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2e Tuesday: Animal School.

And I’m not saying ‘Animal School’ because we’re a bunch of animals over here.

What I mean is, I just came across a video I haven’t seen in a while. The last time I watched it was in California almost 4 years ago, while I was anguishing over my decision to pull Naturalist out of school. I had only ever hung out with the parents of Naturalist’s schoolmates, and so had nowhere to turn to for a sympathetic ear and good advice. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy for doing it, but I’d finally reached a point where I knew I’d be crazy if I didn’t. (It only took me 4 years of her crying every day to reach that point…hello?!?)

So anyway, when we bailed on 3rd grade towards the end of the year, we thought….”Hey! Everyone else is in school…let’s go to Disneyland!” and then I started feeling really great about our decision. Also, I met up with a friend of the family who homeschooled each one of her 8? 10? kids through high school. She could tell I was stressed about the whole situation…the education system, my dependence on that same system, my stress about Naturalist not thriving there (was it her? them? me? what?!?), and a million other things that jump up on ya when you run and leap into homeschooling at the drop of a hat.

She shared with me the video for the short story, ‘Animal School’. By the second sentence, I was crying. I realize that’s not a real great incentive to get you to watch it if you haven’t before, but I gotta be honest here! After struggling so hard for 4 years to get Naturalist to ‘fit in’, this movie cleared my vision a bit and I had a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Maybe it’s not Naturalist! Maybe there is hope for us after all!

“This story is reproduced from Preparing Our Children for Success, by Rabbi Z. Greenwald with permission from the copyright holders, Artscroll/ Mesorah Publications, LTD.
Once upon a time the animals had a school. They had to create a curriculum that would satisfy everyone, so they chose four subjects: running, climbing, flying, and swimming. All the animals, of course, studied all the subjects.

The duck was very good at swimming, better than the teacher, in fact. He received passing grades in running and flying, but was hopeless in climbing, so they made him drop swimming so that he could practice climbing. After a while he was only average at swimming, but average is still acceptable, at least in school, and nobody worried much about it except the duck.

The eagle was considered a troublemaker. In his climbing class he beat everybody to the top of the tree, but he had his own way of getting there that was against the rules. He always had to stay after school and write, “Cheating is wrong,” five hundred times. This kept him from soaring, which he loved, but schoolwork comes first.

The bear flunked because they said he was lazy, especially in the winter. His best time was summer, but school wasn’t open then.

The zebra played hooky a lot because the ponies made fun of his stripes, and this made him very sad.

The kangaroo started out at the top of the racing class, but became discouraged when told to move swiftly on all four legs the way his classmates did.

The fish quit school because he was bored. To him, all four subjects were the same, but nobody understood that because they had never seen a fish.

The squirrel got an A in climbing, but his flying teacher made him start from the ground up, instead of from the treetop down. His legs got so sore practicing takeoffs that he began getting Cs in climbing and Ds in running.

The bee was the biggest problem of all, so the teacher sent him to Doctor Owl for testing. Doctor Owl said that the bee’s wings were too small for flying and they were in the wrong place. The bee never saw Doctor Owl’s report, so he just went ahead and flew anyway. I think I know a bee or two, how about you?

The duck is the child who does well in math and poorly in English and is given tutorials by the English teacher while his classmates are doing math. He loses his edge in math, and only does passably well in English.

The eagle is the child who is turned into a troublemaker because he has his “own style” of doing things. While he is not doing anything “wrong,” his non-conforming is perceived as troublemakeing, for which he is punished.

Who does not recognize the bear? The kid who is great in camp, thrives on extra-curricular, but really just goes flat in the academics.

The zebra is the heavy, tall, or short, self-conscious kid whose failure in school few realize is due to a sense of social inadequacy.

The kangaroo is the one who instead of persevering gives up and becomes that discouraged child whose future disappears because he was not appreciated.

The fish is a child who really requires full special education and cannot shine in the regular classroom.

The squirrel, unlike the duck who “manages,” becomes a failure.
The bee, oh the bee, is the child who the school just feels it cannot deal with, yet, against all odds, with the backing of his parents, has enough self-motivation to do well even though everyone thought he couldn’t. I had the pleasure of knowing many bees.

Your child is a unique blend of talents, personality, and ingredients nowhere else to be found.

Some children are skilled intellectually, others are blessed emotionally, and many are born with creative ingenuity.

Each child possesses their his own exclusive collection of gifts.

Your child did not come with a direction booklet.

Effective parents are always learning, studying, and customizing the instructions for their individual child.

Each and every child is as unique as his fingerprints; a sparkling diamond of unparalleled beauty.

Don’t let your child be a kangaroo!”

Raising Small Souls

2e Tuesday: What was I writing about?

Memory. Sweet, constant memory. We remember lots of things…smells, tastes, sounds, feelings, words. We use memory to help us in mundane tasks..the memory of letter shapes that we use to write words, the memory of what we just heard to help us carry out a job, the memory of number order to help us make computations in the grocery store. If you can’t remember things, it’s hard to do them properly or function without extreme frustration.

