2e Tuesday::Dancing With Words.

Don’t you hear it? she asked & I shook my head no & then she started to dance & suddenly there was music everywhere & it went on for a very long time & when I finally found words all I could say was thank you. –storypeople

I’ve had this post in my head and in my heart for a long time, but sometimes I just have to sit and stew with the ideas for a while…either to let them form completely or because they bring up some pretty strong emotions in me that I’m not ready to deal with yet. I think because when I talk about Out Of The Box Thinkers I’m talking about my kids mostly, nothing gets my heartstrings all bunched up like good ‘ole Mama love. And also Mama fear, and Mama anger, and Mama confusion. All of which apply when speaking about kids that don’t fit into any mold or pattern or curriculum or…or…or…well, just don’t seem to fit, period. I have a feeling that if you’re reading this, you know what I’m saying. If we ourselves remain in the box, then all we see is the many ways our kids aren’t fitting in. If we can get out of the box ourselves, then it’s possible to see that the world our children can create is something so blindingly unique and valuable, it’s something to be encouraged and treasured. Protected, even.

I’ll take a specific example from Naturalist, and her writing. In school, writing was a source of constant trauma for her. Hell, for both of us. I would sit there at night, watching her painstakingly work over writing down words and sentences and paragraphs correctly. And when I say painstakingly, I’m emphasizing the PAIN part of it. I wish I had some work to reference, but as I shared last week, I threw all of it away. But a good example of one of her sentences is something like this:

eny boDe wil wont! to Et choclt

which is…translated…

Anybody will want to eat chocolate!

Her dyslexia made it a struggle to remember spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and even word order correctly. She is an extreme example of this, but any creative, right brain kid…even if not dyslexic, will struggle with this.

If you are dealing with someone that thinks visually, in pictures, then their thoughts are not in words. When you give a writing prompt about “Think about a time you were at a Fair”, then the verbal, left brain kid will think and write in the exact same form…

“First I walked in and ate a pie. Then I saw a big horse, and next I rode on some rides. It was fun!”

Visual kids don’t think like that. If you have them remember about a time they were at a fair, they see it all in their minds eye. Vividly! It’s not a sequential though process, it’s more like a snapshot or a movie…they can taste the pie, smell the horse, feel the bumpy ride, hear the laughter. How do you order a picture? How do you get all the detail of a movie down on a blank page? It’s overwhelming.

I can always tell a visual thinker from a sequential thinker by watching their eyes. If you ask a visual thinker a question, they tend to see it in their mind and then you can watch their eyes track what they’re seeing. So, they tend not to maintain direct eye contact but look around a bit before answering the question. A sequential left brain thinker doesn’t have a picture in their mind to ‘see’ so their eyes don’t move around that much. Sometimes my visual picture is so strong, I start gesturing and pointing in the direction the image is in my mind, even though no one else can see it.

So how to protect this kind of thinking, because I’ll tell you, Naturalist became anxious and depressed when she had to write. She grew tired of getting back ‘zero’s’ on her spelling tests, and low grades on her homework for misspellings, lack of punctuation, and very little form to her sentences. She began to shut down at school, and would rather get yelled at for not doing an assignment than trying 1,110 percent and getting it back marked up with red corrections and a low grade.

However, at home she was a very expressive kid. She was always writing me poems, notes, and stories. I was so tired of working with her on her homework, that when she did stuff at home (full of errors!) I didn’t have the heart or energy to correct her. So, I just let her create without saying anything about the technical parts of writing.

When we stopped public school and started homeschooling, we followed a curriculum for writing (since I felt I had to get her to ‘catch up’ with all the other normal kids she was so far behind, right?! right?! It makes sense!). I drilled and tested and tried to force her to learn all the spelling and punctuation rules.

It didn’t take long before I realized that she had stopped all forms of writing…even the illustrated poems that I loved so much.

When we started unschooling, the writing lessons were the first to go. Slowly, her writing passion returned. Like so much about these kids I noticed a dual nature to her. I realized that while her visual thinking made the act of writing extremely difficult, it also had the opposite affect and made her a fantastic author. For the past 2 years, she spends the time at night when she’s awake while everyone else is asleep (also another indicator of an OOTBThinker…wacky internal clock) writing fiction. She’s written hundreds and hundreds of pages of fiction by this point. Currently, she has a story that has taken on a life of its own, and she writes probably 4-5 hours a day, plus whatever she writes at night. It’s a novel. She prints off the Chapters for Todd and I to read as she finishes them.

Her spelling? horrible. Sentence structure? a little better, but still shaky. Paragraph form? not so good.

But the story? the characters? the development of the world in the book? Amazingly detailed, descriptive, and amazing. The worlds she sees in her minds eye are incredible, and the beauty she shares in them sometimes makes me cry….simply because I remember a time when she was so traumatized she never wanted to pick up a pencil again. All this expression would have been lost. Lost! And why? Because of spelling? rules? What a waste.

If it’s a question between expressing thought and feeling, or proper technical writing, always err on the side of expression. Whether in public school, homeschool, or whatever, protect your child’s freedom of expression. Work with the teacher or with yourself to give grades that can allow the technical, tricky parts not to count. It is a shame when these kids are silenced from sharing their own beautiful dance with words because rules, forms and conventions get in the way.

Other stories and resources:

Stories of other dyslexic authors and their struggles here

Terry Goodkind, dyslexic author, bio here

Interview with Jonathon Mooney, great stuff in here about reading, writing, and being an Out Of The Box Thinker.

