Confidently Homeschooling Differently-Wired Kiddos (& Taking Care of Us too) with Colleen Kessler

Colleen Kessler provides online homeschool and parent coaching to help you feel confident as you parent your differently-wired kiddo and bring peace back to your family. 

Colleen has a master’s degree in gifted education and spent over ten years as a gifted intervention specialist advocating for the bright {and often misunderstood} children with whom she worked. She left classroom teaching in 2007 to write full-time.

She is a gifted specialist, educational consultant, authorspeaker, and homeschool mom of four gifted/twice-exceptional kids.

Now that she homeschools her own gifted children, Colleen Kessler, podcaster at Raising Lifelong Learners, continues to advocate for the needs of gifted children everywhere. She believes that kids learn best when they are free to explore the world around them, discovering, creating, and imagining along the way. Colleen is passionate about lifelong learning and encouraging a love of education and discovery in children.

Colleen Kessler Raising Lifelong Learners podcast

Parents know their kids best and they need to trust their gut.

Colleen Kessler, Creator, Coach & Podcaster at Raising Lifelong Learners

Colleen & I discuss:

  • What is a twice-exceptional classification?
  • What are quirks you would see in twice-exceptional kids?
  • Should we determine our child’s learning styles?
  • Is a parent capable to address a kiddo with a learning challenge or twice-exceptional?

Colleen encourages homeschool parents:

  • If you have a quirky kid of any form, it doesn’t matter where they are educationally, you’ll always feel like they’re missing something.
  • The best place for them is with you: no one can love them more than you, and no one has their best interest in mind more than you.
  • You can do this! There’s nobody that loves your kid as you do, there’s nobody that loves your kiddos as you do, there’s nobody that will tailor their education as you will.
  • Even if you worry, don’t let your doubts get in your way because you don’t ever have to do it alone.

You can find Colleen & her Resources at:

Ask her for support at:
Her website:

Watch for my latest book coming in November 2020 from Ulysses Press: Raising Resilient Sons: A Boy Mom’s Guide to Building a Strong, Confident, and Emotionally Intelligent Family

Discover all of her books & resources

Listen to Colleen’s Podcast, Raising Lifelong Learners

Her article: 101 Reasons Eclectic Homeschooling Works for Gifted Kids

Find out How your Differently Wired Child Learns Best

Purchase The Anxiety Toolkit: 96 Ways to Help Your Child Calm Their Worries

Explore the Learner’s Lab that offers creative thinking lessons, social-emotional coaching, and opportunities to connect with other kids just like them.

People also ask…

Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod

the Transcript…

Teresa Wiedrick 0:01
Welcome to the homeschool mama self-care Podcast. I’m Teresa Wiedrick from capturing the charmed If you are a homeschool mama challenged by doubt, not sure you can do this homeschool thing. If you’re a homeschool mama challenged by overwhelmed, there are just too many things to do. Or if you are a homeschool Mama, I’m sure that the way you’re showing up in your homeschool isn’t the way you want to be showing up in your homeschool, then this is the podcast for you.

I’m here to encourage you in your homeschool journey to help you strategize ways to turn your homeschool challengers into your homeschool charms. So welcome homeschool mama.

Today I get to introduce you to Colleen Kessler. Colleen provides online homeschool and parent coaching to help you feel confident as you parent your differently wired kiddo and bring peace back to your family. Colleen has a master’s degree in gifted education and spent 10 years as a gifted intervention specialist advocating for the bright and often misunderstood children with whom she worked. Coleen left classroom teaching in 2007 to write full-time. She’s a gifted specialist, educational consultant, author, speaker, and homeschool mom of four gifted twice-exceptional kids. Now that she homeschools her own gifted kids, Colleen continues to advocate for the needs of gifted children everywhere. She believes the kids learn best when they’re free to explore the world around them. discovering, creating, and imagining along the way. Colleen is passionate about lifelong learning and encouraging a love of education and discovery and children.