At 10, Naturalist tested in the 2% for working memory. This is most often found by using a ‘Digit Span’ test…how many numbers can you remember and recall.

It can be seen as a measure of working memory (or short-term memory, depending on the psychological framework used), although other factors such as attention and comprehension also contribute to the performance on this test.
In a typical test of memory span, a list of random numbers is read out at about the rate of one per second. The test begins with two to three numbers, increasing until the person commits errors. Recognisable patterns (for example 2, 4, 6, 8) should be avoided. At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order.

Individuals with larger memory spans can keep in mind more different stimuli, and this seems to give them an advantage for a wide variety of cognitive tasks. Memory span has been linked to performance on intelligence tests, reading skills, problem solving, and a variety of other cognitive tasks.

While her short term memory was at 1%, her long term memory was somewhere at 93%, meaning she has a powerful memory for things if they make it into her long term memory. To clarify the difference:

long term memory is memory that can last as little as a few days or as long as decades. It differs structurally and functionally from working memory or short-term memory, which ostensibly stores items for only around 20 seconds. Biologically, short-term memory is a temporary potentiation of neural connections that can become long-term memory through the process of rehearsal and meaningful association.

Practically speaking, before I knew about digit span tests, working memory, or percentiles, I thought either I or Naturalist was stark raving mad. I knew all about her crisp mind for detailing things that had happened long ago. She would tell me, in detail, all about her room when she was 9 months old, and how one night she was reaching up to play with her mobile when she saw a big bright light outside her window (the moon) and it was so pretty she looked up even higher and then tumbled over because she wasn’t good at sitting yet. She can draw photographically accurate pictures of her 3rd birthday party…the bouganvilla climbing the trellis, the colors of the flowers, the donut cake and differently shaped pools. Her recall of the places we visited while living in Europe when she was 4 oftentimes out details my memories.

But when I ask her why she isn’t doing [x, y, z] like I just asked her 2 minutes ago, she goes, “Huh? What? I don’t remember you asking that!”. When she used to sit at the table with homework, she’d look up at me with tears and say, “I don’t remember how to do this. I don’t remember doing anything like this in school!” There are few things as frustrating as looking at someone who is so good at remembering minute details and having them say, “Wha??? I don’t remember that…” I tried to keep an even tone, but this always got the best of me. My anger would go from 0-60 because obviously she was 1) lying, and she thought I was 2) an idiot. And obviously she was blowing off school and not applying herself and omg, she was doomed to the life of a slacker because where do you go but DOWN when you already have such a bad attitude about school in 3rd grade! And secretly, I was worried that she was as dumb as a stump. I know, NOT the kind of thing a mom should think, and most of the time I didn’t, but sometimes she’d get this vacant look in her eye and say…”I don’t remember” to something that happened not a day before. What was I to think?!

I’m not alone. If you google “working memory problems” you will get bunches of amazing articles that talk about this.

However, the researchers identified that poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers, who often describe children with this problem as inattentive or as having lower levels of intelligence.

What is the typical profile of a child with working memory impairments?
In a classroom, common characteristics of working memory impairment include:
*Low abilities in literacy and numeracy
*Frequently failure to complete learning activities
*Frequently failure to remember instructions
*Normal social integration with peers
*Very reserved in group settings, rarely volunteer information

On the one hand, working memory allows us to identify those with unrecognised potential, and on the other hand, to aid those who were previously considered ‘unmotivated’ or ‘daydreamers’.

Those words, plus inattentive, ADD, and not focused were all ways that I and her teachers used to describe her. I’d shake my head and because she wasn’t being disruptive or destructive in the classroom, we’d usually have a good natured laugh about it before I’d go home and bang my head against the wall.

“It could be that working-memory problems give rise to observable behavioral symptoms of ADHD: distractibility and also poor academic achievement,” she says. Working-memory deficits might also underpin some reading disabilities, as it controls the ability to recall words read earlier in a sentence, says Tannock.

Many children and adults with attention deficits report that they have trouble remembering events that took place within the past 24 hours. Students also often have “gaps” in their knowledge of basic skills because they tune in and out in the classroom. They are often reluctant to engage in tasks, such as schoolwork and homework, which require sustained mental effort. Even when children with attention deficits attend to the appropriate information, they may only attend at a very superficial level. Therefore, they fail to elaborate on the incoming information. They do not activate prior knowledge and relate it to the to-be-learned information. For example, if a student is reading about the Battle of New Orleans, he may fail to retrieve information he already knows about war, New Orleans or Andrew Jackson from his long-term memory store. This failure to sufficiently elaborate on incoming information often results in deficits in long-term memory storage and retrieval.

