Monday, November 19, 2012

The Ebbs and Flows of Seth's Schooling

I just can't figure out Seth's brain...I'm trying pretty hard, but it's tough.

In mid July, it seemed as if he had a real 'breakthrough' - whatever the reason, he was suddenly able to remember things from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, even week to week, that he had not been able to remember for even seconds just the day before.  Though it's obvious in many ways that Seth is an extremely bright little boy, and a surviver at that, watching him from mid-July on was like watching a lightbulb being turned on in the academic side of his brain.  He was suddenly able to learn letters, was closing in a few vocabulary gaps that had been puzzling me for months, and was forming (with some effort) complete sentences with relative grammatical accuracy.

Then, two weeks ago, it was as if the dimmer switch got turned back down again.  Every letter, including the ones that he'd remarkably been able to remember for weeks, was suddenly called a "C."  Sometimes he would look at a letter that he had known for two or three months already and say "Mommy you didn't teach me that letter yet!"  Huh??  I was (internally) shocked...maybe even a little horrified...and absolutely discouraged.  For the past two weeks, every day of school for Seth has been quietly frustrating for me, and I have cut his schooling short because I don't want to discourage or frustrate him.  Even he was starting to ask what was wrong with his brain because he just couldn't remember things anymore.

A week ago, he also seemed to begin noticing, and being bothered by, Lizzie's ability to grasp the ABCs faster than he was able to.  I decided immediately to begin schooling them separately, because Lizzie was clearly able to move on to new/different things more quickly, and I didn't want Seth to start to feel the pain of the differences at this point...he has enough to deal with.

Schooling the kids separately has been more time-consuming, without a doubt, but I'm glad we're doing it.  Although it made no difference last week in terms of Seth's ability to remember his letters, he seemed to really love the time that he had with me one-on-one, and Matthew and Lizzie liked having someone to play with while their brother was in school.

Thankfully, though still perplexingly, most of the numbers that he had learned since mid July seemed to have stuck, so we focused a chunk of last week on doing things that involved the numbers 0-11 and glossed over the letter stuff pretty quickly.

Then this morning, I was flabbergasted yet again.  When it was Seth's time to do school, he sat down with me and wanted to work on his letters.  Surprise of all surprises, he remembered all twelve letters that he has learned since mid-July, including both upper and lower case and all of the sounds that go along with each letter!  And he wanted to learn a new one.  I felt like staring open-mouthed at him. Actually, I felt like doing an on-the-spot brain dissection to see what was different in there today in comparison with Friday.

Using a different approach than usual, I asked Seth which letter he would like to learn.  I wrote on the whiteboard all of the letters that I hadn't taught him and he pointed to the letter Tt.  So that's what I taught him today.  At the end of our school time, I wrote down all thirteen letters that he's learned since mid-July and he was able to tell me (in random order) the letter names and sounds of all thirteen, and only struggled with one letter before remembering that one, too.  Unbelievable.

What was also interesting was that one of the words he identified as beginning with the letter Tt was teapot.  After writing the word down, I also separated out the word pot and told him that because he knew all of the sounds in that word, I bet he could actually read that word with a little bit of help from me.  He was sure he wouldn't be able to, but I really wanted him to personalize the correlation between letters/sounds and reading.  So I asked him what sounds the letters p, o and t made and then I said them together, slowly.  He repeated it.  I asked him to say those sounds faster and faster and suddenly he shouted out "pot!"  He then asked if he could read the word gas (as in, flatulence! figures...boys!) and I said that I bet he could.  I wrote out the word and we sounded it out together and he got the concept...and the word.  He was excited.

I have no idea what happens in Seth's brain to create such wide fluctuation in his ability to learn on an academic level.  I did observe that I haven't been nearly as faithful, in the past few weeks, at working on the activities outlined in the SmartStart curriculum that I purchased some months ago for him and I wonder if  that resulted in the past two weeks of struggles.  Geoff and I also got lax about giving the kids their vitamins and fish oils for a couple of months and just started them up again with regularity about ten days ago.  Who knows how much impact the sporadic vitamin dosages had...but I remember seeing a difference with all three kids about 10-12 weeks after they started vitamins and fish oils in the summer of 2011, so I can imagine that a dearth of the stuff might have the opposite effect.  I just don't know.

I've been wanting to post for quite some time about this SmartStart program out of New York that seems to have helped Seth with his language in the past few months.  But for some reason I'm having a hard time putting pen to paper about it; I've tried a few times and haven't made much progress.  Maybe it's because I've been inconsistent in using it over the past few weeks; maybe because I'm just too lazy to go into detail about it.  I know that there are people who would be helped by its content and so I promise to get going on this post...and to be more faithful again in using it with Seth.  Sometimes I'm just tired and it feels like one more important thing on the to-do list that gets supplanted by the tyranny of the urgent.

I've never experienced anything like Seth's brain and learning and language issues...I'm in a perpetual state of uncertainty and confusion about it, and the ebbs and flows are frustrating.  But I know this:  While the flow of ability is happening, I'm sure going to take advantage of it.


  1. Hi Ruth
    I understand the fatigue that comes with mama trying to figure out her child's brain-it is exhausting.
    You are doing a great job, and I look forward to learning what YOU learned with the Smart Start program:)

  2. I'm so thrilled for Seth and you! It sounds to me like the advice Gordon Neufeld gave you is working.
    Other thoughts:
    - perhaps academic/cognitive growth is similar to physical growth in that it comes in spurts. For kids without some of the brain structure issues that Seth has the lulls may be less obvious and look more like consolidation. Seth has the more difficult job of undoing old neural pathways, plus trying to lay down new ones.
    - a book I'm reading now on the mind/brain/relationship triangle in each of us talks about relationship's ability to change our brains and nine hallmarks of integration. The author then says that secure attachment develops 8 of the 9!!!!! After I've been at this workshop I'll have more to offer on this subject.

  3. Thank you both for your encouraging comments...I felt rather uplifted after reading them both. And Joanne, I really look forward to hearing about the book and the workshop you're taking!

    Blessings to you both,