Whether your kids are twice-exceptional neurodiverse differently wired kiddos or quirky kiddos you are going to benefit from this conversation. I love what she says parents know their kids best and they need to trust their gut. We talk all about what is twice exceptional. The quirks that you might see in twice-exceptional kiddo. Colleen encourages homeschool parents, if you have a quirky kid of any form, it doesn’t matter where they are, educationally, you’ll always feel like they’re missing something. The best place for them is with you. No one can love them more than you no one has their best interest in mind more than you. You can do that. She says there’s nobody that loves your kids as you do. And there’s nobody that will tailor their education as you will. And she shares it even if you worry, don’t let your doubts get in your way because you don’t ever have to do this alone.

So whether you have a child that is twice-exceptional neurodiverse differently wired. If you have a kiddo and you’re homeschooling, you want to listen to this discussion.

So it is such a pleasure to have you here. I feel like I know you. I feel like I’ve been spending at least an hour every week for the last number of years, learning about you and I know we’ve never met but I’m very pleased to chat with you today.

Colleen Kessler 3:21
Yeah, I’m excited to be here. It’s nice to talk to you and to finally connect face to face. Exactly. Yeah, exactly. I really appreciate the last I think it was three posts ago you had shared on Instagram a little bit about you. And you said I’m probably a lot like you homeschool mama trying to keep all the things together while running a household, getting to appointments, getting food on the table, always behind on the laundry, and trying to make sense of high school math. So the kids can make sense of it all while making sure the littlest one doesn’t sneak off somewhere to wreak havoc. Special needs are met intensities, intensities are diffused anxieties are soothed, and emotions are validated. And I’m like yeah. Welcome to homeschooling. Exactly, exactly. Yep. That’s pretty much my life in a nutshell right there. I’d love to hear about your homeschool story and about your homeschool family. Sure, um, so we started, actually, we started homeschooling 12 years ago, a little bit over 12 Maybe 13. This February might be 13. Kind of kicking and screaming a little bit. It was not what I intended to do. I had been a teacher for a decade and a half I was a specialist in gifted studies I worked with gifted in special needs kids, mostly in third grade when I was in the classroom and but then I consulted with various ages and left teaching originally to freelance right full time into write books and resources for teachers, parents, and kids and had this idyllic kind of view of what my life was going to be like.

I’d have you know, my little passel of children, send them off to school, right, you know, in my little alcove office while they were at school and have cookies waiting for them when they got off the bus, right. And my oldest is profoundly gifted with little dashes of anxiety and ADHD and other kinds of quirks and was not fitting into the regular classroom. And so, about first grade, we ended up pulling him out kind of under duress. Actually, it wasn’t even kind of it was completely underdressed, because I didn’t know any other homeschoolers. I wasn’t sure what I was going to be doing. It’s a different world homeschooling your own than it is to work with your other people’s gifted children. And at the time, we pulled him out. I also had a toddler who was very precocious and a newborn new nursing baby. And so and I was writing full time I was, I had a babysitter coming 15 hours a week. So I could write and she could bring the baby to me to nurse and it was busy. And it was crazy. And like I said, I didn’t know anybody else who did it. And so I was figuring it out, kind of as I went along. And here we are. 13 years later, my younger three have never gone to school.

And so I have a 19-year-old who that first guy just graduated in May. And I have 14-year-old freshmen, a 12-year-old, she kind of hovers around seventh eighth grade, depending on the subject, and then a nine-year-old third grader and they are just as quirky just as asynchronous, just as differently wired as their big brother was in kind of all over the place. It’s a lot of chaos and excitement. And Busy, busy busy and we kind of got him saying kind of a lot because it’s hard to encapsulate what we are we just go with the flow or a collective homeschool unschooly kind of interest lead, creatively flowing whatever floats our boat kind of homeschoolers, though, after this many years homeschooling, there is no real descriptor that you can get and calculate it for you always.

