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2e Tuesday::Look Ma! No Spelling Lessons!

I have the advantage, being an unschooler, of trying radical things that the rest of the public wouldn’t dream of doing. Like, not having any spelling lessons in our day. At all. Anyone who has spent time with their child working on endless spelling tests, spelling workbooks, spelling drills, and countless spelling induced temper tantrums has fantasized about doing just that. Spelling curriculum is the bane of many school kids and parents existence. However, spelling is one of the foundations of the school system. Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic…and spelling is a huge part of writing.

It’s such a big part of writing that it causes panic attacks to think about not having spelling as a part of the school day. Even when we left public school and homeschooled, I found spelling curriculum so I could import the spelling test pain into our lives every day. No one was forcing me to, it was in my control, and I bought in to the idea that if we don’t make our kids write random words down 10 times a day for a week, then they won’t ever learn to spell. And then they won’t write coherently. And then they won’t give a good application to colleges, which will lead to them not getting into school, which means unemployment, which means a horrible life full of grief and misery.

I, actually, am a fantastic speller. I found proof in my basement of doom that in 5th grade, I was at a high school spelling level. I have, like, a photographic memory for words. Which is weird because otherwise, my mind is a sieve. Things come in and flow out almost instantaneously, which accounts for my childlike glee. I feel like I see things for the first time no matter how often I’ve heard or read or seen it. Except words. They stick in there like they have velcro on the back of them. I’m like a wordy Rainman!

To me, every spelling mistake that I come across in my day leaps out at me like a scream. I previously supposed that spelling errors were the sign of a weak mind. Because spelling was so easy for me, I figured that it was easy for everyone…so how lazy could you be to not spell something when you could just see it in your mind.

Well, along came Naturalist. And to put it clearly I’ll do an analogy… Naturalist :: spelling : Me :: staying organized. It was confusing because I knew she didn’t have a weak mind, but she also couldn’t spell. Hell, she couldn’t even use vowels in her words. And this was in 3rd grade.

We discovered that Dyslexia had a lot to do with her spelling mistakes, so for a while when we homeschooled I thought that meant that I just had to make her practice and drill even harder. This was wrong. Let me repeat, THIS WAS WRONG. As wrong as suggesting that a person in a wheelchair just needs to get out of the wheelchair and try walking more often.

If you have a kid with either a learning difference like Dyslexia or is extremely right brained, let go of the spelling lists. I only say that because I’ve done just that, and in 2 years I’ve seen a remarkable difference (for the better!) in everyone’s spelling. Here’s what we do, and why it works:

1. Encourage passion and interest! For Naturalist, this interest was on birds and wolves. Any interest will lead into some form of expression. For her, she would write novels, biographies, and comics about birds and wolves.

2. Encourage internet use! There are ways to safely protect you and your child from negative scary internet-y things, so take those steps and use it. Naturalist would use the internet to search on birds and wolves to eventually find the words that she needed to use in her chosen forms of expressions. Because it was important to her, she would remember the spellings much easier.

3. Encourage more internet use! Naturalist is on a variety of chat rooms and forums like Spore, Indigo Forum, Dyscalculia Forum, Deviant Art, etc. Again, use caution and common sense and discuss proper internet safety measures with your kids, and then let them go. Using words to communicate to other people is a huge incentive to write correctly. And on those forums, usually someone else will correct the spelling in a reply, and this provides a concrete example to follow. It’s important to get ideas across, so these corrections are remembered much easier.

4. Encourage computer use. Spell check on the computer is fabulous!

5. Allow them to ask you how to spell words without answering back, “Look it up!”. Don’t do it. Just spell the word, as many times as they ask, as much as you can.

