A loud, enthusiastically depressed sigh interrupted my work at the table where Sarah and I were discussing good stories versus bad stories while we cut up carrots for lunch. I looked toward the couch to see Seric (4) wagging his head woefully while he scribbled on his notebook in rapid frustration.

“Isn’t there any more?” He asked dramatically, glancing up to see if he’d caught my attention yet or not. I took the bait.

“Any more what?”

“All I can do is write my name and the ABCs. After that all there is, is scribbles!” He turned his notebook around for me to see.

Sure enough, he had printed his name clearly, followed by the ABCs—with the perennial upside-down M—and then scribbles, repeated again and again. He turned the page with a sad look to show me the same song, second verse on the next page.

“Isn’t there any more?” He repeated coming over to the table to lean against me with dramatic despair. Everything about Seric is dramatic and loud. I can’t even remember how boring life must have been before he arrived.

“Sure there’s more. Here, try this: H-I D-A-D. That says ‘Hi Dad.’ You can write him a note and give it to him. He’ll be amazed. And this says Mom: M-O-M. So now you can write HI DAD and HI MOM.” I handed the notebook back to him.

He quickly wrote HI DAD and MOM but didn’t look very thrilled about it.

“What else would you like to know?” I asked.

“I wish I could write HI DADDIO.” He confessed as though it were comparable to climbing Mount Everest. I laughed and added an extra DIO on the end of his note.

“Well, here you go. That says Daddio.

“Oh.” Seric appeared disgruntled that his heart’s desire had been so easy to achieve. He wanted something truly difficult to tackle.

“Can’t we start 100 Easy Lessons now? I can do it. I can already read anyway. Well, not really. But really I can. So can we?”

Seric was letting me know he was ready. The older three had all come to that point at one time or another. David was the latest in age to want to read, at seven years old, and now Seric is the youngest at four years old.

This dichotomy between my two boys fascinated me. David, the late reader, was talking in complete sentences before he was two years old. He had a dozen-word vocabulary by the time he turned one year old. I was sure he was a genius and would be reading by the time he was four. But he only began to go through the 100 Lessons book when he was seven years old and finished it when he was nearly nine.

Seric, on the other hand, could not say a word before he turned two. I worried that he was going to be my slow learner. But then he went from not speaking at all to using words like fabulous, suffocate, and technique in just a few months. And now, at four, he was ready to start learning to read and had already taught himself a few words.

I am reminded again not to assume anything about a student until it’s all said and done, and even then to wait and see. Spoken summations like “she’s good at reading, but bad at math,” should be swallowed down with a good dose of self-doubt; who am I to say what another person was created to be?

When I hear a child label himself in frustration with “I’m terrible at spelling!” my response is typically along the lines of, “It’s true that some people are better at some things than others, but often there is a reason why—a secret to their success. So let’s find a way that works for you. Think about words that you do remember and ask yourself why you remember how those words are spelled. Do you picture the way they look written in your head? Do you think of how the spelling sounds when spoken? What helps you remember those words?”

And although one student does do better at math or spelling than another student, they all learn to look for methods that work for them rather than shutting down in areas they feel insecure about. The absence of fear and hopelessness gives the art of learning a wide berth, room to discover and grow.

I have met very few people with this freedom of mind. Most wear the chains of stereotyping put on them from their parents, teachers, and friends. If you are one of these, throw off your chains by observing yourself. See what is true and what is not. Then you can set about climbing those insurmountable mountains of “I can’t” and conquer them in time. And if you truly are weak in an area, then you will know it in a pragmatic sense that frees you to compensate rather than fail.

Seric was waiting for my response. When they are ready, I’m ready.

“Yes, Seric. We can start 100 Easy Lessons. But not this minute. Maybe this afternoon.”

“I want chocolate cake at my 100 Easy Lessons graduation party,” said Seric. “And coconut cake. Cuz I love chocolate cake and coconut cake.”

Observing the Process is a chapter from the book The Da Vinci Road:
Observation and the Art of Learning, by Rebekah Rising. Find out more at www.risingcuriosity.com