Help me teach my 7-year old to SEE!
October 21, 2011 4:36 PM   Subscribe

Help me teach my 7-year old to SEE! I love my 7-year old son beyond words. He’s creative, cheerful, smart, and loving. However, he truly doesn’t see the world around him. My 4-year old daughter is much more aware of her surroundings. I don’t want to change him, just help him learn how to open his eyes and be more aware of his environment. The fact is, I have been the same way he is for most of my life, and I’ve learned recently that life is not only easier but more fun when you’re aware of your surroundings. I’d rather he not have to wait 30 years to improve.

For example, sometime he'll try to put on his clothes in the morning without taking his pajamas off first. When taking his bike out of a bike rack, sometimes he’ll take the wrong bike if it looks only vaguely like his own. He's constantly tripping and stumbling because he doesn't see the little cracks or obstacles in the road, mainly because he's so enthused or happy to be going somewhere he doesn't pay attention to where he is.

(I’m not sure how related it is, but he also has basically no memory for certain things. When I ask what his teacher assigned for homework, he’ll say “I forgot” and look at me like it’s totally unreasonable for him to remember something boring that happened an hour ago. In contrast, his 4-year old sister will rattle off lists of things to bring to pre-school like an expert.)

I don’t want to change him. He’s perfectly smart, and lovable, and loving. I would like to just help him open his eyes a little bit more for his own sake. Having pretty much the same disposition, I know how hard it is to go through life living in your own little world.

Ideally I would like some form of game I can play with him to help make him more observant and aware of his environment. We play "I Spy" in the car (where you give hints of what you are looking at and others try to guess what it is), but that's about it so far.
posted by zachawry to Education (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Mnemonic devices. For example: "Keys and spex and wallet and watch," to remember to take things with you, if you're always forgetting, say, your sunglasses.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:41 PM on October 21, 2011

Discipline and responsibility. You're not going to get there playing games. You say he's a smart kid but he's flaky and irresponsible, basically. He needs to learn to take responsibility andc the sooner the better. Give him chores and expect him to do them properly with minimal help (its all about expectations). Don't follow him around organizing things for him that he can't be bothered to do for himself. You can be nice about it and ease him into it but he needs to learn to sink or swim on his own.7 is plenty old enough.
posted by fshgrl at 4:47 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

Most kids I knew (including me) when at that age went through a phase of being really into the kids-solving-mysteries genre of books, or a particular franchise of that genre. The books really played up how cool it was to be really observant and notice little details that might otherwise escape attention. Maybe there might be some possibilities in that direction? (Along similar lines... Spy Kids games? Spy toys? A camera and an allowance of five prints a week?)

You said you were the same, and recently changed. What things allowed or helped you to make that change?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:50 PM on October 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

It's old enough unless he has ADD or ADHD. Not saying that he does, but I always had similar problems and was a total space case due to my ADHD. Before you raise your expectations of him, make sure you take a hard look and are sure that it's something he can control.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:52 PM on October 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

Also, I know most of your examples are about attention rather than vision, but has it been established with certainty that he does indeed have perfect vision?
posted by -harlequin- at 4:55 PM on October 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

My 7-year-old suggests sitting down and playing the "Memory" game. He adds that Usborne search and find books, as well as "Where's Waldo?" books, are a lot of fun. I like "Animalia" because I think the illustrations are beautiful and the visual puzzles occupy my son.

Lately, when we go out, I have been asking him to say everything he can about where we're parked (near a tree, under the G3 sign, next to the blue-roofed building) and then later have him lead the way to the car. He is also delighted--much more than I am--when he spots something that his father has left out of place (like socks on the floor) and now enjoys tossing his own socks down the stairs and into the laundry to score "points."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:04 PM on October 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Agreed with harlequin. Get his ears checked out too. My occasional spaceyness was a joke in the family until we found out I have significant hearing loss on one side and discovered that I was spacey in high-background noise situations, or if my good ear wasn't facing the conversation.

