That Child: They See Things Differently
Today, I want to talk about how “that child” sees so many things differently than you and I do.
I have some books I want to recommend and talk through. These are works that have completely changed the way I approach mothering and homeschooling.
First, The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias. I would highly recommend that you seize any chance to listen to Cynthia Tobias; she is a scream to hear in person. She is a very funny speaker but has tremendous insight. I actually got this book I think all the way back when we were beginning our homeschool journey. It has really helped me see some things I was blinded to.
Second, if you get a chance to hear Dr. Kathy Koch, I would highly recommend her. She is based out of Texas (my beloved state), and frequently speaks at the Hearts at Home conference and on Focus on the Family radio. Her book, How Smart Am I? is another must-read.
And thirdly is an work entitled Awakening Your Child’s Genius by Thomas Armstrong. He maintains, “We want to assist [children] in finding their inner genius and support them in guiding it into pathways that can lead to personal fulfillment and to the benefit of those around them.” He has said his writing is motivated by the desire to ensure that every child gets a chance to fulfill their potential. Obviously, this is an incredibly helpful perspective when you are learning to educate your “that child.”
That Child & The Way They Learn
I was really a struggling learner until about the eighth grade when I was diagnosed with dyslexia. Although I had incredible auditory skills, it wasn’t until we identified my dyslexia that I was able to process the different ways I learned.
So, when I stepped into home education I assumed that my kids would learn the same way that I did. I kind of slammed into the reality that this is not true. Cynthia Tobias’ premise in this book is that there are four quadrants: concrete, sequential, random, and abstract; and then combinations of those quadrants.
I tend to be a concrete and sequential learner. I want concrete examples that you can show me and I want them to go in order. Those are two very, very important things to me. I really believe that by and large, when I’m learning, those things are important to me. That’s how I assumed my children would also learn and need information. I believe this is generally how the education system functions.
Yet what I learned from this book was that that’s not how everybody learns. Our reality is our own normal, not necessarily that of everyone else, and so I was shocked to find out that my son was my complete opposite. I am concrete-sequential and he is random-abstract. I certainly couldn’t get my head around it.
I couldn’t appreciate his many questions, the things that he wanted to chase, the ideas that he had, the way that he saw things because I didn’t understand. I didn’t think the way that he saw things was legitimate. I’m here to advocate for the fact that, no matter where you are on this, how your child sees, and thinks, and takes in information, is indeed legitimate.
Not sure which type of learner you are? Tobias has included a brief survey so you can actually figure out which style(s) describe you and your children.
I wish that I had read the work of Dr. Armstrong when Charles (my first “that child”) was little. I literally had tears dripping off my chin when I read one of his articles on genius and I realized that my current “that child” (who is now taller than me, and in the 9th grade, eating me out of house and home) is so much like his older brother yet truly his own person.
Reading “Awakening Your Child’s Genius” brought me to tears! This was describing my two boys! Moms, if you’ve got a “that child” and you are just continually feeling like you are banging your head against the wall because you do not get where a particular question came from, or why they are interested in that random topic, or why did they do that thing with all of your straws… Anybody with me on this? Anybody?
You had plans for those straws and it wasn’t for that spontaneous craft project that they just completed. Right? Armstrong’s work gives you insight into all of that. Actually, I think it gives a lot of insight.
If this resonates, you can read even more from Dr. Thomas.
How We Are Smart
In her book, Dr. Koch talks about the eight intelligences: word smart, logic smart, picture smart, music smart, body smart, nature smart, people smart, self smart. She validates each one of those, which is so important. So often we try to put everybody in the same box, but that is not the objective of raising the next generation of kids to change the world.
It certainly will fail every time, and twice on Sunday, if we try to put “that child” in a box of everyone else’s construction. We need to validate and affirm “that child” as a very unique blessing from the hand of the Almighty God. Again, as we use these tools to help them understand how God has wired them then we can help, and encourage, and foster, and nurture these intelligences, and maybe even some of the other ones they are not as strong for them.
So, I found this really, really helpful. But I want to get to my really favorite part and give you three do’s and three don’ts.
