Ben's Education Story - Livin' the Good Life
Feb. 18th, 2009
07:29 am - Ben's Education Story
You may need two cups of tea to get through this next post. Ben’s story is last, but most certainly not least!
In some ways, Ben (who is now 22) was never a child in the normal sense. By the time he was about 4, he seemed like a grown up in a child’s body. He had a solid, calm, secure nature that seemed to grasp adult responsibilities easily and naturally. He would watch someone do something one time, then knew how to do it. He had a mechanical mind, so he could look at a machine and see how it worked. Grandpa Bob did projects with him at that age and found that Ben would come up with solutions to problems that were better than his own. Ben would watch his brother working on his car and would help with trouble-shooting, often coming up with the right diagnosis. Ben calmly made sure we all wore our seatbelts. He checked the air in our tires. He knew how to CHANGE a tire. I remember saying to Steve once, when he was concerned about me making a trip across the desert in our less-than-perfect car, “Oh, as long as I have Ben with me, I’ll be all right.” Ben was only 5! It didn’t make sense why I would feel safer with a 5 year old along, but Ben really had an aura of ”knowing what to do” about him. When he was around that age, I remember thinking that I could safely (of course, I WOULDN’T!) leave him at home alone for the weekend. I knew he would not get into any trouble and he could fend for himself if necessary. It was a little odd having a child like that! It just never would occur to him to do something silly or dangerous. In some ways he was the exact opposite of his next brother up, Gabe, who was all fun and games at that age. Someone asked me once, when Ben was a teenager, how I punished him when he broke the rules. I thought about it for a while, and I could not think of a time when I had ever punished him. He just didn’t do anything wrong. That would be like asking me how I punished my husband! Just that absurd. So, knowing this about Ben, I will now tell you about his education.
Ben was seriously interested in all kinds of activities from the very beginning. He was inclined to go deeply into things, so he tended to "get good" at whatever he took up. As with the others, I let him take the lead. His main interests were things that involved working with his hands. However, he showed no interest whatever in academic things. He had absolutely no interest in math or reading, and he resisted if I tried to push. So we let academics sit on the back burner, and they stayed there for a very long time. All of my children had been good readers by the time they were 7 or 8 years old. When Ben showed no interest, I was surprised. I thought that, because I had read to him every night, just like the others, that he would be eager to read. But, that was not the case. He was also not interested in art, like Ely had been. He mainly wanted to build things, invent things. He liked working outside. He liked doing grown-up things, like projects in the yard or the workshop. He did have an active imagination and loved dressing up in costumes. We had a large costume box that was passed down from his brothers, full of super-hero costumes, knight costumes, and cowboy clothes. They were holey and worn out, but he didn’t care. He wore them anyway. Legos were a real favorite of his, and he spent whole days working on elaborate models. In fact, he loved models of any kind. He and I spent an entire weekend once cutting out a detailed model of a skeleton and pinning it together. It turned out so well that we couldn’t bear to part with it, so it sat around in various chairs for way too long. Ben had so many kits, I can’t begin to remember them all. He usually figured out how to build them by himself, as he had a natural ability to understand and follow directions. Way better than me
I never even considered putting Ben in school, because he didn’t show the slightest interest in going. (Another way he was opposite to Gabe.) He rarely asked about playing with other kids. He didn’t seem to be particularly interested in what they were doing. I couldn’t imagine him sitting at a desk all day doing reading, writing and arithmetic. He would have been miserable. So, I just let him play in his very serious and focused way, all day every day. (Actually, by that time, as a parent, I viewed children's "play" as serious and important "work".) I had a firm trust in Ben, and my children in general, to know what they needed. I had a strong belief that Ben was smart and could, and would, learn whatever he put his mind to. So I just waited patiently and enjoyed him. By the time he was 10, he still didn’t know how to read. One day, a friend of his came over to visit who was 8. He took a book off Ben’s crowded bookshelf and started reading it. Ben told me later, “Hey, Mom, Sean can read.” I said, “Yes, most kids his age can read.” Ben said, “Really?” The next day, he came to me and said, “I want to learn to read.” So we set up an appointment to read out loud together every day. (He already knew the sounds of the letters and letter combinations, which he picked up mostly through osmosis, I think.) He made rapid progress, and within 3 months he was reading at about a 6th grade level. By the end of the year, he could easily read anything. No one would have been able to tell that he was a new reader if they heard him read. He read fluently and with dramatic flair. Writing came later and very slowly. He just started writing me notes, leaving me messages, making library cards for his books, and gradually picked it up, his spelling naturally improving over time. He didn’t develop a good handwriting style because by age 11 he had started messing with the computer and taught himself to type. Eventually, he discovered spell-check, and he was set! Math came in fits and spurts. From time to time, Ben would decide that he needed to learn some math. He would pick up one of our many math books and start going through it. One time I remember he decided he wanted to learn algebra. He got up every morning at 6 AM and spent one hour doing algebra problems, checking his own work. I never looked at his work or even asked him what he was doing. It was HIS work, after all, and he hadn’t asked me for either help or direction. He was very disciplined about studying every day. After about 3 months, he stopped. He said he’d learned enough for now, and he didn’t pick it up again for a while.