Also: Does he think that these things are a problem? Have you discussed with him the ways in which these things can be a problem? (Putting clothes on over pj's: takes more time, less time for fun. Tripping: could hurt himself. Takes wrong bike: could get in trouble for stealing.) If he thinks they're a problem, he's old enough that he can do a lot of the same memory tricks that grownups do, and since you say you have similar issues I bet you can help him with that. Leave things you need in specific places close to where you need them. Double check you have everything before you go from one place to another. Write things onto a list if you're likely to forget.
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:09 PM on October 21, 2011

Glasses helped my son with some of this stuff.
But not with the homework. He just wasn't interested.
That was a 12 year battle.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:25 PM on October 21, 2011

Your question reminded me of a chapter in How To Get Ideas about teaching yourself to really observe the world around you. The author discusses a game he plays with friends where upon entering a new environment, say a bar, they will sit down, close their eyes, and ask each other questions about the sights around them. For example, where are the restrooms? How many people are sitting at the bar? What color is the bartender's hair? How full is the Grey Goose bottle on the shelf behind the bar? The more they did this, the more specific they were able to get. Seems like it would be a fun game to try with your son.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:58 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you are going to have to be very patient here. For a certain kind of bright 7-year-old (and yea, your kid reminds me of me), they are just so far into the world of their blossoming frontal cortex, that they are too overloaded to see things right in front of their face....I'd establish the idea "be aware of where you are, that is good" but in a very low-key way

When the boy is a few years older, he'll be more able to be aware of things like, what he is and isn't paying attention to.
posted by thelonius at 6:20 PM on October 21, 2011

Schools do this with routine, and habit-forming behaviours, and organization in place. There are charts and clues everywhere, and places for everything. They use Mnemonic devices too. They also do things like discovery walks, and when reading books, ask students to point out details either in images or in the story. Games are learning too, but are a way to relax a bit.

Bell rings. Line up. Enter the class room. Hang up coat in your cubby/on your hook. Hang up backpack. Sign in. Sit in circle. Go through Morning Welcome. Teacher directs students where to work next, etc.
That keeps some order, and gets the motor-memory thing going, and it keeps kids focused in short bursts, then they can relax when tasks are completed. It's like strengthening a muscle, and muscles grow when they're resting.

This is also a frontal lobe development thing, and a brain stage thing
. 7-11 is a time of a growth spurt where the brain grows to about 95% (if I recall correctly) of its adult size. Alanna Mitchell had a great series called "Brainstorm" where she covered some of this. I went to a lecture, where she asserted that we are born with non-gendered brains, but that social construct has a lot to do with how kids learn. Many recent studies and articles on the adolescent brain show that this area in particular is slower to develop in boys - and that girls' brains mature faster.

It may also be a first kid thing. My mommy friends and I joke that the first one is china, the second one is rubber. Sure, he may have a more easy-going personality and lose focus easily - but you or his caregivers may also have taken care more of his little needs; and due to the adults just being that much more tired, busy and experienced the second time around, your daughter has had to fend for herself a bit more. I see this at school - first graders who can't peel the lids off their applesauce, while their preschool-age siblings are shotgunning yogurt tubes they've chewed open after stealing them out of backpacks.

It's so great that you don't want to change him. My daughter is a bit "dreamy" herself, to put it nicely, and we use "Action Plans", for our sanity. She has a morning routine list and an evening one, and another for cleaning her room. She helped make them, they're short, but they give the logical order she needs to do things in so that she can get out the door without being derailed. Just like at school, she has a hook by the door for the backpack, coat and shoes. Homework book lives on the buffet with a dedicated pencil, eraser and sharpener. We set timers. We design the tasks to be fluid - brushing teeth in the kitchen after eating because if she goes back upstairs, we've lost her, for example. We give warnings and notices to budget her time. I can only tell her maybe three things to do in a row, not ten. And, we use songs and repetition.

