~a month in the life of a lifelong learner~ not so little drummer boy

~11-23 to 12-23-19~

Quinn spent a ton of time playing with his Turing Tumble set the weekend he got home for Thanksgiving. He told me his math teacher has posters up in her room and one of them is a quote by Albert Einstein that says, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” And he said he really could relate to that. He had me sit with him a lot while he worked on the puzzles he is working on – they are getting insanely complicated, and I am almost no help at all, except I am also willing to sit with it longer, with him. So he has gotten a lot of the algorithms solved (such an amazing game/toy/puzzle/brain stretcher/birthday present) and he feels really great when he achieves one, (I think he is about halfway through the 65 activities) but often there is a period of “I’ll never get this one” just before he cracks the code. He is starting to see that pattern, too, so it makes it easier to trust he will be able to solve it if he stays with it. I love how it is encouraging him to persevere.

While he was sitting with one of the algorithms, he was telling me how it was “just a variation” on the puzzle before, because it was based on registers and counting in binary. You know, like (and he started counting on his fingers… in binary.) My jaw dropped, and he said, “I learned that from Vi.” Of course! (I was not sure how to do justice in words to the amazingness I was witnessing, so I made him do it again on video!)



We had W pancake among family members who came for Thanksgiving, and I just love how she appointed Quinn as her agent. She would need someone to transport something from her hand over to her mom, and she would just glance at Quinn and gesture, and he would jump to do her silent bidding. She crawls over to sit on his lap, completely assured he is one of her people. It reminds me of the way Quinn was sure about Rich’s daughter wanting to color dinosaurs with him when he was five and she was in college.

He was telling someone that all the 7th graders are drinking coffee “these days” and they say it’s what they need to wake up in the morning. He said he thinks because his mom and dad both like it so much, he may like it one day, too, but for now he doesn’t want to drink any. It came up again when we were at home, and it spawned a great conversation about different wiring. He said “caffeine makes people all wired and hyper,” at one point, and I said well, that’s mostly true, but one way you can tell if a person has ADHD is if you feed them caffeine and they calm down – it has the opposite effect on them, because of their brain wiring. So he thought that was fascinating, and it launched a whole other conversation about misunderstandings or misconceptions of what peoples’ learning differences are, and how people think “talented and gifted” means a person should easily have all A grades, and how they don’t realize that there are some things that are really a struggle for him even though he is talented and gifted. I thought it was interesting to hear him identify that way!

We did a lot of logic puzzles this week. We do them a lot while we eat. Sometimes the clues are roundabout and you have to go over them a bunch of times as you accumulate new information in order to make sense of them. And other times a clue will just say “the person who ate toast is not Janet” and you can rule something out directly. Quinn said of one of these clues, “well that was explict” pronounced like I just typed it: “explikt” and I knew he meant explicit so I said explicit, and he said, “it’s not explict?” And I wrote it down so he could see the second i, and he said, “oh, well, in plants vs. zombies, they left out the second i. (Note to self, he learns words from video games! Not just books.)

He is SO LARGE. He needed hugs and snuggles this week, and I do my best but it is hard to actually let him on my lap… I still do, but I basically give him a very short countdown from ten. We invented a “snug” which is a cross between hug and snuggle, it’s not standing, it’s sitting on me, but it’s very, very brief. When we have time, we do longer snuggles on the couch with either his legs or torso draped over me, but not both.

I am reading the self-driven child, a good book recommended on the tilt parenting podcast. This week I was getting to the chapter on radical down time, and how important it is for learning and general well-being, and how we need to stop jam packing our children’s schedules and managing their downtime like, “shouldn’t you be doing SAT test prep if you don’t have something to do right now?” Instead we should say, “let’s snug.”

