Tuesday, November 8, 2016
Last year, as Alex struggled with boredom in our local public school, I wrote about the importance of being bored. Whenever my children tell me they are bored and then ask to turn on the TV or computer, I secretly chuckle and usually decline their request. I know that if I get out of earshot and leave the screens black, they will soon dive into creative play. When that play tumbles into the backyard, I am even happier that they had moments of boredom. But when it comes to school, that boredom needs to be monitored, because once it turns into disappointment and anger at school, something needs to be done. In school last year, Alex was beyond bored. He lost all interest in going to school. Among other issues, he was required to sit through the math lessons (his favorite subject) despite scoring perfect scores on all the pretests. In other words, he had to sit through weeks of lessons on math he had mastered, complete endless worksheets in class and at home, and feel his voice was not being heard. Like all bright kids whose needs are not met, he lost faith in the educational system. If I could go back in time, I would have pulled him out of school by Christmas. When we had the opportunity to move him to a private school in April, we should have. He experienced a horrible bullying incident last spring that would have been avoided if we had moved him. But, the incident solidified our decision to send both kids to private school. For months, we had entertained the idea of private school and so we toured a number of them until we found the one that had the right feel. Alex and Izzy only needed one visit to fall in love with this school. The cost of a private school education is a tremendous burden for most families, and one that relatively few would consider taking on. For that reason, we remained on the fence about whether to go down this road. But watching Alex's slow decline last year, I knew we had to find a way to make it work. We applied for a scholarship, reduced our spending by putting projects and vacations on an indefinite hold, and I went back to work full time. So, now we are in November, with several months of school under our belts and the positive change in both kids is astounding. Izzy, who struggled with the craziness of the Common Core math curriculum, is excelling in math and has improved her reading, writing and public speaking skills tremendously. The expectations she has for herself-academically and civilly-have skyrocketed. And as for Alex, simply put, he is happy. Where his old school forced him into a box, his current school has opened the lid and encouraged him to find his voice. Where his old school "required" that he sit through the 2nd grade math curriculum, despite his high math scores, his current school is taking the time to test him, to find the right math level for him to slip into. Their math solution? Have Alex take all the post-tests for all the units, starting with 3rd grade and stopping only when he hits a level where he hasn't shown mastery. He has mastered 3rd grade, is nearly done with 4th grade and will move on to the 5th grade post-tests next week. Last week, he had a vacation day and so came to school with me. To keep him busy, he visited the 6th grade math class and took the 6th grade course pretests. He scored a 75% and an 88% on the course pretests. The next highest score for the entire 6th grade course pretest was a 55%. I can't imagine the thought process of Alex's 2nd grade teacher (last year), forcing him into the 2nd grade math box when he had the ability to show mastery of the 6th grade math curriculum. I don't see the problem as a public school vs. private school mentality, I only see it as an issue of finding the right school. As a public school English teacher, I try to bring Alex's experiences with school into my classroom. I work to challenge the kids who would otherwise sit in the class, bored and angry. It takes a lot of work, since I have 80 kids to worry about, but I see each one as an individual. I work so that my classroom is the right classroom. Finding the right school is hard work, but it is crucial to a child's development. Alex lost last year. Not only can he never get that time back, he is left with terrible memories of bullying, boredom and sadness. I only hope that he can use those experiences as I do, to help shape a positive experience for someone else, now that he has found his place in school.
Monday, August 8, 2016
We held our second annual Run Baby Run Baby Ultra this past Saturday-what an awesome day! We had about 60 runners this year, doubled from last year, raised over $6000 for pediatric brain injury research and had a great time. With about a dozen prizes for runners, fundraisers, youngest runner, and raffle winners, there are chances to win for all. If you missed it this year, join us next year: www.runbabyrunbabyultra.com.