Teresa Wiedrick 7:17
Almost everybody defaults to an eclectic. Yes, exactly. Sometimes they say classically unschooled, and that just sounds like an oxymoron. But I’m kind of somewhere in between. Yeah, so are we pretty much. It depends on the child. Depends on the year, sometimes depends on the week. Yes, that is similar to my experience, except that I have a 21-year-old but we both graduated a 19-year-old this year, and the heartstrings of you know that feeling of launching them into the world. That is, that is a big moment for us mamas, as well as our kids, of course.

Definitely, definitely. So I’d love to hear about the chicken in the egg. Here’s the thing. So you did the twice-exceptional or the master’s in education in this specific focus before you had kids. And then you had kids in a similar experience. So you know, you had the masters first and then you had the children.

Colleen Kessler 8:21
Yeah, yeah. And I don’t know that it helps me. It’s, it’s so interesting, right.

And I had a winding path to it. I actually went originally for a master’s degree in reading, and I switched after a couple of classes. After connecting with some different professors, I had a really great professor who was my advisor, in my reading for my masters, a very well-known, multi-published author, kind of one of the big gurus in reading education. And we were talking about a project that I had created. And his comments on it were this is publishable. And I hadn’t thought at that point yet about writing professionally, though, I wrote for fun. And as I was diving into the idea of potentially looking into publishing that he introduced me to another professor, and this was a professor who specialized in gifted special needs with a heavy focus on social and emotional needs of gifted kids. And it just resonated with me and I ended up switching my master’s degrees after I think it was like three classes and completely switching my focus. Originally I wasn’t sure what I wanted to go for my master’s in and didn’t have kids at the time. So I was just kind of going up the salary step ladder in the school district. And so I did reading because I didn’t have a problem reading. I kind of came out of the womb reading I don’t remember nobody remembers me not reading. And so I was definitely precocious and bright I was in gifted programs growing up. So I thought that maybe going for a master’s in reading would help me understand the struggling readers in my classroom. And then when I started talking about the gifted program with this professor, I realized that gifted education really aligned with my own philosophy of education, meet the kid where they are, no matter what their needs are high or low, move them forward and get them excited about learning, write their own way. And so I switched and just loved it, I still didn’t think that I was going to go into specializing, I just thought I’d get my master’s and I’d still stay in the classroom and be more innovative and more fun. But I ended up a job kind of fell in my lap, based on some connections that I’d made in some conversations I was having, and I ended up leaving my district to be a gifted specialist, and I just fell in love. Now, when I moved over there, I didn’t realize when I was interviewing for the position that I was pregnant at the time. And I had one more class, I was finishing my master’s in gifted education. So I got the job, you know, in September, and I was finishing my Masters that November, October, so I was gonna graduate that December with my Masters. And so I moved over I found out I was pregnant right after I accepted the job, ended up going on bed rest in October when I started this new position and finished my gifted masters with that baby that was now 19 years old in his car seat in the class, while I, you know, defended my master’s thesis and talked to my professor about all that stuff. So anyway, yeah, the Masters came first. In still, interestingly, I worked I kept working for that district. I loved it. I loved what I did. I loved the quirkiness and the interesting things that those kids came up with the conversations we had, their quirks were definitely, definitely challenging and different every day of the week. I love to advocate for them. I love being, their sounding board, but also their defense against doing more of the same work in the classroom I. So that was really fun for me.

But then as my kid grew, and he talked early, and problem solved early, and had the same similar quirky thoughts, I missed the characteristics of giftedness that he was actually showing because I was so steeped in that world. Interesting. I was so surrounded by other really bright, bright, and creative kids, that it was just kids to me.

And it wasn’t until we were having him evaluated for ADHD and some other challenges that a psychologist kind of leaned over and said, You do know he’s gifted, right? We probably shouldn’t go and see what his IQ is. And I sat there stunned like the pied piper, or the shoemaker with his kids going to lunch, you know, how on earth could I have missed this? But absolutely, his problems are exactly like the problems that I fight for my kids’ rights at school in the school system, isn’t that well? Yeah, it was different. And like you said, the degree came first. But the degree didn’t help me identify my own kid. It kind of blinded me actually.