I’m here to tell you that “that child” is wired to be a world changer. We must not destroy the joy that they have! I get so excited about this. So, let’s go on and look at these qualities of genius. Again, I’m just going to briefly over each of them, give you a little bit of insight, and then you can read more for yourself.
The ways we learn
Oh, my goodness! If you have a “that child” you know that this is true. They have a curiosity way beyond our curiosity. In fact, often, their curiosity seems like they are not paying attention.
You may have heard me tell this story before but one time, and I do mean one time, because the outplay, the effect on my son, was so painful for him I determined that I was not going to subject him to that again. Certainly not at the young age that he was at the time. I took him and his brother to Reading Time at the library. I was literally that mom in the back of the room nursing the baby. Yeah. That doesn’t happen a lot in public anymore but that’s what I did all those years ago. So, I was sitting in the back and Charles, in Charles’ form, was on the front row. Right?
Anderson was dutifully sitting beside him and this woman, oh! I wish that I had the foresight at that time to mark down the book that she was reading. Anyway, he was up on his knees and he was so excited to be there to listen to the story. You know, we had a pattern of reading books at home. Right at the very end of the book, you know the woman, the librarian (I don’t have to say anything more about that), but at the very end of her reading she says, “Are there any questions?”
I literally went, gasp! Because I knew… She, she did that. Right? I knew that this was Charles’ moment and he was going to have a question. Why? Because we fostered that at our house. We were always talking, always having those discussions. His hand shot up. She said, “Yes?” And he proceeded to ask the question. Again, I really wish that I had known to write it down because it was just be so much more full, the story. He proceeded to ask the question that she did not think was on topic.
She, in that moment, said, “I would really appreciate it if the questions pertained to the story we just read. Is there anybody else that has a question?” And I saw Charles slump. Maybe you’ve seen that in your “that child”. Because this is what I knew as the mom in the back of the room, he was on topic! He was curious about something that was related. She just couldn’t see where he was where she was standing.
Often, our “that child” has questions that don’t seem related. It’s their curiosity. I really think that we want to foster that, and encourage that, as we have discussions with them.
This is another thing that we tend to discourage in our children. We tend to not want them to be silly. Dr. Armstrong, in this article, encourages them to be silly. They should be silly! We should have homes, and circumstances, and contexts in our immediate family where their silliness is welcome.
Now, we do need to teach them orderliness, it does have a place and a time. I know it’s challenging, but you know what I’m betting? That we need to die to our self and let them be more silly more often. These books talk about play being the highest level of development.
This is when kids can escape and imagine things being different, imagine things being better, imagining fantasies or dreams. We need to encourage those.
I have a daughter right now that’s writing a paper on Chesterton. He would often just lay in bed, and just think, and just imagine. His whole idea about imagination was that it was never wasted, that daydreaming is never wasted. Look, we often see one of our kids, our “that kid”, and we’re trying to accomplish something and they’re daydreaming. Certainly in the school system, we don’t have any patience for that. But according to this article, it’s valuable for them to have those fantasies, and those dreams, and for us to give them life, and discuss them, and smile when we see them imagining.
This is when we give them permission to come to conclusions in new ways, in ways that we wouldn’t have. This is an example of that. You may think that your “that kid” maybe isn’t very creative. Because see we often have a very narrow definition of what creativity is. We think it’s some artistic display. But it’s not always!
Creative thinking often manifests in answers to questions that we immediately assume to be wrong, and they’re not. For example, if you ask one of these kids, “What is… one plus one plus one is?” If they say, “Four!”, we would say it was wrong. Or if they said it was one we would say it was wrong. Look, if you’re creative in the way that you think the immediate question is, “One plus one WHAT?” Are you talking about one half plus one half?
Because one half plus one half is one. We would mark that answer wrong! But see they are being creative in the conclusions and the solutions that they’re coming to. These are kids that don’t test well because these are kids that argue and discuss through every answer that they are given in a multiple choice situation. We need to foster that creativity.
“How did you come to the conclusion that one plus one is one because that’s not true?”
Or you might have a child that you have taught Biblically and you might have an equation that says, “One plus one plus one equals?” and they wrote “one” thinking the Trinity. This is an example of that creativity. Look, to these kids, it’s not just about connecting the dots for them. They see dots that the rest of us don’t see. We don’t need to make them feel bad about that. We need to encourage that.