Students who have deficits in encoding information in memory may have trouble remembering directions or what they have just read. They may also have trouble remembering what their teachers said during class lectures. Further, they may have trouble remembering what others said during conversations. Their deficits may be more pronounced in certain sensory systems or modalities, such as visual, auditory or kinesthetic. Most of the children I see in the clinic who are having school problems have relative weaknesses in their auditory short-term memory, and because much of the information that is presented in the classroom is presented in an auditory/verbal format, this weakness leads to significant functional problems for them.

Deficits in working memory may be manifested in a number of ways in the school setting. Students may have trouble with following through on directions even if they understood them. They may have trouble with solving math calculation problems that involve multiple steps, such as long division or problems in algebra, because in order to solve these problems they need to access information about math facts from long-term memory while remembering what they have just done and what they need to do next. They often have tremendous trouble with word problems in math because they are unable to keep all the information on their mental “plate” while they are deciding what information is most relevant and what process they need to use to solve the problem. They may have functional problems with reading comprehension because they fail to remember the sentences they just read while reading the sentence they are reading. Writing composition is often an arduous task for them. It requires them to retrieve their ideas from long-term memory while simultaneously recalling rules about capitalization, punctuation and grammar and writing their ideas down. In class, they must remember what their teacher has said while taking notes. They must remember the teacher’s questions while searching long-term memory for the answer. If they are looking up a word in the dictionary, they must remember the word while looking it up. Similarly, when they are answering questions in the back of their textbook chapters, they must remember the question while searching the chapter for the answer.

Uh, yeah. Once, someone asked Naturalist if she’d been outside the US. And this girl with vivid memories of pigeons in Venezia and glaciers in Switzerland got a puzzled look on her face and said, “No.” Later, when I reminded her of our trips she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders, and said, “Yeah, I forgot about all that right then”.

When I ask her what happened on a certain day, and it is still that day, she’ll look at me and say, “Ask me in two days, that’s when I’ll remember it better.”

Sometimes she’ll come out with some facts and when I ask her where she learned it, she’ll say, “A year ago. But sometimes my memories take the fast way into my brain, and sometimes they take the slow way in. That one went in last year but only came out right now!”

And this, my friends, is the delight and the agony of some 2e kids. Briliantly detailed minds that may or may not remember what just happened, or what they just read, or where they just went. And if they do remember, it will be in a few days or weeks or months time.

I think the most significant roadblock with Naturalist is her low working memory. Sometimes she just can’t access the quick and gifted side of herself. Luckily there are ways to improve working memory, and things that can be done about it. But this post is already long enough, so I’ll save that for another day. I will leave you with some other great reads about working memory to tide you over…

About Working Memory.com

Working Memory in the Classroom

If you recognize yourself or your child in these descriptions, come on over and join us at the Out of the Box Thinkers group on Yahoo. You can ask me more detailed questions about it, and I may (or may not) remember what you’re talking about.

2e Tuesdays. What the heck is 2e?

2e, Twice Exceptional, Tuesday…it has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it? While I blog a lot about our unschooling, our life, our quirks and our fun, I haven’t talked a lot about my kids with 2e…mostly because it is such a frustrating and complicated issue to get down in black and white. But I think I’m ready to find my voice, and maybe help others find their voice, too. So what is 2e, anyway?

2e…twice exceptional. As the 2e Newsletter puts it:

“These are “2e kids” – twice-exceptional children. They’re exceptional because they’re gifted and exceptional because they have learning disabilities, learning disorders, attention difficulties, or just plain learning differences.”

Or, as I put it:

“2e kids–exceptionally wonderful, and exceptionally aggravating. The kids that make their mama’s say, “Stop being so lazy!” or “Just CONCENTRATE! You did this same problem a second ago!” or “Why do you have to make everything harder than it is!” or “Why can’t you gete this right? This is the EASY part?!”

These are the wicked smart kids who end up being called ‘slow’ or failing out of school…the Richard Branson, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Walt Disney’s of the world. They are walking paradox’s.

Over at Uniquely Gifted, Meredith explains it this way:

these kids have a hard time of it in our education system – because their giftedness can mask their special needs and their special needs hide their giftedness, they are often labeled as “lazy”, “unmotivated”, “not trying”. Many people don’t even realize that a child can be both gifted and learning disabled

And what does the National Association for Gifted Children say about 2e kids?

Living and teaching these children can be extremely confusing. How can a child have an amazing memory for airplane trivia but not be able to test well on basic multiplication facts? It seems improbable that someone who knows the intricate directions to a place he’s only visited once can’t remember directions for homework or where they put their books. Yet that is exactly what can happen with twice exceptional kids. Twice-exceptional children can easily be misperceived as lazy, stubborn, careless, or unmotivated.