If you have been following this blog, you will realize that I am usually writing about best practices for a child with a brain injury and meeting the needs of a gifted learner. Alex is both, twice gifted. The great difficulty with twice gifted students is that most public schools are not designed to meet the needs of gifted and talented students. Further, some teachers are blinded by a child's disability and do not recognize gifted and talented abilities, even when a parent advocates for his child. Some states have laws to protect gifted students that make it much easier for parents and schools to meet the needs of an above grade level student. Unfortunately, despite cries for change, MA does not. When Alex hit second grade last year, already working on 5th grade math, we met a wall of opposition to meet his gifted needs (on both ends) so fortified, that we eventually decided there was only one option for us, to leave public school. We could not afford to have another missed year. If your child is gifted and his needs are not met, he will suffer. Alex sunk into a depression and completely gave up on school. We tried to embrace boredom, and hoped it might inspire him, and to some degree it did. But it also made him so angry and bitter about going to school every day, that it was ultimately not a positive situation. Boredom, frustration and acting out are common experiences for gifted children who are not being challenged at the height of their zone of optimal development. You may provide your child with challenge out of school, but if he is not getting excited about learning during those 6 hours of the school day, no amount of after school activities can make up for that. Many parents focus on the high school years, believing that elementary school is all about making friends and learning the basics. But it is in elementary school when kids make their minds up about school, whether it is a responsive and worthwhile institution. In our experience, by the end of 1st grade, strong opinions and ideas about self have already taken root. If you find yourself with a child who has lost interest in school because his intellectual needs are not being met, you might consider consulting with professionals. I would suggest starting with some of the gifted and talented magazines that are designed to support parents of gifted students. I recently found TEMPO, the Journal of the Texas Association for the Gifted & Talented. Great read. But there are magazines from gifted associations around the country. Do some research and subscribe. You only have one chance at childhood.
Friday, April 8, 2016
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
In my book reviews years ago, I discussed the scientific studies on movement and the brain. The idea that kids need to move to stimulate the brain has become so accepted in medical and educational circles that it lacks any significant punch these days. It is a common household understanding. I love to see educational environments that are child-centered, where the children work together to research and discover, to question and debate, and mostly, to move their bodies. In my weekly math class, I rely heavily on direction from IXL and SPECTRUM, but in the implementation of these programs, I get the kids to move. For example, after using the pizza pieces from a fractions game to demonstrate fractions, we all pretended to eat the pizza, pass the pizza fractions around, laugh and be silly. They didn't need to sit to do this, they didn't need to be quiet. Simple, I know. But the kids loved it. They wanted more. So, okay, more fractions. We did work in our SPECTRUM workbook, coloring in fractions with bright colors and relating the numbers to our daily lives. And then it was on to the kitchen fraction lesson. You don't need a kitchen to teach fractions, by the way, you just need food. Apples, oranges, bananas, tortillas, sticks of butter to name a few. Cut them up into fractions, eat or use a few, then design what you did on paper. A mini lab. The kids love this kind of hands on stuff, plus they get why we now say things like, Want a half an apple in your lunch today? In my writing class, we have started studying the infamous book report. We are doing this to help them read with purpose. I designed a fun book report questionnaire, which asks the kids to write down the title and author, the setting, plot and what the book means to them. There is space for them to write down important quotes as well. I gave them a large bubble in which to draw their setting. When the kids begin to understand what they are looking for in a book, they then read the book looking for these clues and important details. In our lesson yesterday, we used a simple story from Little Mermaid. The setting was so much fun to talk about, we decided to act it out, swimming all over the house, taking on different roles and using voices of our favorite characters. The kids loved it. Then they returned to add more details to their setting. Next week, when I ask them for the setting of their books, I know they will jump right in with details. They moved to understand the meaning and importance of setting. That movement is so intensely connected to the brain, it is hard to imagine teaching it in a static, seated environment. Seat work, a term I learned recently from an Atlantic article on preschool education, should play a very minor role in an elementary school education. So, get your kids moving. If they have homework, let them move before they sit down to tackle it. If you are introducing a new concept, figure out ways to allow your kids to act it out. Get those amazing brains moving-moving is crucial to learning.
