My youngest is a bit of a math wiz. When he was younger, before he could even talk, he would put together puzzles faster than everyone else. He is able to compute math problems in his head when most kids his age need paper. He soared through his math assignments so quickly that his math teacher this year didn’t want him getting bored, so they worked on a project he could do using the skills he had learned this year. However, I hesitate to use the word smart when it comes to him and his math skills.

I was labeled as smart when I was young. I remember being in 4th grade and being bored. I was so much farther ahead of the other kids in my class in reading and math, that I would go to the 5th grade class for lessons. It didn’t help that I was new to that school after having just moved from Bay View to the northwest side of Milwaukee. I didn’t have any friends, but the ones that I did make, I rarely spent time with in class. The next year I changed schools again, this time to be part of the SAP at 81st Street School.

SAP, Superior Ability Program.  It was an awful name. Why would you ever think it’s ok to tell ten year-olds that they were superior to the other kids?  We were called saps. We were labeled smart.  We were a group of about 25 kids, who didn’t know each other, many of were bussed to a school not in their neighborhood, so they could get a “better education” geared to their learning level.  We were outliers. None of the other 5th graders in the school liked us. We rarely interacted with anyone outside of our class. As a matter of fact, when we were in 6th grade and the other 6th grade classes went on a camping trip, we weren’t invited. I think it is part of the reason I have a hard time feeling like I should be included, even today.

My experience in elementary school led me to look for alternatives for my kids. I never wanted them labeled, smart or dumb or troublemakers, or anything. Where were they going to fit in? The traditional pre-school we started with wasn’t a good place, not for who they were at 3. Sitting still with your legs crossed and your hands in your lap, “Criss cross Applesauce” was what the teacher said every time they came together.  It was meant to bring them into line.  But I didn’t want them to change who they were, I wanted them to grow into who they were going to become – discover it in their own way, but still learn to be kind and respectful.

We found a new preschool, that encouraged parents to be a part of the learning experience. We were hands on in the classroom on a weekly basis.  The philosophy of the school is to teach the whole child.  The school didn’t assign homework and didn’t focus on standardized test scores. The kids get to learn at their level and at their speed.  They emphasis self-directed learning.  This concept works, if the kids and the parents work at it. It’s not for everyone, but I felt it was right for our family.12804709_10154023290227838_3363513835668713190_n

I wish I had had more control over my education when I was younger.  I have a hard time watching kids today work to get the work done.  I know it’s important to understand deadlines and doing your best work, but what good is that when they can’t problem solve in real time or be thinkers? I have some pretty amazing conversations with my kids. They often choose to watch educational programs, things I would have never thought would interest them. When I catch them doing that, it makes me happy.  One thing that I want for my kids is to have a lifetime interest in learning. I want them to like school.

I liked school from high school on.  I still love learning today. I seek out opportunities to learn new things every day.  I ask questions. I care about what other people think and want to learn about their lives.  I think those are the things that make people smart.