate the ego depletion on small decisions. This will give us more ability to ponder and think through the more important decisions. Much like a battery, our brain has a bandwidth for the day before it needs to recharge. There’s only so much you can accomplish once your phone battery drops below 10%. Your brain is the same way. Manage your decisions, cut out the ego depletion in easy decisions by planning ahead, and take time to recharge your brain before the next busy day. This method will prove more productive long term.

-        Bria

Intelligence

It feels incredibly appropriate to me that, in light of recent events regarding the Supreme Court, we are discussing intelligence today. Where it feels like our country is lacking in many areas of intelligence, it is still a constant topic of top importance in the news. Whether it’s emotional intelligence, artificial intelligence, or Russian intelligence, our media is talking about it constantly. So that brings me to the question: why is intelligence so top-of-mind in America?

Intelligence is incredibly important because it is a driver for personal success. It’s the most important commodity because intelligence allows us to acquire other resources, such as money and power. Some people are born with intelligence, where others have to seek out and acquire intelligence. However it comes about, intelligence is basically currency in our modern society. We spend a significant portion of our lives obtaining intelligence so that we can then apply that intelligence in a way that will drive forth our careers and futures. Throughout our careers we acquire more intelligence that allows us to continuously climb the ladder and obtain more money and power.

Unfortunately, as we have noticed with recent developments in our government, those that lack intelligence compensate with money and power. While intelligence can help you obtain money and power, you don’t need intelligence to obtain power in our world. This can make certain people very dangerous. The only way to combat these people is through intelligence. We have to constantly seek intelligence and educate ourselves to create a defense against these people in power.  Through education we can resist those in power who act without intelligence and work to create a country and a climate in which we want to live. Use your intelligence to get involved in our political process and make your voice heard. Educate yourself on the issues and understand the platforms of those running to represent you. This is the most important lesson we can learn: education is power and it’s accessible, so access it and keep accessing it to build your intelligence and make a difference in the world.

-        Bria

            Intelligence is thought by many people to be a fixed number that tells how smart a person is or is not.  However, that thought is wrong in two ways: it is not a fixed number, and it measures how well a person will do in school.  It is used as a predictor of possible success.  It can enlighten us as to how a person thinks, recalls information, and solves problems.

            My first experience with IQ tests was when I was in the fifth grade and was tested for placement in the first gifted program in the St. Louis schools.  I was shocked when I was selected for the program.  Neither of my parents had a high school education.  Yet, my teachers saw possibility in me as I did my schoolwork and recommended me for the testing.  I, too, used such testing to identify many students in my classes during my teaching career.  They are reliable if one uses them correctly. 

            It wasn’t long into my career that I realized that IQ tests showed us a big discrepancy.  My psychometrist and I noted that children who were being recommended for placement in a Special Education program scored much higher on performance IQ than those tested for gifted placement.  The more we thought about it, the more clearly it appeared that part of that difference might be caused by the way educators teach these children.  If a child is academically a quick learner, we place him in more rigorous book-driven education.  However, if he is not academically inclined, we place him in hands-on learning experiences.  We play games and find exciting ways and means of helping him to succeed.  Thus, he performed much better on performance IQ tasks than those who were entrenched in book-heavy curriculum.

            In a way, we had stunted the IQ of those verbal students by not exposing them to the fun and games.  Yet, most of the parents of the gifted students pointed out that their child’s ability to assemble puzzles at an early age made them aware of his advanced mental abilities in the first place.

            Thus, you can now better understand why my corporation, A.B.R.A.I.N. (Applied Brain Research Alters Instructional Needs), was created in the first place.     It has been my mission to change the way we teach children in school.  Educators have argued over and over about methods which come and go; however, if we just apply the information we have learned in the past thirty years about how the human brain works, students will benefit.  My career has been based upon believing this possibility, and I have not been disappointed.

            I do find myself wondering now about the use of the bell curve in setting percentiles.  In this modern day, we are seeing the emergence of the “J-curve” rather than the norm curve.  Everything seems to be on a fast track.  Much of this change is due to the ability of technology to process at ever-increasing speeds.  We talk about a change in the thinking skills of children today.  Is it true?  Has the expectation of testing and finding a norm in the bell shape become an anomaly?  I don’t have the answer, but minds are sure working and processing in different ways than it seemed in the past.

            Oh well, enough of my musings.  Let me say this: IQ is not fixed!  Don’t ever sell yourself or your child short by limiting possibility based upon one score!  

-        Kay

    Those who have toured our school with me know that it takes about an hour. That’s not because the school is so big; it’s because it takes that long to get a clearer picture of a child’s true intelligence and temperament. I can always see the coaching that’s been done ahead of the tour/interview:

    “My name is Bryce. I can spell that. B-r-y-c-e. And I can count to a hundred: 1, 2, 3…”

     Intelligence is so much bigger than just the facts we know. One of my favorite phrases is: We can teach you all the facts in the world, but if you cannot create, you’re only good for Jeopardy.