“Learning Outside The Lines”, the book Jonathon wrote. It goes into greater detail about being an OOTBThinker in school. A must read!


16 Responses

  1. Oh how you reach into my heart with these essays. I so get the idea of just letting them express themselves no matter how it “looks” and stress the importance of their ideas not their spelling or sentence structure.

    Just the other day, after almost two years of really unschooling, Daughter showed me an outline she had WRITTEN BY HAND (something she has always had a great deal of difficulty with and absolutely detested doing) for a comic book idea she has.

    She wrote, did I mention BY HAND, a detailed outline with character descriptions, plot synopsis and a blurb that she described as “just other stuff”.

    Though her spelling and grammar are fine (a HUGE point of contention when it came to discussing her skills with the school), she still has a great deal of difficulty when it comes to punctuation, capitalization and spacing.

    If you can’t see past this when looking at her handwriting all you will see is a bunch of letters in a row with a capital thrown in every now and again for good measure.

    What I see? A child feeling secure enough to express her creativity without the concern of it having to meet anyone else’s expectations.

    • 🙂 beautifully said. The technical parts will eventually work themselves out, but not if she looses all desire to even try. I’m glad you are celebrating her creativity and focusing on that. 🙂

  2. Hi, thanks for the post.
    I am working on the same thing. My son has almost quit writing because he was so fed up with spelling. His sentence formation is also not good. But last week when I copied down his story for him while he was orating it, I was amazed to see the correct sentence formations , vocabulary , character formation and also the rapid fire of ideas and thoughts of each character. ( I can never concentrate like that )

    Since then I have been wondering how these kids can store so much in their brain without giving out a hint of it until we reach them. We will always think they are sitting idle. When I asked him for a story about his new aquarium he was so spontaneous.

    What a coincidence I was just now typing his story and uploading the pictures, when I thought of checking you in between.

    I have got a long way to go . He is not yet ready to write on his own. I copied the story down just to show him how talented he is . And he was so proud of it . ( more than making a story , me wanting to write it down ) .

    Do you think it will spoil him and he may not write himself ? I am confused.

    • Copying it down for him is a fantastic thing to do. Do it whenever he wants to dictate something. And, give him a little tape recorder so that he can dictate into the machine for the times you are busy or can’t sit down and write it out for him.

      Seeing you type the words and punctuation (etc) out correctly on the paper is a really powerful tool to help him learn. He’ll read it over and over and have what writing looks like modeled for him on the paper.

      It won’t spoil him. 🙂 He will write when he is developmentally ready to write. You can help him now by showing his ideas are valuable enough to help him get it on paper.

      Keep it up!

  3. Tiff,
    This is again, another post that speaks to my heart! As always it is right on time. My 11 yr old just asked me yesterday to leave the “schooly stuff” behind, and trust him to learn on his own. Sigh! I am breathing, and struggling with this thought at the same time. But he too is so creative, but locked. I am confused.


    • You may be confused, but he isn’t. 😉 So go with the less confused of the two of you…your son…and let him show you his world. Schooly stuff is so overrated!

  4. the picture is extremely brilliant . Dissolving in itself.

    • thanks, Naturalist helped me photoshop it. She put in all the things she loves…blue, sparkles, birds, and words. And being happy. 🙂

  5. I can’t help and feel very happy for you. This kid may have a very bright future. Maybe home schooling or self teaching is your way to go. In fact, as long as she has that expression, it makes it all worth it. I came a cross a creative writing program and it kind of sounds like this. Nonetheless, expression is key to any person. It is just a matter of finding that voice.

  6. Your timing is brillant. Just this morning I declared a mental health (mine) break from school until I can reach some kind of understanding about how education needs to work in our house. It seems like I have to figure that out every few weeks but the reevaluation always helps things go so much better!

  7. Stop, please. I can’t homeschool A, it would kill us both. But then I read these posts and have second thoughts. In a different world, with fewer issues, perhaps I could. You give me so much hope though.

    • roflol, Jen.

      I feel you. I really do. I’ve been there. 😉

      Here’s an honest assessment: where are the conflicts in your life with A? How much of it comes from outside sources, or making him fit someone else’s schedule? How much of that could you do away with by simply making your own schedule or better yet putting A in charge of his schedule?

      I’m not saying this to push homeschooling, I’m just saying that when I realized that the majority of issues were happening not between Naturalist and me but because I had sided with an outside source to try and fit her into someone else’s box…that’s when I seriously considered making a change. It’s the difference between making the child fit into the education vs. making the education fit the child. 😉

      I think you are doing an amazing job. I mean really amazing, whether you’re homeschooling or not, I know you’re in A’s corner and so does he.

  8. I cannot agree with you more ! Last three years I tried to fit my son into the school schedule and every thing was mess. But this year I have kept the school thing apart. Yes, we work on it. But not the way we did earlier. I use the school portions as a reference and we work more on areas where he has more interest. Earlier I used to wonder what happens when school reopens my son changes into some body else. But not this time . 🙂

    And Tiffany, your blog sure gave the courage and confidence to believe in my heart and my kids . 😀

  9. I love your words. I have a 10 yr old profoundly (so they say) dyslexic daughter. She is getting OG tutoring 2 x’s/wk and it seems to be helping her read. But I refuse to adhere to there strict rules of constantly correcting her at home. Home needs to be where she can take chances and make mistakes and be free to just get her ideas and words on paper. Luckily she has never been to school to have her confidence crushed. Love your unschooling blog! Lots of great ideas. Thanks

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