Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Old-Fashioned Mom Blogging: Keeping a 10 Year Old Challenged

The political situation here continues to be depressing and somewhat scary, for a variety of reasons. The end of school year crunch is in full swing. We're packing the kids for a visit to my parents. We're driving them all the way over this year, because there is also my grandparents' 75th(!!!) wedding anniversary to celebrate. And I have a lot of work I need to get done this week, which may be somewhat hampered by the fact that I'll have two extra kids in my house on Friday (school is out tomorrow, and I arranged a child care exchange with another family to get us through to the weekend).

But I'm going to ignore that all for a bit and talk about my kids. They are getting so big: 7 and 10 now. I don't write about them as much because less of their story feels like mine to tell. I miss writing about parenting, but now that the issues we deal with are more individualized, it is harder for me to figure out how to write about it. A lot of babies wake up in the night. A lot of toddlers are picky eaters. There were individual details in our experiences, but the broad experience was widely shared. That is not so true now. I can see it when the old day care crew gets together. We still talk about our kids. We've known each other since our now 10 year olds were babies! But we aren't all commiserating about the same problems anymore. We're all figuring out different issues.

The parenting thing I'm currently thinking about the most is how to make sure Pumpkin gets to stretch her skills at the "right" level, whatever that is. She recently told me she's been bored at school a lot these last couple of months, which is what got me thinking about this. We chose the Spanish immersion school for a lot of reasons: we wanted our kids to learn a second language, it is close to our house, we liked the school... but also because we hoped the language immersion would stave off boredom.

The immersion program bought us through 2nd grade, I think. There was a lot of language to learn, since we are not a Spanish speaking household. Then her 3rd grade teacher was really good at challenging different kids in different ways. Her 4th grade teachers were great, too- it was a team taught classroom, and I really liked some of the things they did. But for whatever reason, she got bored. I don't know if this is due to the increase in class size that comes with 4th grade here, or if the curriculum is less hard-charging in 4th grade, or if it was just when it was going to happen.

She did a lot of independent reading in class because she was finished with her work, and with the extra credit assignments on offer. I don't really mind that. I certainly did a lot of independent reading in school, too. But since she said she was bored, I think that's not enough. So I'm thinking about what we might do.

She really, really wants to stay at her school through 8th grade. I like that idea, too, for the convenience, and for the fact that at the end of 8th grade she should be able to pass the AP Spanish exam and also an exam that assesses biliteracy. These things seem like good things. I also like what I've seen of the culture of the middle school at our school, and think it would be good for her.

So, we need a plan to keep her growing at her current school. The school is not big enough to do pull outs for the high achieving kids, and apparently that's not the preferred way to handle them anymore, anyway. Maybe she'll get a teacher who finds a way to keep her challenged, but maybe she won't. I'd like to have some ideas about what to do if she still says she's bored.

I don't care so much about the boredom. Learning to accept a little boredom is an OK thing. But I do care that she gets to grow her skills as fast as she wants. Here are the ideas I've come up with so far:

  • More challenging independent reading, both in Spanish and English. She likes this idea. Her teacher from last year just lent her Anne of Green Gables in Spanish, which I think will be more of a stretch for her than her usual Spanish picks. And tonight, when we went to Barnes and Noble to get the latest paperback in the Land of Stories series (which she loves), she decided she also wanted to buy a copy of War and Peace (in English). I'm curious to see what she makes of that. She said if she thought it was too hard, she'd just put it on the shelf for awhile.
  • More non-fiction independent reading. She's game for this, but we're having a hard time finding books at the right level. The things we find are all too easy or too hard. I need to do some research.
  • Focus more on music. I think I channeled some of my energies into getting better at music at this age, and that is something that served me well over the years. Coincidentally, 5th grade is when the school band program begins, so she could conceivably be working on two instruments next year (piano and whatever she picks for band).
  • Bump up the intensity of our Chinese lessons. We do really low key Chinese lessons. We started before we got into the Spanish school, and we've kept them because the kids like them. We could ask the teacher to assign homework or something like that.
  • Try a programming course. She's not shown a lot of interest in programming, but she does like building new things in a couple of her favorite games (Geometry Dash and Roblox).  I could figure out what those actually are and see if we could parlay that into some programming interest.
  • Find more academically oriented or otherwise skill-building summer camps. She likes this idea but I hate it because it complicates summers more than they already are. But it is probably worth considering.
That's what I have so far. I'll keep thinking over the summer. Additional ideas welcome in the comments. Next time I'm in the mood to mom blog, I'll write about Petunia. There are things I'm thinking about for her, too, but at least she's not bored at school yet (she's still in the phase in which the language learning is keeping her busy).