I just love watching his biweekly swim lesson. He is the absolute most awkward swimmer the world has ever seen and is so earnest and so into working on improving! This was the first time she attempted to teach him backstroke! He has been working on front crawl for a few lessons now, and he is impressively gangly at it so far, but she figured she’d try backstroke. The first attempt on his back, his arms were still going forward so he just folded in half and sank to the bottom. The next attempts were comically awkward too, but he improved each time. He would get his arms kind of going, but then lean his head too far back and reverse somersault and go under. He would get his arms kind of going but get stuck and you could see his arm pause mid stroke so he could think what his other arm needed to do… long pauses. He’d sometimes roll onto his side or go under again, because of whatever he ended up doing with whichever arm. He was working on the hands so his elbow would be bent at a 90 degree angle, or he’d work on the arms but just get stuck in the middle. His teacher is so good with him. And he just kept going back and starting again.

When he woke up Friday to do his math review he made it out of bed over to the couch and laid back down. He needed extra rest more than math review. Radical down time. So I encouraged him to not stress the math if he felt he could handle doing it over the weekend and he said he could. It crossed my mind he had seemed extra emotional and hungry all week, so I had him get up to the measuring station and put a new mark on the wall – sure enough, he is growing.

Friday was going to be committed cubs day, the second one of the year, and he missed the first one and sorely wanted to be included in it this time. He had a few assignments he needed to have teachers sign off on, and he did a lot to chip away at it over the course of the week, but got home Thursday night and was down because he had forgotten his one last signature, which he could have gotten during class because the assignment was finished. I let him problem solve, and he decided there was still a chance he could do it in the morning, and while that did not guarantee he could do CC day, he wanted to still try. He told me Mrs. F had said they would be free reading in class Friday so people could finish up assignments, and so his plan was to ask her right away to go see Mr B to get his last signature. He even put a post-it note in his book (Ender – speaker for the dead) right with the bookmark, so he would remember to do it even if he went to start doing his free reading. When he came out of school on Friday, he was so pleased because, “I made it in!”

Speaking of Ender, Quinn loved the concept of paired beings from the books. In the story, piggies are paired with trees as an adaptation to protect them from a planet-wide plague. Quinn stretched the concept to a human-star pairing.

I had encouraged him to speak his idea into a google doc so he could harness the way his brain is able to articulate ideas verbally much more quickly than he can get those ideas to come out of his typing fingers. I had been talking to him about the speech-to-text options on numerous occasions, but had not gotten him to try it yet, and this was the perfect opportunity. Here is my transcript of an audio recording I took as a backup while he was speaking into a doc:

“…And then once the star gets even stronger it would start smashing carbon into oxygen and once it gets to its strongest point which is usually right before it supernovas, it starts smashing oxygen into iron and I was thinking, well, if you created some sort of, like, could a man, could human beings create a man made star that could smash together stuff to create like an atom with a whole bunch of stuff like a whole bunch of protons and electrons and neutrons and then harness that… and this would be a star that’s the size of like a chrome book, it would be a really small star… like you could fit it in a fish tank… or in a drum. But then the star would create something like fermium atoms or something like that and the fermium atoms would then be used in like a nuclear laboratory or something like that and you would split the fermium atom into like a whole bunch of neutrons and protons and electrons, and you would use those neutrons and protons and electrons to basically make a whole bunch of atoms out of those separated piles of neutrons and protons and electrons. And then if the theory went right then it would become like speaker for the dead where all the animals on Lusitania are paired with a plant and they basically just coexist so it would be something like each human would create like their own star, their own personal little star the size of their chromebook, or their drum, if they have one, and then use their star to like get some fermium atoms, which they would split up, and then use those atom pieces to make more atoms to get the star bigger, and then like once the human dies of old age, the star should then be approximately the size of a human, and at that point the star would then use its power of making atoms to create another human, like create a new human child, at which point it would supernova and then that human child would grow up with its own personal star and so on and you could pair humans and stars… with like a weird biological bond but yeah… and then… yeah….”

“So that’s what you wanted to get out of your brain onto the page! Isn’t that awesome, look…”

“And I typed several paragraphs!”

“And so adams are going to have to change spelling so do this cool trick ready? Go up to edit on the bar, and go to the find and replace, find all “adam” and replace with “atom”. So if you said a word 50 times and it did them all the wrong way you can just replace.”

“You can replace all adams. And ‘madams’ haha.”

“’When sister gets even stronger’… I think it’s supposed to be ‘when the star’…..”

