education

Graduation

I can tell from the photos on Facebook that high school graduation happened last night. My son’s peers, the kids he grew up with, smile at me from under square shaped hats while wearing shiny gowns. I’ve wondered how I would feel when this happened. I wondered if it would hurt. Dropping out was a success for my son. Passing the GED was a success. It was the way we needed to take control of his path, and reduce the pressure that was crushing all of us. The decision was right, but it was also a permanent marker of the differences of my son. When we kept him with his grouped peers, those differences were less visible. Or maybe I was more able to fool myself.

Looking at the graduation photos doesn’t hurt in the ways I thought it might. There is some hurt, but it is mixed in with a half dozen other emotions. I’m happy for my friends and their children, for my son’s friends. They are rejoicing and they should be. I wonder if they recognize that the diploma really is an achievement. I know that when I graduated from high school it felt like a participation certificate. Somehow I hadn’t internalized the fact that there are more ways to not get a diploma than there are to get one. I see this far more clearly after I helped my child choose not to get a high school diploma. I still feel guilt about that, a creeping fear that if I’d been better at parenting then my son could have stayed grouped with his friends. So that hurts when I look at the graduation photos.

All the emotions are stronger because earlier this week I was quite forcibly reminded that my son’s path to self-sufficient adulthood is going to be non-standard. While my friends are launching their children, or letting go while the kids fly free, I’m staring down at least three more years of long slow learning. Much of that learning will be in the shape of “Okay try it your way.” When everything in me screams that the way won’t work. Of course, having a high school diploma wouldn’t have changed how the next three years are going to go. All it would have done would be to add massive pressure and delay some of the necessary learning. It was the right choice. I just wish I could stop arguing with myself about it in my head.

Over time I win the arguments, achieve an internal peace on the matter. Until I see the graduation photos. I’m glad people post the photos. It is right that they celebrate their milestones. I’m glad that all the photos have flocks of comments “Wow, she’s so grown up!” “Congratulations!” “I can’t believe he’ll be headed for college.” The comments are evidence of the networks of people who collaborated over the years in helping this child become an adult. Facebook allows that network to participate. I am part of that network. I click Like and perhaps add a comment of my own. Then I move my mouse and click “hide this post.” No need for me to face my emotions over and over as new comments keep floating the image back to the top of my news feed.

In a few days or a week I’ll have found quiet in my head again. I’ll be able to feel (as well as know) that everyone has their own path and that all journeys are valid. We’ve had triumph already and more triumphs are coming, even if they don’t look much like triumph from the outside.

Late Night Thoughts on Parenting

It is late and instead of being asleep I am noodling around on the internet. I’m looking at articles talking about how helicopter parents need to back off, and lists of ways in which incoming freshman are not ready for college because their parents hovered too much. Then I think about parents who get prosecuted for letting their kids walk to the park, and about how my kid’s schools contact me every time one of my kids has an F. Or if my kids are marked absent for any of their classes. Or if my kid misses a flex session where they are supposed to make up work. The messages urge me to talk to my child about their choices. The unspoken message is clear: It is the parent’s job to make sure that their kids succeed. So parents get caught in this system that pushes them to hover, and then complains later because they hovered.

I’m thinking about all of this because, with one of my kids, we’re out in the weeds. There may be a path here, but it is hard to see and maybe it will only exist after we’ve trampled our way through to create it. I’m doing my best to step back, let him struggle, let him fail, let him learn. On the other hand I’m also doing what I can to make sure the path isn’t impossible, to help him keep moving, to make sure that the obstacles are surmountable with his current allotment of resources. At times it feels like the worst of both worlds. I have to explain to others why I’m letting him take a potentially failure laden path, and I’m having to explain why I step in and intervene in ways that look like I’m the one keeping him mired in childish dependence. I’m wending the best parenting path I can figure out, and I’m usually convinced that I’m getting it all wrong.

That “convinced I’m getting it all wrong” is a normal parenting experience. This is one of the reasons that society gets so focused on touchstones and check points. Semester grade reports and end-of-year testing are used as a way to know if the kid’s education is on track. High School graduation is a huge measure of success. Other touchstones are getting a job, getting a driver’s license, earning an award, college admission, picking a major, getting married, getting a job. Any success that the child has can qualify. When kids hit the checkpoints it is a small reassurance that maybe the parents aren’t completely failing. I read this behind many facebook statuses “Johnny won the spelling bee! (maybe I’m not completely failing at this parenting gig.)” Parents aren’t the only ones watching, grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, neighbors, they all take note and help to celebrate. Milestones let everyone relax because the kid appears to be on track.