      About forty-five minutes into the tour/interview, the child has forgotten all prior instruction, and I can see him as he most likely will be at school.  I ask open-ended questions and look at the way the child thinks.  That’s the intelligence for which I’m looking.  

      The same can be said for the way in which we hire teachers at our school.  Straight A’s on a transcript doesn’t mean the person can think his way out of a box.  We need to know that the teacher, under the “direct fire” of gifted students, can successfully instruct, with thought-provoking lessons and an open mind.

       So, I guess I’d say that intelligence, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  I have had geniuses who have no common sense; I’ve had C students who possess the wisdom of someone three times their ages.  This is why the team approach is such an important component of the way we instruct.  Different intelligences for different pursuits.

       While we are a school aimed at the instruction of gifted students, we do not require an applicant to have tested as “gifted.”  Our definition is so much broader than most schools.  By our definition, gifted students learn equally-well no matter by what modality a teacher is instructing.  They grasp the concepts surrounding an idea, and they deliberate on consequences of actions. Bossy young gifted students become leaders, and stubborn gifted become steadfast. 

       Wo do have some students, though, who fall under the label “gifted/LD.”  What? How can a child be gifted and have a learning disability?  Easily.  The brain has the potential of literally thousands of little malfunctions.  Just because one little section of the brain isn’t quite up to code doesn’t mean the rest isn’t beyond that same code.  “Learning disabled” is a dying phrase anyway.  Many educators believe that students previously diagnosed as “LD,” simply think differently than the majority.  Go figure! 

       When I taught in California (decades ago), I learned that it was illegal to give the IQ test there because it was so skewed to white males… which means the designers made it in such a way that it played to the learning strengths of white males.  Everyone else was already at a disadvantage before even attempting the test.  If that is really true, then how can we truly test for intelligence?  Our elementary school uses the Iowa Test of Basic Skills because we can see how our kids are doing compared to school kids all over the nation.  After my secondary repeatedly came out well-above average, I decided to switch to the PSAT tests. My sixth through eighth graders take the PSAT8/9, which is generated for current eighth graders and freshmen.  I decided gifted kids shouldn’t look at their age/peers and compare; they should test “up.”  We take that test this Wednesday, so I’ll be able to see if my change was a good one or not in a few weeks.

        In the meantime, I think the best thing to do is to celebrate with your child when he shows genius, not worry when he does not, and look for ways to let him perform in his intelligence area.  This will build comfort in areas that are not his forte.  The more comfort he feels, the more likely he is to attempt.  The more attempts, the more chances for success.  Your child’s intelligence will grow with each step.  And that’s what we’re after, right?!

                                                                                               Michelle

Little Blessings

      Yesterday I experienced the greatest paradox in food ever: cotton candy grapes. I know! My daughter had told me about them months ago, but it wasn’t till yesterday that I was lucky enough to be there before they were gone. They looked like regular green grapes; I was skeptical. Then I put one in my mouth. How could this be? The taste of candy in a healthy treat?! I found myself visiting the refrigerator several times throughout the rest of the day, just to see if the cotton candy taste was still there, or if maybe it was just the power of suggestion. I was never disappointed!

      I enjoyed a plethora of little blessings yesterday. It was foggy as I drove to Oklahoma City, and I felt like I was traveling in my own little cocoon. It was so cool! Because it is now fall, I made a stop by Bath and Bodyworks to buy fall-flavored soaps… and they were on sale! No fall shopping trip is complete without visiting Williams and Sonoma to buy caramel apple pumpkin butter, but yesterday I found its companion: apple cinnamon butter. Yum!!  Both Oklahoma football teams won in really good games, and I got a lot of my homework done, preventing a late Sunday night bedtime.  I even found a blessing in the much-overdue cleaning of the pool: a new skimmer basket with a handle! Anyone who has ever stuck his hand down into an overfull skimmer basket to try to find that little bar handle across the top knows how wonderful the idea of a handle is.

      I have been accused of being hopelessly optimistic, but I think my happiness comes because I notice all the little blessings with which God has peppered my days. There is no tree or mountain that I do not find amazingly beautiful. I think that’s why, in all eleven of the houses in which I’ve lived (ahh, military life!), there has always been a tree or a mountain view out of at least one of my windows. When blessings are seen in the tastes and the sounds and the visions of the world around us, it’s easy to be optimistic.

      Those with gifted kids know that they tend to be worriers and head toward cynicism in their early teens. Getting them to see the silver lining takes time and repetition. When your child points out what could go wrong, acknowledge and then point out what could go right. If he vents about how bad an experience was, listen and then help him find something good in the experience. Because gifted are prone to depression, it is extremely important that we teach them how to see the good.

      Yes, some things about life are worse than ever…

but some things are just as beautiful as ever, if not more, and I’m enjoying them more than ever!

               -Michelle

          Little blessings are often overlooked.  However, when I began thinking about this subject, I soon noticed a smile taking over my face, and a warm fuzzy feeling filling my heart.  I guess I do take these small blessings for granted.  So, I will just share with you some of these heart-warming blessings which make my life more enjoyable.

