Visual-Spatial Learners

Are you one? Rich is. I didn't know it until my friend Aly pointed out the similarities between our struggles with him and those she experienced with one of her girls. Inability to work while sitting still, hatred of worksheets, reluctance to read, near hostility at having to write. Strong intuitive skills with building materials (Legos, K-Nex) and computers. Only stays engaged while working with his hands. She introduced us to the term "Visual-Spatial Learner" and it's completely changed the way we approach Rich, not only in school, but in every aspect of life.

Visual-Spatial learners are often mis-labeled as having ADD, being lazy, unmotivated, or simply un-teachable. VS learners think in pictures, not words. This makes the way we teach literacy in school very difficult for them - they can't convert their pictures to words very quickly, which is a nightmare when it comes to timed spelling tests, creative writing, and copy work. But let them act it out, tell a story, make a video - you usually get exceptional work and comedic gold. They love jokes.

They are also usually "big picture" thinkers. They aren't interested in the details - but they can visualize the finished product in great detail. That's why they don't pay much attention to instructions. For instance, Rich seldom spends much time building the toy pictured on the front of the Lego box. Even if he does, he cannibalizes it (usually within two days) because he wants some of its parts for something HE imagined and wants to build. He skips tutorials in video games. He'd rather get it wrong 100 times and figure it out on his own, than stop and read the instructions and get it right the first time. And in the end, he's more proficient because of it.

In other words, he learns pretty strictly by DOING, not by hearing, writing, or even a demonstration. And it drives me nuts, because as a Sequential Learner I approach things in a very step-by-step, linear fashion. It's taken me quite a while to figure out that what works for me doesn't work for him. AT ALL.

In fact, I've realized that most times, it's not that he isn't paying attention - it's that he's thinking ahead for ways to shortcut and get to the end as quickly as possible. Big picture - the details are irrelevant, unless they involve taking something apart. For instance, just today Rich sat down and diagrammed some complex sentences with very little instruction from me. He'd never done it before. But if I were to ask him to create a series of his own sentences out of thin air, it would have ended in tears. Such is the twist with VS wired brains.

He also likes to move. We've given him a squishy ball to keep his hands busy if we MUST lecture or give instruction - it satisfies the right brain's need to move, while freeing up the left brain to listen to what's being said. He usually stands up while doing work, so he can shift his weight. He taps out drum rhythms while reading and in between writing assignments. We get better, more focused work from his as a result.

This is good news. Many VS Learners have gone on to become CEO's, astronauts, engineers, artists, designers, architects, and so on. It's just that our Sequential style of teaching in traditional school really doesn't connect with them, and they don't realize their intelligence until college or beyond. I love that we can help him capitalize on this different learning process early, instead of when he's burnt out and fed up with lectures and workbooks. But I've had to retrain myself to make it work, and so has he. He got so used to suppressing his right brain in school in order to get by, that it's taken him time to realize the freedom that comes with learning in a way that satisfies him both physically and intellectually.

Of course, regardless of how much hands-on learning you do with a kid, they eventually have to face the ACT and SATs and take college exams. But there are some good books Aly pointed me to that teach the VS learner how to adapt to traditional classrooms and testing. Just meeting him where he is turns out to be 90% of the battle. Montessori and Reggio Emilia schools typically tap into this very well by centering curriculum on fine arts and allowing freedom of interest and movement, but they can be expensive. My hope here is that if anyone else, whether child or adult, identifies with common VS issues - they will realize they're not dumb, they don't have a "condition" and they don't need medication (usually). They simply learn in a way that doesn't connect with the "assembly line education" they suffered through in school.

Check out these books at Amazon for more info:


Week 5

Like the new design?

Lots to report since our last update:

We spent the Sunday before last in Bear, Delaware with some old friends. When Dave was 19 he spent the summer at Friendship Baptist Church there as the summer youth director. It's been nearly 21 years since he's seen some of the "kids" and it was great to catch up with them. (We didn't take as many pictures as we should have - but we're going back in a few weeks).