“Appears,” note that word carefully, because sometimes the internal experience of the child does not match the external success. Sometimes a checkpoint reached is more a measure of parental management than child growth. This is why helicopter parenting is scolded, because child growth should be the goal, not the checkpoints. Eventually the missing growth is exposed when the child is not prepared. Conversely, sometimes a checkpoint missed can also indicate growth rather than failure. Sometimes the strongest thing an almost-adult can do is to head out into the weeds because the standard path isn’t working. But a missed checkpoint looks like a failure. It makes everyone anxious and uncomfortable, because there is no reassurance that all will be well. then there is enormous pressure to get the kid “back on track.” People like the comfortable answers, the solid and stable answers. They like to know which college and what major. They want the major to be one that they can picture leading to steady employment. They try to steer artists away from art majors. They try to push college as the sure path.

There is no sure path. All of the paths are made of struggle, failure, getting up again, and moving on. Parents may manage their kids into college, but then the new adults have to do the growing they missed out on before. Sometimes people are exactly on track for a very long time, until life takes an unexpected left turn. Then they have to figure out how to find a new path for themselves. All of us will, eventually, have to venture out when the way ahead is not clear.

So perhaps I should use this as reassurance, that in “allowing” my kid’s education to veer away from standard, I’m letting him grow in a way that most people don’t until much later, even while he is not growing in some of the ways that his peers are growing right now. Maybe I’m succeeding and failing all at once. And maybe that is just fine.

Special Needs Scavenger Hunt

I’ve spent the last eighteen years participating in an educational scavenger hunt and I’ve only just now recognized that was what I was dealing with. By age three it was obvious that Link was a special needs kid. It was also obvious that he was friendly, happy, loving, and smart. With the first diagnosis of language delay, I began seeking for things that would help him. I made up games, bought games, and worked with Link regularly. All along the way we had teachers, psychologists, and administrators who were very helpful to us. They gave me pieces I needed and helped us find our way forward. Yet we still spent a lot of time stumbling around because for all the help we did get, there was other help that we didn’t get because we didn’t know the right keywords to unlock those options.

A year ago depression loomed large in Link. He was desperately lonely and overwhelmed with trying to manage a full load at public high school. It seemed like we were constantly readjusting his schedule, dropping classes, switching to different ones. We were trying to find a balance, a way that he could do homework before he left the school grounds so that home time could be free of school stress. When I finally was able to identify depression as the problem, I called for a meeting with his school counsellor. It was like the word “depression” was a key that opened up a cupboard in her brain. “We could put him in home health.” She said. Then she described to me a mode of schooling which was something I’d been trying to describe for at least two years. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to help me before, but until I said “depression” she didn’t make the connection I needed.

I know a lot of parents shy away from seeking diagnosis for their special needs kids. I’ve done it myself. There are so many fears attached to diagnosis and the worry that the child will be labelled or pigeonholed. That has not been my experience. Instead I’ve found that a diagnosis is a passcode that opens up options. It is a lever which pries open pathways. I thought that because everyone was so willing to help, that I was getting all the help I needed. But that became less and less true the further along we got in Link’s education. At the high school level, staff is compartmentalized and specialized. There are lots of options, but it falls to the parents to seek out the options and ask for them. Parents have to be advocates. This requires lots of work, and it is exhausting.

I really recognized the scavenger hunt when Link was diagnosed as having autism one week before his eighteenth birthday. The diagnosing doctor handed me a folder with the phone number of a parent advocate and information sheets on three different transitional programs which might help Link. At that moment I thought how naming depression had led me to scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist had given me information about autism advocacy groups and had suggested that getting a definitive diagnosis regarding autism was probably worth the time and expense. He also referred me to NAMI, who runs education and support for mental illness. I went to a support group for the families of those with mental health issues and they suggested that I sign Link up for Voc Rehab and the WIA youth program. So we did that. Multiple places encouraged me to finally plunk down money with a diagnostician and say “Is he autistic? I’ve seen autistic things since he was little, but I’ve also seen distinctly non-autistic things. I’m tired of not being sure.” The answer was that yes, he definitely is, and the diagnostician was frustrated that it hadn’t been identified when Link had been in kindergarten.

