Book Review: Educating Your Gifted Child

I never thought I’d consider homeschooling until I began to experience firsthand the inadequacies of schools in dealing with gifted children. The past year the thought that homeschooling may be a viable option has been looming ever larger in my mind.

Reading Celi Trépanier’s new book, Educating Your Gifted Child: How One Public School Teacher Embraced Homeschooling, was almost enough to convince me to give it a go. Almost. Perhaps I should say – not yet – because I can see a possible future for my child that may include homeschooling.

Educating Your Gifted Child

Educating Your Gifted Child by Celi Trépanier

Celi’s book is refreshing but not in the traditional way of learning about something brand new, but in the way that you’ve finally found someone who so thoroughly ‘gets’ what you’ve been going through. Someone who’s been there, done that. Because she has. She has felt my pain and probably yours.

Too often when parents talk about their gifted children they get labeled as ‘that parent’ who thinks they know better than all the professional educators. And if ‘that parent’ chooses to homeschool because the traditional schools can’t challenge their kids – let the eye-rolling begin.

That label certainly doesn’t apply to Celi as her background IS education. She has a B.S. from Loyola University and a M.Ed. from the University of Louisiana. She has taught in Louisiana, Ontario, and Alabama, in public schools, private schools, and homeschool co-ops.

She’s not just some mom who thought she could do better than traditional schools. She had an insider’s perspective and was a believer in the system and eventually came to realize the system was failing her child.

In her book, Celi details her journey from trusting the traditional school setting, to advocating (unsuccessfully) for appropriate accommodations, to finally taking personal control over her child’s education on a fundamental level.

Don’t worry, she makes clear that having an educational background is NOT a pre-requisite for homeschooling.

This isn’t a how-to-homeschool book. This is a why-you-should-consider-homeschool book.

Celi reminds us that we must question, that we have a right and an obligation to question, if our children are being permitted and encouraged to learn every school day. She reminds us that it’s okay to seek and create the learning environment that is best for our own child.

No single school can meet the educational needs of every gifted child within it’s walls, so choosing the best school for your child is a personal undertaking, as the one-size-fits-all approach does not work for gifted students. ~ Celi Trépanier

Raising a gifted child is a lonely road. Family and friends don’t understand the challenges you face and the pressure you feel. So you look to the educators and trust that they understand but too often they simply don’t.

I’d venture to say that most parents of gifted children have had fantasies of liberating their child from the drudgery of the traditional classroom. I know I’ve had them. Celi lets us know that those daydreams can become a reality and the reality of homeschooling sounds pretty darn good.

You can learn more about Celi and her advocacy for gifted education by reading her book, which I highly recommend, and on her fabulous blog Crushing Tall Poppies. She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I know she’d like to here from you.

Are you a homeschooler? How did you come to the decision that it was right for your family?

Thinking of Grade Acceleration? 8 Things to Consider

One Tool to Provide Academic Challenge

Grade acceleration. Skipping a grade. Double Promotion. They all mean the same thing – accelerated learning for your child. When you have gifted student the thought of moving them up a grade inevitably crosses your mind.Grade Acceleration

It was an article in the New York Times by Jessica Lahey (who I’ve come to have great respect for) against grade acceleration that prompted me to start blogging. At the time I was very sensitive about the decision and needed to well, vent.

I didn’t really know anyone who could give me a clues on what to expect or what I should look out for. I hope you can benefit from our experiences.

My daughter went from kindergarten directly to 2nd grade. It was the best decision at the time and I stand by it.

However, it wasn’t the first choice. First choice would be for her to be in a classroom with intellectual peers who were the same age. She did attend, and still does, a one day a week pull-out gifted program but it wasn’t, and still isn’t, enough. So we went with grade acceleration.