Teresa Wiedrick 13:33
Yeah, that is very interesting. I would love to hear your differentiation between the different terms. I never know which ones are the right ones to use, like you say, twice-exceptional or gifted. Or what other terms do you use and how do you delineate them?

Colleen Kessler 13:50
So I guess clinically, the terms are gifted in twice-exceptional. And so giftedness is if we were going just from a straight identification, scientific standpoint, it is two standard deviations above average IQ. So if you’re looking at an IQ test and a distribution plot, that bell curve, right, the top of the bell curve is average. And then two standard deviations below average. You get kids with developmental delays and disabilities and things like that. Two standard deviations above that average, you get kids who have a higher than normal cognitive ability, they process things quickly. They understand more complex concepts. They think outside the box, they’re more creative.

But those kids are just as differently wired as the kids on the other side of that bell curve. And so oftentimes, disabilities go hand in hand with those heightened cognitive abilities. And so twice exceptionalities are simply twice-exceptional kids are simply kids who are gifted so they’re higher cognitively. And also have learning. So an educational, psychological, and neurological or physical disability in addition to the giftedness. So they’re kids and adults who are gifted and have ADHD or gifted and have clinical anxiety or gifted and have a neurological delay or a physical disability I’ve had, I’ve worked with students who had cerebral palsy, but super high IQ. And I worked my first year of teaching ever a student who was a paraplegic. And he wrote with a pencil in his mouth, fascinating child had a full-time aide, who was wonderful, and he was brilliant and so creative and so innovative. But his physical challenges certainly got in the way of his learning and his social and emotional abilities. And so a twice-exceptional child is kind of like gifted with another glitch that goes along with it. But because a lot of people, especially in the homeschool world, right, don’t officially identify or diagnose kids, I tend to talk about this kind of wiring using different terminology that you would identify with, you would think about if you’re thinking about your kid quirky, differently wired outside the box creative, different, just a wiggly, right? Because we tend to see our kids as moving all over the time as wiggly as quirky as differently wired in, don’t necessarily think, Oh, my child is gifted, or Oh, my child has sensory processing disorder, or, or oh, that’s anxiety. So I talk in terms parents might see their own kids in, and then we kind of tease out where their child actually fits if we were talking about it clinically.

Teresa Wiedrick 17:08
Okay, so you have a quiz on your website raising? No.

Colleen Kessler 17:14
Raising lifelong learners. Yeah, thank you raising lifelong learner. And so what are maybe some key quirks that you would see because I have four kids, and all of them are very different, different. And it’s easy to identify that that’s quirky. I had a child that definitely was very busy, probably had a sensory processing disorder, and I didn’t recognize it at the time. So what would you say to a homeschool parent? That kind of wonders if that’s the case? Yeah. So the quiz that’s on the site, right now is all about learning styles. And, you know, there’s, there’s lots of debate out there about learning styles like should we even figure out our kids learning styles because don’t, they just have to learn and learn to get along in society with however, the curriculum is presenting it? The reason I have learning styles there is because if you are working with a kiddo, who are raising a kiddo who has some kind of challenge, some kind of quirk, some kind of struggle, they also have strengths. And oftentimes, the best way to help them work on their struggles is to do it through their strengths. And so the learning style quiz, it’s definitely like any kind of online quiz you would take is subjective, right? Because you could be answering in one way, and the next time answer in a different way. And you could get three different answers for your child. But it gives you a ballpark idea is my child more kinesthetic is? Are they interpersonal? Or intrapersonal? Do they work? Well with people? Are they more kind of introspective? Do they like to use their hands? Do they prefer to read or do they prefer to listen? And so when I talk to parents about that, in particular, I always say, you know, think about the way that you would choose to learn something new. If I were to learn something new or need to learn something new, I’d get a book or I’d read an article because I process things very visually, through words, written words, whereas my oldest is very auditory. And he also prefers listening and watching and not reading it passively. So he would learn through a video, a podcast, or something like that. And so that quiz kind of teases out some of that so that if you see your child struggling in one area, you could potentially use that idea that they learn better through movement to incorporate movement, not in all areas, because they do need to use a workbook. Sometimes they do need to watch a video, sometimes they do need to read a textbook sometimes, but in the areas in which they struggle, then you can incorporate movement in that area. So their confidence is built up and they’re more likely to be successful.

