Unearthing a More Colorful Brain.

“1 is red – right, mom?”

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This matter-of-fact question Noah asked Monday morning while doing his math (in my dirty dressing room floor as I hung up clothes) turned his school day on end. What followed was a fascinating day of me interrogating him while becoming more and more intrigued with his brain as he very factually and without hesitation answered all of my inquiries.

“Do all numbers have a color?”

“Yes!”

“0?”

“Black.”

“2?”

“Yellow. 5 is yellow too.”

“3?”

“Blue.”

“4?”

“Orange. And 6, 7, and 8 are purple, 9 is pink. 10 is obviously red and black.”

Now it made so much sense why, after deciding to use colored pencils for math a couple weeks ago, he had started to want to do more math each day.

“What about letters? Do they have colors?”

“Obviously. A is red. B is blue and pink. C is yellow and D is brown. E is orange and F is blue and purple.”

“Days of the week? Do they have colors?”

“Yup. Yesterday was a yellow day and the day before that was a red day. Wednesday is probably a brown day. Brown or beige.”

“So what about Saturdays?”

“What did I just say that they were?? Red, Mom!!”

I had just discovered that my six-year-old had grapheme-color synesthesia. AND I WAS TOTALLY GEEKING OUT.

Grapheme-color synesthesia: When an individual’s perception of numerals and letters is associated with the experience of colors. Like all forms of synesthesia, Grapheme-color synesthesia is involuntary, consistent, and memorable.

I’d heard about synesthesia in all its forms in my psych classes in college (a fascination that I pursued in my electives), and had more recently listened to a podcast about a woman with Mirror-Touch Synesthesia – a very real and terrifying condition that caused her to physically feel everything that she saw anyone else physically experience. Hug, punch, shivers, itches – whatever.

Synesthesia is a phenomenon where two or more senses are triggered by each other in an involuntary way. Color Synesthesia is the most common, and approximately 1% of the population experiences it. A theory is that it is associated from first memories of learning the letters – kids latch onto the colors of their refrigerator magnets, or the letters in their alphabet book. But this was disproven when they discovered synesthetes who couldn’t possibly have had those early life associations. I can’t help but wonder if there is still some connection there, and if more kids have synesthesia now that they learn their letters with blazingly colorful learning apps.

There are many more bizarre synesthesias, such as where you experience tastes when certain words or sounds are spoken, where smells have a color, when time has a spatial place around you, and where letters and other things are personified as little personalities. Often, people who are synesthetes will experience more than one type, so we had other fun conversations yesterday as well, such as,

“What color is the smell of chicken fingers?”

“What?? Mom! That’s disgusting!!”

“Where is Wednesday? Is it to the left or right of you?”

“I have NO idea.”

I found an online test for synesthetes and started Noah on it. It asks you to pick a color from the whole spectrum for each letter and number, randomized and multiple times, to see if you’re consistent with your answers. It was a bit long for a six-year-old’s attention span, however, so we haven’t finished it yet. But it was delightful to listen to his dialogue as he tried to pinpoint the colors.

“No…it’s a little lighter than that…more of a lavender. Mom, how do I get this to be lighter?”

“It’s more of a green-yellow. No, not that green. Not that one either.”

“9 is definitely pink. Not green. Help me get off the green!”

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What fascinated me most was his complete consistency. When he got to B on the test, he asked “B is blue and pink. How do I do that on here? Should I just pick one or the other?”

All day long I randomly asked him the color of numbers and letters and he’d shoot back, with complete accuracy, what he’d told me before. I kept a running note in my phone because there was no way I could possibly remember his answers from one ask to the next.

While he was taking the test, Ali walked in and asked what he was doing. I explained to her that Noah saw letters and numbers in color.

“Oh! I do too. 1 is blue, 2 is lime green – “

“WRONG!” Noah didn’t even look up from his test to inform his sister that she was categorically incorrect about the properties of numbers.

Ali wasn’t so convinced that letters had a color, but she did think days of the week had color.

She started going through her list, with very specific colors, like “Tuesday is lime green and light yellow mixed together” and when she got to Friday,

“…and Friday is sunshine yellow…”

Noah piped up, appalled, “What?!? That’s Sunday!! You’re so weird.”