6. Trust that your kids want to be competent spellers and will find a way to do so when left to their own passions. Really trust this. Especially with a kid with LD who also is gifted who also is right brained. For instance, Naturalist cannot use a dictionary. It’s so hard for her. But this is what she does: She reads books. She remembers words on a page that she doesn’t know how to spell. Later, when she’s writing or drawing or needs to use that word, she remembers what page she saw it on and goes to that specific book to copy the word down properly. So, to get it straight, in her mind it’s easier to remember every word on a page of every book she’s ever read than to use a dictionary. It boggles the mind, does it not? But that’s how she rolls. Not being forced to “do” spelling, she’s come up with a way to spell words properly. Not for a grade, not for a test, not for a teacher, but because she just WANTS TO. She wants to take control of her dyslexia and prove that she can do things in spite of it. She wants people to understand her. She doesn’t like the slow spell check process of having to stop and figure a word out all the time, so she remembers better.

7. Get Scribblenauts!!!! For a visual, creative, right brained thinker, this game is the bees knees, and an amazing spelling facilitator. Basically, what you write down becomes part of the game, so spelling is important and words are introduced that they just remember because they need to use it.

Based around 2D side-scrolling action and word play, the premise of Scribblenauts is simple; quite literally, anything you write, you can use and reuse in the game. Players use the DS’ touch-screen and the in-game notepad/keyboard to help their character, Maxwell, as he moves throughout 220 increasingly difficult levels on his never-ending quest for the star-like “Starites.”

Attaining them requires Maxwell to solve spatially oriented puzzles. To do this players describe objects via the notepad/keyboard, which in turn appear on the game screen and facilitate the starite making its way to Maxwell. There are literally thousands of items in the game, both utilitarian like ladders, ropes, cars and buses, to the outlandish items, such as invisibility cloaks, pirates and black holes.

The game is all about experimentation, imagination and endless replay value as players open their minds to the nearly limitless possibilities that are sure to make Scribblenauts unlike any side-scrolling platformer they have ever played.

So, that’s our spelling suggestions. My kids haven’t done a spelling lesson in almost 3 years, and they’re better spellers because of it. Try it, you’ll see!

2e Tuesday::multisensory learning

I have a big mix of friends that read this blog; some homeschoolers, some public schoolers, some private schoolers…some dudes, even…of course, all are awesome. One thing I know is that if you have a 2e kid–creative, right brained, divergent thinking, gifted with significant learning differences–regardless of where they go to school, you are a homeschooler. You have to take their homework and then reteach it so they understand. You have to work, hard, with them to help it make sense and stay relevant. They may go to school every day, but the real learning probably only starts once they’re one on one with you.

With that in mind, here are my favorite resources for learning with this particular learning style. All these have been tried and tested chez Child’s Play, and all are in continual use…some for the last 5 years pretty solidly. Even though we don’t divide our day or ‘homeschool’ into sections (thus, we are unschoolers!), I will here for some clarity, and to help out those that do!

English and writing:
probably one of the most stressful things for a 2e kid and parent to work through–writing for a visual thinker is torture. I love the following resources because it allows kids to think in visual mind maps, type it out, and then with a press of a button it will take the mind map and put it into an outline. With another press of a button, it will take that and form it into a paragraph! These programs can be used across every subject. I started out with this when Naturalist was still in public school (3rd grade) and even though we don’t do ‘school’ anymore, my kids still use this program…it’s that fun!

elementary and middle school:
Kidspiration 3

The visual way to explore and understand words, numbers and concepts. For K-5 learners, Kidspiration develops thinking, literacy and numeracy skills using proven visual learning principles. In reading and writing, Kidspiration strengthens word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension and written expression. With visual math tools, students build reasoning and problem solving skills. Across the curriculum, students express their creativity and thinking with pictures, words and numbers.

for middle school and up:
Inspiration 8.0

Inspiration® 8 is the essential tool students and adults rely on to plan, research and complete projects successfully. With the integrated Diagram and Outline Views, they create graphic organizers, develop ideas and expand topics into writing. As a result, students gain and retain a better understanding of concepts and demonstrate knowledge, improving their performance across the curriculum.

This has the ability to be so FUN and imaginative, and it’s a shame that at school it can be so boring (if it’s taught much at all–the state testing has decreased the time spent talking about art/history/science/music and focused more time and attention on math and english). Multisensory history can be supplemented with lots of things. Puzzles, for one!

american history puzzles,

and don’t forget all the History board games

I wonder if, instead of boring essays, teachers would ever accept a completed puzzle instead?!