            Our preschool and kindergarten students are such a blessing!  Oh yes, they can be the source of confusion many times, but generally, they are a source of pure pleasure.  I think the source of these small blessings is that although extremely innocent, these children speak with authority and boldness.  My husband says it makes his day to speak with these little citizens.  They refer to him as Mr. Sillyhead because he torments them with things like: “Hey…did you know you have garments on your back?”  It gives him great pleasure to argue with them about the validity of that statement. 

            I enjoy their long explanations about why the world is the way it is.  I often banter with them about their age, especially when they have a birthday.  When I ask them if they are turning 25 on their birthday, they say,  “No.  That would be silly.  I would be old.”  If I ask how they know that, they counter with assertions like, “Then I would have a beard!”

            Of course, they find it hard to comprehend that I am seventy-four years old.  I get asked the following questions, “Did they have dinosaurs when you were born?”  Or, “Did they have television when you came here with the Pilgrims?”  How could I possibly have a hard day after fielding such questions from such well-meaning children?!

            Perhaps the neatest of the little blessings I have enjoyed over these many years of teaching is the little note of thanks I often receive from a parent.  It’s nice to know your work is appreciated.  I really count as blessings the note of thanks I often receive “out of the blue” from a former student.  It means a lot to hear of their success in the world and to know I was a part of that process.

            The countless hugs I receive everyday are also little blessings that do this heart good!  Now, I am aware of what I have written in this blog, and I am moved to concentrate on being a “little blessing” to others more often each day.  As Jesus said, “Love others as you love yourself!”  Perhaps such a daily mission is what our world needs in these troubled times.  Politics have become so negative these days.  Maybe we should send preschoolers and kindergartners to Washington D.C. to teach our leaders how to really simplify and enjoy life!  I find I even long for the reruns of the old Art Linkletter show, “Kids say the Darnedest Things!” to make a comeback to TV.        

-        Kay

I don’t know about you, but I am in the busiest part of my year right now. As an event planner, I’m seeing everyone trying to get their last events of the year in before everyone is off for the holidays. While November and December will see sporadic events on weeks that do not include holidays, October is packed tightly to the brim with summits, hackathons, awards ceremonies and speaker series. While this is an incredibly exciting time with opportunities to work with big brands and important political figures, it is also incredibly exhausting.

It’s times like these where it is so important to remember the little blessings in life. Today I am enjoying the only day off I will have this week. I have two choices here: I can either waste the day being upset that I only get a one-day weekend, or I can notice the little blessings in time off.

This morning I woke up to a chilly fall morning. I took my dog on a walk and then went to a neighborhood farmer’s market. What a blessing to live in a part of the world where I can walk to a market and buy good produce for reasonable prices. After the market, I stopped in a local coffee shop to get a latte. The barista took the extra time and effort to draw a beautiful heart with steamed milk on my latte. While this isn’t  an incredibly unusual thing for her to do, it was a nice gesture and it made me smile.

Next, off to the gym. It’s a little harder to find the blessings in that. Even though it’s not exactly what I want to be doing with my limited time off, I feel blessed that I have the time and access to be able to go to the gym. Beyond that, I feel blessed that I have a body that is capable of strenuous workouts.

Earlier this week I had an incredibly hard day at work… the kind of day that makes you question why you have chosen the path in life that you are currently taking. In those instances, it is so hard to see the little blessings. One thing I need to get better at is finding the blessings amongst the bad days. The good things in our lives don’t disappear just because something bad happened. We still live blessed lives and have happy things to look forward to.

As we finish out the year, let’s keep each other accountable. Everyone is busy and stressed, and it’s easy to get bogged down with the negative parts of our lives. Let’s remember the good and focus on what makes us happy. Remember the little blessings you have in your life and use them to propel you forward into a great new year.

-        Bria

Volunteering

Volunteering is most prominent when a natural disaster takes place…at least it seems to be the American way of doing things.  I am quite proud of the way our citizens handle such catastrophes.  Here in Oklahoma’s tornado alley location, people are called upon to face annual disasters of one kind or another.  When my cousin’s grandson was killed in the Joplin tornado, I was told that we were most fortunate to have the excellent weather warning systems we enjoy.  I certainly agree.

            In our city of Lawton, there is hardly a weekend or two in the entire year without some kind of volunteer race for raising awareness, money, etc.  Perhaps it is related to Ft. Sill, our Army base here, which is staffed with our nation’s volunteer army.  To these soldiers and their families, it is a way of life.

            We encourage volunteers in our school.  The honor society requires volunteer hours of our students.  The students in all grades participate in local activities and donate items for Christmas boxes for Third World children.  Many of our parents volunteer to help transport children on trips, and we even have a family who has volunteered their wonderful fifteen passenger van for us to use various times.

            However, as I continue to think about volunteering, I am aware of another situation in which I am extremely discouraged.  I do not see the aforementioned acts of volunteering evident when it comes to the simple things.  Why don’t people see the need to volunteer to pick up trash left by someone else who doesn’t care about community beauty?  I often see students disregard items on the hall floors that need to be picked up, and I usually get the reply, “Why?  It’s not mine!”

