We have been here for a month and a half and I marvel at how an incredible influence our environment has on our senses and our relationships. And not so surprisingly, these influences are clearly influencing my kids’ abilities to learn and our health.
HSPs are clearly in need of types of stimulations that are very different then more “normal” people and it is becoming very clear to me that my children need a sensory diverse environment and need a very high level and multi sensorial stimuli to progress physically, intellectually and emotionally.
For example my children had a hard time learning how to swim in a pool. For many sensorial reasons: sounds, chemicals in the water, non-resistant water made one sink. I list these as I have noticed that once in the ocean water, they learned very quickly. The waves’ strength and composition water actually helped the children advance. The salt and minerals serve as detoxing elements instead of being sensory toxins such as chlorine etc. The sun, wind, birds, wave strengths serve to distract the senses so that sound and visuals are no longer the dominant stimuli.
Another problem, which can make learning how to swim or other physical activities difficult for HSPs and gifted persons, is fighting mental boredom. I can relate to this. Swimming in a swimming pool is simultaneously boring and mentally exhausting in a busy urban pool. My head needs constant stimuli and a repetitive activities with no tangible goal are very difficult to pursuit for long periods of time. Swimming lengths in a pool seems very long when the mind must focus on not bumping into people and as a consequence not able to wonder into deeper thoughts… In the ocean, swimming is play. Swimming in the waves is engaging because it is challenging and continuously different.
And also we all feel better. Within days of being here, my son’s immune system responds normally while in Toronto he struggles to not react to something and interestingly I am encountering other people who have the same reaction.
Part of the goal of this trip is to experiment with alternative educational models. The boys are de-schooled and after a very difficult month we are beginning to make progress. The layers of change required for this to work are rather difficult for me to yet understand, but I will write down what I have noticed so far.
My kids have very different personalities and learning styles but both are visual learners. One is kinesthetic oriented the other needs to observe before doing. Both can think at very high level but one is slow at mastering simple motor skills, the other has a very difficult time with step by step instructions. Both are overwhelmed and exhausted by a normal day of school. Their empathy makes dealing with other peoples’ body communication difficult. One is fascinated by structures, order and power, he learns by absorbing basic knowledge first and then doing. The other needs free flow, fantasy, pretend play and can only learn by doing. Both need to be highly engaged and involved in genuine learning that matter to them. The difficulty is how to balance our activities to insure both progresses.
First we needed time to get used to our new environment and to each other. It took time for us to have a dedicated space for the kids. But the day it happened, something very interesting ensued. The kids took ownership of the space and began to be much more comfortable. Until then, we were studying in the main restaurant room and it just did not work. I am starting to understand that it had way too many stimulations and distractions. Once we entered our own space, which is quiet socially, visually and auditorally, calm and cool, I noticed the kids could focus much better.
Second, I had to shift my thinking for our relationship to change. It is amazing how little I could listen to my kids when we first arrived. When they asked for company I always had something else to do. I was concerned about my ability to be a teacher to my kids and compensated by trying to be a traditional teacher. Of course, that did not work. I would start the day with an agenda (practice math and writing) and the kids would resist.
This went on until I finally realized I had to let go of my fears of the outcomes of this experience and the need for control of the situation it made me need. For a while my concern was to be sure they would meet the standards established by schools and it made me much less creative then I would liked to be. Rope learning, exercises with no purpose other then to practice, etc, the worth approach really. My son told me I was not like their teachers who made it fun.
Once I though through why the kids were resisting, I told them I wanted this to be fun and that we needed to work together to create our agenda. I finally became able to let their interest lead the agenda and things changed immediately. When allowed to be themselves, kids will express what they need very clearly. And via this process I am reconnecting with how intuitive both these boys are. They are lucky in that they are both also very analytical. A good mix.
Once we changed environment and I dealt with my fears of the unknown, things started to work much better. On our first day in our new space, the kids stopped resisting and I stopped leading. My younger child, who normally drew unhappy faces when I asked about school, drew smiley faces while my other child started to write in his notebook, something he refused to do until them.
From that point on, we stopped having formal learning time but what has happened is that we have scheduled a routine where in the morning we are exploring our world as it is revealing itself to us. We do art, lego and beginning robotics lego. Slowly, we are developing a dialog which is taking place on many levels: emotional, intellectual, practical, sensorial, cultural. We are rediscovering each other and relearning how to listen and trust each other.
In terms of research, we have the tools needed to make this work. I purchased a digital learning platform, which we are using as a library. It covers kindergarten to high school, which is great as we can pursue questions in more depth and complexity as needed and at the speed each needs. It has 5 mns videos on all subjects normally studies in an American school.