At age 12 we arranged for Ben to audit a college computer class. He had become avidly interested in computers and seemed to have a real knack for them. He went to college twice a week for a couple of years taking every computer class they offered. He was the only kid in class, of course, but he very quickly established himself as a “computer whiz” among the adults. He became an unofficial assistant to the teacher, roaming around the room helping people who were having problems. One day when I picked him up from class, he spontaneously said, “I LIKE being smart!”(This from a 12 year old who had only recently learned to read. I loved it!) He got in the car one day after class and said, “Mom, I’m having trouble with some of the adults in class.” “Really, how so?” “They just sit there and stare at the computer and won’t try anything unless I tell them to. It’s like they don’t know how to think!” I encouraged him to keep trying and be patient with them, “because adults often tend to have a harder time learning computers than kids do.” Again, this is a kid who had spent most of his childhood simply playing, and people were calling him a “genius” at college. It just made me want to laugh! This experiment in self-directed learning was turning out to be SO interesting! I just never got tired of witnessing the amazing and varied ways that our children learned and grew to adulthood.
About this time, we discovered a program called Fire Explorers, which is a branch of the Boy Scouts. Ben had always loved the idea of being a fireman, so we signed him up. He spent several years in that program, and because he was homeschooled, he was allowed to hang out at the fire station while other kids were in school. This enabled him to “ride out” with the firemen on their calls. Ben became a familiar person at the station and he appeared to be liked and trusted by the firemen. They gave him responsibilities and he gradually became quite knowledgable about the field of firefighting. He went to something that was akin to a firefighter “boot camp”, only for teenagers. This was all right down Ben’s alley and suited his personality perfectly.
Ben also got involved with our community theater, as did all his brothers. He participated in some capacity in more than 20 plays over the years. He worked as a stagehand and a lighting and sound guy, but most of all as an actor. He took it so seriously! He would arrive an hour before the plays to mop the stage and check the prop tables and see if the lights were working properly, and he wasn’t even responsible for this stuff. He was just an actor! But, he wanted to make sure everything ran smoothly. Ben was a stickler for being "on time". He couldn’t bear to be late for rehearsals, and for him “late” meant 15 minutes early! Ben met and mixed with so many interesting people through the theater, and he developed a wide variety of skills. He met a lot of girls and had his first crushes during some of the shows. He even took up dancing in order to spend more time with the admittedly pretty and talented girls who were involved. Ben took ballet, tap, jazz, and show dance classes and danced in many recitals. He was even "the nutcracker" in the NUTCRACKER SUITE. I was amazed at his interest and persistence with dance. Being able to dance, of course, increased his value in the musicals that he tried out for. His favorite play was probably “Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat”. He had a ball being one of Joseph’s brothers. What a great play that was! He also had a wonderful part in “Man of La Mancha”. He was in so many plays back-to-back, that it felt like he lived at the playhouse sometimes. He would often be rehearsing for one play during the week while performing in an eight-week long play on the weekends.
At this same time, Ben got involved in swim team. All his brothers had been on the team. But by the time Ben was swimming seriously, his brothers were done with it. Ben practiced 5 days a week with meets on weekends for about 7 years. That was a lot of driving for Mom. But, I loved it. I loved taking him, I loved being involved as a parent, and I loved watching swim meets. Ben never went through that stage of being embarrassed to be with his mother in public. I really appreciated that about him. He seemed just plain comfortable with me around. It was so awesome to have a teenager who felt that way. Ben became a real asset to the swim team by the time he was 15 or so. He brought in lots of points for his team and won multiple awards. He was thoroughly dedicated to swimming, just like he was to theater and every one of his interests.
Lest Ben sound like some perfect or unreal person, I must say that he had some rough edges. He had a hard time being around kids his own age because they seemed so silly to him. He related much better to adults, in general. He had little tolerance for typical immature, kid-like behavior. In spite of this, Ben was pretty well-liked by other kids. They never dared to pick on him either, because he had a somewhat commanding, and even intimidating, aura about him. But, as Ben grew older, he has relaxed and softened. At 22 he is quite a pleasure to be around, with really endearing ways and a good sense of humor.
The end of this story, from an educational viewpoint, is that Ben took his GED when he was 18 and immediately signed up at the college for EMT training. This was sort of a natural progression from the Fire Explorers program. He got the highest grade in what turned out to be quite a challenging class. And, because of his association with the fire department and his reputation there, he was immediately hired as an ambulance driver at our local ambulance company. He had never been to school (except for those computer classes when he was 12) and here he was at 18 driving an ambulance and assisting paramedics in all sorts of emergencies for excellent pay. We were all duly impressed! In addition, he’s going back to college to become a nurse. At this point, there is no end to what I think Ben can do.