There are few people who have heard of, let alone understand, 2e kids. There currently is no precise test to determine it. There is no rigid guideline to recognize it. It’s tough to nail down and even tougher to understand. But I feel like the time is right to get the word out there, to all the moms and dads who are shaking their heads thinking, “What in the world do we do with this child?”. The response to the Out of the Box Thinkers group has been great, and many people have been able to share their experiences with 2e kids. And being able to share my own stories of my 3 OOTBT has been cathartic, as well.

My goal is to have a blog about 2e every Tuesday, because it’s time to spread the word. And if you recognize your kids or yourself in any of these definitions, I have a place for you over at the Out of the Box group, so come on over!

Out of the Box Thinkers Group.

Normal is a four letter word.


The first 5 years of Naturalist’s life, I spent them completely in love with this tiny force of nature–celebrating her quirky humor, her abstract thinking, her determined spirit, her somewhat exasperating habit of wanting to do things her way or not at all. I read hundreds of parenting books and magazines to see what other parents did with their kids like this, and found to my surprise that apparently no one had a kid like this. In the stacks and stacks of discarded books, only one even remotely came close to addressing the Naturalist’s personality, Raising Your Spirited Child. I knew it was for me when the subtitle stated, “A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic.” Yes, yes, yes, yes, and YES! Bingo, we have a winner!

The minute she went into Kindergarten until the minute she left 3rd grade, my celebration of her unique spirit turned into something else…something less happy and more stressful. Because once Naturalist was in a controlled setting with her peers around, one thing was abundantly clear: She Was Not Like Everyone Else. And in school, it is of utmost importance to Be Like Everyone Else. Sit still like everyone else. Color the picture like everyone else. Play the same games as everyone else. Do the same work as everyone else. Think like everyone else. And when your child doesn’t do any of those things, then the attitude isn’t a celebratory one, it’s accusatory. And as a parent, I started to internalize and worry about what was wrong with HER, that she didn’t act or learn like everyone else. This worry turned into an anxiety that I funneled into parenting her, which set up a dynamic of fear, stress, and distrust between both of us.

One day Naturalist brought home a word problem worksheet asking her to figure out a problem about Kim, Susan, and dividing lollipops between them. Naturalist wrote on her paper, in lieu of an answer, “Kim doesn’t want to share her lollipops with Susan, so she keeps them all to herself”. Unlike my response (to laught), her teacher was not amused. She called a conference to detail all the ways Naturalist failed to pay attention or take the homework seriously. “Maybe she’s bored?” I’d say. Which was not the Right Answer. The point was, a child who could not pay attention and do their work diligently in the classroom was a child who was wasting their brain and eventually their life. If you can’t cut it in school, there is no hope for you afterwards. Everytime Naturalist did things ‘differently’ from the norm, the response was to try to get her back in line–herd her back to a pretense of what everyone else was doing. The programs I turned to for help when she struggled with this expectation were no different…both the special ed. programs and the GT programs had, at their core, the focus on getting her to learn and know what everyone else was…what the standards were coming from the teachers and psychologists.

I washed my hands of it the day I went into an IEP meeting with all the specialists to address Naturalists weaknesses in math and reading. They brushed aside my concerns, stating that her performance was ‘within a normal range‘ but what that there was something else they were concerned about. VERY concerned about. So, my concerns that were judged not important in 3rd grade: she couldn’t do a lick of math, she couldn’t read, she cried every day before and after school, she had developed nervous ticks, and she couldn’t tell me what they did at school that day enough to finish her homework. VERY concerning to them: Naturalist would go to recess and not play with any other kids. Even worse, she would go off on her own and play with an imaginary friend in the form of a horse named Soar.

“I’m sorry” I countered, “why is this a bigger issue than what I’ve brought up?” and they detailed all the ways it wasn’t ‘normal’ for a girl to have imaginary friends, or not play with friends at recess, or not care about what her peer group would say about her activities.

“What if she’s going to grow up and be an amazing writer?” was all I could say. “What if her imaginary friend is just the start of an imagination of whole worlds for her to write about? I don’t think C.S. Lewis or Tolkien would consider their detailed stories as the sign of a psychological problem. Have you never heard Einstein say, ‘Imagination is more important than knowlege?” Also, I would hope she wouldn’t turn around and play with the same kids who call her names and treat her so horribly in class. Talk about unhealthy! AND ANOTHER THING!!!” I continued, this time worked up into quite a state, “she is so bored and traumatized IN class that don’t you think she needs a release valve during the day? A time and place where she can regroup, get away, and find a happy place? Maybe, if we can create a happy place IN CLASS she wouldn’t need to create one at recess all by herself!” But that wasn’t their point. Their point was that they had set up an environment that Naturalist needed to fit into, or else. Or else she needed medication, or else she needed counseling, or else she needed me to push her harder to be normal.

It was a crossroads, to say the least. A very emotionally charged point at which I realized I had a choice to make, do we take the same road everyone else was on, or do we take the road less travelled? Is my goal with Naturalist to make her fit the mold of a ‘normal’ student, or break the mold and let her be herself? I didn’t have the answer, but I did know that she wouldn’t ever be going back to a place of learning that found an imaginary friend more threatening than a girl who hadn’t learned anything in an entire 3 years at school.

