Colleen Kessler, talented blogger, author, podcaster, and gifted encourager, joined us to talk about inspiring differently-wired students and twice-exceptional kids. What are effective strategies for you when your kids are quirky, passionate, and intense? Colleen brings a wealth of ideas on how to spark a passionate, lifelong learning experience in your students and provides practical encouragement for homeschool moms on this incredible journey. If you are the parent of a differently wired child, this episode is for you.
Gretchen Roe: 00:00:05.008
Welcome to The Demme Learning Show. Our mission here is to help families stay in the learning journey wherever it takes them. This bonus episode was previously recorded as a webinar and was not created with the audio listener in mind. We hope you will find value in today’s episode. Hi, everyone. It is my very great pleasure to have the opportunity today to have Colleen Kessler join me for a conversation about those neurodiverse kids. We all have them. Sometimes we wonder where they came from. Sometimes they look just like us, and we wonder, how do we reach them successfully? My name is Gretchen Roe and I’m the community outreach coordinator here at Demme Learning, and I am so excited about this conversation. I have waited all summer for us to have this conversation together today about the kids who learn differently. So, Colleen, welcome. I’m going to let you introduce yourself and then we’ll get started.
Colleen Kessler: 00:01:04.889
Sure. Thank you for having me. I love talking with you, so this is super fun. I warned people in my Instagram story earlier today that our biggest challenge is going to be keeping it to an hour because we tend to go off on so many fun little rabbit trails in tangent. So I’m Colleen Kessler. I am the founder of Raising Lifelong Learners. There’s a very robust full site. It’s been around since 2013 and a podcast with– I think we just reached our 170 something episode, so lots and lots of resources there. I am an author, a speaker, an educational coach and consultant. I have my master’s degree in gifted and special Ed– gifted studies and special Ed and work primarily with families who are homeschooling neurodiverse kids, gifted, twice exceptional, or otherwise neurodiverse in all sorts of different ways, anxiety, sensory processing disorder, ADHD. We work with kind of the gamut because a lot of those fall under the umbrella of being gifted. And so I just love quirky outside the box atypical families. They’re so much fun. And I fit right in there with them because we have chaos all around us here at my own home, so.
Gretchen Roe: 00:02:19.683
I just kind of think of chaos as riding the top of the surfboard, and as long as you can stay on top of it, you’re pretty good. My husband and I raised six kids, homeschooled them for 21 years, and I wouldn’t have traded that time for anything. But I’m an only child, so often what is the typical quirkiness of kids who are twice exceptional, and four of my kids were, was lost on me. I just didn’t understand all of that. And let me say as an aside because Colleen’s not going to tell you this, but I’m going to tell you this. Colleen’s podcast is probably one of the best investments of time you could spend. Not all podcasts are created equal. And believe me in what I do for Demme, I listen to a lot of them and Colleen’s is exceptional. So I just want to encourage you that once we finish this time together, that’ll be a homework assignment for you. It will be worth your time to go to her podcast. We have a million things to talk about. I took more notes in our one-hour planning conversation than I’ve ever taken before. And I sat here this morning and went, “How do I cut all this down to?” Yeah. Anyway, I want to start with our conversation about perfectionism. And so many kids who are exceptional tend to drift into that. So can you enlighten our parents a little bit? What can you do with that? Just how would you guide a parent who has a child who has the gift of perfectionism?
Colleen Kessler: 00:03:57.775
Yeah. Okay. So that’s like a whole talk too. So I’ll try to condense, just like you said, and I forgot I didn’t even mention my kids or anything. I home-school. And so, the interesting thing kind of about me, and I think why I have a unique perspective on this, is that I do have a master’s degree in this area and taught in this area before I left teaching. And I didn’t leave teaching to home school. I left teaching to freelance, right? And kind of do this stuff full-time. And then, through a series of challenges, realized that my kids fall in that neurodiversity spectrum as well and pulled them to home school. So I have four kids I home-school. I graduated one; he’s 19. And then I have them all the way down to 9. So 15, 13, and 9, with a whole bunch of their own kind of quirks. So perfectionism, I’ve talked about this at conferences because it is something that a lot of kids, in general, struggle with. And it’s easy to, especially as homeschool moms, kind of feed into that because we want everything to be great because we know that we’re responsible for everything, right? And so, we’re a little bit harder on our kids, I think, than some families who don’t homeschool because they’re able to kind of outsource more than we do as homeschoolers. And whether it’s intentional or conscious or not, we tend to take everything personally as homeschool moms because we are responsible for everything, and we feel like we’re being judged. The reality is we’re not being judged as much as we think we are because everybody’s just too busy doing their own thing and worrying about themselves being judged. So we pass this along. Perfectionism, in a nutshell, really, is it goes beyond wanting to do well and striving for excellence. It becomes a compulsion. So actually, perfectionism, true perfectionism, is not a gift. It’s not a good thing in any way, shape, or form. Perfectionism is when the need to be perfect and do everything exactly as it should be done or what we have a picture of in our head that it should look like is when it goes beyond, like, “I want to be good at this” to “I have to be perfect at this or I won’t have value.”