The discussion around math tools is a hot topic for parents these days. There are so many programs out there and the quality of the math program in schools can vary widely. So, are there some tools that are fail proof, relatively easy to administer and challenging to your kids? Our answer is yes. We hope you will agree. Whether your child needs extra support because he is not meeting his grade level, exceeding his grade level, or just interested in math, these three tools are all you really need. 1). IXL.COM Although the program gives you a few free problems daily, you have to pay for this one. And believe me, it's worth it. Based on your state standards, the program offers fun, challenging, colorful exercises for each grade level. You, the parent, get a weekly update on how your child is progressing. If your child finished one grade level, you can move on to the next. An excellent program to supplement your school's program (and actually, a lot of schools are now using IXL in the classroom-hurray!) and keep your child engaged in the summer. For an additional cost, you can add their language arts, science and social studies programs too. My kids love those. 2) As you move into more challenging math work, and find you need a little lesson yourself to help guide your child, turn to KHANACADEMY.ORG. It's awesome! That's really all that needs to be said. It's free and offers AMAZING video to demonstrate everything from simple addition to calculating slope. 3) And finally, of all the workbooks out there, I love the SPECTRUM series. We use them for math, reading, writing, science and geography. But the list goes on and on. Again, this program is based on standards, so you know if your child has completed a certain grade level, he is ready to move on to the next one. At less than $10/book on Amazon, you really can't go wrong. My kids typically do a few lessons in the mooring after breakfast, when their minds are fresh and they are looking for something to do before school. I put the pile of books on our kitchen table and they choose what they like. Child-centered learning at home can do wonders to support your child at her specific academic level.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
We have big news at The Baby Alex Foundation! In mid February, we will be hosting a ribbon cutting of the first Alex's Library at the Farmington, CT NICU (extension of CT Children's Medical Center). This has been a 2+ year project, that began with a vision to provide a peaceful and inspiring place for families whose infants were in the neonatal intensive care unit. We spent 5+ month in the NICU when Alex was born. We tried to find success stories for children like Alex, who suffered a grade IV and grade III brain bleed. We really could not find any, and if you look to the March of Dimes for inspiration, you might be disappointed-we were. So, we designed a library, filled with inspirational books, right there inside the NICU. Parents don't need to go searching. They don't need the internet. They only need to walk a few steps and enter a soothing space where books on a variety of topics are there at their fingertips to inspire them to hold on, keep hope alive, and remember that this time in their lives is only temporary. Our grant provided copies of Alex's book, Alex's Start to Life (now in color) as a free handout to all. We had help in this project and are forever grateful to the work done by the runners at Team Making A Difference who ran the Hartford Marathon to raise nearly $10,000 to make this library possible. And a super contribution from Tecton Architects and KBE Building Corporation. It is amazing what can be done by people who dream big. Thanks to all! This ribbon cutting is a private ceremony, due to the sensitivity of its location inside the very busy NICU. We will have pictures up on our website for anyone who is interested. If you live in an area with a NICU that would be interested in adding an Alex's Library, please reach out to us to begin an inquiry process. For more info, see our website: www.babyalexfoundation.com.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
Are you kids bored? That's good. Don't give them a screen to occupy their time. Give them the gift of boredom. Whether they are bored in their classrooms, at home or when they visit their grandparents, embrace it. There was a time when I tried to protect my children from boredom, but this year, we are using boredom as a lesson in life and an opportunity to grow. Technology has put an end to periods of inactivity in our kids' lives, which means that much of the creative thoughts that go through a child's mind during periods of quiet and inactivity, have disappeared. Those brilliant, Aha moments or I've got it! moments will become dinosaurs if we put a screen in front of our children who complain, I'm bored. Alex complains of boredom a lot, especially in terms of school. He is gifted in many ways, and gifted children find the classroom extremely boring because of its rigidity. With the focus on test scores in public schools and the resulting lack of creative teaching in so many classrooms, your child may feel the same. But rather than run out the door with your child, talk to him or her about using boredom. If you need inspiration, look to some of the greatest minds on earth. Einstein, for example, was bored in school. In fact, he was kicked out because he asked too many questions and upset his teacher who didn't know the answers. But during those long periods of boredom in school, he thought. Alex has a tendency to drift off into deep thought. A good teacher will realize he is bored. She might have the insight to ask him what he is pondering. If she did, she would find some exceptional discoveries. At breakfast the other day, he was deep in thought. I asked him what was on his mind. He said he was trying to devise an instrument that could do a blood test by simply reading blood from outside the skin. In other words, an instrument that would prevent the need for a painful needle and blood draw. He was inspired by a recent article we read in the New Yorker about $1 paper microscopes that are changing science, particularly in the third world. And he was inspired because he needs to have his blood drawn again this month, a painful and dreaded trip to the doctor. So, let your kids be bored. Explain to them how they might embrace that time. Ask them what they are dreaming up when they are drifting off in thought. Don't be surprised if they lose interest in screens.