Abstract art for your exceptional child

Something that really makes me sick about homeschoolers is that they think their kids are exceptional. I mean, of course your kids are exceptional to you. It’s why you love them so much. But they are not exceptional to us. So all kids are exceptional which makes none, really exceptional.

This reminds me of Daniel Gilbert’s research about how we are all average because that’s the definition of average. And that most people think they are above average at football and below average at juggling but they are, actually, average at both. (Note: I feel I am below average at football and above average at juggling but I have a sneaking suspicion that this is an average feeling for parents who are homeschooling their kids. We self-select.)

Anyway, another thing that bugs me about homeschool parents is the need to teach kids what they think is important for them. So, look, your kid does not need to be exposed to abstract art. It’s nice, for sure. If you like it, put it in your house. But it seems much more educational to show your kids how you relate to art, if you actually do, than to teach them that they MUST learn to relate to art. And if you don’t relate to art, fine. Who cares? You can expose your kid to other stuff and if your kid was born to be Picasso, he’ll start drawing anyway.

What I really want to tell you is that letting your kids be your kids is much better than treating them as exceptional kids who need introductions to subjects for exceptional thinkers. We are all creative. And we’re all looking for meaning. It doesn’t take an exceptional person to need those things. It takes a parent who will leave their  kid alone long enough to figure themselves out for themselves.

But for those who are looking for some way to introduce their kid to abstract art, you must buy this book. Modern Art Desserts. It’s by a woman who starting baking stuff inspired by modern artists.




14 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    Maybe you are having a good time because your tone sounds different. More relax and fun.

    When I first started reading your stuff I thought you were very curt.

    But this is at the other end of the pendulum.

  2. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    This post reminds me of when my mother told me that she didn’t really like children. When I gave her a “Huh?” look, she clarified, “What I mean is I don’t really care for OTHER people’s children, but you and your kids are the exception, of course.”


  3. jael
    jael says:

    I don’t mean to be a curse by continually commenting, but I relate to so much of what you write, it kills me not to say something. I am not currently homeschooling although I have in the past and I have kids who made the “gifted” program and kids who did not. (I have six) I completely agree about the “special-ness,” although to me, that is just another reason why homeschooling is so much better. We mothers do not think it is our duty to smack them in the face with hard cold reality but instead we tell them we believe they can fly, offer a few tools then stand back and watch them do it. I did this with my firstborn and she won a full ride (using multiple scholarships) to her school of choice. I don’t mean to brag, but her story is truly inspirational even to me because I’m broke and she did it all herself.

    So much of what you say these days totally applies to my life. I’m really struggling with how to have an interesting life while trying to parent five(at home) children, while I am broke and looking for work. When you talked about being bored, I totally got that. I hope you will bring it up again, and discuss how you cope, or make things interesting after living on the fast track for so long.

  4. mbl
    mbl says:

    “But they are not exceptional to us. So all kids are exceptional which makes none, really exceptional.”

    This attitude makes me so sad and makes my life harder and lonelier. And it make no sense to me. In order for something to be deemed worthy of being average, there needs to be something exceptional to compare it to, or it wouldn’t be on the radar. I have an average number of eyes. Is it possible for someone to have a greater or fewer number, sure, but it is negligible. But in areas of talent, it seems that the ability to recognize the ability is necessary in order to help develop it. I don’t believe that you go to extremes to encourage your son’s exceptionality in cello. If you didn’t identify and acknowledge his talent then what the? A $2000 cello ans 8 hours a week in the car? A specialist teacher? Who wouldn’t even talk to you if she didn’t also feel that your son is exceptional. I am at a total loss. Is he the exception? :D

    On to my exceptional child. I recognized her exceptionally proficient language and art skills and chalked up her exceptionally lagging coordination skills to asynchronous development since they were in the realm of “age appropriate.” I didn’t look into assessing them because I didn’t want to be “that parent” who tried to make a super kid. When I finally had them evaluated, I found out that she was in the 99.9% with language/reading and 4% with balance. And yes indeedy, that does “average out,” but it makes for a horribly challenging day to day experience. Most situations were a struggle for her and they all sucked. She didn’t know how to, or that she needed to, tone down her vocabulary and reading skills in order to fit in with her age peers. And I didn’t know that we needed to do occupational therapy. I just thought that she was a klutz. We wasted a valuable early intervention window because I didn’t want to acknowledge that my child was exceptional.

    On to the lonely part. Most parents can talk about their child’s development with other parents because their children are “average” or typically developing. Odds are what their child is doing, their age peers are doing the same stuff. For the parent of the mythical “exceptional” child, that doesn’t apply and all you can do is smile and nod and hope your child doesn’t do something “weird.”