This is their natural astonishment at the world around them. This is something that, sadly, many of us grow out of. Again, you might have heard me tell this story but it fits here so I’m going to share it. One night there was a mother standing in the kitchen sink washing the dishes when her son comes running into the kitchen. He goes, “Mom! You’ve got to come right now. The sunset is so beautiful. There’s blue, and there’s orange, and there’s pink. Oh, mom! Come right now. See the sunset right now.”
Mom goes, “Just a minute. I’m going to finish these dishes.” You know what I know? That mom who got caught up in finishing the dishes, a few moments later her son comes moping in and says, “You missed it.” There will never be another sunset like that one that was right there. That child in the wonder, and the amazement, and the astonishment of Creation came in and wanted mom to share it with him. We were distracted, you and I, by the dishes.
May we not do that. May we dare to enter in into the wonder, and the astonishment they have by a sunset, or a bug, or a spider web, or lightening bugs. Anything the wonder of Creation. May we as Christians, Mom, point them to the glory of God’s majesty and His detail in every creative thing. This is an opportunity. This aspect of intelligence is our opportunity to point them to a holy, mighty God.
These are children who have wise insight beyond their years. It’s not based on any kind of experience. They’re very, very young. But they see things, they have this wisdom that they can make connections that sometimes we discount. Sometimes it’s in small pithy statements. I remember one of my kids, we went on a walk one night just around our neighborhood but it … trash and recycle day was the next day.
One of my kids said, “Wow! You can learn a lot by looking in someone’s recycle bin.” Goodness! Yeah, well yeah, you can. But I didn’t expect you to notice that. That would be an example of wisdom. When our children dare to say something like that, again, we need to take the time to unpack that with them.
- What do you see?
- What do you mean?
- What do you think that that tells us?
- What’s in ours that we are telling to other people?
- Why does that matter?
There’s so much opportunity for communication there.
This is about their willingness or ability to use ordinary things around your house for extraordinary purposes. I remember many years ago now when I was doing astronomy with my “that kid”, my original one, and we came to the point in astronomy where we were supposed to build the solar system.
Well me, remember concrete-sequential, I’m thinking, “Oh man! I didn’t get the styrofoam balls to make the solar system. Ugh! I didn’t get that so we can’t make the solar system.” Well something happened and I got called out of the room. I left him with his younger brother. When I came back they had made the solar system with pom-pom balls, and pipe cleaners, and construction paper for the ring around Saturn.
They had constructed it kind of like a mobile. I think the one maybe they had seen over the baby brother or sister’s bed. That is not at all how I would have constructed a solar system. But they were being so inventive with what they did with it. Inventiveness is what we need in order to solve the problems around us in culture and society. We need new inventions. That means you and I probably won’t always know where our scissors are. We probably won’t be able to squirrel away a box of straws for a special occasion.
But we need to be open to their inventiveness and again have those conversations.
- What did you see?
- How did you come to this conclusion?
- How did you solve this problem.
I remember in the movie “Apollo 13”, do you remember that movie with Tom Hanks, and here they had those astronauts up in this rocket ship and they had a major problem?
He comes in and he dumps these supplies on the table. He goes, this is all they’ve got. You need to figure out how to use what’s on this table so that they can breathe and we can get them home. The reason they were able to solve that is because those people around that table had this quality of inventiveness. They were able to look at things that you and I think, “that straw is made to drink something”, but “that kid” doesn’t see it that way. They see the straw having tons of different tools and we need to encourage that.
You and I might tend to think of vitality as having a negative connotation because we think of it as a rashness or impulsiveness. This is the aspect of genius that needs to do it now. They don’t want to wait. They want to do it now. This is an aspect of them that can be exhausting. But it’s also very exciting and invigorating if we allow it to be.
Their vitality is something that really spurs them on. We need to be responsive to them in our environment, in our home, and try our very best to respond to their vitality. This is one of the main reasons why I tried to keep a bunch of random stuff on hand all the time, straws, toilet paper tubes, empty containers of various kinds, I mean I literally had a tub of things. Glue, sequins, all of that kind of stuff, string, all sorts of different things for their vitality to bloom.
