Family update

I’ve shared a bit about Noah’s journey in college and want to offer the continuation of that saga for those interested. First of all, good news: he passed both his classes winter quarter! After his difficult first quarter, he was relieved and we were thrilled. Then during the spring break, he went through diagnostic testing through the learning center. We found out those test results yesterday.

Before I share the results, I want to make a couple of comments. Because Noah has been homeschooled his whole life, our primary sense of who he is and how he learns has always been that he’s incredibly bright and a deeply engaged learner when interested. He is self-taught, for the most part, in the areas he cares most about. We’ve given him his head in learning, as a result, following his lead, allowing him to study the subjects that interested him, fanning the flames of those interests by supporting them with enthusiasm, finances for books or memberships, time listening and facilitating, lessons, etc. In looking back, I would do it the same way. Through interest-directed learning, Noah has developed competencies in surprising areas. He also has a very strong sense of what he likes and doesn’t like. That means that when he likes something, he is much more willing to work hard than when he doesn’t. Because his life has been guided by his interests, he does know what interests him and he knows what happens when he’s interested and when he isn’t. I can see now, at nearly 20, what a gift that is!

On the flip side, evidence of what has finally been diagnosed has shown itself since Noah was eight and nine years old. My concerns about some of his behavior back then were: his fits of inattentiveness when disinterested, his level of frustration when he couldn’t solve a task, his self-criticism when he couldn’t match the expectations of a particular setting, his distractibility… These led me to wonder if he had ADD. At age ten, I took him to an educational specialist. She had worked with him all year in a once per week setting. Her response, “No I don’t think Noah has ADD. However, he would probably benefit from some of the techniques that parents use with ADD kids.” She also gave me some articles on brain development that showed the power of learning subjects by full immersion in six to eight week bursts rather than six subjects in short fragments every day.

I checked out ADD books from the library and followed some of their advice. And I immediately changed from our Sonlight style homeschool to unschooling. In six months’ time, Noah taught himself rope knots, origami, developed a website of WWII tanks, watched about ten WWII movies and read a slew of library books about the topic. He learned all his math facts without a book and listened to books on tape nearly constantly. He organized and threw a Gold Rush party complete with sewing individual bags for fool’s gold mined from a sand pit, creating pin-the-nugget-on-Sutter’s-Creek, writing out notecards of Gold Rush period characters for each of the invitees and sending out invitations. (This project took us a full six weeks to create and it was a huge success.) He went from a kid who had declared one morning, “I hate my life” to a kid who woke up every day excited about living.

The ADD tactics were really helpful too. I learned to give him one thing to do at a time.

“Noah, go upstairs and make your bed.”

When he finished that, I’d say, “Now put on your clothes.” I had wondered why he couldn’t remember to make his bed, put on his clothes and brush his teeth all at once. I’d send him up to do three things and instead, he’d complete a Lego creation in his boxer shorts on his unmade bed. Why? Because he saw the Legos and they looked fun.

Still, since Noah was the oldest and there was no official diagnosis, I kept assuming that as he got older, he’d pull this distractibility into focus, that he’d learn through time and maturity how to manage himself. And in many ways he did. As a teen, he held jobs successfully, he starred in several Shakespeare plays learning all the lines and making it to rehearsals without prompting.

But underneath, all the time, there’s been evidence that in a traditional schooling format, he would not thrive. Yet his ambition is to be a linguist! (Not exactly the career path of someone without a college degree.)

I won’t bore you with all the ins and outs of the years leading up to college where we alternatively wondered if he had ADD and yet were reassured that he did not have it. Once he hit college, the symptoms became much clearer. And as of this week, the diagnosis is ADHD (inattentiveness). One of the side effects of so many years of ambivalent diagnoses (“he manifests the symptoms in some ways but we don’t think he has it”) is that it took him two quarters to be willing to look at the possibility that he might have this condition. In a reverse kind of way, he started to think that there really shouldn’t be anything wrong with his brain wiring and almost felt guilty imagining there might be. Still, in the end, we are happy to report that with this diagnosis, all the help he needs will be offered to him and he is very happy about that.