            I am emphasizing to my young preschoolers and kindergarten students the excellence of picking up after themselves, especially during and after snack times, so the teacher doesn’t have extra work to do.  I believe the point was driven home when they were shown that it took them collectively three to five minutes to pick up their spills, wrappers, etc. but it took fifteen to twenty minutes for the teacher to do it by herself.

            I do know that my teaching in this area of volunteering is beginning to pay off because I returned to my classroom yesterday from emptying the paint dishes they used in our art class to find all sixteen students washing the tables with Lysol wipes, stacking the brushes appropriately, and drying off everything.  They were quite proud of themselves…as was I!

            One other thought comes to mind about this subject.  As teachers, we often receive volunteered information about private matters at home.  We do not solicit such information.  It can be a very disturbing situation since we are held accountable by the law to notify authorities if we feel the child could be in danger.  Our policy will always follow the law, and we will always volunteer to protect our students.       

            I’ve spoken of all kinds of volunteering, but what about me?  I think the most courageous thing I’ve volunteered to do was to let the students make me over in a contest to raise funds for a noteworthy cause.  I was slimed, pinned, slopped, painted with all kinds of things, and then worst of all…made to look that way the entire school day! I did, however, survive! Ha!         

-        Kay

Volunteering has always been a huge passion of mine. Since high school, I have enjoyed working with nonprofits, volunteering my time and effort for the greater good of a cause. I spent a lot of time in high school volunteering with the local blood donation center. I worked in their office, at their events and in the back of house, ensuring that the little things were handled so the employees could do their job. I also regularly donated blood and platelets. This was some of the most rewarding work I did during that part of my life.

 

In college, I got involved with a branch of Americorp that worked with military veterans. I worked with this group for four years, serving our veteran community and its families. This program positioned me for a scholarship and allowed me to meet some incredible people. Without that program I wouldn’t have met my boyfriend.

 

Now that I am out of school, I still try to volunteer when I can. Most recently my organization did a group volunteer day with Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit that provides toys, books, clothes/shoes/coats, bedding, and toiletries to children and youth experiencing homelessness or living under difficult conditions. Working with my colleagues to assemble care packages of donated items was incredibly rewarding, and it allowed us to connect in a different way than a normal work day would allow.

 

The three examples above are all very different instances and interactions with volunteering, and each represent a different stage of my life, but the common thread with each is the incredibly positive experience I had. I have never regretted volunteering in this capacity and I think it is truly rewarding. There are several ways in which you can volunteer and find personal growth and happiness. Any chance I get to sway people to volunteer, I jump on it because I

have seen so many lives touched by volunteering and the impact of volunteer work in communities. Whether it be on a mission trip, with the Peace Corps, or just at your local animal shelter, give volunteering a chance. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Not only will you feel like you have done something good for the world, but you will give yourself new experiences and make yourself so grateful for your health and family and wellbeing. Beyond the goodwill and full heart, volunteering also gives you an opportunity to meet people with which you might never have crossed paths. I encourage you to try volunteering at least once if you haven’t; it could change your life.

-        Bria

I strongly encourage my secondary students to volunteer. In fact, I put their cumulative volunteer hours on their transcripts so colleges will know that the student was involved in his/her community. Over the years LAAS students have volunteered at blood drives and teen pregnancy resource centers and free medical clinics and libraries and food closets. I think it is so very important for future leaders to understand just how much is accomplished in this country through volunteers.

     More than that, in a day when so many kids are absorbed with fulfilling their own wants and desires, it is important to show them how others have needs bigger than the latest gaming system or shoes.

     When we were small children and an entertainer asked for a volunteer from the audience, we just about busted a gut to be chosen. As we grow older, we become wary of volunteering. Organizations are so desperate for volunteers that we worry we will take on more than we had intended to. Too often this is exactly what happens. My recommendation to my kids has been to find one organization and stick with it. Let the organization know exactly how many hours a month you can devote to volunteering and then stick to that.

      I will admit that sometimes I feel like the little red hen from the story. My mom always used to say she felt like her, too. We both get accused of not asking for help enough, but when we do finally put out the call for help, a handful of people show up… none of the accusers in that bunch, of course. Very few want to “harvest and sow,” but there’s always a big crowd to eat the bread!  

      When this happens, though, I remind myself that everyone I know is working longer hours than any time in history (thanks to our work being mobile enough to follow us home). I think, more than ever now, it is important to teach our kids to take the break volunteering offers us. Volunteering is usually highly appreciated by the organization. Volunteering is usually for a great cause. And volunteering groups like-minded individuals. All of these things are beneficial to our well-being.

    Most gifted kids will naturally gravitate to volunteering. They have some of the most tender hearts when young, and they truly would like to solve the world’s problems. It’s important to let them volunteer while they are still this way because they tend to grow jaded the older they get. If you can act upon their giving hearts early and successfully, you just might prevent t them from ever becoming cynical.

    I encourage you today to find a way for your family to volunteer together. Your children will benefit immensely from this, and it won’t be bad for you either!