Teresa Wiedrick 19:52
That’s right. Yes. And that’s actually simply what I say to people is to observe, you know, are they wanting to sit with you to do this thing of do they want to go to their bed? Do they want to listen to they want to watch, for me just the same as understanding personality profiling, I think it’s really important just to observe, there’s no hard and fast rule to all of these things, there’s not a guarantee that just because you have maybe a label or a personality profile attached to you that therefore everyone around you is going to understand you or know how to address your needs. But it gives you a greater sense of awareness about that person, and how you can help engage them or encourage them actually, like you said, really, ultimately, our goal is to help our kids become all that they were meant to be is what I think something like that I saw somewhere on your on your website. And that is, that’s our goal. That’s the reason we go into homeschool, or at least, eventually, we discover that that might be the biggest goal in homeschooling. So slowly, so as a mom or as a parent of these kids, I can imagine that there comes with it some anxiety or some worry about are you doing what you really want to be doing for this child? Is that an experience that you’re familiar with? Or you’ve heard a lot of other people say?

Colleen Kessler 21:13
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think any homeschool parent, right? worries that are not doing enough, because you’re now responsible for everything you’re not taking, you’re not taking a portion of the parenting responsibilities and outsourcing it to a school or someone else, you’re responsible for everything. So it’s completely natural to doubt or worry or wonder. And then when you have somebody in your home that you love more than anything else that doesn’t quite seem to fit the same. I don’t know the trajectory, or box or path or scope and sequence that the majority of the kids seem to be fitting, you feel like you’re missing something, or not doing something, or doing something wrong or differently. It’s natural for us to put that on our own shoulders and take on, you know, not only responsibility, but blame sometimes when the truth of the matter is, kids are kids, and everybody is different from one another. And everybody kind of has their own path to walk. And our job is to facilitate in whatever way is best for them. But when you have someone that looks so different in whatever way it is, and gifted kids twice, exceptional kids often look different, because they are what we call asynchronous, meaning they kind of see many ages at once. They might be super advanced in one subject area were well behind in another socially immature, unless they’re talking about a topic that they’re passionate about, in which case, they sound like they’re 30 years old, and have just completed a dissertation in college about it. And it can make you feel like you’re missing something like if they’re able to talk on that level. Well, why are they throwing mulch on the playground at the five-year-olds when they’re 12? Or why are they not performing in math when they’re so far ahead and advanced in reading or writing. And so you start to doubt and you start to worry, and then you start to take it on. But you can’t compare a gifted kid, a twice-exceptional kid, a child with profound anxiety or sensory processing disorder ADHD, with other kids who are neurotypical because they don’t develop along that nice, neat path. And so yeah, that doubt and that worry, and that those feelings of kind of ineptitude are very, very prevalent with both parents of gifted kids and parents of special needs kids.

Teresa Wiedrick 23:47
So how do you encourage people to take this on then? Because you know that a few years ago, I was sitting in a curling rink, yes, I’m Canadian, but in a curling rink, and one of my kids was competing or was part of a group. And I was chatting with one of the dads who was a principal at a local elementary school. And at that time, I was part of an advocacy group for the homeschool in our province or homeschooling group in our province. And he and I were chatting about education. And I said, I’ve heard I’ve seen actually many people leave the system because their children are on the spectrum. Now, this is a different discussion on the spectrum. But he said I’ve seen this mass exodus like over the last few years people are leaving because the schools aren’t able to enable these kids to become who they were meant to be. The parents feel like they’re not being supported. And he said, No, I don’t see the Exodus, they come to the school for help, and for special help. And I don’t see that I see exactly the opposite, that people are leaving the system for that purpose.