I wanted to capture a raw version of what it’s like trying to hang in there with this kid who is mashing up Ender’s game and the periodic table, contemplating the synthetic elements of the actinides series and seeing what he can do with them to advance the genre of science fiction! I’m trying to provide him some tools, fitting those in edgewise, trying to keep my head above the current as the absolutely torrential flood of imagination comes pouring out. This is a pretty great example of what it’s like.

This month had some sadness; Quinn’s friend Pippin is moving away.

His voice has lowered dramatically the past month or two. I am not hearing a lot of cracking, but what I have noticed is that his laugh remains a few octaves above his speaking voice. I do not know if he will keep that long term, but hearing him reminds me so much of my older brother’s voice and laugh right now, the way he speaks in a mellow tenor but his laugh reaches up to tickle the rafters. My brother’s laugh is one of my very favorite laughs in the world, and one of my very favorite things about him, and it would not be a disappointment if Quinn inherited this trait. Even if it is for a temporary period, I’m thoroughly enjoying the way his laughs ring in the air, jingling like the bells at the upper reach of his mallets, perhaps because they contrast so with his new low speaking register in the timpani section.

At his band concert, his teacher made a brief intro of the first song, little drummer boy, saying they did have one of those (M is very small), and also a not-so-little drummer boy, and a drummer girl. Mine is the not-so-little one! He was on the snare drum for all three songs! And he was absolutely wonderful! He played both with and without the snares engaged (the beginning of little drummer boy starts out with it disengaged and sounding like a tom). He played some pretty complicated parts! Triplets, rolls, lots of variations. He did so well! He was holding so still for the first song I wasn’t convinced he was drumming, but then on the several measures he was not playing but counting, he bopped around just like he used to when he was playing sleigh bells last year. I think the rhythms he was playing were seriously challenging, enough to really keep him on his toes!

Last weekend was Turing tumble, this weekend was Rubik’s cube!


He worked on his cube for the entire day Saturday while I was at farmer’s market, and solved it. By the time I got home, he was a pro. If you watch that very long video, you can see him solve it again, and if you notice he is not pleased, it is because he “figured out” that there are “multiple solves” to the cube, based on the orientation of the Rubik’s emblem on the white face of the cube; there is a solution where it is right side up, and if you have it in the stand you can see red, yellow, blue. Apparently, he spent a good part of the day after solving it his first time, trying to get it solved to that solution, and it was thwarting him. Because perfectionism. But also because of staying with the problem longer.

After farmer’s market we went to get a Christmas tree. After we chose our tree and the helper had set it into our truck, Rich went to pay, but Quinn noticed the tree wasn’t all the way tucked in so the tailgate would close. Quinn jumped up and angled the trunk where it needed to go in the one corner so the top would go in the opposite corner and not stick out the back. I love it when I see him take initiative to fix something or do a job that needs doing, without being asked or having it pointed out at all.

When we got home I asked him to work on cleaning up his room a little bit so that his Turing tumble could move from the living room back to his room to make room for the tree. He just jumped right to it, no complaints, and organized some of his Jurassic park legos that he had out on the floor into a lego box, and put the instruction booklets into the right section of the accordion file, etc., again without me having to point out or assist with these steps.

In his video production elective, he learned about a fun music making module in chrome. For science he had to make a poster about an element in the periodic table, so he picked boron. He really liked the boron entry in his elements book.

He worked on cubing quite a bit more, and he also sent me a bunch of texts about wanting to collect all the different ones. He has the standard 3×3 one, but wants to get 2×2 next, then 4×4, 5×5 etc up to 11×11. Then and only then does he want to get the triangle and other shape ones.

Handmade solstice present for his dad.

I feel grateful for having gone through what we did when Quinn was little, and approaching learning in a self-driven way from the start, because he ended up knowing the difference between school and learning, and still knows it. Otherwise I doubt he would spend weekends doing hard puzzles, or light up like a Christmas tree this morning when I said “I’ve heard you can program robots to solve Rubik’s cubes” as we drove to school. The boy has a lego robotics kit coming to him for Christmas, so I know future weekends will be occupied with such things.

Finally, for the grand finale this month, Quinn rocked his Half green belt test!

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