Calling In Well

NPGCW Blog Tour: Calling in Well

Back before I had kids, I read Tom Robbins’ novels. They were filled full of characters who thought and lived on the fringes of normal societal expectations. Let’s just say I probably had more in common with those characters than any Little Women you could think of.

As a just-turned-21-year-old college graduate, one particular passage really struck me.

You’ve heard of people calling in sick. You may have called in sick a few times yourself. But have you ever thought about calling in well?

It’d go like this: You’d get the boss on the line and say, “Listen, I’ve been sick ever since I started working here, but today I’m well and I won’t be in anymore.” Call in well.

I spent about 1 year in the professional work world before I became a full-time stay-at-home mother. I never took the chance of calling in well before I had kids, but the idea stuck with me and became part of my parenting plan.

Gorgeous spring day? Great! Schoolwork could wait because an emergency visit to the zoo, with a picnic lunch, oftentimes took priority.

When you’re 7-years old, you’re not really missing out on much when you play hooky. But, what about high school? Can you really miss days just because, well… you don’t want to go?

One of my kids attended public high school for a short while. Year 1 went pretty well. Year 2, not so much. He had 2 art classes, 1 AP class, and pre-calc (as well as a bunch of dual-enrolled classes at a local college). Grades weren’t an issue. It was just all the other stuff that comes with high school.

By February, things were not going so well, so we made a deal. He could take one day off from school a week under the following conditions:

  1. He couldn’t take the day off just so he could miss a test or skip handing in a project.
  2. He had to keep track of how many missed days he had, since the school had a policy that if you missed X days, you automatically failed the quarter. Failing by default was not an option.
  3. Well days could not be used to catch up on schoolwork. They had to be used for fun or relaxation.

After a few weeks of “calling in well”, something groovy happened. Life got better for everyone.

From a psychological perspective, you could call this helping a kid gain an internal locus of control. Rather than passively see one’s self as a victim of a system or the whims of others, a person learns to take responsibility for the course of their life and outcomes.

From a practical perspective, school was still the best of times and the worst of times. But, amidst all that foolishness, my kid gained some wisdom as he learned how to create healthy boundaries for himself – while still meeting his school obligations.

I got criticized for being an “indulgent parent”. But, I saw it differently. If I could trust my young teen to take early college classes, then I owed it to him to trust that he knew his personal, social-emotional limits with the social scene at high school – and I had no choice but to support him.

This blog post is part of the 2014 SENG (Support the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) National Parents of Gifted Children’s Blog Tour. Follow the Blog Tour all week and read other great blogs about the joys and challenges of raising gifted children.

How do you support your kids when they need a break from school or learning?
Would you allow them to call in well?

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Not letting exams decide our fate

Back when my boys were little, I embraced a child-led learning approach to our homeschooling. Our days were pretty fluid and I wasn’t worried about grades or formal assessments. I saw no need to quiz a 6 year old on math facts. Learning was joy and I didn’t want to mess with that.

My homeschool philosophy was molded, in part, by my own childhood.

Back when I was a little girl, I was a pretty horrible test taker. I generally missed cut-offs by a few points and was usually told I wasn’t as smart as people thought.

Somehow, though, I managed to qualify to take the SAT test as part of Johns Hopkins’ brand new study on gifted children. It was either 1980 or ’81 and I just broke the double-digit age range. If I had scored 700 on the math or verbal portion, I would have been ear-marked precocious and my life path would have taken an entirely different course.

My spectacular failure in missing the cut off by more than a couple hundred points caused great disappointment in loads of people. Feelings of shame haunted me for years. By the time I graduated high school, I came to despise tests and everything they represented.

So, when I saw this spoken-word piece, it touched me deeply.

The irony of my life, I suppose, is that my job now entails administering tests to kids. I love my work because I accept the solemn faith that parents place in me to help them better understand their children. Together – the parent, the child, and myself – we can figure out strengths, weaknesses, and what can work best to help a child thrive and grow.

Today, I appreciate the need for well formed assessments that help us understand what kids know. Grades and tests have a place in our education models, as long as they are not used to absolutely define a child.

Sulibreezy, the spoken-word artist, says it best:

“Test us with tests but the finals are not final because they never prepare us for the bigger test, which is survival.”