Colleen Kessler: 00:06:14.336
And that’s where it gets detrimental. If our value, our worth, is tied to what the outcome of a situation or a project or anything looks like, then we’re not operating from a healthy perspective. In fact, I share this when I do talks in person because I have my slides in front of me. But my slides for every– if you’ve ever been to one of my live presentations, like speaking events, you’ll see, my slides always follow a similar format. They’re based on brain research. There’s an anchoring image. There’s multiple colors. It switches sides because the brain needs different things to anchor to. It needs novelty. And so, when I’m talking about perfectionism, I talk to the attendees about the fact, usually parents, that when I find these anchoring images, I’m looking for very simple things. So I type search terms into, like, stock photo sites. And whenever I type in perfectionism or perfectionistic or anything along those lines, over 95% of the images that are fed back to me are of young women hanging over a toilet with a plate of food. Perfectionism leads to dangerous things. It leads to eating disorders, self-harm, poor self-image, paralyzing anxiety, and all sorts of scary things. So we want to make sure that we’re recognizing it in our kids if our kids are becoming consumed with it, and then helping them through it. And you asked how do we help our kids? The best and easiest and quickest way that you can implement today is start messing up in front of them and then laughing it off and talking it off. Drop an egg when you’re baking a cake and be like, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe I did that. Will you help me clean this up? Or actually, why don’t you get another while I clean it up. Brush it off, make a mistake, and make it as often as you can. And the more perfectionistic your kiddo is, the more you want to mess up in front of them, and then normalize mistakes and moving on from them. And the more you do that, the more it’s a natural part of every day, the more they’re going to be able to do it. It seems like an oversimplistic thing, but it’s actually not. I had an attendee of a conference that I did a few years ago where I spoke specifically. I had an entire hour-long discussion on perfectionism. And she emailed me. She was a former chef and her daughter wouldn’t cook with her because she held everybody to a very high standard in the kitchen. And I said, start using salt instead of sugar, dropping eggs, laughing this off, and normalizing you messing up the cooking that you’re already amazing at. And she’ll want to start cooking with you because the intensity will be lessened. And she emailed me about three weeks later and said, I totally doubted you, but I started making different mistakes throughout my day. Every single day. And this is the third week since I started this, and she just asked me if we could bake scones together. And so it seems simple, but sometimes the simplest things are really what make the biggest impact.
Gretchen Roe: 00:09:15.235
Right. And you had said that last week when we talked and if you take nothing else away from this conversation, the simplest things make the biggest impact because it makes such a difference for our children. They’re watching us all the time, whether we want them to or not. And being a recovering perfectionist myself. I mean, I’m an only child. I was raised by good German parents. You did not do it twice, you did it once correctly. You kind of catch that, and having to break that in the next generation is part of the gift of being able to homeschool our kids. It makes a difference. It really does. Define for me what you mean when you say, a twice-exceptional child. Can we talk? Because I know there’s parents who are going to be watching this and joining us who are going, “I think I have that, but I’m not sure.” So help us understand what that means.
Colleen Kessler: 00:10:15.337
Sure. So clinically, right? If we’re just talking straight definitions, a gifted child is– if you’re looking at a bell curve, right? So let’s talk math, Demme Learning, we’re on with you. So when we’re looking at the bell curve, the distribution of IQ scores, if we’re talking about a straight IQ score, average is in the middle, right? Two standard deviations below average. So two chunks on that scale below average is where we start to see developmental delays and neurodiversity is on that end of the spectrum. Two standard deviations above average on that bell curve we see clinically gifted hits. We see cognitively gifted. They interpret the world in a different way. They look at the big picture. They grasp concepts pretty quickly in different areas. There’s always nuances in there. This is a very simple definition. A twice-exceptional child is someone who would score cognitively gifted, but then also has a neurological, psychological, academic, physical disability or issue along with it. So gifted with ADHD, gifted with sensory processing disorder, gifted with autism, gifted with cerebral palsy, gifted with anxiety, any number of things. Gifted with dyslexia. We’ve got kids that on the surface look like they struggle in so many academic areas, but when you talk to them, seem to grasp the big concepts in the world at a much higher level than their age peers. And those are gifted children too, their brain just doesn’t click onto something. So they also have a learning disability. The most difficult thing about identifying and figuring out a choice exceptional child. I guess there’s two things. One, they’re as different from one another as they are from the general population because there’s so many nuances to it and so many different ways they could be twice exceptional. And then, two, their abilities mask their disabilities and their disabilities mask their abilities. So unless it’s something right out in your face, like a physical disability, as their twice-exceptionality, you’re getting kids that look average but then every once in a while seem like there’s a problem where there shouldn’t be or their head where you didn’t expect them to be. So they’re this kind of constant puzzle. And they don’t really fit the parenting books. They don’t develop in a linear fashion. They develop in a very asynchronous fashion. And so you might have someone who’s 12 and can talk to you like a little professor and grasp concepts that most college students can’t grasp in certain subject areas but then are throwing mulch with the 2-year-olds on the playground because they’re so impulsive. They can’t reign that in. That’s actually completely developmentally appropriate for a twice-exceptional child who may be behind socially and emotionally but way ahead academically and then average in other areas. So that’s kind of what a twice-exceptional kid is. Identifying them is a little bit trickier.
Gretchen Roe: 00:13:21.504
Right. And I think one of the things that we endeavored here at Demme to say this year in every webinar we do is as a parent, your greatest asset is your ability to observe your student.
Colleen Kessler: 00:13:36.812
Yes. Yeah. I want to piggyback on that because I think people worry too much about test scores. And people ask me all the time about should I identify my kids, should I get them tested for giftedness, should I, should I, should I. And I always say it depends. One of my kids is identified as gifted and a couple other things. But at that time, I was trying to keep him in the school system and figure out what was wrong with him, right? None of my other kids are identified in that area. They may be in other areas. But until there’s a challenge that you really can’t figure out and you’re not able to meet the needs of, you don’t have to spend the thousands of dollars on testing. You need to trust your gut because in my experience, even working in the school system with gifted students and their parents, parents identify appropriately a huge majority of the time. So trust yourself. You are the perfect parent for your kid. You’re the perfect teacher for your kid. You know your child best, and you love them the most. So you’re not going to mess it up because the love will overcome anything, and you can get help at any time along the path as you need it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:14:50.489
I remember now some 12 years ago, my fifth child, he learned differently. He is emotionally off the charts as far as being able to be empathetic with other people, but he didn’t learn to read until he was 9 and a half. And for my emotional health, I felt like I needed a diagnosis. And I have to tell you that I got to the end of that diagnosis. And he did have dyslexia. He did have auditory processing disorder. He did have a different way to relate to the world. But I was out $4,000. And I still had to figure out how to educate that kid. He’s 23 now. And he’s brilliant. We were told by well-meaning educators that he was not college material. He’s a cybersecurity analyst. He does just fine for himself. And he’s very emotionally intelligent. But he was the kid who taught me that observation is a far greater asset than diagnostics and testing and spending that money. So I think that makes a tremendous amount of difference. Can you talk a little bit about sensory processing? I made some notes here. Having had a kid who has sensory processing disorder, I get it. But if we have a parent who’s trying to figure out why they have a child who’s prickly in the world, can we talk about some of the things they can look for that might look like sensory processing issues?