Luckily, at the point I took her out we were close to summer break, so I tried not to sweat it while I researched educational theories. I found my inspiration in a surprising place, totally unrelated to my search focus. However, I came across a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Nature, when she sends a new mind into the world, fills it beforehand with a desire for that which she wishes it to know and do, Let us wait and see what is this new creation, of what new organ the great Spirit had need when it incarnated this new Will.

The charm of life is this variety of genius, these contrasts, and flavors by which Heaven has modulated the identity of truth, and there is a perpetual hankering to violate this individuality, to warp his ways of thinking and behavior to resemble or reflect your thinking and behavior.

Even though I studied and loved Emerson in my American Studies major in college, I had totally missed his thoughts on education and children. But this quote of his hit me right in the gut. It’s like he appeared as a ghost and spoke those words right to me. Here, nature had given me this new mind full of the things that She needed in the world and all I had done is wonder why she couldn’t have given me someone who was more like everyone else. Not even 9 years old, and I had spent the last 4 of them violating her individuality in small but meaningful ways. All the times I spent wondering why she couldn’t do her work like everyone else, sleep like everyone else (or, at all!), asking the teacher how I could make Naturalist fit in best to the class rather than asking how the teacher could fit the class better to the Naturalist.

But there was more:

I suffer whenever I see that common sight of a parent or senior imposing his opinion and way of thinking and being on a young soul to which they are totally unfit. Cannot we let people be themselves, and enjoy life in their own way? You are trying to make that man another you. One’s enough.”

We sacrifice the genius of the pupil, the unknown possibilities of his nature, to a neat and safe uniformity, as the Turks whitewash the costly mosaics of ancient art which the Greeks left on their temple walls. Rather let us have men whose manhood is only the continuation of their boyhood, natural characters still; such are able and fertile for heroic action; and not that sad spectacle with which we are too familiar, educated eyes in uneducated bodies.

OK, OK, Emerson. I call uncle. I hear you! I get it. I was done sacraficing the genius of my daughter to a neat and safe uniformity. I was done keeping myself up late at night stressing about all the ways my daughter was different from everyone else. I was ready to start respecting her journey and celebrating her uniqueness like I had before she started school.

Around this time, we went to a seminar by Jonathan Mooney who famously (in our house) inscribed her book with these words: “Normal people suck. Enjoy your journey!”

Unusual is not a four letter word. Normal is.

Quotes taken from Emerson’s essay on Education. There’s a lot of good stuff in there, once you get past the 1800’s prose. 🙂

An Unschooler’s Ode to Joy.

There are times when I wonder just what in Pete’s name I am doing unschooling. Mostly this happens when my kids learning cycles are stuck in the video game/TV mode. For realz, I see them sitting around and think to myself, “Right now there are millions of kids sitting at desks doing some actual writing on actual worksheets in an actual school with an actual teacher.”

It’s not unlike the freak outs I used to have when Naturalist and Golfer were in those schools, doing the actual worksheets for 6 hours a day only to come home and not be able to tell me what they were learning that day, that week, that month, or even that school year. Only, with unschooling, there is no teacher or school policy to blame. It’s pretty much just me and the kids.

So I have internal dialogues with myself where I argue back and forth about what kind of radical freak I am to question the status quo and even worse, gamble the productive future of my children on the faith that they, in fact, are competent and trustworthy human beings.

It’s enough to keep a gal up at night. Or up a lot of nights. But not up as many nights as I was when Naturalist was tormented going to school, tormented at school, and tormented after school. So, there’s always that.

But then, my friends, a night comes along like the one I just had and allows me to sleep a little easier (for the next couple weeks, anyway).

It started with Golfer and I watching ‘National Treasure’ which was spent less on watching the movie (that we’ve seen a few dozen times) and more on Golfer talking about history…where Washington is buried, who the Knights Templar really are, Benjamin Franklin’s inventions, different treasures around the world, the British, the Revolutionary War, why is there no memorial to James K. Polk (*snort*) without whom everyone in Washington, Oregon, Idaho & Montana would be speaking with a British accent…his discussions went on and on and on and I sat there thinking, “Whoa. I didn’t know any of this when I was 8. Or even 18.”

Then Naturalist came in with a book that Hubby bought himself and she started looking through it. She’s currently between Warrior books and looking for something to read. This, by the way, from a dyslexic girl who not only refused to read at school but would yell at me every day in 3rd grade, “I NEVER want to read. I WILL NEVER READ. READING is STUPID and a WASTE OF MY TIME.” Now I can’t keep a book out of her hands.