               - Michelle

When to Begin...

There is a time and a season for everything under the sun….so goes the Bible account of life in a nutshell.  This week’s topic makes me think of several of the things that cause parents of young children to worry and fret.  Perhaps the following information will put their minds at ease as they trust us with the education of their children.

            “My child doesn’t speak clearly.  Does he/she need speech therapy?”   Parents can relax a little if they will realize the following expected correct articulation of consonant sounds.

            Age                     able to make these sounds correctly

            3 ½ yrs.                   b, p, m, w, h

            4 ½ yrs.                   d, t, n, g, k, ng, y

            5 ½ yrs.                   f

            6 ½ yrs.                   v, th (as in the), zh, sh, l

            7 ½ yrs.                           z, s, r, th (as in thin), wh

Not being able to pronounce certain sounds isn’t a serious obstacle to learning to read.  Instead, we do become concerned when children cannot discriminate among speech sounds.  When that occurs, other learning interventions are sought.

            “How can I help my child be a better reader?”  Remember that reading is a process…not a subject.  It is not an end…it is a means to an end.  Parents can help in the following ways:

            Read to and with your child each day when possible.  Children see that reading is important and they also hear the proper use of language patterns.  Research has shown us that reading with a parent is one of the major factors which help develop good readers.

            Provide a variety of experiences for your child.  Don’t stop there…discuss and relive the experiences through shared telling about them.  This teaches the child vocabulary about the experience.       Play games with them in the car, etc. that call for letter recognition, alphabetical order, etc.  Do the same with words. 

            “Are writing skills that important?”   Yes, they are extremely important.  If children do not develop the ability to write and read their written expressions, they will be handicapped when they are met with historical documents that are hand-written.  They will not be able to read communication from people who do not have a computer or cell phone at hand…perhaps in emergency situations.

            When children write their letters, words, etc. they are adding one more sensory level to their learning.  They see, hear, feel, and manipulate the letters as they write.  It is important that they hold the pencil correctly to prevent fatigue.  Motor memory will kick in after much practice in the same formation of letters.  If the manuscript letters are written correctly, cursive writing becomes a natural next step which saves time.

 

            “Why do you use tables and grouping so much at LAAS?”  According to J. Barron of Educational Psychology 2000, Vol. 92, pp. 391-298: “Problem solving is best learned in groups.  Not only do groups solve problems quicker than individuals, but when members of the group have to solve subsequent problems alone, they do better than those individuals without the group experience.”

            The last bit of helpful thinking is the following way of looking at grades.  I can’t tell you where I came across this in my 54+ year career…but it is good.  Relate the achievement level with the probable attitude the child might likely develop.  It is called the Ladder of Achievement.

                                                          100% - I did.

                                                    90% - I will.

                                               80% - I can.

                                         70% - I think I can.

                                   60% - I might.

                             50% - I think I might.

                        40% - What is it?

                  30% - I wish I could.

            20% - I don’t know how.

     10% - I can’t.

0% - I won’t.

            And I would remind everyone of the wisdom expressed by James Delisle & Judy Galbraith in The Gifted Kids Survival Guide II.      “Age is a number that happens to you, while maturity is an attitude and a set of behaviors you develop to face facts, set goals, and dream dreams.”           Kay

 

    I tell kids all the time that parents were not born knowing how to be a parent. Parenting doesn’t even come with one standard manual, like driving does. So, it’s no surprise that teachers are asked when certain events should begin with their children all the time. I thought we might address some of the most frequent.

 

   When should I begin to worry about letter reversals?

 

   Have you ever noticed how similar the letters “d,” “p,” and “b” are? It’s the same symbol just spun on an axis or flipped horizontally. Then you add a hook on the tail, and, depending upon which way the hook goes, it becomes “g” or “q.” (And the fact that Times New Roman doesn’t put the tail on my “q” makes it even more confusing!) When your child begins to grasp that the letter is more than a squiggle he is forced to repeatedly write, he should quit reversing. The checking into possible problems begins in late first grade or early second grade when the problem persists.

 

    When should I seek help for my child’s bed-wetting?

 

    This one is close to my heart because I was a bed-wetter. Thank heavens, my parents knew it wasn’t a discipline issue. I get so angry at the ads that make parents believe this is a problem they must tolerate (Pull-ups, for instance). Sometimes bed-wetting is due to a medical reason.  But sometimes, bed-wetting occurs because a child is running, running, running all the way to bed time. The kidneys never receive the message from the body that says, “Hey, it’s time to empty for the night.” When the child finally goes to bed, he just crashes, falling instantly into a deep sleep. The kidneys say, “Ope! There’s the signal!” and they empty. Parents, doctors have a pill that will help your child slow down in the evenings so that kidneys will get the message before he goes to bed. It’s a mild antidepressant. I cannot remember the name; I just called it my “magic pill” because it allowed me to go to sleepovers! It took about six months, but it worked.

 

    When should I begin prepping my teen for college entrance exams?