Colleen Kessler: 00:16:23.141
Yeah. It’s a hard thing to narrow down because there’s like six different areas within the sensory processing kind of spectrum. And then they could be seeking in that area or avoiding in that area, so now you’ve got 12 different and then any combination of them. So I guess if you’re suspecting that your child may have sensory processing challenges or the disorder itself- and I have one that is identified with that – you might be seeing extreme sensory seeking, right? They can’t get enough touch. They can’t get enough movement. They can’t get enough input, or you might see an extreme avoider. They don’t want to be touched. They’re uncomfortable with tags or certain types of fabric or sensations. There are sensitive to noise, or they seek out noise. They can’t regulate their own voice and volume, or they’re telling you you’re yelling at them when you’re actually just talking calmly, quietly, but maybe in a stern voice. It’s interpreted in a different way. They just seem off as compared to most of the kids you’re seeing in how they react to things. They are a little bit more, or maybe a little bit less. And so if you– my best suggestion for this is if you sense some of those things, if you think that that might be a challenge, get Carol Kranowitz’s book out of the library, The Out-of-Sync Child, read that, and then if a lot of it– and get it out of the library. It’s a great book. It’s totally like the Bible of sensory processing. She’s phenomenal. She’s the expert. If the stuff in it resonates and maybe OT, occupational therapy, is not an option for you, or your child’s a little bit older– because occupational therapy for a sensory kid really works best when they’re younger, and you get on it quicker, but it doesn’t mean you can’t help at home.
Colleen Kessler: 00:18:25.141
If the stuff in there resonates – so she’ll break it down in that book between like the six or eight different things, and then whether they’re avoiding or seeking or a combination – then you buy her other book, The Out-Of-Sync Child Has Fun. That book is a very large volume, hundreds of pages. It’s completely filled with activities you can do at home, broken down by those different areas and avoiding and seeking. So it’s basically like an occupational therapist in your pocket. And you want to read the original book to see where it fits, but you want to buy the other one and then mark it up. That’s what we’ve done. I have the first one on Kindle where I don’t mark it up. And then I have the other one paper and a paper copy with sticky notes all over. Different things that I can do at home and just sneak in little games, little things. For a long while with our kiddo who is identified with sensory processing disorder, every time it was a birthday or Christmas or whatever presents were needed, there was a swing to clip on the underside of the loft bed. There were spinning things for our backyard, a mini trampoline for inside, a bigger trampoline for outside. So then you can see what kinds of things are recommended for the different areas, and you can start purchasing those as presents because they’re fun, and integrating it into your day, so it’s just another game you’re playing or something else you’re doing as a family that’s actually benefiting someone in a really tangible way.
Gretchen Roe: 00:20:06.444
The author is Carol Kranowtiz, and don’t panic those of you who are messaging me saying, “Who is this and how do I find this book?” They’ll be in the show notes. So we’ll include that book in the show notes for you so that you can follow up on that. So I want to make sure I’m at fault for not saying in the beginning. Thank you, Nadia, for messaging me and saying, “Who is the author and the title of the book?” And please know that you will find this information that Colleen is going to reference throughout the day here in our show notes for you. So we’re going to do the secretarial work for you so that you’ll have that at the conclusion. I want to now turn our attention to the child who seems more intense. On that continuum of kids who are less intense and more intense, the parents who seem to me to have the greatest struggle with their kids are that intense child. So what are some practical pieces of advice you can offer to a parent as far as moderating that intensity? I’m looking for a positive word here. I don’t want to squash the intensity because that intensity is going to serve them well in adulthood. But sometimes in a family, particularly with a bunch of kids, that intensity can be exhausting. So suggestions that you might have.
Colleen Kessler: 00:21:39.768
Lots of coffee, some hidden chocolate. No. Although I can do that too. Okay, so the very first thing, and Gretchen is going to reference this in the show notes too, you’re going to go search my site and my podcast for overexcitabilities. Overexcitability, it’s a piece of a personality theory by a guy named Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist from years and years and years and years and years ago. But he talks about how personality has developed. And a little teeny, tiny part of his theory is this theory of overexcitabilities that says that gifted and highly creative individuals have these overexcitabilities, these intensities in various ways, different combinations of them. And anecdotally, there’s a lot of– in the gifted world and the world of educators, they want to debate all sorts of topics. But anecdotally, if you talk to any parent who has a gifted, twice-exceptional, or otherwise neurodiverse kid, they’re going to be like, “Oh yeah, they are definitely more intense than others around us.” And so these overexcitabilities focus on different areas. You’ve got emotional, you’ve got academic, you’ve got sensual, which is the 5 senses. You’ve got imaginational. They’re imagination runs off with them and seems very real to them sometimes. And then you’ve got another one– oh, psychomotor. And psychomotor is the movement of the brain, so that can lead to impulsivity and ADHD-like symptoms. But there is an entire series on my podcast, an entire series on the site in articles and then lots of references. But kind of encapsulating it, neurodiverse kids are just more. They have higher highs, lower lows. They take things more personally. They feel things more intensely. They love passionately and they hate with equal passion. And there’s no in-between. There’s no gray area. It’s all or nothing, and it’s all the time or none of the time. And the difficulty when you’ve got multiple kids– and apples don’t fall far from trees, right? So parents are often neurodiverse, if they’ve got neurodiverse kids. And if you’ve got one you likely have more than one or all. And most of the time because God likes to keep us on our toes, right? They’re not the same kinds of intensities. So they trigger each other, and they overlap, and fight over, this one’s talking, and this one needs complete quiet. But this one needs noise, and this one needs noise. And this one’s being too quiet, or this one’s looking.