    I totally agree that HS parents are self-selecting.” There is a pretty good chance that they do, indeed, have an exceptional child. Otherwise, their child might have fit much better into “the system” that is designed for the average child. Do I think customization for all kids is optimal? Yes. But I think it can be truly life-saving for those kids who aren’t the norm.

    Actually, a really great reason to identify where or if your child is exceptional is so that your child can be average. Your son gets to be around other kids with a similar gift. He gets to be normal. Stick him in grade school orchestra and he is a freak. Not so good. If a child is wicked smart and is never around other kids who are as or even more talented, then what are they to surmise about themselves in comparison to their peers? Let them find each other and they can breathe a sigh of relief and be themselves. But if no one recognizes the exceptionality, the kid is royally screwed.

    My daughter is exceptionally tall. Off of the charts. If I don’t acknowledge the difference, then I can’t see the implications of her non-average stature. Everyone thinks she is 2 years older than she is. Her vocabulary re-enforces this assumption. Accordingly, they expect more of her behavior-wise and socially than is “average.” That sucks. Even close friends, family, and I forget how young she really is. When I assume that her behavior should correspond to that of other kids her height, I expect too much from her and it sucks–for both of us.

    I am curious as to how your son was exposed to classical music? How was his talent/prodigy discovered? Why not let him play what he wants now and assume that if it is meant to be, it will no matter what age he gets serious about it? Again, I think that is wonderful that he is able to pursue his passion and that his parents exposed him to classical music and then acknowledged that he does have a gift and are able to go to the lengths necessary to support it. But if you had simply thought he had a cute knack for it and stuck to the normal/average music for a 4/5/6/7 year old, would not some doors be closed to him?

    Oh well, toodiloo, I’m off to buy some more high end art supplies for my kid. (Do people know that Michael’s offers 15% off of everything but books with proof of homeschooling? It stacks on top of any additional coupons!) Between that and Craigslist for professional art supplies, our house is insane!

    • Heather
      Heather says:

      Very well written post and, if that weren’t enough, I just learned that Michael’s offers a HS discount. Holy Shnikes, I had no idea! We’re there once a week. We just signed up for a crochet class there and I hope they’ll give us the discount for that.

      Thank you,


    • Commenter
      Commenter says:

      Maybe there’s a better phrasing that encompasses both the existence of the exceptional ability and the false myth of the exceptional child: all children are usually exceptional in some way, but no child is exceptional in all ways.

      We can see that the myth of the universally exceptional person persists with adults as well, as exceptional actors make idiotic political statements, great musicians write execrable books, exceptional athletes fail spectacularly in business, or successful businessmen make a complete mess out of their relationships. They are not exceptional people; they are normal people with exceptional talents, which they have developed well.

      The trick is figuring out just what one is exceptional at in time to develop it. With some things, there is a strong inherited aspect, as with music. Rufus Wainwright’s pipes didn’t come out of nowhere. Absolute pitch runs in families too. If you are exceptional at music, your children are likely to be exceptional at it also.

      With other things, and perhaps for a majority of children, exceptional talent may come out of the blue. It might not be apparent at first, maybe not even while the person is a child. It may be something the parents know little about or are bad at. Some might imagine that would put homeschoolers at a disadvantage, but I don’t think so. Even if I am not my child’s mentor, because I am unqualified (and the way it looks, this may be the case for both my kids), my kids still have a freedom to pursue their interests that schooled kids lack. The perfect schoolchild is exceptionally good at nothing, trimmed as he is in the Procrustean bed of curriculum.

      I know what you mean about having to remind yourself of how young your daughter is, mbl. My son is 4’10 and very broad-shouldered at eight, and because he is very calm and well-spoken, it’s easy for me to forget that the emotions of a small child are in there too. It’s also common for people to assume he’s good at sports, when in truth he’s a bit clumsy.

      I find that it helps that he mostly plays and works now with children of different ages. Removing the limited age grouping of school helps young people focus on abilities, interests, and common ground rather than just pecking order and differences.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, here’s how I see it: I don’t think he needs a special education because he’s special. I think he needs what every other kid needs: parents who let him do what he wants to do and learn what he wants to learn.

      He has had many, many cello teachers in Wisconsin and he has a clear understanding of why we drive to Chicago for his teacher. He chooses that. He chooses to do piano lessons in Chicago because he knows it’s different at the place we go to than it would be in the place where we live. So the music stuff, to me, is child-driven learning. Just like every other kid should get to do.


  5. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    I keep trying to explain that our (peer group’s) kids’ “outcomes” are not because they are exceptional, but because they were given freedom to develop their innate gifts and all kids should have that chance. But people argue, “Well that worked because your kid is special.” But they all are.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is so profound – it’s what I really believe. Give kids a chance to do what they wand and they’ll discover what they are great at and they’ll do that. It’s a natural outcome from giving kids respect and space and support.


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