 

   This is a tricky one because the ACT and SAT have been changing quite a bit lately. For years and years, they were the standard. They became too easy to master, though, because of the plethora of material for studying.  Colleges got false reads on intelligence (a.k.a. kids who could study and pass the test, but who couldn’t think their way out of a box), and schools howled for the curriculum tested to match the curriculum taught. Because some universities have waived the need for the testing now, the SAT and ACT have become one of those “institutions” that is dying. In an act of desperation, they are matching tests to the Common Core (ugh!) and are giving the highly paid for “secrets to excelling on the test” away for free to all.  So… your child could prepare for one type, and it could totally change. I’d say, concentrate  on teaching them concepts and to think.

 

     When should my teen beginning pursuing admission to a college?

 

     My sophomores all must have a college entrance exam on file with us by the end of the sophomore year. This lets the teen know which schools are likely to accept him and which are out of the question. By the end of the junior year, my students must have narrowed the list of desired schools to three, which they should visit by the end of the summer. I very strongly encourage my seniors to seek early admission to the college of choice. Early admission (application submission in October; acceptance attained by December) means opportunities for merit-based scholarships, opportunities for earlier enrollment in classes, and the chance to just enjoy the last half of the senior year.

   Scholarship opportunities become available as early as the sophomore year of high school. Taking the PSAT/NMSQT should begin in 9th grade. That way, the teen has two years to

practice before “the money” year: the year they might become a National Merit Finalist, which inherently comes with scholarship opportunities.

 

   When should I let my child have a cell phone?

 

   This is somewhat based upon your child’s maturity and responsibility. I would say that middle and high schoolers need to be able to contact parents when on a school activity trip. The teen and I might need comms, as well. There’s a huge difference, though, between a phone and an entertainment center! I wish I could afford some of the phones my students have!

    The big thing to remember is that your teen will do or receive things on the phone that you will not like. You, as the parent, should be vigilant about accountability. Some parents do this by setting up the child’s email so that they can see all the child does. Others check the phone’s history at the end of each day. Do not feel guilty for monitoring use, but also do it in a way that lets your teen know his rights are respected.

 

    When should I begin looking for a different school for my child?

 

    Believe it or not, I have this conversation often. Our school is not for everyone. As the years progress, the difficulty rises exponentially. Some kids suffer because they want to stay with their friends, but the school is just too tough. Chances are, we will have already been talking to you. Keeping a kid here when it’s actually too tough can really do some damage. Notice I say “actually.” If your child is just lazy, we will work with you to help “motivate” him or her. But, if nothing is working, we will begin to encourage you to consider another school. Over the years, there have been kids who were doing poorly at our school because it was too hard, and then have become very successful at a public school. All the good habits were ingrained, and the student was able to proceed successfully. There are plenty of reasons to like our school, but don’t forget that it is a niche school, specifically aimed at educating gifted and talented kids.

 

   These are the most common questions I get. Feel free to ask if you have something I did not address.

-        Michelle

When I started thinking about the topic, “when to start…” I was curious about what people search in regard to this phrase. I opened an incognito window in chrome, so as not to have my search history influence this experience, and typed in, “when to start…” The results were all over the place. Everything from, “when to start brushing your baby’s teeth,” to “when to start dating,” to, “when to start applying for colleges.”

What I learned from this is that people have a lot of questions about timing. There are a lot of pressures about timelines and when to begin planning for big life events. Rather than trying to conquer the overall question of timing and preparation, I’m going to tackle planning for college.

 

When to start visiting colleges:

I remember going to visit the University of Texas at Austin with my mom the summer before my sophomore year in high school. Although I was admittedly young, this trip was really important and formative for me. It helped motivate me towards the goal of attending a good college after high school. Over the next three years, my plans for college drastically evolved, but I still credit this trip for focusing my high school career and motivating me to strive for success.

 

When to start applying for colleges:

I encourage you to do early applications to a few different schools. This allows you adequate planning time. I sent in my applications in the fall of my senior year of high school. I received my acceptance package from DePaul two days before Christmas that year. This gave me six months to plan for my move, think about dorms and roommates, and research the university and city to which I would be moving. Aside from practical planning, this gave a lot of time for scholarships to come through and for my family to plan on loans and payment plans to cover the remaining tuition. It was really helpful to have ¾ of a year to plan for these things.

 

When to start declaring a major:

This one has more of a gray area in my opinion. I went into college with the major that I graduated with. Many of my friends were undeclared or chose a general concentration and specified later. I think that there were benefits to both, but I will say I graduated faster than others who waited to declare because I didn’t take extra classes. Generally, I believe it is alright to take general education classes and a few specific classes as electives for your freshman year, with the intention of declaring a major going into sophomore year. Waiting beyond this point can mess up your credits and delay your graduation date. That being said, do your research before going into college so that you have a general idea of what you are pursuing.

Overall, it’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to plan ahead. It’s not hard to book tours of colleges in your area. Even if you have to travel, it’s worth it to start thinking about the future now. This will position you to have a strong, more thoughtful application that could have further effects on scholarships and acceptance. It never hurts to think about the future; when to start is today.