Colleen Kessler: 00:24:28.634
So there’s all sorts of things that you’re dealing with. The very best thing you can do as a parent is know first and foremost, this is not personal. They’re not doing to you. They’re trying to learn how to regulate themselves because they truly do feel the world in a different way. And so, what we can do for our kids is first of all know that it’s part of who they are. And second of all, help them learn to regulate it in a calm, safe, kind way. So we want to validate what they’re feeling. Wow, yeah, I see that you’re upset by that. That would upset me too if I were you. When we’re upset we need to make sure that we manage our outbursts. And so behaviorally, that’s the choice you made to throw the shoe across the room. But instead, if you’re feeling that upset about it, maybe go for a walk where you’re not going to hurt someone or put a dent in the wall. Instead, tell me about it, or write in your journal, or go outside and come back in, take a break.
Colleen Kessler: 00:25:34.511
So you want to tell them their experiences is right, it’s what they’re experiencing. You’re not going to discount their experiences, you’re going to help them see the difference between what they’re experiencing and how they’re behaving as a result of it. And coach them through it. Reminding yourself and them that it’s going to be harder. I used to tell my one kid who struggles with impulsivity when we would be going somewhere. An example I use all the time is his uncle’s house. His uncle’s a bachelor, going to be bachelor forever, right? And so he’s got all these toys, as bachelors do. These priceless Star Wars figurines and things like that. So I would say to my kiddo before we’d go to Uncle Joey’s house, “It’s going to be harder for you than it is for your sister to not grab those Star Wars toys off the shelf. But you have to remember that Uncle Joey doesn’t have kids. And you can’t just take them. So if you want to see something, you can ask. And if he says no, it’s his. You have to respect his no. If you feel yourself being impulsive, or you know you’re going to do something, or you’re feeling kind of antsy, come find me. Let’s have a signal and we’ll go for a walk, or we’ll go do something else.”
Colleen Kessler: 00:26:43.931
Or know that that kid’s going to struggle and bring something for him. This is not the time to die on the altar of I’m never bringing a tablet anywhere I go and my kid is never going to be on a screen. Or my kid is never going to be antisocial. Sometimes our kids who are neurodiverse need an outlet. And so, I was never going to be that parent who brought the Kindle Fire to the holiday party. But it didn’t take long before we were the parents who brought a bag with a whole bunch of different things to lose themselves in, including a tablet. And our rule was, if you feel like you really need a break from everybody, then that’s fine. But you’re not going to sit on the couch in the middle of the party on your tablet ignoring people. You can take 20 minutes and you can go in the bedroom where we have all the coats and I’ll come check on you. And you can regulate yourself and take a break. And then we’re going to try coming back. So you start, you validate what they’re feeling. You talk with them about what you’re seeing and observing, and what’s the difference between the behaviors, and the choices, and the emotions. And then you come up with plans. And you follow through on the plans. And you don’t make it about them. You make it about their challenges and how you’re helping them learn to regulate the challenges. And then, be team as a family. My kids all know each other’s weaknesses. They all know each other’s strengths. Whether they like musical theater or not, they all go see my one daughter in at least one show of every run. Whether they like basketball or not, they’re going to go at least see one game of their younger brother. Whatever it is we’re doing, we’re going to support each other. And then when one of us are struggling, we’re also going to ask for support. My oldest daughter will sometimes be seen asking my younger daughter if she needs her back rubbed because she’s a sensory seeker who also has an anxiety disorder. And now her big sister can see when she’s starting to spiral, and she can offer the help of the input or the support of just being there because we’re a team. Logan’s not worse because she has anxiety. Molly’s not better because she doesn’t. We’re just part of a team that have different intensities, and we support each other whenever we need it.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:02.226
I love the way that you said that being part of a team because I think like you said, apples don’t fall far from trees. And when we have a kid who has neurodiversities, they’re likely that their parent has neurodiversities as well. And that is sometimes a recipe for success in the way that you’ve described it. But sometimes it’s a recipe for friction as well. And so I think we need to be intentional in being able to help our children have a better experience than perhaps was modeled for us. I’m of the generation children should be seen and not heard. So I think we’ve done– come a long way as far as parenting is concerned.
Colleen Kessler: 00:29:45.833
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:45.973
And we still have a long way to go because understanding our kids is huge. I want to turn my attention to some of the questions that were asked of us because boy, do we get some terrific questions.
Colleen Kessler: 00:29:58.983
There were some great questions.
Gretchen Roe: 00:29:59.957
I know. Really for the first one I want to ask about is everyone talks about following a child’s interests, but I struggle with my kids because it’s mostly video games. And [laughter] so I loved this question. I’m the parent who learned to play Pokemon Go so that I could enter in with my then nine-year-old son to have something that we could talk about as we did other things. So tell me how you would recommend to help this mom.
Colleen Kessler: 00:30:31.286
Sure. Okay. So it’s not even just this mom because it’s a question I get probably weekly. But first I want to say good on you for jumping in with Pokemon Go because that’s so hard for parents. In my book, my most recent one, Raising Resilient Sons, there’s an anecdote in there about joining in with my kids in certain interests of theirs and how important that is. And I had a parent write me soon after the book came out saying that she had read the part about sitting down and playing video games with her kid even if you hate video games if that’s the only thing kind of they seem to engage in in their free time so you can be a part of their interests. And she said, “I had a whole bunch of laundry to do yesterday. My son was playing a game, and he wanted to show me what he was doing. So I went down. And I just let the laundry go, and I sat with him for about half an hour asking him about what was happening on the screen.” And she said, “Later that day, he came up to me and he gave me a big hug out of the blue which he never does and thanked me for playing with him.” She’s like, “I just sat on the couch and asked him about what was going on on the screen.” Again, like we said at the beginning of this, it’s the small things that make huge differences. And just joining in even if it’s just sitting by them and observing, it can go so far and build a connection. Okay. But when we’re trying to get them involved in other things or we’re trying to turn over some of the education to our kids and we’re met with, “I don’t have any other interests I just like Minecraft. Some of that is true. Some of that is they don’t know what they’re interested in because they’ve got a limited exposure to the world. And they don’t know how to filter out what could be more interesting or what isn’t something that they’d be interested in. And they don’t always want to take chances or know how to take chances. So when we want to kind of take on the educational approach of following your kids’ interests or we just want to do that in one small area of our homeschool to kind of ease into a more interest-led or student-directed method of education, we need to– just like we scaffold math skills from the basics to the more advanced, we want to scaffold those skills as well. We want to help our kids see possibilities so then they can choose within the possibilities. So one of the ways you could do that is you could get a big piece of chart paper and tape it up to the wall in your kitchen or a room you’re in all the time and start jotting down different things you want to learn about, no matter how obscure it is. And get everybody involved in it. Mom, dad, big sisters, little sisters, big brothers, little brothers, whatever. And put everything down. Bake cookies. Learn a foreign language. Figure out why the chickens don’t always go into the roost at night. I don’t know, but anything and everything. And then start narrowing it down and helping them see how they narrow it down to something they’re truly interested in. So that’s one way. You can get a bunch of different ideas by brainstorming as a family a bunch of ideas. And then each week or each month or every other week, just choose one thing off that big chart and go learn about it as a family. Because then you’re exposing them to different things and they’ve got a little bit of a say in it. So as they do more of those explorations, they might come up with other things that they be interested in. Something sparked from a television show or a documentary, and they now see the interesting thing about diving down a rabbit hole like that. And so they’ll say next time, “Hey, you know what? I saw this in a documentary. Can we learn about that instead?” And so you’re building that skill.