The book in question is Death By Black Hole and I assumed she was just flipping through it mindlessly until she started snickering to herself. And then snickering some more. And I was thinking, “why is she laughing at some nerdy science book?” so I asked her, “why are you laughing at some nerdy science book?” to which she replied, “Listen to this: ‘The Speed of Light; It’s the Law!'” Then she cracked up. I still don’t get it, but she took the book up to her bed to read another chapter. As she walked out of the room she threw out another quote over her shoulder: “How do you know when you’re surrounded by Carbon Monoxide if you can’t see or smell it?” pause “You drop dead! Hahahahahah!”

She came in a little while later asking about how engines work, which I don’t know, so we went to this wikipedia article and she helped me figure it out. Unhappy with the inefficiency of using gas as a fuel source, she asked if hydrogen would work any better, and if not, why, and what else could be used, and blah blah blah I was still stuck on what part fuel played in the whole thing. She declared, “Give me an engine, and a year, and I bet I could figure out a better fuel to use that would be better for the car and better for the environment.” Her boldness and confidence took my breath away. And honestly, after the hellish aftermath of her public school experiences on her bruised and battered psyche, it brought a little tear to my eye.

In school, her divergent and different ways of thinking meant she was labeled, categorized, and dismissed as anything but the most basic of learners. Out of school, past the labels, pathologizing, and standardizing, she is free to think as out of the box as she can. This distinction burns as bright as a lighthouse on a dark night in comparrison. It gives me hope when I see divergent kids being allowed to support their unique learning styles instead of being punished for them. As Einstein noted:

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

And now I’m finishing my night with Golfer watching a show about the history of Aircraft Carriers. In turn, he’s filling me in on the major battles of WWII and how each country affected the outcome–learned mostly from playing Blazing Angels on the WII and watching The Military Channel.

Tonight, I’ll go to sleep with the words, “I’m so glad we’re unschooling” on my lips.

Battle of the Brains

Here’s an interesting video clip about intelligence and IQ tests. Anyone with a right brain, creative, divergent thinker (either themselves or their child!) that has struggled mightily in school will understand why this topic is of high interest to me.

IQ tests are informative if you are testing a left brain, sequential, convergent thinker. Someone who doesn’t freak out in a timed test situation. Someone who sees the word ‘dog’ and only has one word association with it, rather than 3945803458. Someone who learns part-to-whole and thinks linearly.

But there is so much research happening right now that is highlighting the fact that intelligence is so much more than what the IQ test defines it as. Particularly research by Dr. Gardner, (who is shown in the video) who coined the term “multiple intelligence“. Last year I posted my own take on it, and here’s another great quote about it:

Dr. Gardner says that our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence. We esteem the highly articulate or logical people of our culture. However, Dr. Gardner says that we should also place equal attention on individuals who show gifts in the other intelligences: the artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, therapists, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live. Unfortunately, many children who have these gifts don’t receive much reinforcement for them in school. Many of these kids, in fact, end up being labeled “learning disabled,” “ADD (attention deficit disorder,” or simply underachievers, when their unique ways of thinking and learning aren’t addressed by a heavily linguistic or logical-mathematical classroom.

The show in the video clip was first shown on BBC and can now be seen on the Science Channel and/or Discovery Channel…although I haven’t been able to find the broadcast.

We Love Jonathan Mooney

A few months ago, I picked up a book titled “Learning Outside the Lines” about two learning disabled guys who went from being at the bottom of the barrel, academically & socially, to graduating from Brown University with honors.  Of these two guys, the story that I related to the most was told by Jonathan Mooney…dyslexic and ADHD. 

His struggles…to be respected, valued, understood at school… were mirrored in my daughter’s struggles for the same things. His shames… of being ‘different’, ‘stupid’, ‘not normal’… were my daughters shames. His feelings towards learning…frustration, anger, defeat…were my daughter’s feelings. I read the book, crying and laughing through it, and then I read it again with my daughter. Well, not all of it…Jonathan can curse with the best of them and I substituted some of my own words over those.

Here, finally, was someone drawing the line against the traditional school’s policy of ‘fixing the kid’ so they can stay in the system without causing too much of a disturbance. His take on it is that these ‘Learning Disabled kids’ are just fine…it’s the system that needs fixing. Traditional schools remediate the disability without acknowledging the great strengths that come with it. He advocates broadening the concept of ‘intelligence’ in schools so that they work with kids on all different levels and interests. He calls schools out for creating a standard of ‘normal’ as a one size fits all idea that kids need to strive for and teachers need to emphasize. He has strong criticism for ‘No Child Left Behind’. What he calls for is nothing short of a massive paradigm shift to include all types of learners into the system rather than segregate these divergent thinkers into a wasteland of low expectations and shame driven remediation in ‘Special Ed’ to become ‘normal’ like the other kids.

I am all for it.