  1. Just because you think your child should be grade skipped doesn’t necessarily make it so. Yep, I said it. The decision shouldn’t be subjective and it doesn’t need to be. The Iowa Acceleration Scale: A Guide for Whole-Grade Acceleration K-8 is an invaluable tool for evaluating students. If your school isn’t using it, they should be. The scale takes into consideration everything from IQ scores to maturity levels to height. Fair warning, it also asks if the child is in favor of the move. If the student isn’t, the grade skip won’t be successful. Every topic is weighted and it includes the research as to why – or why not – grade acceleration is right for your student. This was used for my daughter’s grade acceleration and I can’t recommend it enough.
  2. Kids aren’t always nice. You probably already know this but it’s still a shock to the system. The kids in her new class knew she wasn’t supposed to be in 2nd grade and let her know she wasn’t welcome. One boy told her only stupid people didn’t get to go to 1st grade. Bless his heart. Needless to say there was no kiddie welcome wagon but she did make friends. Give it some time.
  3. The right teacher can make the difference in success. You probably already know this, too. Skipping a grade can put your child in a potentially hostile situation (see above). Luckily, our daughter had already been going to her new teacher as a kindergartener for a 2nd grade reading group so the transition was easier than it might have been. The teacher helped smooth the social side of things by having her assigned as an ambassador to help new kids to the school learn the ropes. Giving her additional responsibilities helped her feel as though she really did belong in the classroom.
  4. Gaps in knowledge. The administrators and teachers toss this term around as a reason not to grade accelerate. They point out that the student won’t know everything they’re supposed to because of the missed classroom time and they’ll automatically be behind the rest of the class. The only gap the 2nd grade teacher found in my daughter’s knowledge was the edit/revision process in writing. She managed to close that gap with a three-minute discussion. Granted, it might differ depending on which grade is bypassed but I don’t think this is a significant factor in the decision making because most teachers underestimate how quickly gifted students acquire and master concepts.
  5. They aren’t the smartest kid in class anymore. It could happen. More than likely there will be new challenges and they may not be at the top of the class. Particularly true if you pursue radical acceleration (skipping more than one grade level) or radical subject acceleration. How will this affect their self-esteem? Hopefully their sense of worth isn’t tied to grades. If it is, work on changing that. It’s not a good place for any child to be.
  6. They are the smartest kid in the class. Yeah, that happens with these kids. Grade acceleration won’t fix everything. That can be disappointing because it’s usually a tough battle just to get the accommodation. You hope that it’ll be smooth sailing from then on. But if your child is working several years ahead moving up one grade isn’t a magic bullet. It’s part of the solution – not THE solution. Think of it as one tool, out of many, that you and the school can use in building your child’s learning plan.
  7. Maturity matters. Of course you want to set your child up for success, not failure. If they don’t have the maturity to accept challenges, make new friends, and maybe struggle with unfamiliar material then you need to think long and hard if grade acceleration is the right step to take at this time. Perhaps focusing on subject acceleration would be a better fit. Take each year, or each semester, as they come.
  8. What’s your end-game plan? Grade acceleration in elementary school can seem like a no-brainer. It did to us. And just like that we lost a year. My daughter is on track to graduate high-school at least one year early. If she does curriculum compacting or another grade skip that could be even earlier. Will she be ready for college at such a young age? Maybe, maybe not. Will I be ready to let her go? Maybe, maybe not. Will her dad? Definitely not. There are alternatives to early graduation if that’s not the right path for your child. Bottom line, you do need to give that long view some thought.

Grade acceleration has worked for my daughter and she’s nearing the end of 5th grade. I’ll keep you updated.

What’s been your experience, positive or negative, with grade acceleration?

Spelling Bee Lessons

The school spelling bee was yesterday. It was epic. I should’ve worn stronger antiperspirant.

Spelling beeWe’ve not had good luck with school spelling bees. The first was in 2nd grade but she was young having skipped 1st grade. She didn’t really get that there are no second chances in spelling competitions. Spell it wrong and you’re gone. HORIZONTAL did her in.

It was one tough lesson.

The next spelling bee didn’t come until 4th grade at the new school she’d started just a few weeks prior. By this time she knew the rules but though she’d win – no problem. She rushed and got the word wrong. We think it was CATERPILLAR that made her stumble but can’t remember for sure.

Another tough lesson.

Which brings us to today. She’d already won her class spelling bee and the school competition determines if she goes on to the regional bee.

She studied but I wouldn’t say she studied diligently. What she did work on was slowing down. Making sure she hears the word correctly, visualizing it and carefully and deliberately spelling it aloud.

Considering her history, she just didn’t want to go out in the first round.

And then she did.

The principal called the word – GRADE – without the benefit of a microphone. Not sure why because it was right next to him. He needed it as you can imagine in a gymnasium full of wiggly little kids.

She heard the word (so she thought) and even asked him to repeat it so she could be sure (so she thought).

And then she spelled – RAID – and she was out.

And my heart broke And my poor sweet girl, who could’ve spelled that word way back in preschool, had bombed yet another spelling bee. As she pushed her seat back I could see the chin quiver. You know how that happens right before you cry? It was rough.

She managed to hold it together until the end of that round and then there was a February miracle. One of the teachers, not her own teacher who was actually on the judge’s panel, but another teacher contested her elimination because she hadn’t correctly heard the word because the principal didn’t use the microphone. Thankfully, all the powers that be agreed and she rejoined the spelling bee.

And the principal started using the microphone.

One of the best parts for me as a mom was hearing the school cheer for her when she rejoined the competition. Even her fellow students knew she got a raw deal.

And then she won.

I think my husband may have let out a whoop. He’s been saving up from all those never played basketball and soccer games, the dance recitals that never were and the gymnastics meets that never will be. He wanted to cheer for his kid. One of the sweetest things I’ve ever witnessed.

Yes, I’m proud of her for winning the spelling bee. Not because spelled the words correctly (finally!) but because she learned from her past mistakes. She didn’t let the first-round snafu rattle her confidence. She showed grit.

She won that spelling bee like a boss.

But more than feeling prideful I’m feeling happy. It’s not often that she’s recognized for her accomplishments. You can’t really run around showing everyone your straight A report card or IQ score – unless you really don’t want to have any friends.

Winning the spelling bee is giving her a moment of glory and she deserves it.

What are your experiences with academic competitions or spelling bees? Share in the comments or on Facebook.