I had never had a more surreal conversation with my children, and I was loving every minute of it. I had turned into psychologist mom and there was no going back.

I found this picture online and showed it to him.

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“What is in this picture?”

“Fives and twos.”

“How many twos are there?”

Without taking even a second to count, he said “there are six twos,” then pointed them all out. Because apparently, his brain comprehends them much bolder than my brain does.

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(I did ask him if he saw them in color or in black and he looked at me like I was crazy. “They’re black, Mom!!”)

The next morning, I had the kids separately make their color charts.

This is Ali’s:

Ali Synesthesia Chart

I checked it against my note, and she Ali stayed consistent with her choices, other than flip-flopping on 5 and 8 being light blue / dark blue.

And this is Noah’s. The really bold characters are due to the fact that they are supposed to be purple, and he wasn’t happy that they looked a little pink on first pass.

Noah Synesthesia Chart copy

The only deviation he made from the day before was that he decided that 7 was actually green, not purple. Additionally, he informed me that uppercase e’s are yellow, but lowercase are orange – and he preferred lowercase. I asked if all uppercase and lowercase letters were different, but he said only e and f – uppercase f is blue and purple (he got mad at himself for forgetting to add blue to it, although he did draw the dual-colored B), but lowercase is beige.

One interesting fact that I found while researching: although each synesthete has their own color-mapping, the majority make A red and O white or black. Noah has consistently told me that A is red and O is blue or black.

I have no idea what this brain phenomenon really effects, other than my children’s minds being delightfully more colorful than my own, but I’m excited to figure out how to integrate it into their education.

Noah Colors

As is, apparently, Noah.

So it might be worth the question – offhandedly, out of nowhere, to your kids:

“Hey – what color is the number 5?”

Report your findings immediately.

Note: an update can be found here.

Love Me With Your Whole Emoji.

Of my 1,171 Facebook friends, approximately 1,500 of them currently sell something that involves a product, a downline, and a requirement of a plethora of Facebook posts.

My Facebook feed covers them all. Multiple times over. I will never be without the ability to buy Matilda Jane or Advocare or Avon or Young Living or It Works or Premier Jewelry or Jamberry or Pampered Chef or Plexus or Rodan & Fields or Scentsy or Thirty One Gifts or Tupperware or Usborne or Younique or BeachBody or doTerra or Isagenix or Juice Plus or Mary Kay.

Ah, what a world we live in.

Of those 1,500 retail shops in the strip mall that is my Facebook feed, approximately 1,800 have, in the past year, posted a status asking people to let them know, via emoji, how they feel about their business. The options given to describe said business include some variation of the following:

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But, oddly, they never ever offer the heartbreak emoji. Or the new and fantastic black heart emoji. I’m sure it’s just a simple oversight, but I feel like there needs to be an option out there for everyone and every opinion (because if 2017 isn’t about EVERY OPINION, what IS it about??), so I decided to write my own.

I don’t have my own business that involves a downline, sales levels named after precious stones (But if I did, I would be Double Purple Sapphire Diamond Titanium Level, y’all!!), or wildly fantastic motivational trips to Fiji, but I do occasionally mention my side project, Picture Birmingham, so that’s what I shall write my status for.

So. Let’s try this.

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I CANNOT WAIT to see what emoji you choose in response!!

Desperado.

I live for spelling bees.

I only participated in one when I was a kid, but I remember relishing the thrill of competition. I’m also a fairly good speller (except for the word dilemma) and would greatly appreciate it if my children would join me in that vital pursuit.

Last year was Ali’s first round of spelling bees. We have a school spelling bee (just our homeschool cover school), and then the Birmingham District Homeschooling spelling bee. In Ali’s first ever spelling bee as a third grader (spelling bees are for 1-8th grade – so clearly I forgot what I lived for two years in a row), she placed 1st in her grade and 4th in the school and was elated at her achievement, even though she was one spot away from a cash prize. She decided she wanted to work even harder for the district bee, truly hoping to grab a cash prize. But alas, the district spelling bee’s Round One started in words past where we’d studied, and so she was out on round one, along with over half the kids that participated.