Colleen Kessler 24:55
Yet the parents, at the end of the day, still don’t always feel equipped.

Teresa Wiedrick 25:00
To deal with your children or to give them the best of what they can, I believe that parents no matter how much they might feel incapable, are the greatest advocate. And just like my experience in pediatric nursing, you always knew that the parents had a really strong sense of what was going on with a child. And you couldn’t discharge a child based on the parents’ opinion. But the parent knew something was up, which means they should probably deal with it. Or if the child is back to normal, they’re probably going to get discharged. And I think the parent no matter whether they can foresee the future, or know exactly what tools should be given to the, you know, the family of the child, they always know how to advocate the best. But we don’t always feel that we are certainly not certain of that in ourselves. So how do you address that? How do you help parents that they are the greatest advocate for their child actually address? You know, the challenges that the child has? Where would you suggest they go? Or what would they do for their child?

Colleen Kessler 26:04
Yeah, so the first thing that I would say is echo what you are saying that parents know their kids best, and they need to trust their gut, right. And if you have a quirky kid of any shape or form, if you have a special needs kid, if you have a child on the spectrum, if you have a gifted or twice-exceptional child, it really doesn’t matter where they are, educationally, you’re still going to feel like they’re missing something. So they could be in the school system, and you’re going to be feeling like they’re not getting their needs met exactly as you would want them to have their needs met, they could be in a special school, for kids just like them, and you’re still going to feel that they individually are not getting what it is exactly they need because something’s missing. If they’re home, you’re going to be feeling that way. Because our gut is to want everything for them right away and to know that they’re still struggling. But all kids struggle, whether they’re special needs or not, whether they’re neurotypical or neurotypical, they all struggle, because that’s what childhood is all about. It’s about the struggles, learning from the struggles, and moving on from that struggle to the next one. And the next one, because it’s in the process of all of those struggles, that we begin to form who we are, they begin to form who they are. And they overcome, and they develop their resilience and their confidence and their interests and their passions and their desires. And, and so it doesn’t matter where you put your kid, you’re still going to feel like something’s missing. And so the best place for them is with you. Because nobody can love them more than you. Nobody has that at their heart. Nobody has their best interest at the forefront of their minds. And every choice they make, like you do, because every other person that’s going to be responsible for their education will be simultaneously responsible for someone else’s education, but you’re only responsible for your head. And so you’ve already beaten back that doubt because nobody cares as much as you no one’s going to move as many mountains as you and nobody are going to advocate harder than you. So that particular fear is completely unfounded. Because it doesn’t matter where you put them, you’re still going to have those fears in there. And then so the second thing that I would say to a parent who is feeling like, I don’t know that I can actually do it, or overwhelmed because there’s so much in parenting, an atypical child. That is that you have to remember that your child safe space, so it’s always going to feel hardest to you, it’s always going to be the most important thing to you, it’s always going to be you’re always going to be the best person equipped for it. But it’s also always going to be the hardest for you because of that care factor. And so you have to allow and plus I want to say this before I go to the next part is that your kids person that safe place, they know that you’re not going to walk away, they know that you’re not sending them to the principal or to somebody else like you’re going to go to continue going to bat for them you’re going to continue loving them so they can dump all over you when they’re frustrated and they’re not able to understand something or whatever because they know they can rant and rail and fight with you because you’re not going anywhere you’re still going to be there. So for those parents of atypical kids who have the weight of homeschooling the weight of parenting, and then the added weight of having any typical child who doesn’t fit the textbook up, and has different needs that sometimes seem different from hour to hour, let alone day to day or year to year.

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