This is how it goes. One piece of information leads to another. There is no central source that knows all the options. Or if there is, I somehow always manage to arrive there last instead of first. By the time I was in touch with the parent advocate, I’d already heard of all the options she mentioned. We’ve still got more hunting to do. At this moment we’re waiting on funding from Voc Rehab. I’m waiting for a call back from the school district about their transitional program. I’m also waiting for a call from an adult educational specialist who can explain the GED process to us, because maybe that is the way to go. We’ve accepted the fact that Link will not be graduating with his class, even though his school counsellor would really like for that to happen. Sorting it all is a huge burden in time and emotional energy. It always has been. I constantly feel like I could be doing more and simultaneously I worry that I’m over helping.

Last night I went to a Relief Society dinner. This is the women’s organization of my church. I spent quite a lot of time visiting with a woman in my neighborhood who also has an autistic son. We’ve known each other for years, but me speaking about Link’s recent diagnosis opened up a huge well of shared experiences that we spent an hour talking through. She listened to me and was frustrated on my behalf that I spent so long without access to autism-specific resources that would have made the journey easier. As part of the decorations for the dinner there were anonymous notes on the wall where people wrote about the kind things that others have done for them. One of the notes said that I’d pushed to get her daughter into early intervention. I feel like I should know who wrote that, but I don’t. It could have been one of a hundred different conversations that I’ve had with people about special needs resources.

Last week I got a message on facebook from a friend who had read my post on Finding the Right Therapist. She asked me questions about therapy and children. I gave her what answers I had, but mostly those answers were in the form of additional questions she should ask and some direction for whom she should be asking. Thus I become a stopping point on someone else’s scavenger hunt to figure out how to help a child who is struggling.

I must admit that I spent some time this morning looking back at my past struggle and grieving that no one thought to give me answers that would have helped. I went ahead and let myself feel that grief. I know that I don’t want to spend a lot of time and emotional energy looking back with regret, but I have to feel it before it can pass and I am able move on from it. Moving forward is what is necessary because the scavenger hunt continues. I suspect it will always continue for Link in one way or another as he tries to navigate a neurotypical world while being who he is. Though hopefully we can reach a point where the hunt is not a major feature of daily life, and the hunt is primarily Link’s quest, not mine. He needs to be empowered to find his own solutions.

Some days I can believe that we’ll reach an independent adulthood for him. Other days I can’t. This too is part of the hunt. I’m not just seeking resources, help, and answers. I’m seeking emotional balance, peace, acceptance, and maybe even joy. This year is better than last year. We’ll continue onward to see what comes next.

My Child Through the Eyes of Others

Eleven years ago, when my son Link was in kindergarten, he was in a class so large it required a teacher’s aide. His name was Mr. A. For us Mr. A was a godsend, because he had a special place in his heart for my son who was mostly non-verbal and often lost in his own imagination. Years later we’d diagnose the inattentive type ADHD and Auditory Processing Disorders that made Link so different from his classmates. At the time I was just glad to know that there was someone at school who thought Link was wonderful, who took time to tell me little stories about things that Link did. His teacher was worried about Link, but Mr. A saw Link as amazing and interesting. We were glad when Mr. A became the PE teacher and then was Link’s fifth grade teacher. Fifth grade was a good year. Not all of the elementary years were good.

There were a string of teachers in elementary school. One for each school year. They variously saw my child as stubborn, lazy, genius-level smart, frustrating, and a dozen other things. Sometimes I liked seeing what they saw. Other times I wished they could see what I saw. As the baby-cuteness vanished and teen gawkiness arrived, Link turned more inward. He was less willing to be vulnerable in public. This is true of most teens, but in Link’s case it meant that the vast majority of adults in his life saw him as an enigma. Often they liked him, mostly he fit in and learned exactly like all the other kids, but then he would hit some road block that was huge to him and invisible to everyone else. Then he would shut down, draw inward. The teachers didn’t know how to reach in and he didn’t feel safe enough to reach out. “How can I help Link?” they would ask. I didn’t have good answers to give, because he was a different person for them than for me. He was different at school than he was at home. I made a bridge of myself to make sure that he had a way across the educational gaps.