This, too, is a beautiful thing because these kids that have these qualities of genius tend to be far more sensitive than we give them credit for. I think this is often because we get caught up in how they make us feel. Like, maybe inadequate or unintelligent because sometimes they are just so far passed us. Sometimes they just make us want to pull our hair out. Sometimes they make us want to cry. They make us want to scream.
So, we discount their sensitivity and we should not do that. These kids have a level of sensitivity that the world has not been able to harden and I am so grateful. They have not been desensitized. These kids see something on the street and they want to do something about it. See, that combination of things, their sensitivity, and their inventiveness like we just talked about, and their vitality? They want to do something!
I took my “that kid” to New York City. I love that city. There are beggars on the streets of New York City and my “that kid” doesn’t want to just walk by. He wants to think of a way that we can help. What could we do? These kids are very sensitive to the problems of this world and that can ultimately be a motivation for them to change it and do something. So again, let’s not wish for them to be hardened. Let’s not want them to be a “big boy”. Let’s not insist that boys don’t cry. Let’s nurture that. Let’s fan the flames of that sensitivity.
Friends, remember that Jesus wept! He was sensitive; he wasn’t cold. And Peter wept bitterly after he denied Christ. Let’s not deny these kids that sensitivity that ultimately can motivate them to change the world.
Flexibility is this idea that they can move from reality to fantasy, to reality to fantasy. They can go from metaphors to facts. They are very fluid in their associations.
Often this is scolded in the system. This was scolded in my house when I was a young homeschool mom. I was so aggravated with his flexibility. We would be talking about, I don’t know, the constitution and he wants to talk about The Hobbit in the same sentence. And I’m confident that he’s not paying attention. But it’s not that he’s wasn’t paying attention. He was just very fluid in his associations. He really was thinking about both of them. He truly was thinking about the concreteness of the constitution and the fantasy of The Hobbit at the same time.
Humor is one of the things that I am passionate about, and I believe in, and that we need to make sure we have lots of in our parenting of “that child”. In fact, according Dr. Armstrong, it is one of the qualities of genius.
Our ability to laugh at situations and things, and more than anything, ourselves, is so valuable. We need to be able to laugh. It’s like a pressure valve when things get tough. It’s not always a time to laugh; but we need to give our kids permission to laugh as they make associations.
This is this core component. We need to chase their joyful things, that which brings them joy, and encourage their joyfulness because that is what is fanning the flames what they are chasing and what they are learning about. Let’s not kill their joy.
I want to challenge you to observe that child. Observe how they learn, how they take in information. Whether it’s random, abstract, concrete, sequential from Cynthia Tobias, or if it’s different kinds of intelligence by Dr. Koch, or if it’s these twelve qualities of genius. Even if you want to journal about different things that you see, observe them.
Next, discuss it with them. When you see them make a quirky connection, or ask a seemingly unrelated question, or take all of your straws and make a spaceship, have a discussion with them. Dare to say, “What? Where did that even come from? I don’t even understand… Help me to understand what popped in your mind that you would ask about a necklace when we are discussing the Treaty of Versailles? How did you get there?”
Look, you and I do not have it all figured out. We have a lot of things that we can learn from our kids. As you start to see them do things differently I pray that it would expand our minds and we would start to consider things. That we would be reawakened in our astonishment of God’s Creation and our wonder, and the connections that we make, and the creative ways we think about different things. We will still face problems and need solutions every day, so let’s learn from them in the process.
Finally, three things don’t do.
Don’t assume that they are wrong. Don’t assume that they are off topic. Don’t assume they are not paying attention. We should not assume. These kids, remember what I talked about so many times when we are talking about “that kid”?
It’s got to be hard for them to them. Because so often everybody assumes that they know that they are off topic, assumes that they are not thinking, assumes that they are not paying attention. Let’s not be one of the people that assumes.
Don’t shame them. Let us not shame them because they do it different from the way that we do it. That genius at your house, “that kid” that thinks outside the box, isn’t going to do it like everybody else. But that doesn’t mean that we need to shame them. We need to encourage them for how differently they do things.
Don’t discount their conclusions or their perspectives. They are valid. Remember, God needs unique perspectives, and descriptions, and conclusions as long as they are based on the truth. He needs those to solve the problems of this world.