Sunday, July 16, 2006

A chemical reaction

Three weeks ago I wrote about some progress I felt I was making with Noah at establishing a positive, optimistic outlook. By taking into account his need to let ideas sit for a while before accepting them, and offering him a bit more one-on-one in things that seem to be uniquely his interests, I felt our relationship with each other and his relationship with his learning were moving in a good direction.

Now I'm wondering if this subtle change was more than the natural waxing and waning of interests and relationships and was perhaps instead the beginning of a whole new chapter in his education. It's starting to feel like he's found his academic self.

It started with Benjamin Wiker's "The Mystery of the Periodic Table", a romp through the history of chemistry targetted at 8-to-12-year-olds. I can't remember why we chose to start reading it aloud, but as is often the case, one of the kids enjoyed the book a bit more than the other. This time it was Noah who was keen. The night Sophie was heading off for a sleepover, I asked if she'd mind if I kept reading ahead with just Noah, and she shrugged and said that was fine. Noah and I delved in together and read a few more chapters, just the two of us. The next day I printed out and laminated a nice copy of the periodic table for Noah "because you like chemistry."

Somewhere amidst those couple of chapters read to him aloud and the presentation of the periodic table, Noah seemed to gain an identity as Someone With an Interest in Chemistry. Chemistry is something Erin has never really explored, so Noah was able to take it on as his thing.

We've done a little bit of kitchen chemistry inspired by Wiker's book, and have talked a lot about covalent bonding, molecular models, the Bohr atom and other various and sundry chemical concepts. I've put a lot of money and energy into gathering resources, because he is keen on them and I really feel like this is an important shift in his educational life. The Teaching Company's Joy of Science lectures on chemistry have been very helpful and surprisingly well-comprehended. We've got "Real Science 4 Kids" Chemistry Level I on order, as well as a nice (though pricey!) molecular model kit. I often find Noah poring over Larry Gonick's Cartoon Guide to Chemistry. To find Noah poring over anything academic is a very novel occurrence. I have just started an "inventory of interests" on the fridge for each child, to help us plan and prioritize learning for the next school year, and Noah instructed me on no uncertain terms to "put chemistry up there on my list".

It's not just chemistry anymore either. In the past couple of weeks, his interest in math has taken off for the first time in ages. He's asked for a cursive handwriting workbook.

The glasses may be the other half of the equation. We knew he was far-sighted, but as he wasn't complaining about eye strain when focusing up close, we hadn't pursued glasses at his 2005 eye appointment. But this year it was apparent that he was struggling with close work. In May I made an appointment for July 4, and over the few weeks before the appointment I mentioned Noah that I thought a lot of his disinterest in reading, music sight-reading and bookwork was probably due to the fact that it was a real bother for him to focus up close. I knew he was keen on the idea of glasses, and also that he was feeling a little down on himself for the fact that he hadn't been reading five novels a week and roaring ahead through math workbooks like his sisters. The eyesight thing, whether a big factor or not, gave him a way of saving face over his lack of academic interest.

He really likes the glasses (which he just wears for reading and other close work) and they seem to have had a very positive effect on his interest in academic work and reading. Perhaps it's a placebo effect, but we'll take whatever we can get. I was happy to see him playing his viola, playing soccer, imagining, thinking, asking questions and having great conversations, but he was beginning to feel inadequate as Sophie's math and writing skills had threatened to overtake his, with Erin's academic ability always so far beyond his that she seemed to reside on another planet.

Noah's reaction to chemistry, his taking ownership of this interest and this learning for himself, has been a wonderful thing for a late-blooming (by m00minfamily standards) academic. And for the late-blooming academic's mother.


  1. Wow, he sounds a lot like my son Liam. He scares me sometimes with his lack of interest for anything academic, yet he blows my mind with his mechanical ability and knowledge in so many areas. He is very different from his sister, but then he is a boy. Liam is also far sighted. The poor guy has been wearing glasses since he was three years old. He used contacts last year but It took so long to get them in and he'd get really frustrated with them sometimes. I bet Noah is happy to see clearly now.

  2. Thank you very much for sharing this -- both the journey with Noah, as well as the resources you are using for science with him. I also find you musings about the way science is taught in PS very enlightening!


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