Achievement Diary: Documenting A Child’s Development

If you’ve read this far, you undoubtedly have Ivy-level colleges in mind for your kid.

Loud Angry Voice from Offstage: “Well, maybe my kid doesn’t have ‘Ivy’ in mind. There are plenty of great schools out there that aren’t ‘Ivy,’ you elitist enabler!”

Exactly. Maybe some of these kids don’t have anything in mind. That’s the problem. You think I don’t already know that there are tons of great “non-Ivy” schools from which to choose? Allow me to present an object lesson from real life.

“Our son . . .” Remember that great scene in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wooff? where George prompts Martha to rhapsodize about their boy, who was in college? Truly riveting stuff. But I digress. Let me tell you about our son, John.

Earlier in this chapter, I mentioned the “achievement diary” that I kept on John during his early years and schooling. I want to share some brief excepts from it here to give you an idea of how you can use such a tool to chronicle your child’s passion and “natural gravity” (their innate preferential focuses).

Loud Angry Voice from Offstage: “What an opportunist! The nerve, using this article as a forum to brag about your kid. Enough already. We know he went to Princeton, yadda, yadda. Are we supposed to be jealous?”

You know, I hesitated a long while before deciding to refer to my own kids in this article. Once words are posted on Web, a measure of semi-permanency settles in concerning what one has written, and I would never want to come off as a braggart elitist gasbag. However, I feel strongly about the fact that there are many, many young ones out there today who have a great, if not latently great, future waiting for them. I know it sounds smarmy and idealistic, but I want to do everything possible to help them realize those futures. Anyhow, enough explaining. Here are the excerpt quotes from “Journal for John”:

Age 1-2: John is spending lots of time with books, as listener, observer, and sometimes participant. Sharon [Dave’s wife/John’s mother], “Neenaw” [Dave’s mother/John’s grandmother], and I [Dave] seem to be constantly feeding J’s hunger for books and words. Sharon brings home simple puzzle books from the grocery store every week. J. works them from front to back and then waits for the next one. Great interest in verbal skills.

Age 3: First home computer [Atari 800]. John attracted like a magnet. Games at first, then as reading skills manifest, interest in my Compute magazines. We read articles on games and new computer products. Moved from puzzle books to logic-game books. More books, library trips, and intro to classical music. Reading, words, puzzles, and construction toys (Transformers and Legos) fill his days.

Age 4: J. has figured out an original keyboarding technique. It’s not touch-typing but it’s very fast. Don’t know where it came from. Typing in game programs from Compute. Every character has to be perfect or program won’t run. Frustrating, but he persists until successful. Saves games on cassette tapes. More books. Bought a telescope and am teaching J. the Messier numbers of planetary nebulae as we spot them.

Age 5: Preschool. Bought J. a book on 6502 processor assembler language. Wrote assembler mnemonics on flash cards and made a game out of them. Only 5-year-old in town who knows these, I’ll bet. J. wrote poem at school, “The Red Ghost.” Principal read it to students at an assembly. J. is writing a lot of stuff in little notebooks. I’d like to know what, but haven’t looked.

[Elementary years]: Working as a museum guide at Quaint Corner. Writing simple computer games. Began gifted-support curriculum (1st grade). Qualified for advanced math programs. Odyssey of the Mind World Finals (6th grade). State finals Mathcounts competition. Orchestra (4th grade on-saxophone).

And so on. The value of a journal like this is the detail it can recall. How many of us can remember all the little anecdotes of our kids’ lives? It doesn’t take a lot of effort to create and maintain a journal. They can be priceless, however, when it comes times to say a word on behalf of our kids at college application time. Yes, some colleges out there will entertain recommendations from parents. Perhaps that may be a journal’s biggest advantage. How quickly we forget.

“Our daughter . . .” Albee’s George and Martha didn’t have a daughter, but Sharon and I do. Leigh Ann, who is five years older than John, grew up before I had the sense to chronicle her development. I don’t have the same level of remembered observations about her, but many of the environmental factors were the same: emphasis on reading, books, libraries, and imagination. She responded to my love for classical music and took up the oboe in junior high school and to this day remains active in symphony orchestras. Her strong verbal skills manifested in a magna cum laude B.A. from Dickinson College, in several increasingly successful jobs in the publishing industry, and currently as a high school English teacher.

Leigh Ann and John came up through a public school system. The other options of private schools and home schools also need to be mentioned. The next page includes some thoughts about all three.