For video/computer games, you can’t go wrong with Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, and Golfer went nuts for History Channel: Battle For the Pacific. There are tons of historical video games out there!

Basically, go to Amazon or google, and type in whatever point of history you/your kid is studying, and add the word ‘game’ after it…it’s amazing how many fun things there are to do with history!

For the most epic science game ever created, look no further than:
Spore and the follow up Spore Galactic Adventures

You start as a single cell, and then spend the game evolving into more complex creatures until you are exploring and conquering the universe. It is amazing, and highly playable even though it touches on just about every kind of science imaginable.

Also, if you have a naturalist (like I do!) run and get Zoo Tycoon 2: Ultimate Collection I linked to the ultimate collection, which has the original Zoo Tycoon game plus the 4 expansion packs: African Adventures, Endangered Species, Marine Mania, Extinct Animals. A SIMS like game, the goal is to create a thriving zoo. This means constructing correct habitats for the animals you put in your zoo, maintaining the grounds, and keeping your guests and animals happy. This has been a part of our gameplay for 5 years, and it still hasn’t gotten old. Not only are my kids learning about biology and ecology, they are also getting a fair amount of math. Understanding economics and spreadsheets are a vital part of the game if you want to make it to 5 stars…one night I overheard Naturalist ask my husband if he wouldn’t mind looking over some spreadsheet information on a zoo she was creating…”I’m losing money somewhere, I need to stop the flow to be successful!” she pleaded.

And again, don’t underestimate the power of science puzzles!

I kind of covered all this here!

Overall learning:
I know there are a lot of people out there who really don’t like video/computer games, and certainly wouldn’t consider them educational. I am not one of those people. Video games were made by visual spatial thinkers for visual spatial thinkers. I love the intuitive way video games level the difficulty up, so you’re always on the edge of knowing what you’re doing but not knowing what you’re doing. That’s where learning happens…when you’re pushed to really think about things. We have the Wii platform, and they have some amazing games that teach you to learn how to learn. Super Mario Galaxy…amazing! The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess…solving puzzles and using brain power to beat the game, not to mention hand/eye/brain coordination…I think this was the best kind of occupational therapy my kids ever had.

But my favorite favorite learning game is hands down Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree I could have skipped all the professional testing we did for Naturalist to determine where her scholastic strengths and weaknesses were, and just played this game to see it. There are five categories to play: memory, analysis, number crunching, visual recognition, and quick thinking. You cycle through, answering a handful of fun questions for each category–they level up in difficulty as you answer them correctly. At the end it gives you a graph that charts out where you scored for each level. My 2e self was very apparent on the graph…I was off the charts for visual recognition and analysis, but barely scored at all on number crunching. The best part is, the more you play the better you get!

So, there’s the top of the top resources for us here at 2e Central. If you have anything to share that I haven’t mentioned here, give it a shout out in the comments…I’m always on the lookout for more!

2e Tuesday:: “Not Trying Hard Enough”

For my post this week (late! I know! I’m hopeless!) I’ll draw on something that happened this week to Naturalist in order to highlight the most frustrating aspect of being a 2e, creative learner.

2e, twice exceptional (exceptionally smart along with exceptional learning differences) kids are intense. They work hard, play hard, and think hard. These kids tend to be intense!

One of the greatest injustices of being 2e is that oftentimes their output doesn’t match up with their abilities. Or, rather, it can appear by looking at their schoolwork that they aren’t trying hard or paying attention or focusing. For instance, Naturalist is a beautiful artist but has horrible writing. HORRIBLE. Her penmanship is all over the place, capitalization mixed with lower case, slanted down the page, big and little mixed up. The physical act of writing is a weakness, and many 2e kids struggle with this. Putting her ideas down on paper is a frustrating process (visual, right brain thinkers are trying to process images into words and then into letters, which takes a while!), and she spends twice as long doing it than most kids.

