When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

"It's like sleeping, only worse."

Noah set off to catch his school bus early this morning, his backpack stuffed with new binders and a freshly printed copy of an unfamiliar timetable. It was the beginning of second semester for him today, following a first semester exam week he felt really good about and a couple of relaxing days off. He was eager to get started on a new round of classes and learning opportunities, and I felt happy for him and the many ways that his high school experiences are allowing him to thrive.

Will watched his brother depart with eyes full of longing, wishing that he was starting out on a new adventure this morning, too. He's been feeling disenchanted about school lately, having reached a point in the year where the curriculum is feeling very repetitive and meaningless to him. The advanced understanding he's always had, coupled with the fact that he was already exposed to the Grade 6 curriculum last year when he was a Grade 5 student in a 5/6 split, means he feels he's not learning anything he doesn't already know. "Being at school is like sleeping, only worse," he's told me sadly when I've tucked him into bed on recent evenings. "It's like being in a void. There's just nothing. There's no point to any of it."

It's unsettling to have your usually energetic, wildly curious, eager-to-learn child slowly become despondent about school. But it's not the first time this has happened around here. Noah, too, spent the second half of Grade 6 in a gloomy, unmotivated cloud, his spark for learning practically extinguished by being asked to sit in on lessons and complete assignments that offered him no new ideas to consider. Despite both boys having a wonderful, engaging, caring Grade 6 teacher who does all kinds of interesting things in her classroom, it still seemed, and seems, a real challenge to suitably meet their learning needs within the confines of the junior division. (It doesn't help, either, that the number of enrichment workshops, where kids like Noah and Will get to spend a day engaged in creative, higher level thinking activies with their intellectual peers, have been reduced in recent years from one workshop every month to only four workshops for the entire year. There are so few opportunities now for gifted elementary school kids in our board to have appropriately challenging learning opportunities together.)

I imagine that some parents, hearing my concern about my "bored" children, would roll their eyes and scoff that it's not a real worry to have kids whose advanced cognitive abilities make the classroom a challenging place for them. But it sure feels like a real worry to me. I lie awake at night considering what options we have available to prevent Will from becoming more frustrated and sad, and even less interested in going to school. In an education system where classes are organized by age, most of our options involve arranging something for Will that is noticeably different from what usually happens in a Grade 6 classroom. And while we encourage the celebration of differences in schools, my eleven year old is keenly aware that doing something noticeably different will still invite questions and comments from his peers that he's not sure he's comfortable with.

Will craves freedom in his learning, the kind that he feels when he discovers something fascinating and wants to devote hours of his time and energy to understanding all he can about it. He wants to move at a faster pace, and go off on tangents, and create things that he's proud of because they involved hard work on his part and therefore have meaning for him. Staying with the current Grade 6 curriculum is not providing any of that for him right now. I feel that we need to do something, because there are still five months left in the school year and they will feel agonizingly long for Will if something doesn't change. But what exactly is that "something"? My mind is swirling with questions about single subject or full-grade acceleration, with the logistics of independent study projects, with the possibilities of educational opportunities outside of school itself. I worry that I won't be able to fulfill the promise I've made to Will to help him find or create a learning environment this year that feels good for him, both academically and socially, and my worry makes me flit nervously from idea to idea in my head, unsure of which ones to pursue.

I've started with an email to Will's teacher this afternoon, outlining our concerns and our willingness to work with her to provide some new learning opportunities for Will this term. I have great confidence that she will do whatever she can to help improve the situation for him. I'm also very aware, though, of the limitations of a public school classroom where one teacher is responsible for so many different learners, and it's possible that we might have to wait longer than we hope to find what Will is looking for.

Will is my youngest boy, and I am in no rush to see him come to the end of his elementary school years. I have to admit, though, that wanting what's best for him has me wishing just a little that he was happily heading off on a high school adventure this week, too....

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