We have been seeing our doctor about ADD, and our doctor has said that we can push for a diagnosis, or enjoy her eccentricities and that she's already developed her own coping skills and that there are so many things that a still-developing seven year old could be classified under that we could just exhaust ourselves and every resource. Her academics are great - her organizational habits need work. This is where consequences help. On Monday, she was absent - that's the day the homework folder goes home, and they all take theirs from a bin on the way out. There's no reason to touch the bin otherwise from Tuesday on - except to deposit the completed homework folder in it on Friday. Though I'd mention it every day before dinner when we do homework, she always forgot the next day. She did no homework this week. She got no reward token. She'll learn. It took her three weeks to get the five reward tokens for various behaviours you need for a new eraser when other kids got theirs in one or two. She'll learn. Her teacher this year has made the greatest difference - he's not treating her like a problem to be solved, and so we aren't either. We're just trying to help keep her aware of safety, as you mentioned, and, you know, able to help herself survive should there come an apocalypse.

You can also look into chronemics. I'm a polychronic person, my husband is a monochronic person. We call my husband "the unitasker" because he is so meticulous and focused, when both she and I forget what we're going upstairs for at least once a week. We just structure things around our predilections.

So, that said - I'm going to agree that games aren't necessarily going to do it. But making a game of developing routines and habits would. Help him write songs about, say, getting dressed, that are silly and annoying and that stick in your head. "Take the pajamas off. Take the pajamas ooofff! Time to get today's clothes on, so take the pajamas off!" And because physical activity in conjunction with learning is often key, for example his way/place/time of getting dressed might need to be changed so that it's not logical to leave pajamas on.
posted by peagood at 6:28 PM on October 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

I really like MonkeyToes suggestions. But also recommend getting his eyes and ears checked. I was considered a really "spacey" kid until they found out I have very poor eye sight.
posted by Neekee at 8:02 PM on October 21, 2011

IMHO nature is great for this. If there's a great park or nature place nearby, activities there can totally incorporate watching and awareness skills. Trying to see but not scare wildlife, learning how this thing is different from that one - you have to slow down and use skills.

That said, he might not be into it. Every time we're at a zoo, countless times kids come to the exhibit we're at, break stride, fail to see the animal we've been looking at for five minutes, and hurries on.
posted by Occula at 8:24 PM on October 21, 2011

Nthing have a doc check him out, in case there's something that hasn't been caught. As an example of something that I thought would have been obvious, but totally wasn't: my little girl could read road signs just fine, so I figured she had no sight issues, despite both parents needing corrective lenses. This wasn't the case. She was fine in one eye, but the other was very nearsighted and didn't have good muscular control. Looking back, all the skipped words and lines, squinting, and head-tilting should have given it away, but these things do get missed.

I blather on about what I'm observing when we're walking around or hanging about. My daughter observes out loud right back. Endlessly. I figure she's mimicking my behavior. I don't know that you'll get the same results at this age, but it may help you direct your son's attention to the things around him, even if he's not being vocal about it in response.

When there's something on the floor that I'd like my little girl to pick up, instead of directing her to pick it up, I simply observe that it's on the floor: "Uh oh! Your shirt is on the floor!" or "Can you see any things that need to be put away?" She sees it, responds, and puts it away. (When she was younger, I'd follow up the statement with something like, "We'd better pick it up!" but as she gets older, she initiates.)

We're not strict, but we're very structured in what we do. She has a routine that she can easily fall into without having to think through the details too much. It started off with telling her every step. Later in her development, we'd be present but simply ask "What's next?" Routine is comforting for kids, and eliminates much of the fighting you'd otherwise have. It may hold an extra bonus for you in that it will assist your son in getting the hang of details that he may find it difficult to work out otherwise.