It’s hard to accept the fact that a kid who has a 10th grade vocabulary would struggle with 3rd grade spelling words, or a kid with an encyclopedic knowlege about WWII would be unable to do simple addition. And so, lots of times the kids is blamed for not paying attention or not focusing.

Imagine struggling and working over writing something down…taking longer than anyone else and thinking harder about it…only to be told that it was ‘sloppy’ or ‘not good enough’ or only worth a ‘C’ grade. It would really burst your bubble. It would make an already frustrating experience even that much more painful. And to a kid with a highly developed moral code, it’s incredibly unfair.

This week, Naturalist told me that in a drama class she’s taking (my kids go to a program once a week where they can take elective classes through the public school system), she has written work to turn in. And that her teacher gave her back one of them and told her she didn’t try hard enough on it.

Looking back on her public school years, I think so much of her anxiety and depression came from comments like this. From feeling the discrepancy between knowing how hard she’d worked and then knowing that it wasn’t going to be good enough. I totally played into it. If a teacher told me she needed to work harder, or pay more attention to her worksheets, then that’s what we did. If I could go back, I would change so much of that. I would work something out with the teacher where Naturalist would spend a reasonable amount of time working on something, with a reasonable amount of effort, and the teacher would accept it in whatever form we sent it back…half finished, spelling errors, whatever.

One of the best skills I’ve developed over the last 4 years with Naturalist is the ability to respect and trust her. When she says she’s working hard, even if it doesn’t look like it to me, I back off. If she’s reading at a level that I think should be higher, I keep my mouth shut. If she’s frustrated by something that I *know* she should be able to do, I don’t say, “but this is so easy…”. I respect her learning style…not just the ‘gifted’ parts of it that put her at a higher level than her peers, but also the ‘different’ part of it that sometimes puts her at lower level.

A big part of that is also helping other people, like this drama teacher, respect that as well. Whether it’s through educating them on what a 2e learner is like, or standing up for her, or figuring out what accomodations would work best for her.

And the biggest part of that? Helping Naturalist herself respect it. Because going forward, if she doesn’t respect how she thinks and learns, no one else will either. So I have to keep a check on my frustrations, and expectations, and pressure if I want her to be able to keep a check on hers. Being 2e is a unique challenge–these kids know it and we know it–and our kids don’t need even more negatives from us to add on to it. They need us in their corner, accepting, encouraging, respecting.


2e Tuesday::Getting over it.

I started writing this blog because I felt kind of alone on this journey through homeschooling and learning about 2e kids. Kids that were so gifted at some things, but who struggled so much at others. This became my place to vent, to question, to seek out other people who understood. I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of hours in the past 4 years on the internet…googling every phrase about education, child development, learning differences, giftedness, and reform. And now, in a full circle moment, google is sending other people searching those same things, here to my little blog. Which is why I love the questions and comments I read when I get on in the morning. A connection that makes me feel not so alone. So, today’s 2e post comes from a question and comment left for me–I thought it was such a good one, I’m bringing it up here to answer.

Referring to the fact that now I understand different learning styles for my younger kids, but had to learn the hard way with Naturalist, Krishna Leela asked:

Tiffany, Let me ask you one other thing. Now that I work in a completely different way with Swetha and when I see how nicely she responds my heart really goes out for Siva. I really wish I could have done it all with him. Even though I have tried every thing I could do to cover it, I wonder will he ever able to forgive me. How is it for Naturalist . Did she get over it ?

I have those feelings, too. Things are so different in our house now that Naturalist has blazed the way, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t wish I could start over with her, knowing what i know now. I watch how expressive and open my other two are, I see how supported and respected their ways of thinking are, and feel so badly that Naturalist didn’t have any of that for such a long long time. I have huge mother guilt over it. However, here’s what Naturalist (13 now) has taught me:

* kids don’t blame as much as we do. Did you do the best you could with what you knew? And did you continue trying, the more information you gathered? That’s the most anyone can do. No one’s perfect, especially parents! We don’t get a nifty manual with our kids, darn it. We just get intuition and lots of love. It’s not for him to forgive you, it’s for you to find forgiveness from yourself. And, when I asked Naturalist if she blamed me for anything, she said, “No, I blamed myself for being so stupid”. Which makes me feel even worse than if she’d have just given me all the blame, actually.