In junior high we had Mr. H. He was the resource teacher who held Link’s IEP file. He watched out for Link and liked him. Link liked Mr. H too. Sometimes Mr. H got to glimpse who Link was when he felt relaxed and happy. Mr. H wanted very much to help Link, so sometimes he helped too much. He took away opportunities to struggle and learn. We were grateful, because there was far too much struggling, but I also knew that Mr. H saw Link as a person who struggled and needed help.

High school hit hard. Link struggled. There was no Mr. H to see the struggles building and to whisk some of them away before things got too much. There was no Mr. A to remind Link that he’s amazing. I searched for an on-campus mentor, someone that Link could turn to when things felt hard. But all the people moved so fast, they were so busy with so many students. Taking any of their time felt like an imposition. Link felt it too.

Two weeks ago I sat across the desk from a woman at Vocational Rehabilitation. She told me that it is her job to take teens with disabilities and help transition them into independent adulthood. Two days ago Link and I sat in her office while she talked to him about his application. I watched this woman watching my son. She sees him as a bright prospect. She sees a person whose challenges exist, but are fairly easy to surmount. She sees a worthwhile person who has a lot to give to the world. She is prepared to mentor him as he becomes who he wants to be. I want to just hang out in her office and soak up the way she sees him and I want him to soak it up too.

Finding someone who sees Link this way is such a relief. I need to remember to tell other mothers the good things I see in their children.

Finding Someone with Answers

I cried when I got back to the car. I almost didn’t make it there before the crying overtook me. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’d talked to someone who actually has the resources to help my son. It was the first time I met someone who had a road map that could take us from where we are to a future where my son is in control of his own life. Some of the tears were relief. Some were just because hope hurts. It hurts because of how often I’ve had my hopes crumble apart. Crumbled hopes are a natural side effect of trial and error. They become sharp and painful when time feels important and the stakes are emotionally high. I’m steal healing from my prior encounters with hope shards.

The meeting was with Vocational Rehabilitation. It turns out that there is an entire governmental department whose mandate is to help people reach independent adulthood. It turns out that they can start helping at age 14, which would have been nice to know three years ago. We have a slow paperwork process ahead of us, but beyond it is vocational diagnosis, social skills classes, and job coaching. We’ll have a case worker who is focused on helping my son pick a type of job, get the education for it, and apply. This is the guidance that I prayed for last September. Or I hope it is. I’m ready to walk out across the shiny hope, trusting that it won’t turn to shards beneath my feet.

It never occurred to me that vocational rehab could apply to my family. What we deal with is subtle, only noticeable when the troubles accumulate. But the counselor says that auditory processing disorder and ADHD are valid reasons to apply. So we have an application and an intake appointment. I expect the process to be slow and paperwork heavy, but I’m happy to put up with that if it gives my son a map and a guide for becoming an adult.

Educational Off-Roading

There are things I don’t realize I hope for until the moment when I realize they won’t happen. In that moment I am smacked with sadness just as I have to figure out how to readjust my expectations. It was somewhere in November or December that I realized Link’s high school education was going to veer sharply from the standard path. He needed it to. I needed it to. Yet I still had to find that part of myself which had expected “normal” and make it let go.

The new plan is a partial home schooling arrangement. Link does most of his coursework through online packets. Most of the time he does that work in the computer lab at school. Sometimes he does that work at home. He still has a few regular classes on campus. I’m functioning as the enabler, assistant, and aide. I don’t make the curriculum, but I assist him in understanding what he is expected to do. Link loves this new format for school. For the first time he isn’t constantly overwhelmed by noisy classrooms where the coursework goes so slowly that he tunes out and misses important assignment details. He doesn’t get surprised by assignments being due when he didn’t even know he had one. He doesn’t have to fret over knowing he has an assignment, but not being sure how it is supposed to be done. All of the instructions are right there in front of him, patiently waiting for him to absorb them and do the work.

I can see how this arrangement is going to be good for him educationally. We’ve spent years adapting his school work to allow him to keep up in a regular classroom. Now he has to struggle with types of assignments that he’s never done before. But instead of simply failing an assignment and rushing onward because the class can’t stop for him, he will be required to re-do assignments until he has learned the necessary skills to move onward. In the areas where the assignments are easy for him, he doesn’t have to sit around and wait for other students to catch up. For a student like Link, who has some significant learning disabilities that impact some of his educational capabilities, this is brilliant. Especially since Link also has some off-the-chart educational advantages in other areas.

