Speed Turtle

I want to tell you of the most amazing thing I know.
You’ve got to stand back now and watch it go.
It’s compact, stream-lined, built to last
Shiny and green and so incredibly fast.
It’s a Speed Turtle. Whoa-ho!
It’s a Speed Turtle. Oh, no!
Man alive, it’s in overdrive.
Go little turtle, go, go…

And when that maniac gets going,
Well, hang onto your hat—
It can tear across the road in just
Three hours flat!

From “Speed Turtle” by Sandra Boynton, performed by Brian Wilson

When Noah was in preschool his symbol was the Painted Turtle. As the years have passed we’ve realized it was the most appropriate animal for him because Noah is slow. Not in the sense of lacking intelligence, of course, but he thinks things through and considers all the angles before he takes action. Sometimes this is a good thing, when careful attention to detail is needed. But when we just want him to brush his teeth already, it’s not. The educational psychologist he saw last summer told us he was a “slow processor.” It wasn’t news, except that there’s a name for it.

This was one of my concerns about enrolling Noah in the Center for the Highly Gifted. I wondered how he would handle the increased workload when the much too easy homework he was assigned in third grade sometimes dragged on all evening. But being bored actually slows him down further and it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so we took the plunge.

It’s been wonderful in many ways. He fits in socially much better at the Center and he’s happier. That alone would be worth the price of admission but the work does is more interesting and suited to his abilities. That makes the fact that he’s doing it all the time somewhat easier to bear. It is a lot of work, though, so we never make plans for weeknights and we don’t go out of town on weekends. And I spend a lot of time and mental energy helping him keep track of his assignments and reminding him to get back to work when he reverts to his natural state of woolgathering.

The ends of marking periods are particularly difficult. The Center’s curriculum is focused on long-term projects and the four biggest ones come due at the end of each quarter. First quarter was the Crow Indian project, second quarter was contemporary Germany and third quarter has been an in-depth author study. Over the course of two months Noah read four novels and a non-fiction book by the adventure writer Gary Paulsen. He completed a poster about literary devices in Paulsen’s work, another one on character development, setting and turning points in one of the novels, a persuasive essay about why Paulsen should be included in his school’s curriculum, a biographical sketch, and a bibliography. The last element to be completed was a Power Point presentation that gave an overview of what he’d learned about Paulsen.

Of course, at the same time, there are his recurrent short-term assignments in spelling, vocabulary and current events, and medium-term projects like an interview he recently had to conduct with an immigrant and a project to research and build models demonstrating green design in housing. (His math homework, in geometry and pre-algebra makes me think I don’t have too many years left of being able to help him with math.)

So, my point is, he’s been very busy recently. He does have some downtime built into his schedule. He reads for pleasure from the time he wakes until he has to start getting ready for school at 7:15, I read to him at least three times a week (we’re almost finished Harriet the Spy) and Friday afternoons and evenings are a no-homework zone, no matter how much he has to do. And I’m looking forward to the mid-week break he’ll get on Thursday when he has a day off school. There’s always a day off between marking periods and tomorrow is, thank heavens, the last day of the third quarter. About a week ago I posted on Facebook, “Steph’s son comes home every day with news of some previously undisclosed part of one of the approximately one gazillion long-term projects he is completing. She cannot wait, seriously cannot wait, for the third quarter to be over.”

And now it almost is. Noah’s teacher says that the big project for the fourth quarter will be have more in-school and less at-home work that the other three. This will be nice, if the work actually gets done at school. I think we need to remind his teacher of the extra attention Noah needs to stay on track. Sometimes he can only figure something out by talking it out, and he has a tendency to get sidetracked by the smallest obstacles. If no one is watching him, he may just stop working. For instance, he might lose all his pencils and rather than ask a classmate or the teacher to borrow one, he will become completely derailed.

It was like that last night. Here are a series of exasperated Facebook posts I made about his attempts to complete his homework:

5:24 p.m.
Steph’s son obviously cannot do any homework right now because someone on the bus said the math problems assigned were not the ones he thought were assigned and the girl he called to settle the question has not returned his call. Also, the purple colored pencil he needs to illustrate his poem is missing. And the one from the other set of colored pencils is not the exact right shade of purple…

5:56 pm.
And obviously crayons are out of the question. And even more obviously he can’t start on the math problems he’s sure are assigned because he doesn’t know how much room to leave for the problems that are in question.

7:03 p.m.
It just keeps getting better! Right after he got off the phone with the girl who called with the assignment, he said, “Oh, I have to study for the quiz, too. But I don’t know what it’s on.” He thought the best solution was not to study.
“Why didn’t you ask her while you had her on the phone?” I asked.
“Well, I doubt she would know,” he said.

(A note here about the girl in question: She’s been in Noah’s class every year since kindergarten. She’s whip-smart and very capable. I’m sure she knew.)

9:08 p.m.
In the end he illustrated the poem, did the math, studied for the quiz, came up with a spelling list (they make their own) and caught up on my blog while he was at it. All’s well that ends well.

And here’s his poem, which I just love:

paint P
ink eraser
black lead,
Bearing TICONDE-
ROGA until
it meets its
only predator,
the pencil
Does it miss
its friends
still in their
boxes? Nobo
dy knows.

It’s a shape poem, in the shape of a pencil. He drew an eraser on bottom of the column of text and a pencil point at the top. The background consists of scribbles in different colors.

Noah turned in the last elements of his author study project and presented his Power Point slides today. He has a field trip tomorrow and other than math and percussion practice, he has no homework due until Friday. We’re going out to dinner this week, not once, but twice as there’s a fundraiser for his school on Wednesday and another one for June’s school on Thursday, both at our favorite Mexican restaurant. After school on Friday we’ll go down to the Tidal Basin and see the cherry blossoms, which are in bloom right now.

Well, I don’t know why
That turtle keeps pushing the pace now…
Every minute of the day is like
Some kind of race now.
Some kind! Of race!
With a gotta-get-there attitude
That never fails
It blazes right past
Every one of us snails!

I love the surprise ending to this song. Of course the turtle seems fast if the observers are snails. It reminds me that everything is relative and Noah is who he is, my smart, slow, beautiful Painted Turtle. But I have to admit I’m glad there was no Snail symbol at the Purple School.