-        Bria

Shaming

            Shaming seems to be something that is making big news on the Internet social sites.  I must admit that I am not fully sure of this new social media “no-no,” but I will try to address this subject from a senior citizen’s point of view.  When my daughter first discussed this topic with me, we were talking about situations in which children lay on the guilt towards their parents in order to get their own desires met.

            As we have mentioned so many times in previous blogs, no one seems to want to bear the responsibility for something going wrong.  Yet, my mother used to say, “It takes two to make a fight.” And, accordingly, both of us siblings were punished.  Today, when someone is caught in an entanglement, the cry goes out, “But he started it!”  Yes, we tried that excuse when we were young, too.  No, it didn’t work then either!

            It seems today that groups gather together to apply pressure.  I guess that is especially noticeable in our political arena.  As my husband observed today, “I get tired of hearing the cry that this group of people or that group of people are always winning and then controlling the legislature.  People should realize that if they don’t care enough about an issue to get out and vote, those who do care will rally the troops and vote in their representative.”   Yet, people will continue to gripe and not take much positive action to stop such a trend.

            I believe in using a good dose of “mother’s guilt” when children do not appreciate the many wonderful blessings they have.  Instead of constantly bemoaning the fact their parents don’t let them have the toys they simply “must have,” I remind them of the great expense their family faces in just providing the needs of their children.  Most of my students haven’t got a clue about house payments, utility bills, medical expenses, clothing costs, etc.  Many times it is a good wake up call.  Still, I have those who counter the tablespoon of guilt with, “Yeah, but my dad gets to buy what he wants!”

            I don’t have the answers to this ongoing conflict, but I feel I’ve addressed it before in a blog about manipulation.  However, I would like to introduce readers to a wonderful little ditty from the late Zig Zigler.  It does send a message about responsibility, or the lack thereof, and thus shame on the guilty parties.

            “There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody, when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.”         

-        Kay

Body-shaming, fat-shaming, job-shaming, mom-shaming, slut-shaming, dog shaming. These are some of the most common results when you search shaming on Google. Excluding the funny Internet practice of dog shaming (look it up if you do not know what I am talking about), these are all horrible things. Shaming in any context should not be allowed, but somehow the idea of shaming has become so deeply ingrained in the narrative of our media that it is a common place word in many major headlines. This harmful concept constantly bombards readers, normalizing the idea of shaming someone for the way they act, dress, look, etc.

Your children are faced with shaming daily, either personally or as an audience to existing shaming of others. The problem here is oversaturation. At some point, it was easier to morally distinguish right and wrong with shaming and bullying, but now our public is so inundated with this kind of negative media, that it blurs the lines of right and wrong. A lot of Internet shaming is done under the veil of comedy. This makes things blurry for children in particular who don’t innately understand dark comedy and insult comedy and the fine line between a joke and hurtful criticism.

Inversely, children have a hard time when this shaming is turned towards them. Whether it be “comedic” shaming or just hateful criticism, children are not taught how to process and respond appropriately to shaming. In turn, this causes two reactions. Either they retaliate with that same hate that they were shown, or they internalize the criticism and let it damage their self esteems. Neither are healthy, responsible, or productive decisions.

This kind of negativity manifests itself on social media with things such as the “don’t judge me challenge,” on Tik Tok (formerly music.ly), a social media platform with a very young population.

In this challenge, kids start out their video with pimples drawn on their face, unibrows, glasses, messy hair, etc. Halfway through the video, they put their hand over the camera, and when they pull their hand away, they are suddenly all done up with a full-face makeup, nice clothes, nice hair, etc. This kind of content might be initially regarded as comedic content, but there are kids that actually look like the “before” versions, and they are seeing people constantly Cosplay “ugly” by dressing up like them. Additionally, there were many versions of this challenge that used different people for the before and after shot, which reinforces the idea that the first person is less attractive than the second.

This behavior stems from the normalization of shaming in our culture. Our kids think it is funny and acceptable to make fun of people for the way they look. This is a direct reflection on the society in which they were brought up. We have to change and be better and teach our children to treat each other kindly. Shaming is unacceptable and not appropriate, and it needs to be treated as such. When shaming becomes less mainstream, I believe we will see less bullying and low self-esteem in our youth.

-        Bria

      There are a lot of bad habits to pick up from the Internet, but one of the worst is shaming.  If you look up “shaming” on the Internet, you will find a plethora of stories of lives completely ruined by a public shaming.  Now, I’m not against a little “mom guilting;” in fact, I think kids ought to know why they ought to be ashamed of themselves when misbehaving.  I stop short, though, at publishing their mistake for the whole world to join me in making them feel bad!

      As a principal, I write many emails to parents to let them know of an infraction committed by their child or grades slipping or the such.  Teachers have been griping about the change in how parents handle this for over two decades now.  When I was a kid, if my parents received a call from the teacher or principal, I got a second punishment at home.  The shifted reaction has been one of putting the blame on the teacher, and we’ve not been too fond of that.  Recently, though, I have had many parents who blame themselves. 