As soon as the spelling sheets came out for this school year, we began studying. We made it through all 450 words a few times through before the first bee, challenging my pronunciation abilities and forcing me to use the audio feature of dictionary.com to learn words such as a posteriori, recherche, netsuke (pronounced netskee), and more. And then there were the long words that were a delight to say, such as prestidigitation and supererogation. We loosely knew them all, but alas – Ali was self-admittedly too confident as a mature 4th grader, and spelled out of the school spelling bee at 5th place.

We trudged through the holidays, spelling and re-spelling reveille and sanctum sanctorum, in preparation for the district bee. I wasn’t super confident in her readiness for the harder spelling bee, but I encouraged her to go slow, picture the word in her head, and GO SLOW. The district bee was important, after all. The winners of that bee progressed toward Nationals.

The top three winners of the district bee get to go to the “Homeschool County” bee – there are 67 counties in Alabama, but homeschoolers don’t get to compete in their county bee – they all get thrown into the same pot called Homeschool County, then winners of the 67 real counties and the one imaginary Homeschool County compete against each other in the State Bee. I enjoy imagining what Homeschool County is like, and often find myself daydreaming about it…the stores lining the streets would include Denim Jumpers R Us and Minivan Superstore, the “playgrounds” would just be circular seating arrangements of children reciting the U.S. constitution in Latin, and all food inside county boundaries would be required to be gluten free and devoid of any devilish red dye.

(But I digress.)

My heart began beating heavily as soon as we entered the room for the district bee. My hands were shaking. I decided I needed to busy them so as to not take on more nervousness on behalf of my daughter. So I took her picture.

IMG_3905She unwittingly chose the only long skirt she had – it was SO Homeschool County of her. The sequins on her shirt, however, would definitely get her thrown into Homeschool County Jail. Where she could keep me company during my incarceration for having purple hair.

According to the seating arrangement, Ali was the third to last speller, and since I couldn’t take pictures of her to busy myself, I decided I’d write down every word used, match them against our study sheets, and see if all the words did indeed come from the 450 we tried our best to memorize. There had also been extra sheets of challenge words – some we’d briefly gone over – but 450 words is really an undertaking. Who has time to look at a dozen more sheets?

I began writing with each student, and then texting updates to Chris and a couple other friends waiting with bated breath (or wishing I’d quit texting them.) I created a system – dots on the left meant the student got the word wrong and was therefore out. I put Ali’s word in a square, and dots on the right meant the word had a homonym and therefore had its definition read with the word (during the last spelling bee, we the spectators had played “Who can figure out what the homonym is?” – a game that is harder than you might imagine.)

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Thankfully, the moderator started with much easier words this year. As soon as the first word was read, Ali looked back at me and smiled. There would be no Round One elimination for her this year.

The rounds kept going and Ali continued to spell correctly.

Round 7 was the frightening round – the one where the moderators took a minute to discuss amongst themselves, then shuffle papers – I knew they were going off-script. We had finished with the word list and were headed into uncharted territories.

With each new unstudied word, I just knew Ali would be out.

But then she spelled tortilla and popularity. My heart burst with spelling pride.

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There were only five students left by round 9, and Ali was giving then word “Hogan”, except that it was pronounced “hog-on”, and I didn’t even know how to spell it. Surely this would be the end. Ali paused, having no idea what a Hogan was (nor did I), and wisely asked for a definition.

“a Navajo Indian dwelling constructed of earth and branches and covered with mud or sod. It can also be pronounced ‘hogan.’”

Oh, this was the breakthrough Ali needed. Would she opt for guessing “hogan” or “hogon”?

She went with Hogan. And was right.

She made it through round 10, miraculously spelling acronym.

The field was now down to 4 – it started at 29 spellers. This was crazy. She was on a roll.

Then she was given the word Desperado.

She’d never heard it before, and after a moment of thinking, she spelled it desperoto.

She was out, officially 4th place, just two rounds before the bee was over.

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She and I were both shocked and excited that she’d made it so far, and not at all disappointed that we didn’t get to visit the magical land of Homeschool County as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers did. We quickly decided that 4th place was “The first place of No More Studying”, and celebrated by car-dancing to Spotify on the way home – something that’s surely not allowed in Homeschool County.

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And, for what it’s worth, when it comes to Desperado, Ali and I unanimously concur that Rihanna does it best.