Learning How the Heathens Learn, Especially When They Are Polar Opposites

It’s been quite a journey in adapting to the personality differences between my boys, especially when it comes to their education.

G-man pretty much breezes through school. I never have to check his calendar or assignments, because he is so freaking independent. We don’t have to tell him to do his homework, or harass him to turn it in. He always knows when tests are coming up, and tells me his study schedule after he’s already planned it out. If anything, his school experience has made me a somewhat lazy parent, because I take for granted that he’s got everything covered. I confess that I haven’t checked his homework calendar in months…he just does it all without us having to worry about it. However, as independent as my oldest child is, school project time dang near kills us both. He is so used to moving quickly and effortlessly through his day-to-day assignments that he has little patience for the lengthy process of planning and executing a book report. I really, really hate school project time, because he gets so frustrated when his aptitude of a subject doesn’t particularly decrease the time and effort a school project will take. We are still recovering from the social studies fair fiasco.

Bear, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. From the time he could toddle around the living room, he has always had the ability to focus intensely on whatever “project” captures his imagination, often to the exclusion of everything around him. Whether it is three-plus hours of Lego sorting, or convoluted maze drawing, his has my tendency to obsessively focus on something to the point of distraction, even if that something is not necessarily high on the priority list. I can watch him spend hours rearranging Jenga blocks, only to later tear my hair out when I can’t get him to focus on his homework for five minutes. Without fail, he will tell me daily that he has no homework, which I will quickly learn to be false when I check his teacher’s website. Is he lying? Not at all. He just has this amazing tendency to selectively focus on something until everything else around him becomes white noise. I have no doubt that the teacher tells the class their assignments, but by the time I ask Bear about them that evening, his brain had discarded that information to make room for whatever has since captured his attention. I’ve learned that I have to check and recheck when it comes to his schoolwork. He still breezes through the actual content; it’s just that we have to make sure he remembers to do the assignments in the first place.

So basically, I’ve got one kid who can keep track of everything under the sun, but struggles with his attention span for long projects, and another kid who can devote hours to a single task, but has the unfortunate tendency to ignore everything else. It’s always an adventure adapting to their differences, and they continue to surprise us daily.

Last week, Bear asked his father to use the laptop because he wanted to “write a book.” My husband loaded up Microsoft Word, and let him have at it. I figured this was probably just an excuse to play with the computer, so I didn’t think much of it at the time.

Bear spent the next several days working on “his book.” He played with the formatting until it looked like what he envisioned a book to be, meticulous typed the text, separated the content into pages, and left space for his planned illustrations. What fascinated us was that he wasn’t just idly playing around to avoid boredom; he really DID have a story in his head already laid out. Finally, he printed the pages of his book, drew the pictures, hijacked my stapler and presented us with the finished project. Though I wasn’t surprised that he could give a single project such obsessive focus, he impressed us with his careful planning and execution over the course of several days. And I have to say, it’s a really cute book.

Unbeknownst to us, Bear then took his book to school and presented it with pride to his teacher and his class. The only reason we found out was that he was featured in the school newsletter. I may be tearing my hair out that he can’t tell me his homework assignment for tonight, but seeing Bear have such confidence in his work makes me think that we must be doing something right.

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