Truthfully, I am making him sound a lot more boring than he, and his message, really are. His books are full of humor and self deprecation. When we sat to listen to him speak at The Tattered Cover bookstore recently, he engaged both my daughter and myself for 1 1/2 hours. He said things like, “The problem isn’t that I have dyslexia…the problem is the teachers had dysteachia.” Them’s fighting words, and I can’t imagine many educators would take that message very well. So then why do we feel it’s OK to blame the child instead? His point about fixing the exclusionary system instead of fixing the child also is pretty radical an idea. I snuck glances over to my daughter while he was talking about his experiences and saw her nodding as if to say, “Amen brother!” and hope that the message of personal worth & capability will speak louder to her than the previous message she received of being ‘broken’ and ‘not normal’ at school.

The very term they use to describe ‘divergent thinkers’ in public schools is derogatory. Learning Disability. Dis-able. Unable. I bought that for about 6 months, and then chucked it all out the window after having my daughter home with me and watching her learn as easily as a plant uses sunlight to grow. Granted, it wasn’t ‘learning’ in the traditional school way, but it was her own doing and it is her own learning. Thank goodness we have the freedom to remove the label and let learning happen.

At the end, he signed his new book, “The Short Bus: A journey beyond normal” and we took a picture with him. He asked The Naturalist what school she attended, and she said she was homeschooled. “Aaahhhh” he said. “How long did you make it through school before homeschooling?” She replied, “3rd grade.” He got a faraway look in his eye and said quietly, “Yeah, that’s about when I wanted out, too.” They both nodded to each other knowingly and smiled.

He dedicated her book: “To (The Naturalist). ‘Normal’ people suck. Enjoy your ride! Jonathan Mooney”

Before and After

I had an interesting discussion with The Naturalist today…much like our discussion on alphabetical order. She is a very non-sequential learner–whether this is from dyslexia or being a visual thinker, I don’t know. In either case, anything with a linear order wreaks havoc in her mind.

I’ve had her tell me that in the next year she’d be a teenager. I pointed out that next year she’d be 12, not 13. She looked surprised for a minute and then said, “Oh, I forgot about 12. I was thinking, ’10, 11, 13′. In my head, 12 is somewhere with 94”. So, I already know that both number lines and alphabetical order are not necessarily so orderly for her.

But today, talking about big numbers, I asked her to find the number before the hundreds place. Keep in mind, she’d been going up to the millions place, so the tens place shouldn’t have really been a big deal. She hesitated. I repeated myself. She hemmed and hawed. I remembered my dad sitting down doing math with me, and usually it ended up with him going, “What’s wrong with you? This isn’t that hard!” and then me crying, and then him leaving very annoyed. I related…this time to my Dad. But! I stayed quiet, and she finally looked up and said, “You know, I’ve always had a problem with ‘before’ and ‘after’. That just doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Me: ??? Before and after! You know….like this:

I actually drew it out on some paper. This is time. This is you. This is everything that’s happened before now, and everything that will happen after right now.

Her: ???

Me: “OK, when I say to you, ‘pick up your clothes after you brush your teeth’, what do you think?”
Her: “It makes my head hurt to think what you mean. It could be either way…I get very confused”.
Me: wondering how I could not know that she doesn’t understand ‘before’ and ‘after’ for 11 years, but also knowing that a major frustration is her lack of following directions or scheduling..so, it makes a lot of sense.

We spent a while talking about how she could be misinterpreting linear time, and what her timeline is in her head…like how letters dance around in her head instead of lining up in an order. I really became interested in how time was lining (or not lining) up in there.

It was hard for her to discribe it to me, much like it was hard for me to discribe before and after to her. And then I remembered a Native American Lit. class I took in college. There I was introduced to ‘sacred time’, which is less a timeLINE and more….circular. Like this ouroboros symbol:

I drew a circle on our paper. I asked, “Is it hard to know what comes before and after, because just like in a circle, if the thing that’s before hurries up enough it will eventually come after what it was just in front of?”

That seemed to be the description that came closest to what’s going on in her head. Although I suspect that her blueprint would look something more like this circular electrical wiring scheme:

As we sat talking, I was thinking how similar her view of time correlated with the ‘time as a train track’ chapter in Stephen Hawkings “A Brief History of Time”. It also reminded me of a quote by Albert Einstein:

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.

And I felt grateful that she and I were having this discussion at home, in a safe place, away from school where she’d be teased or derided about not knowing what ‘before’ and ‘after’ meant. I felt grateful that she has space to think for herself, in her own way, and develop her unique and totally out of the box thinking patterns without pressure to ‘fit in’ to a classroom environment that is at odds with how she processes information.

I am enthralled by listening to how dyslexic (and visual spatial) kids think. I believe they have a lot to offer the world, if only we could stop classifying them as ‘learning disabled’. After all (and here’s my last Einstein quote for this post, I promise!):

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

ABC Disorder

Here’s an analogy for you:

Dyslexia : sequential order :: like magnet forces : repel each other.