Amy & Rebecca

We also got to see our long lost friend, David Carswell and his wonderful wife who is great with child. Good food at El Rodeo in Harrisburg and good times getting caught up with each other.

Nikki & Dave

I'm also happy to report that we're drifting gradually closer to a more "unschooling" style of homeschooling. In other words, the boys are starting to take interest in some real life activities and skills that allow for experiments and experiences, rather than textbooks and worksheets. We're still doing pretty traditional stuff with maths and literacy, but science, art, music, and computer skills are coming along more naturally. These last two weeks we've learned about music scales, chemical reactions, states of matter (these two we've learned from cooking and mixing stuff that goes SPLAT, WHOOSH, and SIZZLE in the kitchen), monochromatic painting, horizon lines, and on and on. It's a bit disjointed and random, but they're remembering things they wouldn't from a worksheet or lecture.

Mad Scientists

Music and archaeology (more like digging dinosaur toys out of dirt eggs...)

The boys have gotten hooked on a blog called Lego Quest - the blogger presents a Lego Challenge every few weeks for the kids. Sometimes they have restrictions on certain pieces, piece limits, or just a theme - this week's was Natural Disasters. They boys wanted to have a plane crash, but decided to add the lightning to make the disaster a bit more natural.

Rich also started Ice Hockey this week. He's wanted to play for a few years now but there were time and money obstacles. Obviously, Hockey is HUGE up here, so there are lots of options. He started speed skating while we were in Arkansas, and took a few ice skating lessons when we first arrived in Harrisburg. The coaches thought he was doing well enough to start training for junior Hockey, so off he went. He seems to be a natural on the ice - especially playing defense, as he did in soccer. The plan is to play Hockey when he can, roller skate when he can't, and try to squeeze some soccer in during the off season.

We've also gotten deeply into the Revolutionary and Civil Wars using Netflix Liberty Kids series, and a bunch of library books on Lincoln, Jefferson, Sam Adams, Davis, etc. The tough part is trying to keep the two wars apart. Tuesday, we did our bookwork at the Midtown Scholar bookstore in downtown Harrisburg (a few blocks from the beautiful capital building). They had literally hundreds of books on both wars so we spent a few hours doing school work and browsing.

There are two basement levels filled with books. Honestly, this store has more books than all the libraries in Harrisburg combined.

Hopefully we're headed to Dutch country in Lancaster this weekend, or possibly Washington D.C. depending on how things go. Stay tuned.



...or "Balmer," as the natives call it.

We started by checking in at the Hilton Homewood Suites. We were about 2-3 blocks away from the Inner Harbor Piers.

Then off to the National Aquarium, reputed to be the "best aquarium in the world." The boys are awed by how huge some of the buildings are and excited that the harbor water is actually THE Atlantic Ocean.

The main reason we went to Baltimore is because Brennan wanted to see the Dolphins for his 6th Birthday. The National Aquarium has a Dolphin show and is a huge 5 story complex spanning two buildings. It definitely lived up to its reputation, with the possible exception of the shark tanks (we all agreed that the shark exhibit at the Dallas Aquarium was cooler, as you can actually walk through the tanks via glass tunnels). Still, the Dolphin show rocked, and the Dolphins come right up to the glass to stare at you and goof around. We were amazed at how personable they were.

After stuffed salmon and friend shrimp at McCormick and Shmick's, we walked back to our hotel suite for Brennan's birthday party. We brought a Spiderman cake from a Weis grocer close to our PA apartment, and some milk from the CVS down the street. (I resisted the urge to spend thousands of dollars in the Whole Foods on the same corner. I can't wait 'till we have one close).

There followed much building of Legos and reading of Ricky Ricotta books, then everyone collapsed from exhaustion.

Day two started with breakfast at the hotel, then a drive over to the Maryland Science Museum on the other side of the harbor.