Colleen Kessler: 00:34:10.700
The other thing that you can do is put out stuff. We call this strewing. Unschoolers use this tactic all the time. You put something out with no expectation, like a collection of library books and a topic. A set of rocks and minerals with some magnifying glasses and Mohs scale of hardness or whatever it is. I forget. Or when my kids were littler, we had this little monkey and numbers that were weighted. It was a balance. And so I would put that out and they would hang a number on one side and then hang a combination of numbers to make it balance. I mean, that’s basic addition skills and subtraction skills as they’re putting it together. So you can expose them to different things they might be interested by just putting something out and letting them discover it. And if they’re not interested, you put it away and you take it out two months later. We had this loom, weaving loom, that I put out with a bunch of yarn and nobody did anything with it. So I put it away and I took it out a few months later and I started weaving with it. And bringing in different fabrics and different yarns and then, leaving it part way done. And then the kids would start gravitating towards it. And then we started talking about textiles and history and looming or weaving on a loom. And so things will come back. Your kids will say they’re interested only in video games or act like they’re only interested in video games for a couple of reasons. One, it’s known to them. It’s safe. So it’s an easy, “This is what I want to learn more about,” or “This is what I want to do all the time.” It’s also kind of an instant gratification thing. They’re getting positive feedback by reaching a new level. And they get it quickly. More quickly than anything else they experience in their life. A day in Minecraft is a fraction of a day in real life. And In real life, you don’t know how everything’s going to turn out. But in Minecraft, you know if you do X, Y, Z, then A, B, and C are going to happen. And you can learn from your mistakes, but you can do it super quickly. Or you can see the fruits of your labor and what you’ve built more quickly than the plant you’re trying to grow from seed in your plant unit, or whatever. So there’s so many different things that come into the video games for our kids. We just need to help them see that there’s that there’s follow-through in other areas. But we can only do that by modeling. So if your kids are only interested in Minecraft or it seems like that, there are a couple of things you can do to incorporate that. There are a lot of great classes out there that use Minecraft as a base for studying history, building the Parthenon in Minecraft, and then learning about it in the online class. Outschool has some of these classes. There are books. There are Minecraft coding books so they can learn about coding. So you can say, “Hey, that’s a great idea. I love that you love Minecraft.” And I’m just using Minecraft because one of my kids is very into it. “I love that you love that. How about we compromise? I was thinking about studying one of these five things. You pick one of these five, and then I’ll also figure out a way to incorporate Minecraft for an hour a day for you into some of your learning. And then you can have your free time after.” So there’s a little bit of Minecraft lesson time, and then there’s a little bit of interest-led time based on some forced choices. You’re not saying, “What do you want to learn about?” You’re saying, “What of these five things seem interesting to you? We’re going to study them for the next two weeks. And then you can learn about Minecraft and then show me what you’re learning in it.”
Colleen Kessler: 00:37:46.772
So you can do that to kind of help with that. I don’t know what else they’re interested in. You can teach them that there are interests around them. “Hey, last week, you mentioned axolotls, that you wanted to have one. That’s an interest. That’s what I’m talking about when I ask you what you’re interested in learning about. Again, modeling for them and explaining for them this abstract idea of interest-led learning. Showing them what their actual interests are based on your observations. But it really all comes down to what we talked about before, observation skills. I tell parents all the time, “Your kind of best tool in homeschooling is becoming a student of your child and watching everything, even taking notes.” I’ve got these little teeny notebooks that I’ve used in the past that I can poke in my pocket and pull out and jot down things. I don’t use them all the time now. But when I was really trying to figure out what made certain kids tick, and if I’m struggling with one, I’ll pull it out again. I would just jot down at the end of every day, or if I noticed something, “Oh, she was mentioning crocheting and was looking up tutorials. Maybe I should get some yarn and some crochet hooks.” Or anything that they talked about or spent more than a little bit of time on, I would start observing that, so I could bring things out or strew things for them. It’s really our job to help them see that they’ve got more interests than just video games.
Gretchen Roe: 00:39:11.943
I love the fact that you brought Minecraft into this. At one time, my 30-year-old son ran a server for the family and– nine kids together. So spouses, adult married children, built a whole world in Minecraft. And they would walk me through this world. And I would try and ask cogent questions, but I also have to say, I’m just old enough to go, “Whoop, which way is up, and what are we doing here?” Now I have to say, now my kids, several of my adult children have Meta devices and they’re very into playing games in the Metaverse first, and as long as you don’t put me on the edge of the cliff, I’m more than willing to play. But you put me on a cliff edge, and I’m done. So I think it’s up to us to help our children find what interests them, and we don’t know what’s going to spark their interest as adults. So just like you said, set those things out there because you don’t know what direction that’s going to take a child. One of the things that we talked about in preparing and we emailed about yesterday was this mom who’s looking for ideas for students who moan with a writing assignment. And I know you’ve got a great story around this. And there’s so many parents who had this issue that input is great, but output is just the bane of their kids’ existence. Can we talk a little bit about that?