31 comments:

  1. Well when my kids were that age we pulled them out of school for a year and went travelling! Scary at the time, but was fantastic. When they got back, though, both of them were way ahead in maths, and they have stayed ahead ever since - to some degree by going up to other classes just for maths.

    So that might be something your school is willing to consider - subject extension into another year, rather than special pulling out.

    Coding worked for the older one (not the younger one) as an extension, but at home, just by playing with Scratch, to start with - he loves it now.Grok Learning has a bunch of coding competitions they do at different times a year it might be worth checking out.

    The daughter of a friend of ours, at that age, wasn't allowed to take a device when they went out to dinner (they went out a lot!). So she used to sit and write stories, and eventually a 10,000 word novel that they were so impressed with that they self-published it for her (in India, on paper, which was actually surprisingly easy, you would probably know more than me).

    Both kids also do debating at lunchtimes and/or after school, that might not be so big in the US, though. One of my kids also volunteered for the school newsletter for a year - he was one of the editors. That could be pretty challenging in spanish... I wish we had that bilingual option here.

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    1. The travelling thing would be awesome, but not in the cards for us I'm afraid, for reasons solely associated with the grown ups.

      They did try a subject pullout for her in first grade, by sending her to a second grade class for reading. She hated it, so we abandoned it. Now enough other kids have caught up to her reading level in Spanish that she has a regular reading group at the right level in her class.

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  2. I could write an entire post on this topic. I think I will!.

    Do talk to the school about this--they may be able to do single subject acceleration if you give them enough advance warning.

    And I have disagreed with you before on the boredom thing with regards to gifted kids in school-- a little boredom is ok. A lot of boredom is not. Gifted kids should not have to accept extra normal amounts of boredom.

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    1. I think we're just talking about different levels of boredom. From talking to Pumpkin, I don't think she is as bored as I was in my regular class, and I don't think I was ever as bored as you've described being. Pumpkin isn't bored with what they are learning: for instance, she's still learning new things in math. She absolutely loved the social studies projects they did this year, and went deeper than she had to on those. It is just that she can finish quickly and then she's bored. I think I'd be looking at different options if she was bored with the actual instruction.

      That said, by the end of the year it was clear that she could be going faster in math. This wasn't necessarily true in earlier years. I need to look up the math curriculum for the next few years and think about enrichment we could be doing that would make sense. She doesn't want to just work ahead, and I can understand why: she knows that would make her more bored in school. But I think we can find some ways to stretch her math skills that would be supplementary.

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    2. I have so many suggestions for math enrichment. I'll post a general post next Wednesday.

      As a minor spoiler: my son is going through Glenn Ellison's "Hard math for elementary students" a second time this year-- he's almost done (so many fewer tears this time around). I would strongly recommend getting that set of 3 books (textbook, workbook, hints/solutions). It's not moving ahead in math, it's drilling down. There's actual number theory and it's so so much fun.

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    3. I will look forward to your post! I feel like I have good ideas for pushing on reading and the like, but not so much for math. I like the idea of drilling down. The fact that our math curriculum does that more than what I had as a kid is one of the things I really like about it.