* it’s no use looking backwards. Do I wish I could go back and have a do over with Naturalist? yes, all the time. But all I have is today, and tomorrow, and all the tomorrows going forward. I can use what I know now to make them the best for my kids and myself. I can be present in her life today, and give her all the love, support, encouragement, and positive reinforcement that I didn’t give her for so many years before. It’s all we can do, and it is enough.

* I asked Naturalist if she’s ever gotten over it, her time in school and her time feeling so isolated, stupid, and inferior. She said, “I don’t think you ever get over something like that, but you get past it. You get through it. And you can accept it. I’ve accepted that I’m not as stupid as I thought I was. In most ways I’m smarter. And some things are still really hard, but it’s not because I’m stupid. I just think differently. And that’s OK.”

I asked her specifically what she’d say to you and your worries, and she said:

“Someday he’ll see what was happening then, and compare it with what is happening now, and he’ll appreciate how much you changed just for him.”

I hope we answered this well enough for you, thank you for the question!

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!

2e Tuesday::Jonathan Mooney

Every parent of a 2e or out of the box thinker should know the name Jonathan Mooney. Labeled with ADD, dyslexia and severe learning disabilities, he is, in fact, a 2e Out of the Box Thinker himself and he’s written two books on the subject: Learning Outside The Lines: Two Ivy League Students With Learning Disabilities And ADHD…
and The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal It’s worth noting that while he struggled to make it through school and dropped out for a time, he since went on to Brown University and holds an Honors degree in English Literature.

I’ve written about Jonathan Mooney a couple times before, specifically here:
About when we met Jonathan Mooney and here: About the book “Learning Outside the Lines”

His website is a fantastic place to go for more information, understanding, and resources about and for Out of the Box Thinkers. His books and media interviews continue to spread the message that thinking outside the lines (or, out of the box 😉 ) is not a disability and shouldn’t be treated as such. He’s a hopeful guy with a strong message for educators, parents, and kids, and I’ve enjoyed both meeting him and exchanging emails with him. He’s been one important step on the path towards helping my Out of the Box thinkers thrive.

He is embarking on a cross country tour for the next couple months, I thought I’d post the dates and locations in case any of you are close to one of them. If you are, go go go!

Nov. 4
7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
The Ross School
9 Lagunitas, Ross, CA
Free & open to the public

Nov. 9
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Floral Park Memorial High School
210 Locust Street, Floral Park, NY
Book signing and parent meet up
Free & open to the public

Nov. 10
8:00 am keynote for parents and teachers
Floral Park Memorial High School
210 Locust Street, Floral Park, NY
Free & open to the public

Nov. 11
Washington, DC

Nov. 20
University of Washington, College of Education Community
The Short Bus Stories

Dec. 1
Special Education Conference
Oklahoma State Department of Education, Oklahoma City
The Short Bus Stories

Dec. 5
10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
National Alliance on Mental Illness Transition workshop
Holiday Inn, 172 North Main Street, Concord, NH

Dec. 14 & 15
The Lab School, Washington, DC

Dec. 15
The Lab School, Baltimore, MD

A brief look ahead:
Jan. 23
El Paso, TX

Feb. 4
El Paso, TX

Feb. 4 & 5
Oakton, VA

Feb. 8 & 9
Charlotte, NC

Feb. 12
Bethalto, IL

Feb. 20
Santa Barbara, CA

Feb. 26
Santa Ana, CA

March 5
Salt Lake City, Utah

March 11 -13
Diamonds in the Rough: Smart Kids Who Learn Differently Conference
Rockville, MD

March 16
Northridge, CA

March 20
Fairfax County, VA

April 17
San Francisco, CA

April 29 & May 1
Philadelphia, PA

June 19
Tokyo, Japan

June 20
Osaka, Japan

Please spread the word to your friends and colleagues and I hope to see you all soon!