Colleen Kessler: 00:40:54.787
Yeah. So I’ve got a couple of these kids, right? And I will say to encourage you and assure you that number one, you don’t have to teach everybody everything. There is no school probably in any country that doesn’t graduate kids without any gaps. Everybody has gaps when they graduate. And so maybe for your kid, one of the gaps is going to be writing to some degree. And that’s okay. You want to prepare your kids, you want to do everything you can, but there is nothing you’re going to be able to do to force somebody to do something they don’t want. It’s just like your toddler, you can’t shove the food down their throat if they don’t want to eat something. You look at an average over a week, right, isn’t that what pediatricians say? Look at an average of what your toddlers eaten over the week, not day by day. It’s really kind of the same thing with our kids and those different subjects, especially those they’re more reluctant in.
Colleen Kessler: 00:41:49.432
My oldest graduated. He’s taking classes at the community college right now. Writing was a struggle. It was a struggle mentally. It was a struggle physically. It was a struggle emotionally for all of us for him growing up. And so it was one of the things I didn’t push super duper hard. I would show, we would read, we would talk about things. One of the things we forget about kind of emphasizing when we talk about writing is there’s a difference between writing and handwriting. Writing is the development of ideas. It’s putting beginnings, middles, and ends together to form cohesive thoughts and ideas and articulate this to people. Handwriting is hand writing. It’s being able to fill out a form or be legible, write something that can be read, answer questions if you’re taking a test or whatever. So that’s super valuable. You’ve got to be able to read and write to some degree. But you’re going to find ways to make adaptations and accommodations for yourself when you get older.
Colleen Kessler: 00:42:59.749
I worked in a doctor’s office; very few of those doctors wrote out their chart notes. A few of them did. Most of them dictated it and had that typed out for them by a transcriptionist. And so when my oldest was very reluctant to write or type out papers or essays or whatever, we started using dictation software. And so he would dictate. Back then you didn’t have the handy dandy phone with talk-to-text. You bought software that could do that with reliability. So we bought Dragon dictation software and a really good microphone. And he talked into it when he had to answer longer questions or write out paragraphs and things like that. And then we would sit down and we would talk about the editing piece. Some of it stuck, some of it didn’t. He’s never going to be a novelist. It was just not anything that was super interesting to him, whereas my daughter might be. And she loved writing. Math was her struggle, and we’re still struggling with that. So everyone’s going to have these different pockets. With regards to writing, find ways to accommodate it, and teach with it. So when Trevor was young, he wanted to get into a program, it was an after-school program, a citizen science program with Case Western Reserve University for bright science-minded teens where they studied the distribution– the population and the distribution of reptiles and amphibians in the Northeast Ohio watersheds. Super fancy, they did actual research and work. But they had to write two essays to be even considered for the interview to get into the program. And so he dictated them. His answers to the essay questions were amazing. He needed some work on the grammar, so he dictated it, we pulled it out, and we sat next to each other, and I’d read him how it was punctuated as it was written, and say, “Does it sound right? Do we need to fix it?” And then we went through the fixing together. Me asking him sentence by sentence what needed work, and then him doing it. So he learned right from there. Fast forward. He’s in his first college writing class. He has tried to convince me to let him drop it three times and finally turned in his first paper and his professor gave him a 100% and said to him, “You are not as bad a writer as you keep telling me you are.” He did it the same way. He dictated into the iPad and sat down with me talking about some of the editing choices he wanted to make, and some of the ones I thought he should make instead, and we fixed it together. Last night he came up to me with his second paper needing some editing. And Gretchen, I kid you not, it was three and a half pages, all block, one paragraph with run-on sentences and fragments and periods and commas in the weirdest places.
Gretchen Roe: 00:45:48.348
He wasn’t even inhaling and exhaling when he was dictating, right? He was–
Colleen Kessler: 00:45:52.270
Right. It was completely like that was what happened. The content, fabulous. Absolutely great. And so I say that with him and I just read it line by line. This is a person who is never going to type or handwrite an essay. His content is great. And if he gets a job where he’s got to write reports, he’s going to dictate them and he’s going to have a secretary go through and edit them. But his content is going to be fine. So I didn’t edit it for him, but I supported him. He could go to the writing center at the college and they would do the exact same thing. So you find ways to accommodate your kids and prepare them for asking questions. Another thing that we talked about and this goes along with this, your goal is not to have your kids know and do everything well and perfectly. Hearkening back to the perfectionism. Your goal is to have your kids be well-rounded, be confident, and lifelong learners and know that they don’t know everything and it’s okay not to know and they can ask questions. Trevor and I talked about this at the beginning of the semester. I said, “Level with your professor. Go up, throw me under the bus. Tell him you were homeschooled, your mom was a terrible writing teacher, and she didn’t teach you anything, and you’re really worried about this class.” That professor is going to respect you more because you told her you’re worried about struggling. So then when you come to her with problems, she’s going to want to help you because all of those kids that make excuses or don’t show up to turn in their paper because their grandma died for the fifth time are going to be set apart from you who admit this is a struggle for you and you want to learn and pass the class and so you’re willing to take any help she’s willing to offer. She’s going to be more lenient on him because he advocated for himself than any other student who tries to squeak by and pull one over on her. So teach your kids that they don’t know everything, they’re going to have areas in which they struggle and as long as they’re willing to ask for help and humble themselves, they can go anywhere they want in the world. So but they don’t have to be the perfect writer or the perfect mathematician. They just need to know where their strengths are and where their weaknesses are and be willing to ask for help in the weaknesses and offer help in their areas of strength.