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    4. https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/how-to-keep-a-gifted-kid-challenged/

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  3. Anonymous4:54 AM

    Anne of Green Gables actually is a remarkably challenging book to read in another language!:-) It uses one of the largest vocabularies of almost any children's book I know, and children's books already use a lot of works that adults rarely use (hippopotamus....wheelbarrow...etc). I have it in German, and, despite having worked in German, found it quite the challenge and didn't get very far:-P So, your daughter has my empathy. The general idea of reading in Spanish is great, though:-)
    In general words of encouragement to keep with the Spanish immersion - my siblings and I all went to a Spanish immersion school, with my mom going through many of the exact same thoughts and decisions as you are. 20 years later...my sister is a doctor who works in Spanish, and has an amazing ability to get 3 job offers in a week anytime she wants to move. My brother has held on to his job as there are layoffs all around his company in large part due to his ability to communicate effectively in both English and Spanish. I'm the odd one out who didn't keep up Spanish after high school, but, am convinced my early exposure to languages made learning German much much easier when I wanted to move to Germany in college. All that to say, the language is worth a lot!
    Another idea for boredom prevention: maybe some art classes? Clay, weaving, etc?

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    1. Now that I think about it, I can see your point about Anne of Green Gables. We are reading the series as a bedtime stories, and every now and then I hit a word *I* need to look up! She's read Anne of Green Gables several times in English, so maybe that will help her with the Spanish vocabulary. She's excited to try it.

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    2. Calee5:11 PM

      My daughter was reading Anne a few months ago in a waiting area while my son was getting a haircut and leaned over to ask me the meaning of a word-- "ejaculate". Which in this context meant to speak without ceasing. It was an interesting conversation starter, to say the least.

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    3. Oh, that's funny!

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  4. I was going to suggest music and checking out what the school has to offer for lunchtime and after school clubs. Perhaps if there isn't one or two that she's interested in, she could help start a new one!

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    1. Our school doesn't do lunchtime clubs, because due to space limitations, there is no one lunchtime. There are usually after school programs, but there weren't many this year because our school is under construction (much needed modernization). Hopefully, they will be back next year.

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  5. I wish I had this problem...but speaking as a kid who was horribly bored at school, I appreciate what you're doing for your daughter :)

    Have you checked out Microsoft's Hour of Code? https://code.org/minecraft
    We took our Guide unit to do this at the Microsoft store and they were all fascinated, even the ones who were struggling, so it is a great intro to coding but also fun.

    I remember reading Watership Down at that age, chosen mainly because it looked long enough to last me a week. I'm really curious to see what Pumpkin thinks of War & Peace - I read it recently and it was amazing.

    Have you considered Girl Guides? There are tons of personal interest badges to work on that might keep her busy for a few hours at least.

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    1. We haven't done Girl Scouts, mostly because that hasn't been one of the activities she's chosen. For parental sanity purposes, each kid only gets to pick a couple of activities that require transport. We may need to change that rule to get her more challenges, but I hope not: we already feel like our schedule is pretty full.

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  6. mary d6:29 AM

    We struggle with this, too, with our 10, almost 11yo. They do differentiate in math and reading, but that's it. They have math apps that they can work on, too (I think it was Acuity but they're going to something else, maybe Aleks? Can't remember). He does clarinet and piano, but honestly that stuff doesn't stave off the boredom during the school day. He goes to an after-school program that does karate, which is awesome, and we do a mix of regular "play all day" camps and academic-y camps during the summer (which does complicate the routine WAY worse than during the school year).

    Solidarity fist-bump, is what I'm saying. No solutions, because I'm not sure there are any, unless your teacher is willing to work with you on this stuff.

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    1. We've been doing camps at the YMCA, which are pretty convenient and offer a lot of options. But she told me she's not really excited about them and wishes she was in camps that were more "school-like." So next year, I think I need to look for some specialty camps. The problem with these is that their hours often suck for working parents: 9-3 is a common schedule. I could probably swing that for a week or two given my flexible schedule, but I couldn't do it for an entire summer.

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    2. A lot of them will let you pay extra for "before" and "after" care even if they're officially 9-3. (At least that's been true for pretty much all the camps here and most of the camps where we did leave before.) IIRC, the YMCA and Rec Center in Paradise both had a lot of different kinds of camps (sports/academic/etc.) that shared a single before/after care across camps that you could sign up for as an add-on to their other camps. Similarly the arts center that had daycamps did that. I feel like it was something like $50/week extra for after care and $30/week extra for before care, but I may be misremembering.