As visual learners, they are absorbing this content very quickly. I am amazed at how much they love these videos. The length of these videos is just long enough to cover basics and fundamentals and to keep their engagement up. University professor know that in a lecture model only 10 minutes are retain per hour of lecture. These videos are the starting point for discussions, which take place during the entire day. My kids are full of questions and we will ask questions to peopel around us, explore YouTube and other Internet based resources to answer them.
Electronic games are also a big part of the day and we are using it for social learning. I have begun to share gaming with the kids. I play and watch them play. We are learning how to interact outside the parent/child relationship by playing together. We are learning how to interact, take turns, collaborate and understand each other’s mental frameworks. We are developing strategies together to deal with frustration, impatience, learning to appreciate each others’ game strengths and call upon them when needed. We are discussing strategies in a non-threatening way. In other words, we are developing new watching, listening and communication skills. I am transferring these skills to other types of play. Slowly, my awareness of them is shifting and their comfort level is increasing.
I am learning how to tell them what I dislike without them having to agree. In gaming this translates in them finding games they think I would like when they want to engage with me. The platform we use has games as well and we are learning via gaming as well. We have become a virus together and infected a kitchen. We have fought food fights by controlling the habitat of various african animals. Next we will be scientists creating new genetic plant species.
I was watching my son make potions the other day and was taking in how engaged he was with the reactions. He was so delighted and as he played we started to deal with quantities of material he was using.
This kid can’t seat still if he is bored. And slowly he is starting to seat with me to listen or to work at an activity. I am noticing how differently he learns. He seems to be approaching things backwards. He can’t learn by small incremental steps. He does not have the patience for that. I am beginning to understand he requires a reversed approach. Going from complex to simple tasks.
What I am observing reminds me of some of what I read in the book Upside Down Brilliance – Strategies for Teaching Visual-Spatial Learners by Linda Kreger-Silverman, Ph.D. It is clear that my children learn holistically rather than in a step-by-step fashion and as such do are visual-spatial learners (Silverman, 2002). One of my kids seeks to apprehend complex patterns of relationships than to memorize unrelated facts or perform simple tasks. For both, visual imagery plays an important role in the learning process. But one of my kids learns well both with words and visuals while the other is processing primarily in images rather than words, ideas are interconnected (imagine a web).
This passage from the article Raising topsy-Turvy kids by Alexandra Shires Colon gives me a good context to work from:
“Visual-spatial learners (VSLs) tend to experience life with great intensity. It is this intensity that makes them exciting to teach; it also can be their greatest obstacle to successful adjustment. Psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski posited five types of “increased psychic excitability”: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional.
The capacity for greater stimulation has positive and negative effects. On the positive side, the individual may be born with endless energy, heightened auditory acuity, vivid imagination, an insatiable love of learning, and an unusual capacity to care.
The downside, however, is the possibility of excessive energy, overactive imagination, intense interests that hinder adaptation to school schedules, and extreme sensitivity. It is a difficult balancing act to harness all that energy wisely. Students who are successful in the classroom may have less of this stimulation to cope with (i.e., fewer OEs or OEs of less intensity) or may have developed more ability to manage their overexcitabilities than those who have classroom adjustment difficulties. Some children need years of practice and maturation before they learn to regulate this continuous bombardment of stimuli.
Overexcitabilities have been detected in the majority of visual-spatial learners. When these overexcitabilities are extremely strong and difficult to focus, the child exhibits symptoms reminiscent of AD/HD. With maturation, the young person is likely to develop greater impulse control and the ability to manage the excessive stimulation. However, there are many ways to reach visual-spatial children in the classroom, so that school is more fun for them and they experience more success. Many of the same strategies can be used at home to more harmoniously parent these delightfully different children.
Chart 2. Visual Spatial Learner – Learning Characteristics*
Thrives on complexity Struggles with easy material Loves difficult puzzles Hates drill and repetition Fascinated by computers Has illegible handwriting Great at geometry, physics Poor at phonics, spelling Keen visual memory Poor auditory memory Creative, imaginative Inattentive in class A systems thinker Disorganized, forgets details High abstract reasoning Difficulty memorizing facts Excels in math analysis Poor at calculation High reading comprehension Low word recognition Excellent sense of humor Performs poorly on timed tests
© 1997-2002 Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, Gifted Development Center, a service of the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development. All rights reserved.
I am starting to get a sense of what my kids psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional excitabilities are. Next post I will go into details as to how they are manifesting themselves here and what I am gathering from it.