Gretchen Roe: 00:48:14.968
And I think therein lies probably the best advice we could offer to a parent, regardless of how their student relates to the world, is being able to honestly assess where your strengths and your weaknesses are and articulate that to someone else. Because you never know who is going to be able to step into your path and help you in that process. One of the other things that I think I would love for us to be able to talk about is it’s your kids, though. So the things as parents that we are willing to do and the sacrifices we are willing to make. And one of the things we had talked about is more and more of us today are homeschooling because we don’t feel like our kids’ needs got met in whatever the traditional academic environment was they were in. But we forget that we have to make accommodations now that they’re with us. So can we talk a little bit about that, your differently wired homeschooler and creatively offering them what they need but being willing, on your part, to sort of sacrifice, I guess, is– that’s a negative word in this environment, making sacrifices for your kids, but–
Colleen Kessler: 00:49:38.312
I like the term “differently wild” because that might describe most of our households. The differently wild as you tripped over the differently wired. I like that. I might need [laughter] to [crosstalk]. Yeah. So when we were talking, we were talking about all the different things we end up needing to do as homeschool moms. And sometimes, needing to create our own opportunities or change up the way that we do things. And honestly, that’s been the greatest and the hardest thing about homeschooling for us. So a little bit of quick background .We have in our family four kids. All very talented, and different in their own ways. My oldest, like I said, I’m helping him kind of muddle through some of his college stuff. There is a reason he’s going to a community college. He’s only taken a couple of classes. It’s because he took a gap year last year because he doesn’t know really what he wants to do right now. He had a business since he was 14, kind of let it go. And doesn’t know if he wants to go back that direction and be an entrepreneur, or if he wants to go to college. And so sitting up till one, two in the morning because that’s when our young adults and our teens want to talk because the house is quiet and younger kids aren’t around. And then your younger kids getting up early. So you’re getting up with them to make sure they’re not tearing the house down around you. And so you’re burning the candle at both ends. It’s a reality for homeschool moms in something that we need to do because we need to be where our kids are when they need us. Or they’re not going to come find us when something big happens, right. We need to be there for the big things and the little things. So when the real big things happen, they want to talk to us. And then those younger kids have other things they’re pulled in different directions. My 15-year-old is an extremely talented actress, musical theater, singer, actress. And so we’ve got rehearsals sometimes till 10 o’clock at night and we’re driving all over. Things in my work have to be shifted if something pops up for her. And the younger kids are starting to get involved in things too. And sometimes we create things for our kids. Gretchen and I were talking about when she ended up coaching– well, actually, you’re doing it this year. Coaching swim because there’s nobody else to do it. We do things we wouldn’t normally do to make opportunities happen for our kids, especially when they fall within their passions or their interests or their gifts. And through that process, sometimes it feels like we’re losing ourselves and not maybe doing– I would never have thought that as an adult, I would have done a play because I did plays when I was young, and I wasn’t great. I wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t great. And my daughter asked me if one day I would do a play with her. And so a couple of years ago, I did Anne of Green Gables. I was the teacher. I was in a very small part. But I was on stage with two of my kids. And it was really, really fun. I was going to be there anyway. When we have shows, I’m with my laptop, trying to fit in work in the lobby or in my car hooked up to a hotspot because sometimes it’s the only time I have to work. We start to shift things as homeschool parents, right? Putting the kids first in ways that make everyday life difficult. We have to remember a couple of things within that. Number one, yeah, we want to do that. When we’re providing a well-rounded education for our kids, sometimes we have to be creative about how we offer those or find those opportunities. And sometimes we have to create them. But then also, we need to take care of ourselves too. So we need to make sure that within those times, we’re stopping to read a book or we’re giving ourselves a cup of coffee or tea or doing something for ourselves in the process of it. Because when we get burnt out or we start feeling overwhelmed or down about the whole homeschooling thing, it’s usually in times where we’ve put all of our eggs in our kids’ baskets, and then forgotten about us and we’re not getting enough sleep, we’re not eating right or rushing from thing to thing.
Colleen Kessler: 00:54:10.659
And here’s kind of a sobering thought. We are our kids’ only example of what healthy parenthood looks like, what being a good wife and mom looks like or a good husband and father if you’re a dad listening to this looks like. And whether our kids choose to homeschool or not, we don’t want them to make their decisions based on what they don’t want to emulate in us, right? We don’t want them to not homeschool because they don’t want to be burnt out or frustrated or overwhelmed all the time. But we also don’t want them to look at motherhood as a chore or a loss of self. We want them to see us crocheting, if that’s something we love. I work from home. But I love writing books and talking to parents about something I’m passionate about and my kids know that. I would be doing a lot of this if I weren’t doing it as a job. I write in journals or I write books for fun because writing is one of my great loves. And if I wasn’t writing, my kids would be missing the opportunity to see an adult balancing marriage in children and home and their hobbies and their passions. And so we want our kids to see what a healthy, well-rounded adult looks like because we don’t want to watch our kids be burnt out, bitter, and broken down moms. We want our kids to be well-rounded, loving, and excited moms. And so whatever we end up doing, remember that Gretchen said earlier, your kids are watching. And so you want them to see that you’re willing to sacrifice and do things and create things and take them to things so they can get what they need. You also want them to see that you give yourself that same– you set that same standard for yourself and your spouse and the rest of the family as a whole. And so they’re seeing healthy management and balance of life – balance is a bad word too sometimes, right? – knowing that it’s never truly balanced. Sometimes you’re going to be more heavily into work. When I’m reaching a book deadline, my kids eat cereal and frozen pizza, and we just joke about that now. It’s in my dedication in a couple of books. “Thanks for eating lots of cereal.” They need to see that too, that sometimes it’s going to be lopsided, but overall you strive for that balance and that healthiness.
Gretchen Roe: 00:56:47.379
I think one of– I’m thinking, as you said, about ending up in the cast of Anne of Green Gables. Owen, my youngest, dragged me into a taekwondo studio seven years ago, and I am now candidating for my second degree senior black belt. So you don’t know where that’s going to take you. So just like we want our kids to be open, we have to be willing to be open to a variety of creative ideas. And I can’t believe we’re almost to the top of the hour, Kathleen. I want to do two things here because time is too fast.
