I am an expert. I know a lot about science. I know about bacteria, and salmonella, and volcanoes, and electricity, and space ships.
I am a great inventor – I make Lego, and rockets, and machines that do this (::demonstrating::) and volcanoes.
Mr. Sensitive, age five, after a being at the Ontario Science Centre for four days during Winter Break
Nothing succeeds like success, and learning new things in school is no different. I’ve been writing about Mr. Sensitive’s challenges in school for a while. He is overwhelmed with sensory demands and struggles to recognise his letters. In transitioning back to school this September he developed a weird eye tic, started wetting the bed and was highly stressed and crying at the drop of a hat.
When Mr. Sensitive was in a home daycare program his caregiver said Mr. Sensitive was one of the smartest children she taught – he learned picked up new things like that! Even now, two years later, he can describe how he learned about the water cycle in her care.
I thought school would be a place where he’d shine. Instead he sunk. For about a year and a half. Thrown into a class with 27 other kindergarteners, it became a situation reminiscent of Lord of the Flies. Mr. Sensitive would return home scraped or bruised because someone pushed him or knocked him over.
He eventually made a small group of friends, boys who would play cars or build stuff together, but…
Academically, it sucked. Big time. His teacher complained that Mr. Sensitive was highly distractible, inattentive and could not focus. He was placed in the lowest reading group.
School became a place for childcare respite for us, and a place he’d escape from when we’d keep him home for a day. On his day off we’d do whatever appointment we were supposed to and spend the rest of the time hiking in local conservation areas. He became alive on those days off.
We’d follow his lead. Bent over a stream, looking for frogs or waterbugs, he’d learn more from a bucket of tadpoles than a day of school. Science, the love of all living things and every piece of information we could share about them became the thread of daily conversation. And he’d remember everything we’d say and ask more questions.
A simple trip to the produce section of the grocery store inspires deep discussion:
How do pineapples protect themselves?
How do kiwis protect themselves?
(If you think about it, they’re really good questions, and he clearly had an idea of what sort of answer to expect.)
At home we stopped doing school work and anything to do with learning letters – there was no point. Mr. Sensitive would avoid work through feigning illness or death, and then if pressed he’d say how bad he was at it.
This was the hardest part. Mr. Sensitive became acutely aware of the fact that most kids in his class could do many things he couldn’t. Colour nicely, read letters – or (gasp!) read words. And he could not. No matter how hard he tried. And that realisation was very painful – for all of us.
All the risk-taking, sense of self-esteem, and joy in learning was knocked out of him. School was a place where he could not learn.
I read countless blogs about homeschooling and unschooling. And spent time following Mr. Sensitive’s interests. We’d watch videos about bacteria and viruses, the digestive system, make volcanoes explode on the kitchen table and let him conduct physics experiments in the kitchen sink.
We’d take the time to answer his countless questions with the accuracy and detail he craved.
How do airplanes fly? Lead to an extensive discussion about airflow, lift, jet propulsion (thanks to Hubby).
During our two-week Winter Break we maximized our time doing all things kid-friendly. From outings in Smalltown, Ontario, seeing Disney on Ice, to visiting the Ontario Science Centre, we spent the time following Mr. Sensitive’s interests.
Our family went to the Ontario Science Centre four days in a row. Yes, you read that right. FOUR DAYS at the Ontario Science Centre. I guess it makes us all something of ‘experts.’
When you enter the centre visitors pass through a long hallway representing four billion years of rock formation on earth. There are about 60 different rocks on display, each one with a tag describing how it’s made and its significance.
Of course I had to read all the tags to Mr. Sensitive while he stroked and prodded each rock. On our second visit Mr. Sensitive was able to tell me about HALF of those rocks. (The first one has zircon in it, that’s the oldest rock on earth, this one is made by lava, that one by earthquakes, the other one had garnets, this one was made by waves, this really just is melted sand…) By the end of those four days I know most of those rocks too.
But just think about it – the same kid cannot learn 26 letters but masters the characteristics of over 30 different rocks in one day? And honestly, we only spent about 30 minutes that first day with the rocks. That day we spent most of our time in a space exhibit looking at the Mars Rover.
Mr. Sensitive loved all the hands-on activities at the Science Centre, he loved listening to the roaming ‘scientists’ clad in white lab coats who would take time to explain the exhibits to him. They’d use magnifying glasses to show mineral crystals or demonstrate forces of flight or electricity. He’d ask questions and they’d gladly answer. Endlessly.
We spent time exploring space, tropical forests, caves and learning about the biosphere and electricity.
At the end of our holiday I noticed something different about Mr. Sensitive. He seemed more confident, and willing to take risks. He would tell those ‘scientists’ that I an expert in science, and I know a lot about bacteria, insects, dinosaurs, volcanoes or whatever.
He had never done anything like this before. He was proud to be an expert, and proud of his knowledge of all things sciency. He knew – beyond a doubt – that he was good at something.
That confidence has transferred to other areas of his life. The other night I was reading him a story he actually asked if he could trace over the letters with his fingers. He wants to practice his letters??? He’d never done that before in his life.
But he is an expert now. And nothing succeeds like success.
Disclaimer – I was not compensated in any way by the Ontario Science Centre for writing this post. I simply wanted to share our family’s experiences. The following photos were taken at the Ontario Science Centre.