It seems like a perfect plan, but I’ve spent quite a lot of time being afraid that it won’t work. I fear that it will cause as many problems as it solves. In this plan Link has to sit for hours in a room mostly by himself. He has to keep himself working. He’ll have to work longer and harder hours than he has been used to doing. Unlike regular classrooms, those hours will all be focused thinking. Some of the skills he’ll have to learn are how to run the necessary software and format assignments for himself. There won’t be a teacher there tap-dancing and trying to keep him engaged. Instead it is just Link, the material, and Link’s own motivation. It is very possible that Link will not step up. That he won’t work at a rate sufficient to keep him on track for graduation next year.

This is one of those hidden hopes which I have had to acknowledge: I really want my son to graduate with his class. Ultimately the decision to do so is up to Link. I’ve done everything in my power to turn that goal from impossible to possible. Now he has to do the work to make it happen. It has been important for me to see that graduation goal. Even more important is for me to consciously recognize that I may have to sacrifice the graduation goal in service of a much more important goal: preparing Link to be a self-sufficient adult.

This is one of the other potential drawbacks of this plan, social isolation. In order for Link to be ready for adulthood, he needs to interact with other people. He needs to learn how to socialize and make friends in ways that he hasn’t yet learned how to do. He needs to figure out how to communicate his needs and how to listen to the needs of others. Sitting in a room by himself does not help him accomplish any of the important social learning which happens in high school. We’re going to have to figure out other ways to make sure he learns those things. That will mean more work for us as parents. This whole plan is a lot more work for me than the standard educational route. On the other hand, I’d much rather do this work than what I have been doing in the past few months. I was constantly manageing emotional crises as Link began to despair and consider himself a failure in all things. This new educational approach means that for the first time in years, Link can picture himself succeeding. We are both very aware how fortunate we are that the administration at his school is willing and able to support this plan. There are other schools in our school district who would not do the same.

We are now at the end of the first week and we have mixed results. Link loves it, but we’ve been confused by assignments frequently. I had to purchase and install Microsoft Office to make sure we had the same tools at home that Link has at school. We’ve spent lots of time just figuring out how to find necessary information, how to take the tests, how to submit assignments. And at the end of this first week, Link had a moment of despair because he could see that the work was all going too slowly. He thought he would fail at this too. I told him it is too early to tell if this will work. We need to keep going, ironing out the wrinkles, giving this our best try. So we’ll keep rolling along bumping our way over weeds and gullies as we travel parallel to the standard path.

Learning is not Always Fun

I read a blog called Mayaland. I love reading Maya’s blog. Her approach to life and raising kids warms my heart. They have adventures, a pond which sometimes has a turtle, a dog, there used to be goats, and they build houses out of found parts. I truly respect Maya for the life she has built and how she is raising her kids.

Maya unschools her kids. This is a form of homeschooling that doesn’t require structure or formal lessons. Instead it lets the kids follow their own interests. Maya wrote about how it works for them. I’m so glad that it does work for her family, but that post made me cry. In particular, this sentence hit me hard:
“learning is easy when you’re having fun”
Because I do not think that all learning can be fun for all people. I do not believe that a dyslexic child, left to herself, will automatically learn how to read when she is “ready.” There are a host of other challenges and disabilities which act as road blocks to learning because the associated activities can’t be fun. At least not until a certain level of skill is acquired first. Yes it is possible to use future fun as an incentive to get over the hard bits, but for some people learning itself is hard. Worthwhile, rewarding, but hard.

I remember fourteen years ago when my two and a half year old son was tested for developmental delays. That test revealed much, as did the classes and education that came afterward. The classes taught me how to teach him. My son did not know how to communicate beyond a couple dozen words. He did not even know how to point to indicate something he wanted. Toddlers point and insist on the things they want. They demand and reach to communicate. My son didn’t. The teachers gave me a simple activity to teach my son how to point. An M&M candy in a cup with a black dot on it. I put my son’s finger to the dot and gave him the candy. We played the game four times and the lights went on. Suddenly he pointed at all the things he wanted and his world was larger. A simple adult-structured activity gave him a tool that enabled him. Yet that first time, I had to grab his hand and put his finger on the dot. I had to push him to do something that did not come naturally to him.

