One of the most discouraging things I’ve been through as a parent is watching my child find her voice until about age 5, and then slowly lose it over the course of a few years. If anyone has ever witnessed the slow silencing and taming of a wild, irrepresible spirit then you’ll know what I’m talking about. Only, in the case of naturalist, she wasn’t tamed at all by her experiences in school…she just went underground in her mind. Her spark? Gone. Her passion? Gone. Her curiosity and humor? Gone, baby, gone. It’s not a pleasant thing to look into the eyes of an 8 year old and see resignation already there.
The interplay between being gifted and LD meant that her experience in a classroom was so very different from her peers. She felt this difference keenly–most out of the box thinkers are incredibly intuitive and self reflective. Even at 5, she knew something that didn’t dawn on me until 7 years later…she processed things fundamentally differently from everyone around her. Even though she had friends and loved her teachers, she still related to her school environment as an outsider looking in.
I recently attended a seminar on helping gifted kids find friends. Ha. Doesn’t that sound funny?! Most people assume, because of the gifted label, that kids like this are set in life. But the truth is, friendships are made between equals. Best friendships form because two people share common interests, goals, and experiences. And statistically speaking, in a classroom of 35 kids, there was maybe only 1 who had a shared interest with Naturalist. While other girls ran around playing cooties (it was 1st grade, after all!) Naturalist was out trying to protect the habitat of a bunch of red ants. While other girls were talking about boys (in 3rd grade…it starts so early!) Naturalist wanted to discuss frog culture and go down to clean up a creek. Naturalist would tell jokes that no one else laughed at. She struggled to do things that everyone else was doing easily. Out of 8 years on this earth, she spent almost half of them feeling like an outcast. A stranger in a strange land.
Not unlike how the Bee Girl felt in Blind Melon’s video for ‘No Rain’. (Remember that?! 1993 in the house!) The embed code isn’t linked up, so click through here to watch the poor Bee Girl dance her way across a city, trying to find someone to connect with. And then, to see what happens when she comes across a meadow full of Bee People!
Helping her find her voice again has been a large part of the last 4 years of homeschooling. I’ve been on the lookout for people, places, and things that will put her around other people ‘like her’. Dynamic, creative, nurturing, and involved. I realized the importance of the task one night when she had the chance to meet her hero, Jeff Corwin. He picked her to go onstage with him and help out with a giant frog. First, he played around with her and started asking questions he thought she wouldn’t know the answers to. Heck, I didn’t think she’d know the answers to them. But she did. She answered every one. Then he tried to stump her, and still she answered them right. Finally he gave up and complimented her on knowing so much. It was a moment of clarity for me. In school, her experience was the opposite…she never knew the answers, never felt what it was like to do well in class, and never was complimented for anything. But if it had been a naturalist school, then she’d have had a different experience. A joyful one!
So, she started volunteering at a vet’s office. She took enrichment classes at the Science Museum and at our local university. She spent a week camping at a Wolf Camp, where all the counselors and leaders were amazed at her depth of knowlege and composure in a harsh outdoor environment. Then I told them that she pretty much sleeps outside on our balcony every night, even through the winter. They thought that was the greatest thing they’d ever heard, and I knew she’d found “her people”.
The internet is also full of possible connections to help find others like her. I know the internet is a scary place, and we’ve gone over the rules 093458034958034598 times. She’s connected with friends in places like the Spore Community, the Dyscalculia Forum, and the Being Dyslexic Forum. These connections have given her confidence and a self esteem that I haven’t seen before. Slowly, she’s finding her own voice and starting to develop her strengths rather than dwell on her weaknesses. I’m happy to see that!
I think these connections are important for anyone, but for a 2e, out of the box learner, they are a literal lifesaver.
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