Colleen Kessler: 00:57:29.107
I said we needed a second conversation. [laughter]
Gretchen Roe: 00:57:32.984
Yeah, we’re going to have to do this again because there’s just so many things and directions I’d like to take these conversations in. But I know anybody who’s observed this to this point in time– I know people have questions about your board behind you. And I love the fact– in the very beginning, before we even began the webinar, you and I were talking together. And this allows you to create an opportunity for creativity, and the most important thing is conversation with your kids. So can you talk a little bit about that board? I just love it. It’s awesome. Of course, being a beekeeper, I particularly love the bee that’s–
Colleen Kessler: 00:58:11.218
Yeah. Here, I’ll show everybody. So this is not the greatest view. So this is a– you can see the glare of my lights, and there’s my rim light. It’s a LEGO board. Okay. So the company that– yeah. And the bee that Gretchen said, my daughter created that. And I can’t move my webcam enough to show you, but the eyes are three-dimensional. So they’re all pixel pieces of the LEGOs. They’re little squares, and then she built out the eyes of the bee. Creative QT. It’s the letters Q and T. They have a website. You can also get them on Amazon. They have these LEGO boards. There’s a small and a large. This is the large. And I think it’s three foot by– I don’t know. I’m visually spatially inept in so many ways. But it’s big. It’s big.
Gretchen Roe: 00:59:03.256
Yeah, but you’re in depth in so many other ways. It doesn’t matter, so.
Colleen Kessler: 00:59:06.980
Yeah. The visual-spatial is not my gifting. It’s really nice, actually. And so Creative QT creates this, and it comes with these pixels, and then you can buy more of the pixel bricks. It’s in my office for two reasons. One, I used to change things around based on different topics that I was doing when I teach live classes to kids or webinars like this to parents. And then my kids just kept coming in here and creating things, and so I stopped making it what I wanted it to be and letting them explore. It brings them in to my office. My kids have a piece of it. And there’s a lot that is good about doing things in a vertical way like that and crossing the midline, and we can talk about sensory stuff with regards to the things on the walls. But it’s fun. I have a membership community, and inside the community, I teach classes to kids as well as webinars and masterclasses to adults. And so the kids always ask about it, and so it’s good conversation starters as we’re waiting for everybody to come in. And then it sparks their own creativity. Then they make a robot with Legos and send me a picture of it. But my kids will come in and create together. So the space things that I showed you here, they found the rocket– I don’t know. I think it was a Perler beads pattern for the rocket and created it, and then– one of them did. I forget. I think it was my 13 year old. And then my 9 year old just kept coming in here randomly and just building a planet and leaving and then building another planet and leaving. So my office isn’t now a place where I go to get away from them. They have a part of it. So again, there’s part of that family team, right? They know that the work that I do helps families but also helps them, because it pays for their homeschool band and their acting class or whatever. But they can have a part of it. And then it gives me things that I can talk about with kids to break the ice. When I’m doing a coaching call, we can ease in, and then talk about the big challenges that we’re having with families. And it’s just fun. It’s fun and quirky, again, right? We’ve got our quirky families.
Gretchen Roe: 01:01:27.256
Well, what I loved about it when we were talking at the beginning of the hour, before we began the recording, was the fact that it allows your kids to be creative and conversationally creative with you. So what I want parents to take away from this is look for an opportunity where your child can create and converse with you as they create. Is that MindCraft? Is that like Kathleen has here? Is it knitting? I’m lucky if I can sew the buttons back on the clothes when they pop off so probably not that in my household. But there’s something, and it’s really going to be up to you to figure out, as the parent, where can I spark that creativity that allows me to enter in and converse with my child about what’s important to them. Colleen, I can’t believe we’re at the end of the hour. So what would be the closing comments you would have for our parents?
Colleen Kessler: 01:02:29.706
Oh, the biggest thing I want you to take away is you’re not going to mess this up. I think all of us think that we’re going to mess this up. You’re not going to mess it up. Nobody loves your kids more than you. Nobody’s going to advocate for them more than you. Nobody’s going to seek out answers more diligently than you, so there’s no way you can do this wrong. And there is no one way to homeschool. So you are the absolute best parent for your kid because they’re yours, and you’re the absolute best teacher for your kid because they’re yours. If you’re ever, ever feeling overwhelmed or you’re not able to do it, seriously, shoot me an email to my support email on my site. It’s just Support@RaisingLifelongLearners.com where there’s a contact form on my site and say, “I’m worried I’m failing.” I’m just going to remind you. You’re not. It’s going to be okay. I don’t want anybody ever to feel like they can’t do this, so reach out to me. Reach out to Gretchen. Reach out to all of the different resources that are out there in the homeschooling world because there’s so many. Everyone will tell you. There’s no one right way to do this. You’re doing just fine. You’re probably harder on yourself than anybody ever will be, and you can do it. And if you need help, there’s so many places that you can find help.
Gretchen Roe: 01:03:44.290
And Colleen, what is the website that you want parents to go to to find you, to find all of these fabulous resources that you’ve mentioned today?
Colleen Kessler: 01:03:54.110
Everything that I do is always posted on RaisingLifelongLearners.com. So that’s my main site. There’s links to the podcast. There’s links to my membership community, different books that I’ve written and then hundreds of articles and hundreds of podcast episodes. And every one of our podcast episodes, you can get the podcast in any of your podcast apps. But on the site, every single episode has a full article related to it. It’s not a transcript. It’s additional information and then links to resources that are talked about in there along with the audio. So it’s really a full article piece as well as the audio. But everything’s over at RaisingLifelongLearners.com.
Gretchen Roe: 01:04:34.584
And now you see why I said her podcast is worth taking some time to go find because–
Colleen Kessler: 01:04:40.658
Gretchen Roe: 01:04:40.913
–it is amazing. Colleen, thank you so much for this time. I’m very grateful indeed. And yeah, we’re going to have to do this again in 2023 because it would be tremendous. I thank you so much for the seeds that you sow in so many homeschool families, and I’m grateful for you enormously. This is Gretchen Roe for The Demme Learning Show. Thanks for joining us. You can access the show notes and watch a recording at DemmeLearning.com/Show or go on our YouTube channel. Be sure to rate, review, follow, or subscribe wherever you may be hearing this, especially if you really enjoyed it.
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The Out-of-Sync Child and The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A.
Remember, you are the best observer of your child. Your family is a team with the ability to nurture each other in a way no other community member can. When things are not going well, don’t make it about them. Make it about their challenges.
Colleen’s website is called Raising Lifelong Learners. Her podcast is well worth your while.
One of the things we spoke about was dealing with a child who is what we interpret as “too much.” Colleen suggested visiting her website and looking for information on “overexcitability.” The topic will give you practical insight.Upcoming Episodes
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