When the time came to teach my son to read, I used exactly the book that Maya dismisses as a waste of time. I didn’t need a structured reading program for my older child. She took to reading easily, but my son needed someone to break things down for him. He needed smaller steps, different steps. Truthfully, he probably would have been content to grow up without ever learning to read. He’s sixteen now and still does not seek out reading, but the fact that he can read enables his life in hundreds of ways. I suppose it is possible that left to himself, he would have tackled reading in his own time. But back in first, second, third grade I had to choose whether to push or to let him continue not knowing. I chose to push, to create structured activities, to insist that he learn skills that I knew would make his world a larger place. It was learning to read that finally taught him how to speak comprehensibly to the world at large.

My son has an auditory processing disorder. All language was scrambled on the way into his brain. This was a large part of his developmental delays. It was why, even at ten years old, he spoke in sentences that sounded like he’d thrown the words into a cup and pulled them out in random order. Given context and familiarity with him, we could figure out what he meant. But when he started reading sentences, he finally learned that spoken sentences should have a natural rhythm and order. Requiring him to learn to read made it possible for me to talk to my son, and that is truly worthwhile. He is amazing inside his head. He sees things that I don’t. He thinks in ways that are unique to him and now he can share that with me when he couldn’t before. It is possible that his innate brilliance would have eventually led him to read without my structured lessons, but I would have missed out on years of being able to talk to him. I don’t regret those years, nor the educational pushing that gave them to me.

My choices are different than Maya’s, which does not mean that either of us is wrong. It just means that we have diverse challenges, children, resources, and capabilities. We definitely agree that people learn best when the process is enjoyable. I structured my son’s lessons in games as often as I could, because games spoke to him. I just think there is also value in learning that comes in ways that require a person to do something hard that they dislike.

Balancing Current Happiness Against Future Plans

When Kiki was a sophomore in high school she nearly broke for a little bit. Utah is strange in that freshman year is spent at the junior high school. Sophomore year is when the kids start high school and the switch was really rough on Kiki. It was so rough that we found ourselves in a school administrator’s office saying that we wanted Kiki to drop out of one of her classes so that she could get extra sleep. The administrator advised against it. Making up lost school credit is difficult. But we chose the option which allowed Kiki to retain a good life balance for that year even though we knew it could adversely affect her later.

When Kiki was signing up for classes for her junior year, her teacher gave her a slip of paper saying that her next math class should be pre-calculus. Those teacher recommendations were spoken of as edicts in the group scheduling meeting. “You must sign up for the math class that your teacher recommends.” Except that we had spent all of sophomore year struggling with Algebra 2. Kiki only survived it because an adult friend came over and tutored her at least once per week. We could not picture Kiki having a happy year if pre-calculus was part of her life. I was very ready to get off of the math emotional roller coaster. So we put Kiki into accounting. It was not college prep. It would not help with her ACT. But it filled a math credit and was likely to be very useful for her long-term life plans. We chose what was right for her growth at that time instead of for an imagined future.

The moment kids hit high school, it seems like everything is aimed at getting them into college. I know much of this effort is because some kids do not think of the future at all unless someone really gets in their faces. It is good for kids to have an inkling of the big picture, yet it is more important that they make choices based on what they need to develop as knowlegable human beings rather than because it will look good on a college application. The truth is that kids who are living life fully and who are growing and developing will look good on a college application. They may not get into high-pressure schools, but then maybe a high-pressure school is not the best choice for their ongoing growth and learning.

Despite the fact that Kiki had to make up a credit and that she took accounting instead of pre-calculus, Kiki made it into college. She even got a scholarship. The school she entered was only medium competitive to get in, and she is very happy there. It is exactly the school that she needs.

I keep this all in mind as I’m helping Link figure out what classes he should take next year. There are so many factors to weigh, because I want to foster current growth while not closing off future possibilities. Yet I find that I don’t have to carry that “won’t get into college” panic, because I know that we’ll find ways to make things work so that he can keep growing through high school and beyond.