His current class load suits his temperament to the tee. He’s studying World Performance Music (which includes banging African drums and playing a thumb piano!), the history of language (how language developed over time worldwide), French 3, and a philosophy course which he raves about. He dropped a class because his mind wandered while the teacher spoke (right on!).

The learning center will provide notes, untimed testing, tutors and study groups and access to teacher power points/lecture notes. He is also able to make use of someone who will help him with time management.

One of the most powerful changes we observed is that his computer broke down last quarter. That means he can only use the on-campus computer which has meant he has not had the distraction of the computer at home when he studies. He told us it has made a world of difference! Isn’t that interesting?

9 Responses to “Family update”

  1. Anna says:

    As always, Julie, I truly appreciate your candour regarding Noah’s journey – thank you for sharing it, and please pass on our thanks to him for allowing you to.

    I am trying hard to make the transition from scheduled schooling to what I would dub “free-schooling” with my daughter – the type that you describe as being “child led”. Our struggle at the moment (doubtlessly more mine than hers) is that there is almost zero happening that could even fancifully be described as educational.

    We’ve been trialling this change for only a couple of weeks so far (since we completed the KWB course mid-March) and each day I’m quietly searching for some spark within my beautiful girl that we can move with, or direct, or shape. So far she has successfully ducked and weaved her way away from every suggestion or encouragement I’ve made.

    Am I being too impatient? How long does the transition away from a formal structure take?

  2. Julie Bogart says:

    You know, it takes a willingness to do nothing at first. I remember the few times where after I had pushed for a more schoolish life, I had to bite my tongue and value whatever he did for awhile. In fourth grade, the day I “freed” him of school, he spent the entire day digging in the dirt in our tiny side yard. Digging, holes, in dirt.

    The next day, he played string games and tied knots. The whole day. He also wandered around, got bored, ate food, played with his little siblings, wandered some more and so on. We went to the library, park, watched videos at night, went to the art museum, I played books on tape over lunch. I suggested throwing a party and he loved that idea. So we brainstormed a theme and the Gold Rush was of interest. That came a couple of weeks into the change.

    Later in high school, when we backed off again (it took me multiple tries throughout his life), he went a year without much interest in anything apart from his Live Journal, his job at Barnes and Noble and the Internet. I discovered that he was teaching himself Klingon and was reading about constructed languages…

    One of the principles of unschooling is that deschooling takes time. It usually means that for six months or a year, the child may not look like she is “learning” but really, she is. She’s just not manifesting what she is learning.

    And remember – don’t suggest. Spend time alongside her. If she wants to sit and watch sit coms, watch with her. If she wants to doodle, doodle with her. Not all the time, but some of the time. Let her lead and go where she goes. If she looks listless, make her cookies. 🙂 Get out of the house and stimulate her imagination with museums or the zoo or a nature hike.

    Let’s keep talking about this because it’s important.

  3. Tracy says:

    Thanks, Julie and Noah, for sharing your story so that others may learn from your journey. Julie, your “go with your gut” comment at the end of your entry hit me, because I’ve been considering testing for my soon-to-be 12 yo son. He can’t spell. I’ve actually been concerned for several years, but I’ve hoped he’d someday grow into a better speller. The day I REALLY got concerned was when he was about 9 1/2 years old…We had been working on the Bush/Cheney campaign, spending every Friday afternoon stapling yard signs together, handing out bumper stickers, etc. The night of the election, we were at home keeping track of each state’s electoral votes, and my son asked, “How do you spell, ‘Bush’?” He was dead serious, and, oh my goodness…I was shocked! We had just spent hours and hours stapling his name onto yard signs, handing out his name to numerous people, etc.!! YIKES! He says he just can’t picture words. We have been working through book 1 of Sequential Spelling, with daily dictation passages using the words he is currently working on. Just when I think I see improvement, he gets hung up on a word like “take” (spelling it “tack” instead). To teach him to read, we used Sonlight’s “I Can Read It”, Explode the Code, etc., so he has had a lot of phonics and phonics rules. This year, I even had him work through the “Language Tune-Up Kit” from JWor Enterprises. Up until now, I’ve been somewhat hesitant about testing, fearing they’d think my son wasn’t being educated properly (I know that I shouldn’t worry about that). However, I definitely and desperately want to do whatever I can to help him spell. I would SO GREATLY appreciate any advice! Thanks, Julie!

