How does a Thinker teach a Doer?


I can parse linguistic etymologies, but apparently I can’t teach the alphabet.

It’s a tough reality for me to face.

I don’t know how to enable information to reach my 3-year-old, Daniel. He doesn’t think how I think. How can I make myself think like I don’t think? I can’t put myself in that headspace.

It’s easy to teach Timmy, because we’re so similar, so by the time he was Daniel’s age, he was already reading. What works for me usually works for Timmy—namely, books. Seeing something pictured, charted, or written down, is sufficient. (And much more time-efficient, as I’d typically have read and understood an entire experiment and its findings, before my classmates had even finished setting up their beakers and Bunsen burners…and I probably hadn’t started my own practical setup.)

But Daniel’s brain is completely foreign to me. This presents a problem if I intend to homeschool him. (Granted, there’s a social pressure at play, too—people in my social sphere know I homeschool, and I imagine that when they see I can’t even teach the alphabet, they’ll wonder, “What business has she, trying to educate anyone?”)

He recognises maybe five letters of the alphabet…but inconsistently. He won’t always recognise the same ones.

Sometimes he’ll know what sound they represent, sometimes he won’t.

Sometimes he won’t recognise a letter on a piece of paper, but will when I chalk it into a letter-based hopscotch.

He identifies the numbers 1–10 if they’re shown to him in sequence, but as soon as I shuffle them and produce numerals at random, he doesn’t know any.

Daniel can’t be Timmy. I understand that.

Daniel’s attention can’t be held by ink on paper. I understand that.

If Daniel learns different from Timmy, I can’t teach Daniel the way I teach Timmy. I understand that…intellectually. Practically, though, I’m at a loss. What do I do with that? Where do I go from here?

Daniel likes doing stuff. Touching things, moving things, running with things, kicking things, chasing things. He just will…not…sit…still. It makes him ghastly to travel with on a long flight, but even harder to teach in the ways I know how. He’s just not interested in them.

What is he interested in, then?

Hot Wheels cars.



I didn’t immediately see how I could use any of those to teach the alphabet. I thought, since he likes moving things, it might be engaging for him to form letter shapes with his finger in a tray of dry rice. The rice was engaging…but not in an alphabet-learning way. He was only interested to draw spirals at high speeds, so rice whipped out of the tray and onto the carpet.

The cars seemed like something to capitalise on. I took six sheets of paper, and drew the outline of each letter from his name—one on each sheet. I gave them road markings, and got Daniel to drive his cars and park them inside the outline, making the cars into a formation of the letter. He enjoyed the activity—presumably for its Hot Wheels element—but it remains to be seen how effective it will be. It’s too soon to tell.

I feel panic at my not knowing what to do. When saying so, feel-gooders conventionally jump in with, “Just give him time,” or “He’ll get it when he’s ready,” or “He’s only three”—as if a three year old cannot be expected to exceed the mental capacity of a Tasmanian devil. But such attempts at comfort miss the point:

I’m not distressed that he doesn’t already know the alphabet. I’m distressed that I don’t know how to convey information to him in a way he can understand.

That’s dismay at my own shortfall, not his.

I expect if I ‘just give him time,’ it won’t solve anything. Because if he doesn’t think like Timmy now, he won’t think like Timmy later. Because later, he’ll still be Daniel. And I won’t learn how to reach his mind where it’s at by just marking time.

I’d like to have a plan of approach. A methodology. A systematic strategy to navigate this new academic landscape.

But, at this time, I don’t have one. And there’s no book called, ‘How to Teach the Alphabet to a Hyperactive Ping-Pong Ball’.

In curious desperation I even asked a Magic 8-Ball: “Will I ever figure out how to teach Daniel?”

It came back with, ‘Focus and Ask Again.’


1 Comment

  • Rae
    21 Jan 2017

    Wow… you do have some creative ideas. Well done. I wonder how we could have used cars to teach colours. He was muddled on those for awhile but pretty well has them now, doesn’t he?

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