I hope some of you can make it!
And, if you haven’t already, come join us over at the Out of the Box Thinkers group!

2e Tuesday::Attitude Adjustment.

I know this is Wednesday, but technically I started thinking about this post on Tuesday so it still qualifies.

I have an acrylic painting that Naturalist made for me when she was 8 and still in school, I keep it right by the stove in my kitchen. It’s a portrait of me, so how could I not love it! The other day I was moving some stuff around and knocked it over, when I went to pick it up I read the back that said, “I love you, mom! 2004” But the 2, 4, and y were written backwards. She was constantly writing things backwards in what I know now is a very right brained way. Right brain thinkers have very fluid pictures in their minds eye, and can rotate, spin, and flip pictures (and numbers) around without changing the meaning of the number or letter. This is one reason b’s and d’s are so problematic for Naturalist.

In any case, I didn’t know about creative, right brained, 2e, or Out of the Box thinkers back then. I didn’t know about dyslexia, or unschooling, or John Holt, or experiential learning. What I did know was that my daughter was different from all the other kids in her class. I knew that she was falling way behind. I knew that she struggled with homework and hated going to school. I knew that while her teachers loved her, they also would talk to me about how we could get her up to speed and how she daydreamed too much and and how she needed to pay more attention to her work and what was going on it class how she was so forgetful and what I should be doing at home to keep all those things from happening.

I felt like her behavior was my responsibility, and her failures were my fault. Because being a mom in the 21st century is all about the pressure to create uberkids who achieve amazing things because all your attention is focused on making them better, faster, stronger.

And here was Naturalist, ruining all my well laid plans. I could make her dress the part, I could make her look the part, I could sign her up for all the right after school programs and take her to all the right places. But when she would get to those places and have to read or write, then it burst the perfect little bubble I’d built around her and exposed both of us to the world. At a time when kids are expected to read when they leave Kindergarten, Naturalist’s inability to read by 2nd grade was quite a big deal to everyone around us. Her lack of any spelling ability in her work also had this effect. I mean, if she wrote down 10 words in a sentence, 9 of them would be spelled wrong. Every misspelled word was like a little cut across my heart, sometimes I would physically hurt when I’d look over her homework.

What is wrong with her.
Why can’t she do this?
What have I done wrong with her?
Can someone fix her?

This is what I thought. Desperately.

I would show you examples of her work, but you know what I realized when I looked at the back of the portrait she painted of me? Something that stopped me cold?

I threw it all away.

At a time when parents treasure their kids papers and drawings, and keep them in a portfolio to look over when the kids gets all grown up, instead I tossed it all in the trash. I didn’t want to look at the misspellings and red circles of mistakes on paperwork. I didn’t want to see the errors and the scrawling writing.

I was ashamed of her.

I didn’t acknowledge it back then…I was too busy frantically trying to fix everything or make everything look better–even sitting down and doing her homework when she was in tears.

But that’s what it amounted to. Fear. Shame. Denial. Anxiety. Anger, even.

And guess what?

2e kids, out of the box thinkers, divergent learners….whatever we call them….they are all (at least, all the ones I’ve met!) highly empathetic and amazingly sensitive. So guess what the message was I was giving Naturalist? All the things I would never say to her face, but the things that spring out of all that negativity. She picked up on it, for sure. Combined with the environment she was in for 6 hours a day in school and you can imagine she had diagnosable psychological issues by the time she was 9…anxiety, depression, compulsive behavior, nervous ticks.

Not that I’m blaming myself, but I’m just breaking things down. Did it cause it? Probably not. Did it help her? Definitely not.

By the time I started unschooling and had read lots of John Holt, my attitude adjusted quite a bit. All that negativity evolved into more positive feelings….trust, acceptance, encouragement, empowerment. I stopped comparing her to what everyone else could do and we started exploring what it was that she could do very well. Which is a lot!

