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FullSizeRender-2As far as his third grade teacher was concerned, Quinn was a “good” student.  He was well behaved in and outside of the classroom. His teacher said that while he rarely contributed to the classroom discussion, he was an “active observer.”

That surprised and concerned me. This is a kid who started asking “why” when he was 18 months old and had never stopped. This is a kid who, when we visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, pointed out to an audience of 100 people that the speaker had omitted some information about Saturn. (She laughed and agreed she had.) This is a kid who, as we were driving to school one day, theorized why when you are going slow, as in car, everything close looks big and it seems you are going faster than you are, but when you are going fast, as in an airplane, everything below looks small and it seems like you are going slow. He speculated it must be because of the relationship between speed and distance on perception.

So, I made arrangements one morning to stop by his class at our local public elementary school to check out his “active observing” for myself.

The students were all seated on the floor in the front of the classroom.  The teacher was recapping the previous day’s lesson.  I looked for Quinn and found him sitting to the side of the room seemingly attentive. Something in his posture, however, as well as the vaguely unfocused look of his eyes, told me he was not fully present. It’s hard to say for sure, but my best guess was that he was fighting a battle on Alderaan or Endor. What was happening in the classroom was irrelevant as there were urgent issues in a galaxy far, far away that needed his attention.

Quinn liked school. He had good friends and nice teachers. But when he asked his teachers for more challenging books to read he was told he could not advance to his reading level until his writing improved. He asked to have access to more pre-algebra work and was told he needed to show mastery of a timed addition test on a computer before he could advance. He knew how to add, but his fingers froze as he watched the clock count down. Without the speed, he would not get more challenging work. The stress of being timed took away from completing the actual math. It was difficult to get him to complete his homework. His grades were average.

He was, in a word, bored.

He didn’t know that, but we, as his parents, did.  That led us to the conclusion that he needed a school that would challenge his mind. One that would not just keep him busy but would engage him and help him develop his critical thinking skills.

Now, boredom is not inherently bad. There are many articles stressing the need for kids to have downtime and how boredom generates curiosity and problem solving. Boredom can be good. Just not while sitting in a classroom day in and day out.

In one such article about boredom published by Psychology Today, the writer proposes that  “The antidote to boredom is to provide children with an environment that lets them experience autonomy (the ability to work a little on their own), control (the right to have a say over what they do), challenge (a small push beyond their comfort zone), and intrinsic motivation (the motivation comes from inside them).”

And that is the environment that Quinn has found at Mackintosh Academy.

Shortly after starting Mackintosh as a 5th grader, Quinn told me, “When I was at my old school I used to think about everything but school. Now I choose to only think about school. We learn so much in one day I don’t want to let my mind wander.”

Quinn’s teachers report that Quinn contributes meaningfully to class discussions. He completes his homework with little to no intervention on our part. He is fully engaged at Mackintosh. Every evening as part of our dinner conversation we ask Quinn to tell us five interesting things that happened in his school day.  Sometimes it takes 15 minutes to fully cover one item in depth. Sometimes there are more than five topics to cover. Sometimes we have to stop the conversation as we have sat at the dinner table for so long that bedtime beckons.

As I have gotten to know some of the Mackintosh families, I have learned many stories about the path that led them to this school for “keen minds.” While some families knew from the start that their child would not be well served in a traditional school environment, others, like us, discovered when trying other schools that their children’s needs could not adequately be met.

One unifying theme among families is that Mackintosh teachers see our children for who they are and help our children see what they can offer our world, as well as galaxies far, far away. And for this we are grateful.


~by Kathy Yates, Mackintosh mom and Change Management Specialist, Concurrence Consulting



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