Lunch at Phillips (Lobster and crab bisque, crab and swiss panini, more shrimp. We could eat seafood every day!), then we caught the water taxi and rode across the harbor to eat ice cream at Fell's Point, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Baltimore. We browsed a few shops, listened to a great musician busking in the nearby park (listening to his CD right now...), and headed back across the harbor to go "home."

I wish we could have seen the U.S.S. Constellation but it was gone for renovation and repair, and we got back to the Inner Harbor too late to go up to the view deck at the World Trade Center. These were small loses, as Bmore is close enough that we can go back anytime and spend the day. There are about 7,000 seafood places we still need to try.

And here's a few for you Wire fans:

The Boston Examiner Building, as oft seen in Season 5.

The B-More Port Police Station, right next door to Joyce's Irish Pub, across from our hotel. Nothing actually from the show, but I thought the proximity was kinda cool.

I was digging all these Irish pubs - you felt like you should be able to look inside and see McNulty and Bunk knocking back a few after a long day of getting chewed on by Rawls and outsmarted by Avon or Marlo...

Apparently this is the building that was converted into a sound stage for much of the filming of Homicide: Life on the Street, the show based on David Simon's book that The Wire was eventually drawn from. Stumbled on this totally by accident in Fell's Point, across from the ice cream joint and Geek Shop when we were riding around via the Water Taxi in the harbor.

There were also a few spots around the harbor that I recognized from the scenes where Stringer Bell was trying to get into the real estate game in Season 4. Alas, we never wandered into the bad part of town for an Omar Little spotting. Yeah, I geeked out a little...


The Week in Review 3 / 6-12

Things are going well in Harrisburg, PA. We've settled into a routine with school and work, and the boys are making friends with other kids in the homeschool co-op. Rich ice skates (in prep for hockey) on Tuesdays, and Brennan starts soccer on Saturday. As we suspected, there's more to do and see than we have time or money for. We're trying to plan a "big" trip every 3 weeks, with smaller, one day trips in between. Our big trip goals for this time:
Niagra Falls
Lancaster (Dutch Country)
Baltimore/Washington D.C.

We're heading for the National Aquarium at Baltimore's Inner Harbor next week, but this week we did a few other things of note (pictures/video below).

There are so many cool little coffee houses around here, we've decided to pick a different one each week and do our schoolwork there one morning, followed by some type of field trip in the afternoon. This week was St. Thomas Roasters, a little place in Linglestown, about ten minutes from the apartment. On Wednesday we had breakfast and spent about 3 hours doing school work while Christie filled up on coffee, me on Chai, and the boys on chocolate milk. Rich practiced his cursive and math while Brennan did Phonics and math, then we did a short introduction to Christopher Colombus. Rich also started learning about story elements using Wimpy Kid and Frannie K. Stein - recognizing character arcs, plot devices, themes, and settings (not his favorite thing, but important as a tool for future literature).


Afterwards, we headed down the road to Indian Echo Caverns in Hummlestown, a small cave system with a 45 minute tour - just perfect for a short field trip. We learned about the Susquehannock Indians who used the caves for refuge until disappearing in the 1670's. More interesting is the story of the "Pennsylvania Hermit" Amos Wilson, who lived there in the early 1800's. . Lots of strange stories surround this character, and it's hard to separate fact from fiction anymore. The boys were also fascinated by the mysterious "black box" found in the cave. It contained a coin collection dating as far back as the Roman Empire (picture below).


This is our regular day with one of the local homeschool co-ops (INCH). The group is much bigger than we're used to with activities to choose from almost every day of the week. Fridays are usually a field trip in the morning and swimming and freeplay at the Y in Lebanon (about 30 minutes from here) in the afternoon. This week's trip was to Marty's Music store in Annville where the instructors did demonstrations and let the kids try out some instruments. They boys like the Sax and the keyboard the most.

And since it's been a little rainy this week, we played hide and seek inside the apartment a lot, watched old Cosby show reruns, and played Wizard 101.