Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Smart Kids

Laura's post on the six-year-old spelling bee contestant is coinciding with a nostalgia burst I've been having lately about my early childhood. I was a bit of a child prodigy in my little world, but with young, financially struggling parents, I didn't get homeschooled or anything like that. I drove my parents crazy with my curiosity and knowledge (Mom: "She drew on the wall!" "Gail, she wrote the alphabet, and she's only 2!" "But it was black crayon!"). My dad was working a few jobs and trying to finish college, and my mom was in her early 20s and spending all her time at her mom's house with her crazy (literally) father and 5 younger siblings, including a sister only 4 years older than I was. In a different environment, would I have been coddled into more prodigy-like behaviors? Who knows. In 1969 my mom was pregnant, my dad went to Woodstock, and I was more a curiosity than anything.

After chatting with my 12 year old (almost 13) about something last week, I went looking for my old diaries and ended up going through that box of childhood mementos we all have. I went to a neighborhood elementary school for the first 3 years, spanning years K-3. (I was accelerated to 3rd grade 3 months into 2nd grade.) I have only a few scraps of memorabilia from those days: my kindergarten and 3rd grade report card; my 1st grade class photo. And very very dim memories. It reminds me how much memory is based on shared experiences that we discuss with others. My three younger sisters didn't attend this school; two hadn't been born, and the other didn't start Kindergarten till we moved the summer after 3rd grade. My mother always chuckles over this, the only bad "grade" I ever received in elementary school:
OK, I got a B one term in science. I never liked physics.

On Facebook I recently found a group for former students of the school. I've posted there asking if anyone remembers some of the things I do, can help fill in/sharpen these misty memories. I wonder if I stand out at all--the kid who was "smart," who skipped a grade. I learned real quickly in my transition from 2nd to 3rd grade not to step on anyone's toes by acting too smart, even though I learned in one week the same times tables it had taken the other kids 3 months to learn. My main memories are of the Christmas plays. I was in them twice, probably to get me out of the classroom because when I was there, I finished all my work early. My mom says that in one play I was asked to fill in last minute because another child couldn't perform. I had memorized all the lines in the play anyway, so I could fill in anywhere. All I remember was wanting to be one of the elves in the cute green costumes with the jingly bells. I would kill to find someone who remembered those plays and could tell me more about them.

Yesterday I got a call from the "adjustment counselor" at E's school. She meets with him in a lunch group for social skills on Tuesdays. She thinks he would really enjoy some sort of acting class. He loves role-playing exercises, and he's goofy and really quite funny. It would be a great way to channel his energy, and memorizing lines wouldn't be a problem for him. I wish they had plays in E's schools the way we did when I was in school. We did 1776 when I was in 5th grade, and then Oklahoma the next year! There is a summer acting program nearby that takes place in 2-week sessions. But he hates doing anything new. But it would be a real trip to see him perform the way I always loved performing (and still do, to be honest, as a teacher).


Anonymous said...

Hi Wendy:

Yup, you're pointing out the conversation I had with my kid about the 6yo speller; she's extraordinary, but there are other kids like her, who just haven't entered spelling bees. I always worry a bit when too much press is given to those prodigies, because it might encourage others to enter spelling bees (or whatever) when that's not the right decision for them (while still thinking it might be fine for this girl).

I have similar memories to yours -- except our challenge was moving to a different country when I was 5 (and, I learned english, and 6 months so into kindergarten they moved me into 1st grade, so I never really went to first grade).

I also enjoyed acting, and I recommend it highly as a group activity for PG kids. If you check out Gas Station Without Pumps blog, you'll see a parent talking about acting for his PG son, as an enrichment activity that teaches teamwork in a realistic context. The key is finding the right group, though, one where the kids have to memorize the lines and put on real plays (well, at least for my kids). Otherwise they can be kids just goofing around.


Wendy said...

Thanks for the input on acting. It's so weird having these kids, mainly E but also S, who are so capable and who could benefit from all the experiences we could give them, but who are so cautious and averse to change/new things.

That blog looks interesting. I am not mechanical or into science/electronics at all, but I have been thinking about experimenting a little with tinkering with electronics this summer, partly for E, whom I think would enjoy it, and partly because I like to expand my world a little. it can't all be literature, education, and politics. :)

Did you guys have fun at Nationals? I have definitely decided *not* to do DI next year, though I am considering volunteering in a different region or in RI for the tournaments, since they always need people. I think one of the problems I had last year is that I was too overbooked. Work for me is busy in Jan-Mar, which is the worst time to take on something extra. :(

Anonymous said...

Globals was good. The kids ended up in 19/77 teams, after having a glitch at the beginning of their presentation that had to problem solve and resolve during the presentation. So, my daughter was disapointed, because they didn't do their best performance (she compared it to the "Hope is a muscle" book, in which Amherst's high school girl's basketball team falls short in the playoffs). But, they had a good experience (and a good learning experience, from a parent's point of view).

They want to do it again next year (but now have a team of only 4, which is a difficult number to be competitive with, and they want to be competitive). I am mulling over whether I'm willing to invest the emotional energy and time.


Anonymous said...

My kids aren't as wary of trying new things (one of them will try practically anything, the other manages to try many things), and they don't give up easily, so I can't generalize too much.

What work about theater as an activity (once you find the right level) is that it requires commitment to a group but with an adult leader. DI is a challenge for kids who aren't natural participants/members of a group, 'cause the kids are in charge of the leader/planning/group dynamics.


Wendy said...

bj, I envy your your new-thing-trying kids. :) I finally have the kids signed up for a RISD camp each. Combined with my daughter's required 1-week dance intensive and my son's participation in his usual summer camp, I've decided to be satisfied.