Every once in a while (less often, now that we are unschooling and aren’t fighting a formal school curriculum) I am reminded how much dyslexia affects The Naturalist. Her mind is fundamentally different from any type of sequential, linear, & ordered method that is so valued in school. My daughter thinks in the abstract…nonlinear, unsequential, and divergent. “Dreamers, Discoverers & Dynamos” by Lucy Jo Palladino is a great example of kids like this.

Today, she was playing Jumpstart World. It’s The Golfer’s game, but she loves playing it just because you can buy a pet and take care of it. To do that, you play a variety of ‘learning games’ and accomplish certain goals to make money (gems). This is one of the few learning software “based on national standards”, that my kids thoroughly enjoy. I mean, they really really love this game!

One of the games is something where you put 10 words in ABC Order. She called me over to help her and said, “Mom, this just isn’t working for me! I’m supposed to put these letters in order!” So I stopped to talk it out with her.

Me: “OK, what does the alphabet start with?”
Her: “A, B, and C.”
Me: “Then what?”
Her, after looking at the list: “R?”
Me: …
Me: “Uh, there are lots of letters between A and R”
Her: …
Me, trying to make it more general: “Let’s just sort through and sort words by if they come in the beginning or towards the end of the alphabet.”
Her: “OK. Ummmm, P is in the middle. And then W. W is before S, right?”
Me: …
Me: “Can you visualize the Alphabet marching in order, in your head?”
Her: “No, all the letters are just kind of dancing around in there.”
Me: “Alright then! That sounds fun! But to some people, the letters are lined up single file. Not dancing or floating around. They just sit there, being still, one right after the other.”
Her: “Well, that sounds boring!”

And indeed, it is. From what I’ve begun to understand about how The Naturalist’s mind works, the more boring the rest of the linear, sequential world seems. Wouldn’t it be much more fun to have an ABC Dance Party in your head? To her, it is as foreign to organize letters sequentially as it is for me to try to have them bouncing around in my head. Unfortunately, this wreaks havoc with any kind of expected basic function in school and life. Because if you think about it, sequential thinking is everywhere, not just the alphabet.

Counting and time are extremely linear. Spelling is a linear application of letters in a certain order. Skip counting, alphabetizing, days of the week, and organizing things are mine fields for her. Writing sentences is sequential, with capitalization, punctuation, and words coming in a specific order. The Naturalist, who knows what punctuation mark needs to be used, then generously sprinkles it all throughout the sentence since she’s not exactly sure where it belongs.

!it looks, something Like this!

Obviously, this gets to the very heart of what is accepted as ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’. When I say ‘dyslexia’, I know that 60% of people will think, “decreased intelligence”–especially if they see her word & sentence construction. But dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ. It’s just a difference in perception and output. Because her mind is untethered to a specific order, she is able to write her words flipped up and backwards. I’ll walk past and point out that she’s reading her book upside down, and she won’t have noticed because she’s able to read it from any direction. She’s the person I want to have around when there’s a problem, because she sees everything from her own unique perspective. Ronald Davis talks a lot about this in his book, “The Gift of Dyslexia“.

I can’t change her dyslexia. It doesn’t go away. It’s as much a part of her as her brown hair and infectious laugh. I may cringe when she, at 11 years old, says “A,B,C,R…” or when I read a sentence of hers that has no accurate spelling and punctuation… but I have to be careful about how I respond to her. Jonathan Mooney is my inspiration for dealing with this unique aspect of my daughter. My remediation, unlike so many programs out there, isn’t to try to make her think like everyone else, but to explain how other people see things and then help her live her life using her own specific (and abundant!) strengths and compensations.

The Y’s Make A Home.

Here is The Naturalists sophmore claymation film, “The Y’s Home”!

I knew something was in the works when she asked for the camera and then dissappeared for an afternoon. When she surfaced for some food and a little fresh air, she had a great little movie about how her claymation people found a home. After watching her have so much fun adding the finishing touches to her last film, I begged her to let me help pick out the music, so we had a great time finding just the right song.

Et voila! Le Y’s!

On a side note, I love watching kids becoming so engrossed in something that they lose all track of time.  Hyper-focused, I guess you can call it.  Especially when it’s a kid, like The Naturalist, who has been labeled with the ADHD tag.  When learning and skills are pertinent and immediate, the typical (or stereotypical)  ADHD behavior is nowhere to be found.   Happily, unschooling makes this kind of focus possible pretty often, because it is so interest driven.  I’ve found that The Naturalist is much more tuned in to more of her day, and the flights of imagination that made school so difficult to sit through actually serve her quite well when she can then funnel her thoughts into different projects.

And on a side side note, I really really love the Frames software that comes with this Claymation kit from Mindware. It’s really intuitive and The Naturalist picked up how to create a basic film after a day tinkering around with it! It comes with music, clip art, special effects sounds, pictures organized according to subject, and an easy interface between the pictures and the stop motion film. The price is reasonable  and I highly recommend it  for anyone with a creative mind and imagination to spare.