I do want to mention that my girl is 5, observant, and sharp as a tack, but the day she comes home and rattles off a list of things she did or needs to do? My jaw will drop. I think your 4-year-old is precocious in that respect.
posted by moira at 8:55 PM on October 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

I sort of think some people are very observant and some people just aren't. I don't know if it's genetics or upbringing or anything else. I'm almost hyper-observant and I really notice that some people just aren't. Once, my sister and I were lost in Vienna. We had a map and a general idea of where we were going, but when I said things like, "Oh we just passed Whatever Street, I saw a sign, that sounds familiar," she had no idea (a) that we had just passed Whatever Street (hadn't noticed the sign) and (b) it didn't sound familiar to her at all.

In that sense, I agree with peagood's comment - I'm the older and my sister is the younger.
posted by bendy at 9:41 PM on October 21, 2011

I think some of the above suggestions about practising recall games are really good.

However, as a really spacey kid who grew into a spacey adult, don't start making him feel too bad about his tendency to forget things or not see things. It's a sore point with me that I'm still being told "well, try harder," because I AM trying. But sometimes I forget to remember to go through these mneumonics, or check I have everything, or I simply do not see things that are right in front of my face (and my eyesight is fine).
posted by stillnocturnal at 12:55 AM on October 22, 2011

My son has the same problem, he's never been a good reporter of things that happen at school unless they were things he liked or found fun. They've started him writing down his work in an agenda (he is older than your son, though) and that helps tremendously. Maybe - since this is a habit building thing, you can start with, "tell me one thing you did at school today." It helped me to get good answers to those kind of questions when I knew his schedule and could say, "ok, when you got to school, your first class was language arts. What did you do in language arts?" Or focus on another specific subject. Specifics help focus for us. So do notes/little signs. I'm about to make one because I have to remind him EVERY DAY to put on deodorant. Maybe put one over his hamper or door "Where are your pajamas?" or something that's tailored to fit his habits.
posted by lemniskate at 6:51 AM on October 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you trying to force your kid into a sensory mode when he may just be more intuitive by nature? As I writer, I'm often frustrated by my own limited ability to have that direct sensory connection with the world, but on the flip side I think that I see patterns and connections and get a different kind of meaning out of the world instead. I'd hate if it people thought that I was limited or less complete because of how I'm wired - and hate it doubly if my mom was one of those people. A bit more on the sensing vs. intuiting spectrum here. Or, you know, Google it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:43 AM on October 22, 2011

I sometimes wonder whether I was like this as a kid because if I paid enough attention to the world around me I would be paying more attention to all of the negative views of me as a little queer kid. That, and needing glasses.
posted by lab.beetle at 4:43 PM on October 22, 2011

I'm back because I was looking up, well, Yoga for schools, and found this website with mindfulness games. I thought they might apply here too.

I was also thinking of your son, because I remembered what our doctor said of our daughter, and at the time I wished that someone had been as kind about me when I was a child of similar comportment: "She has a rich interior life." I wondered today whether that term was a thing, and Googled it. I came up with this post, and it occurred to me that one of the ways that we really engage our kid is to read books that are rather more old-fashioned and complicated to her. Though we're doing the Harry Potter books now, and she's really into graphic novels, books like her grandfather's 1929 copy of Bambi (and then Bambi's Children) are favourites that really shaped her because they are so lush and detailed and beg close observation from the reader. Maybe read some more complicated books with him that really cause him to have to focus?
posted by peagood at 7:49 AM on October 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Depending on how extreme it is it could be a pervasive developmental disorder. I knew a youngster who wasn't able to learn the logic of simple things like getting dressed, or to distinguish between similar but not identical items, and over time it became apparent that this was not laziness or lack of education but something he just isn't neurologically capable of. When you try to discuss these things with him it is evident that he has almost no concept of some things that most people take for granted, such as process and subtle visual differences, and because he is highly intelligent in some other ways it is extremely baffling for onlookers.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 5:17 PM on January 25, 2012

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