  4. Anna says:

    Thanks Julie. Even your comment about de-schooling taking time is helpful.

    Part of my problem, and I do recognise it as mine, is that I’m a box ticker. When the government inspector comes, I really do like to have all my boxes ticked so that I have no fear that they’ll not renew our registration.

    I know things are different in the US (we’re in Australia), but how do you deal with government requirements? Our local Dept. of Ed. really doesn’t understand home schooling on any level, and I know that they really are administrators more than educators. How do you satisfy a bureaucrat, when you’re not actually head-on “teaching” any of their specified subjects?

  5. Julie Bogart says:

    Anna, that is a great question and I’ll try to write a post about it in the next week or so. Bottom line: change how you see education. Tick different boxes.

    Set as a goal spending two hours together without interruption. Make a box for really listening to her and asking questions that cause her to expand the topic so that she tells you more than she used to. Check a box for taking a nature walk together and noticing all the different kinds of leaf shapes. Make a box for teatime, listening to a book on tape, jot down the time she uses a new word in a sentence unexpectedly, ask her to teach you how to do something and mark that down as her learning how to sequence and how to orally write a how-to piece.

    I’ll give some more examples next week, but the bottom line is that you want to start understanding how she is educating herself and interpreting that for the beaureaucrats in a language they speak. 🙂


  6. Clare S says:

    She also gave me some articles on brain development that showed the power of learning subjects by full immersion in six to eight week bursts rather than six subjects in short fragments every day.

    Could you please expand on this and practicallly give some examples.

    Also could you give more info on how do do the interest- led schooling. How do you do it if you have limited time to organise and find relevant resources.

    Loved your sharing – it so helps to see outside the box and that Noah is in college!
    Thank you

  7. Becky says:

    It’s funny–your Noah sounds a whole lot like my Noah. But mine is 8 1/2. He’s a good reader, and a deep thinker, but has trouble expressing himself clearly. The motor skills and verbal expression needed for writing have been absent until recently. But suddenly he is obsessed with writing: lists, schedules, comic books, story books, journal (spelling is poor). He is so incredibly distracted most of the time. The one-task-at-a-time memory you have fits my son to a “T.” Any noise keeps him from focusing on his schoolwork–that is when he can focus. He would get very little out of a traditional school setting. I have recently been thinking of him as very visual/spacial, but I wonder if there is anything else there to worry about?

    What benefit would you have had with a diagnosis when your Noah was young? I am really hesitant to “label” my son.


  8. Michelle says:

    I am just curious if the college made any effort to suggest or promote meds for your son. That seems to be the current, easy route.

    My son is now 13 and when he was younger, he could NOT spell. It stressed me out, and to be honest, I was embarassed because I was afraid that people were judging his ability to my teaching ability. That kind of thing. (I still sometimes wrestle with it because my daughter also can’t spell well.) My son still, to this day, is easily distracted, can’t keep any area of his straight, loses thing all the time. He has trouble with his “working memory”–that is what his testing showed. Three different professionals, all at different times, have suggested meds to me for him. I tried once several years ago for 2 days and pulled him off. He had no appetite (he is super thin to begin with), and had dark circles. I have recently started with a vitamin regimen and I am hoping that it will give us some help. Oh, and BTW-my son’s spelling has really improved recently. He reads a LOT and I think that has helped. That, and the Sequential Spelling. 🙂 I just wanted some of you mom’s out there to know that it is my very humble opinion that boy’s brains also mature a bit slower (no offense to any boys out there)-I have been able to watch his grow and mature as a homeschooling mom. What a blessing!!

  9. Mary says:

    Wow….thank you so much Julie for sharing your experience with Noah. I have “Cole” and all your ‘concerns’ have been mine. He is the middle boy and just turned 10. I also appreciate the posts of the other moms. Cole is the typical ‘late bloomer, listening to a differnt drummer, middle child…..” If I only had “Cole” the prospect of unschooling seems more feasible; however, with an older son and younger son who learn in similar fashions; I can only imagine, the “why does Cole get to do such and such…..” It is so difficult to meet everyone’s needs and also let go of what I feel is important for them to learn. I will look forward to more discussion on this topic!! thank you so much!!!
    Mary G.