Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Little Kids and a Big Move

Today is my last full day in New York City. I've lived here for close to nine years now, a period that has seen many life changes for me (you can read my love letter to NYC at my other blog, One of the biggest life changes has been becoming the mother of two small children. I have my own complicated feelings about this move (out to the suburbs of Philadelphia) but one big question for me right now is how to deal with my kids' feelings about it.

We've been talking about it a lot. The kids have seen the "new house" several times, and had fun playing in the back yard and running through the empty hallways. Indeed, as we've left to come back to NYC, Jasper has sometimes asked to stay at the house. He's also really excited that we will have a car (not a part of an NYC kid's existence!) So we think they'll be happy with it. But it's not easy to convey the permanent nature of a move to small kids. It's not easy to convey that there will be new schools with new friends in the fall, new babysitters, new routines, and so forth. We've looked at the new house's location on the map. I've been on the watch out for any questions or particular feelings about it. But little kids are little kids. The other night when he was in bed, Jasper told me "Mommy, I'm sad." I asked him why, thinking it would be about leaving his school or friends. But he informed me that he was sad because "I want you to bring me milk." Ah.

I'm curious how others of you have dealt with big life transitions with kids. How do you explain a new school, a new home, or other new arrangements?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What To Do With The Kids This Summer

I've never liked "having" to report somewhere every day -- a key reason I like my work-from-home, self-employment situation now. Growing up, I was always happy to take a break from school for the summer. Of course, as a parent now, I can also see that summer can pose massive logistical challenges. Not only is school de facto childcare for many families -- a problem, since it suddenly ends for 2 months -- it also gives kids something to do with their days. No structure can be good or bad, depending on the kid.

Lots of parents enroll their kids in summer camps, and I always enjoyed mine, but summer can also be a time for larger self-directed projects. School seldom gives kids the chance to pursue such projects, but for many of us, learning to tackle them is a useful skill. Some ideas for kids:

1. Research. The holy grail is, of course, working in a professor's lab over the summer. But even if this isn't possible, a child can come up with a topic that fascinates her, figure out what the unanswered questions are, and spend time in libraries, online and interviewing experts to come up with a hypothesis. The child can write up her thoughts and send the paper around.

2. Start a business. Also a challenging way to spend a summer! Encourage the child to figure out what needs are unmet in the neighborhood and what she could do to solve them. What would people pay for that? How can she find customers? How many customers does she need to cover start up costs and make a profit? How can she advertise and how can she meet demand? For help, visit the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship website.

3. Read with a purpose. Shakespeare's tragedies that don't get covered in freshman English, for instance. Then seek out where such plays are performed and figure out a way to go see them. Or perhaps biographies of leaders of the Civil Rights movement, in anticipation of a family trip to a destination like Birmingham.

4. Write a novel, or a book of poetry. All first novels need work, but the sooner a young writer gets her head around the idea of cranking out 50,000+ words, the easier it will be to do the next time!

What are you doing with your kids this summer?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Gifted Programs = Lower Grades?

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Christopher Shea asks "Do gifted programs work?" citing the study of students who either just made the cut for a gifted program, or didn't.

Oddly enough, one of the study results being highlighted under this headline is that students who just got into the gifted program got lower grades than students who remained in their home schools. Why? Well, most likely, the gifted program is more challenging. Of course students who barely squeaked in would have a harder time acing the work than they would in coursework aimed to a less challenging level.

I definitely have seen this in my own life. My first academic "B's" ever came when I was able to take algebra in 6th grade. If I'd taken pre-algebra or normal 6th grade math, I would have aced it. Likewise, when I transferred from Clay High School of South Bend, IN to the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and Humanities, I got several consonant grades that first semester. The work was harder. So I had to learn how to work.

The story has a happy ending in that, in both cases, I figured out how to get A's in harder classes: more studying, more practice on problem sets, etc. But I hardly think anything would be gained by staying in easier classes just to keep up the good grades. The great thing about gifted education, done right, is that it teaches children who have often never had to work hard for anything the joy of throwing themselves into something difficult. We need more of that, not less.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Thiel's Twenty Under Twenty

Talent development does not happen in a vacuum. One of the reasons US teams do so well in, say, basketball, is that the talent development system is quite mature and sophisticated. Coaches and programs scout for high potential middle schoolers, who are then funneled into certain high school programs known for training top talent. College coaches know about the best high schoolers by 9th grade, and see that they go to certain camps, work with certain trainers and so forth. Why is this system so well developed? For starters, we care about it. We all want to see our favorite college team hit the Final Four, thus making celebrities out of players, and the money that is there in college basketball (albeit not to the players) and in the NBA (finally to the players) is so good that people are willing to do a lot to nurture the talent that might someday claim it.

It is in that context that I've been thinking about the Thiel Foundation's Twenty Under Twenty program. The Thiel Foundation is funded by Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal. The foundation seeks to promote new ideas and technological and scientific progress that will improve people's lives.

One way to do that? Contribute to the market for talent development. So the Thiel Foundation is giving 20 $100,000 fellowships to young people under age 20 to pursue their ideas under the mentorship of leading scientific, technological and financial thinkers. You can read about this year's fellows here.

It is obviously hard to know what will come out of this. Given that Thiel is a brilliant businessman, I'm sure there's some hope to be able to invest in breakthrough start-up concepts. Who knows if the fellows will produce such things? But putting money and mentorship toward talent development usually creates something, and I'm excited to see how this program grows over the years.