      You've probably looked into that, but if you haven't, it's often in a different section than the camps themselves in the brochure they send out.

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    3. Some do, but a lot of the really great ones here don't. It is frustrating. On the flip side, from what I can tell from friends in other places, our Y camp situation is a dream compared to what other people have available!

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  7. I probably have said this before, but I recommend everything Patricia C. Wrede has written. Octavia E. Butler is amazing too, but the subject matter might be too mature. You should preview the books, or look up thorough summaries online.

    As for boredom in school, my soon-to-be 5th grader is getting bored in English/reading, and his school is resistant to bump him up any higher. Though, they have the ability to move him up a grade in reading, specifically, while staying with his classmates for everything else. Math is easy to stay challenged with Kahn Academy.

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    1. If you get them to do the pullout for reading, let me know how it goes! Like I said up thread, we tried that in 1st grade and it didn't work out. I am curious if it would work better now that she is older and more socially confident.

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  8. Isabel Allende has a YA series that is really good. It starts with La Ciudad de las Bestias. Also Carlos Ruiz Zafón (author of La Sombra del Viento - The Shadow of the Wind) has a few good YA novels. One is El Principe de la Niebla. Reading books written in Spanish can be a little more challenging that books that have been translated, so she might enjoy that.

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    1. Thanks for the titles. Since I don't read Spanish at all, I'm always at a bit of a loss trying to figure out what to even look for.

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  9. One more and then I'll stop.

    When DC1 was in 5th grade in paradise, they let kids use the class laptops for khan academy and st math when they were done with their other stuff. Khan academy may not be the best match since mainly it allows you to get ahead, but ST Math is a different kind of math-- lots of logic, puzzles, and spatial skills-- and it's fun (DC2 calls it "penguin math"). It looks like San Diego Public Schools has a subscription to it, so that may be something you can ask about next year.

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    1. I think they did have ST Math and she liked it. They also suggest Khan academy, but she wasn't so into that. We may try again.

      And don't apologize for posting suggestions! You are saving me research time.

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  10. I would suggest a second instrument as suggested earlier. Also try music school as against music class. Music school provides a more comprehensive learning experience with theory etc. My son is enrolled in a music school and in karate. He can go to karate everyday or as often as he can. He has been doing this for 6 years and is a brown belt. I really wish I had enrolled my older kids in karate when they were young. I urge them to take it up but they are way too busy now. Try Math Circles (http://www.sdmathcircle.org/). My older boys did it quite diligently, but it didn't work for the youngest. He did it for one semester and stopped.

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    1. Thanks for the link! I'll take a look. I tried to get Pumpkin interested in karate (hoping for a family class.... I miss martial arts), but she hasn't been. She loves gymnastics, though.

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  11. You can buy her some Penrose the Mathematical Cat books for puzzles and thinking games about math.

    She's a good age to begin Lego Robotics kits. I have one that you can borrow if you don't want to shell out $$$ right away until you know she likes it. We drive down to SD biweekly for eldercare so we can arrange for dropoff or pickup relatively easily.

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    1. Thanks for the offer! My husband is a huge Lego fan and has some technics kits, and would love an excuse to buy some of the robotics kits. Pumpkin shows zero interest in this, though. Petunia, on the other hand, will probably be into it. As you'll learn in the mom blogging post about Petunia I have planned for next week, she's super into robots.

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  12. I was incredibly bored at school and dealt with it by reading a lot. I've ended up struggling with finding a sense of purpose, and I wish I'd been encouraged more to take on and complete projects earlier on. Maybe tackling a problem she's interested in (build a working car for a doll, make a Spanish vocab flashcard app, plan a day of your road trip for the family) would help solve the larger boredom problem more than just adding more school-like activities.

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  13. EarthSciProf10:45 AM

    Reality interesting post (even as a non-parent). Passed it on to my sister since my oldest niece is the same age and I think my sister has been thinking through similar issues.

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