      “It’s my fault.  I’ve just got her involved in too much.”

      “It’s not his fault.  It’s mine.  I never was any good at that in school either.”

      “My child is just so anxious, and I haven’t had time to get him to a doctor to see what’s wrong.”

       Okay, I’m all for not overextending your child or for getting him medical help if needed, but much of the time I hear these things, I KNOW that the child is not overextended or hereditarily bad at a subject or anxious.  Parents, before you let your child put a heaping of “mom guilt” on your head, do some investigating.  I have told my parents before not to argue with their gifted children.  They will have you apologizing for making the birthing process so uncomfortable… for them!  Well, don’t let them blame you for their troubles, either.  Gifted kids know how to get the focus off of them and on to you.  We used to call this “false guilt,” or feeling guilty for something that is totally not your fault.  When your child is making unwise decisions, and he starts to tell you all the reasons it’s your fault, put the responsibility squarely back on his shoulders.  After the admonishment, give him some guidance as to how to avoid this situation again, and even offer to point out when he is slipping toward it again.  Help your gifted child see that mistakes are made by everyone, and no one is required to be perfect from the get-go.  We just have to own our mistakes and work to fix them.

-        Michelle

Perfectionism

   Perfectionism is probably going to be the downfall of our society.  It won’t be because Americans are inherently perfectionists; it will be because society itself is a perfectionist. Literally anybody can critique a person nowadays thanks to the Internet, and he doesn’t have to even face you to do it.  When did we become such an unforgiving society?

   Gifted people are prone to perfectionism.  As small children, we actively strive for excellence.  We love that “proud parent” look, and we bask in the glory associated with being “first,” “best,” and “winner.”  Then we lose. Wow!  We don’t like that one bit.  As we grow older, we learn to avoid situations in which we might fail.  Where avoidance isn’t possible, we procrastinate… literally putting off the possible losing till later.  Our parents and teachers are unwitting participants in our perfectionism.  They evaluate our efforts, point out our procrastination, and admonish us not to make the same mistakes again.  Add to that the constant critiquing EVERY pre-teen and teen gets via social media, and you have a troubled youth on your hands.

   We expect this from our teens.  The only thing new here is the effect of social media.  What is new to me is how early perfectionism is starting.  My current third grade just about has itself in knots with fear of failure.  I’ve never seen so many elementary students so worried about succeeding.  I have been researching and questioning and trying my hardest to figure out what is going on.  We’re a private school, and one does have to apply and interview to get in.  We do prohibit re-enrollment of students who fail to meet our standards, but we complete an awful lot of intervention before that ever happens.  Have we created an atmosphere in which “perfection” is a requirement for admittance?  I don’t think so.  We encourage students to cut themselves breaks all the time.  We point out to students that “failing” in some things is inevitable, but this is a “safe” place to fail. It’s the trying that matters. 

   Could it be the parents putting the pressure on the kids to excel that causes their perfectionism?  Again, I don’t think so.  I have seen parents who require perfection; their kids maintain a façade of perfectionism at home, all the while leading a double life here.  No, the parents of these students are just as perplexed as I.  All of us want to take the pressure off, and we are bending over backwards to let the kids know that we don’t expect perfection.

    I even went so far as to gather the elementary up for an impromptu assembly at which I shared fourteen inventions we would not have if their inventors had not made a mistake.  I pointed out what their lives would be like without penicillin, potato chips, and chocolate chip cookies – all mistakes. 

    Public shaming has to be the culprit.  But are my third graders experiencing public shaming?  I think so.  I think it’s unintentional.  It comes in the form of nine-year-olds on World of Dance and America’s Got Talent.  Every time we herald someone younger-than-ever accomplishing something not usually required of that age, gifted kids listen.  They see the bar rise higher, and they are overcome with worry that they will not measure up. 

    So, how do we combat literally everyone in the world when it comes to raising our child.  Well, the first step is not to give everyone in the world access to your child.  There are enough parental protections out there right now to keep your child safe on an occasional Internet venture for an assignment or game.  The second is to be the voice in your child’s head.  We must be louder than all the advertisements designed to make a person feel inadequate as is.  We must not let the majority of conversation in our children’s lives be what is read on a social media site.  We must create a safety zone that not only allows our children to bring any issue to us, but actually encourages it.  And third, and I think most important, we must be a compassionate advisor, a cheerleader, and a shoulder to lean on when “trying again” for our kids.  Childhood for them is nothing like it was for us.  My daughter just saw the movie Eighth Grade, and she highly encouraged me to see it.  It’s not aimed at eighth graders; it’s aimed at parents of eighth graders and society as a whole.  She said, “That’s exactly what it’s like for us.”  It’s rated R for language and some of the content, but, compared to what you’re 8th grader sees on social media every day, it’s pretty tame.  I plan to see it.  I want to understand my students better.  Perfectionism unchecked is a path to eating disorders, substance abuse, and possibly even suicide.  I cannot bear the thought of losing even one of my kids. 

-        Michelle                                                                  

(Kay is out of town this weekend.  She will submit next week.)