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that she only started reading when I had changed my outlook from fear based to fun based. When I relaxed, then she could relax. Positive reinforcement. When I switched from thinking, “What is wrong that you can’t read this book?” to “I won’t be able to stop you from reading when you find the right book!” everything changed.

It’s easy to fall into some very negative thinking when dealing with a bright gifted child whose performance is way under the radar, but that just really feeds the beast and can lead to a really unhappy parent/child relationship. If you’re finding yourself in this situation, rather than focusing on the child focus on what your attitude is. What do you feel? And would you say those things out loud to your kid? If not, find ways to adjust it. <a href="read some John Holt“>. Subscribe to the Enjoy Parenting Daily Groove.

Remind yourself that you only have one life to live with your child, and do you really want to spend it stressing over whether they can spell words right or remember all the states in the US. These kids are born to ask the big questions. Not just ‘why am I here’ but mostly ‘what’s the point of being here?’

Help them find joy. Help them find their own unique voice. But the catch is, you have to find it for yourself first.

2e Tuesday (on Wed….oops!)::Let Them Shine!

So, we’re talking about totally out of the box thinkers here–if you are one, you know it. If you have one, you know it. Out of the box thinkers happen for lots of different reasons…mass creativity, right brain thinking, learning differences that create a quirky combination of strengths and round-a-bout thinking.

Society is hypocritical when it comes to out of the box thinkers. One the one hand, there is a general theme of how it’s good to be unique and totally yourself. Until you ARE unique and totally yourself, and then everyone tends to get freaked out that the status quo is being messed with. Out of the box thinkers are the ones that think so differently, they end up changing the world. They are also the ones that are so divergent, they tend to not agree with or want to do things the way everyone else is doing them. If you’ve got a kid in school, or school age, then this creates some (!!!) tension with other educators and/or yourself.

For instance, back in school we were given a whole list of diagnosis about why Naturalist wasn’t doing well there, and all the ways she was different from the ‘norm’ or ‘average kid’. The standard she was being judge on was how close to the norm she was. The standard for the NCLB Act and Public School Policy is how close to average they can get every kid in each grade. The standard for general curriculum, whether public school or homeschool, is based on an indescriminate ‘average knowlege’ that some person somewhere that you’ve never met has decided your kid, who they have never met, should have.

Pardon me, is my unschooling showing? lol.

I know I have a nice mix of people who read this and have chosen all different kinds of ways to help their OOTB thinker, whether in public, private, or homeschool. Sometimes it goes great, and other times we can feel failure, frustration, and shame down to our cores. For those down times, I suggest….think long and hard about what standards you are using to define and shape your OOTB child. Are you judging her/him based on their own unique strengths and weaknesses, or are you judging them by comparing them to ‘the norm’…peers, grade level, how you were at their age… The more we compare OOTB kids to others, the more hopeless we can get that they will ever be ‘normal’.

The point isn’t to have normal kids. The point of the school district is just that, and they will remediate and medicate a child to do it. However, you don’t have to tow that line. Lets face it, our OOTB thinkers aren’t normal…and is that so horrible? It’s a prerequisite for revolutionaries and world changers!

In any curriculum, Naturalist’s ability to write and draw backwards isn’t useful at all…in fact, most places will try to remediate this out of her.

However, it is a skill that is essential for light writing, or, writing in the dark while taking a picture using a long exposure speed. It’s something she and I did a lot of up at the cabin by Yellowstone. 🙂 To do this, you take a flashlight, set the camera shutter to about 30 seconds, and then draw a picture or a word. In order for it to turn out, though, you have to draw from right to left and backwards. This is as easy as breathing to Naturalist, and we took turns drawing and writing with light:

To showcase how difficult this can be for most of the population, here is my brother trying to write my name backwards:

Spending these nights with her, seeing how brilliantly she created light art, underscored how important it is for me to let her shine…divergent skills, thinking, and all. Many times this will run counter to the objectives of people and places around us who have quantifiable ‘in the box’ goals for her. But they don’t know what her path will be in life. I don’t know what her path will be. But I know that everything that makes her who she is will be a part of it, and it’s my job to stand up for those unique parts and keep them intact so she has them as she grows up.