Declaring Indpendence, Patch’s Turn

Tomorrow Patch and his 5th grade classmates are meeting in the library to declare independence from their teacher. She’s been being very unfair to them lately. Deliberately so, since she is teaching them a unit on the American Revolution and wants to have a discussion about how it is sometimes important to declare “no more” and stand up for principles. So tomorrow they’re all signing a declaration of independence and refusing to go to class until the teacher accepts it. Then they’ll all have a Christmas party. I’m sure the teacher will be quite relieved, because she’s been sending emails to parents telling us what she’s doing and how she hopes it will play out. When Gleek went through this experience with the same teacher, they had their revolution on Thursday prior to Christmas break. This crew tolerated things a little bit longer, but then the teacher threatened the Christmas party. So tomorrow will be an exciting day. Then after that we’ll get to have a breather from school, which will be lovely for all of us.

Patch’s High Intensity Schooling

I chose the school program that Patch is in with my eyes open. It is a gifted program, academically accelerated. Since it is an opt-in program the teachers ask a lot of parents in the way of support. In making the choice to put Patch and Gleek into the program two years ago, we weighed a lot of factors and ultimately decided that this was the best possible one. Even though it would sometimes be hard and other times it would be harder. So I choose this. I’m not sorry I did it. I know that it is still the right choice for our family. But I’m still going to complain a little.

Monday an explorer story was due. In order to write this story, Patch had to read a biography about the assigned person, include three try-fail cycles, have at least two characters, one character required to be native, and feature the major geographical landform for which the explorer was famous. Pretty exacting, but doable. Particularly since we’ve known about it all month. Patch was assigned Louis Hennepin, about whom no one has ever written a biography. Hennepin is usually a footnote or paragraph in books about La Salle. So we checked out an encyclopedia of explorers where Hennepin was mentioned more than once. Patch wrote a two page story.

Tomorrow the explorer game is due. This is a board game based on the story. It must have a map, the major landform, give information about the landform, and information about the explorer. Playable by 2-4 kids. Patch likes this sort of assignment, which means I did not have to do nearly as much work as I expected. Mostly I helped make sure all the information things went into the game.

Two projects in a month is fairly standard for this class. Usually there is a lighter one in the first half an a bigger one for the second.

Next week Booko is due. This is bingo filled out with books that Patch has read. Since he enjoys reading, all we have to do is make sure he can get five in a row. This month was Mystery, poetry, 900s book, Beehive award book, and Story collection. Then there is a book report on the genre of the month. These book reports can be anything from shooting a video commercial to bringing in treats based on the book. It isn’t hard, it is just a project we need to remember to get done.

Next week is also Halloween. The kids are requested to wear costumes based on characters from books. This is one way for the teacher to acknowledge that Halloween has become tricky ground for 5th graders and to give them all a socially acceptable excuse to still dress up. But, putting together a costume is an additional project.

Then there are the regular rounds of spelling, math, writing etc. Most of which Patch can accomplish in 20 minutes or less on a daily basis. If Patch pays attention to homework and projects for an hour per day, he can definitely keep up. No problem. In fact he has enough hours to spare that I sometimes feel guilty over the quantity of time he plays video games.

Guess who has to make sure that hour per day happens every single day? Most days I’m fine with that. All I have to do is nudge and Patch goes and gets his work done. The projects require more focused attention. Which is hard to come by on a day like today when I’ve spent all of my energy making sure all of my own projects are being moved forward. Add to that the impending end of term on Friday, which means making sure that Link and Gleek are on track. Which they are, but Link also has about an hour of homework each day and half the time he needs me to participate in some way. I suspect that I’ll be able to back off as the year progresses, but for now, this is how it is.

It is a lot, all of this school support. Yet when I think about what my kids get to do, I know I’ve chosen right. Patch got to make a game. He got to write a story. Later in the year he’ll participate in writing a declaration of independence, write and perform an opera, and a hundred other amazing things. Those things would not happen for him without this high intensity program. The idea of doing such things on our own is attractive, no grades, no pressure, but the truth is I would never get them done. I am far too pressed by projects to voluntarily pick up more. I have as evidence the past few summers when my children did almost nothing academic because I was too busy with business things and with being so very glad to rest a little bit.

So, the abundance of projects is driving me a little crazy this week. Next week will be better. By the week after that, many of the projects will have begun to clear. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it is the wrong choice.