Ideally, this is the goal of teachers and the institutions they work for. But if that isn’t the case, then it’s up to you to run a little counterculture on behalf of your OOTB thinker. If you haven’t already, come join more of us trying to do the same thing for our kids (and even ourselves!) at the Out of the Box Group.

2e Tuesday: Conformity isn’t an option.

As in intro to this video clip, I’ll start off by saying that if you have an Out Of the Box Thinker then you’ll understand that they don’t do things just because. They don’t do things because you say so, they don’t do things that don’t make sense to them, they don’t do things to make other people happy. This frequently leads to ‘power struggles’ and ‘temper tantrums’, especially in the early years. In the later years it may become defiance and a complete tuning out.

In the case of Naturalist, I’ve documented in minute detail in here all the ways she chafed in school. From the first day of Kindergarten to the last day of her formal schooling at about 4th grade. At first, I thought it was my job to fit her square peg into the round hole (or whatever that saying is). That didn’t work out so well for her…anxiety, depresion, phobias and facial tics, all before 9. That kind of forced my hand. I’d tried everything I could to make her a normal kid like her peers, and it wasn’t for her. So, we stepped away from all that and embarked on our journey through homeschooling until resting at unschooling. Some people won’t have that journey, or only go part of the way, but regardless, it needs to be a path that both you and your OOTBThinker will respect.

As my kids become older, I’m trying to find mentors for them–people who have maybe been the Out of the Box Thinker in school and now have a life out of school that embraces their creativity and spark. I think anyone who has a divergent creative learner owes it to themselves and to their kids to find like minded people and learn from them…what their path has been, what their advice is, and what helped them the most to become who they are as adults. This takes some effort, because we’re not talking about businessmen or other people with 9-5 jobs. We’re talking about artists, filmmakers, directors, craftsmen, artisans, and a whole host of other people doing things that they don’t talk about in school. It’s my pleasure to share the people I come across with any of you out there with OOTBThinkers.

This video is made by MdotStrange, who I know very little about other than he animated a movie “We Are The Strange” and has started a Film Fest called “From Here to Awesome”, and comes highly recommended from another mentor I’ve found, Mike Hedge.

This is a long-ish video, at about 16 minutes, but so worth the listen. When I listen to him, I imagine a time machine has picked my kids up, swept them into the future, and now they are beaming back a message to me which is what MDotStrange is telling us here.


2e Tuesday: A Sense of Adventure.

This is the on-the-road edition of 2e Tuesday, brought to you by the highways I-15, I-70, and I-5.

We’re having a lot of fun on our roadtrip out to California, in no small part because I’ve noticed that Out of the Box kids LOVE adventures. And the more they’re involved in the adventuring, the more they love it. I’ve turned over the planning of our trips to the older kids–they pour over maps, brochures, and websites to find the places they want to go. There is much less whining this way, because Out of the Box kids also don’t really like to be told when, where, what, and how to do something.

This sense of adventure extends to more than roadtripping. When allowed to flourish, it becomes a part of their everyday. When allowed to make up their own recipes using their own ingredients, cooking becomes exciting. When given random materials, science experiments become fascinating. Even cleaning becomes less a chore when they are left to their own devices. I don’t really have a chore chart anymore, just a big bucket with all manner of cleaning supplies that they chose from. It’s a fabulous strength, to have such a zest for life. It means I’ve given up some Mommy control that I thought was essential to parenting, but the trade off is they are much more engaged with me and with life in general.

We’re doing a lot of driving in the car these two weeks, but they’re all for it because we get to visit some National Parks they chose. It’s a win/win, getting them more involved in the trip and giving up some of that control. It makes for happy campers all the way around.

Fun, but tiring.

To learn more about Out of the Box kids and chat with other parents of kids that fit this description, head over and join the Out of the Box Thinkers group!