Seeing the best in life's challenges

Sorting Socks

on May 22, 2012

Yes, this is a real story about sorting socks, and one of my favorite illustrations.  When my kids were little, we had a Dr. Seuss Preschool computer game.  When your kid plays, it keeps track of how they are doing – so you can monitor their progress and see how well they are learning.

Well, my kids were really little, not much more than 2 and 3 or so.  I can’t remember where or how or why we got this game, but I was amazed at how quickly they picked up how to use the mouse, etc.  This was the late 1990s, back in the old days!



One of the games involved socks hanging on a clothesline.  The socks were white and red, and the object of the game was to put the red socks in the basket labeled for red socks, and the white socks in the one labeled for white socks.  You had to click on the hanging sock, and drag it to the basket.  Obviously, this was a really simple game, and probably had more to do with teaching “using the mouse” skills than anything.

What was fascinating was watching how my two kids played the game.  My daughter, who is younger, always played perfectly.  She understood the game, the rules, the object of the game, how to use the mouse, etc.  So, when I checked her “scores” they were always perfect.  Perfect.

My son, who is just as “smart” as his sister, and was a year older at the time, played the game differently.  No question he understood the game, the rules, the object of the game, how to use the mouse, etc.

Even at this young age, my son was not constrained by the rules.  He soon figured out that if you tried to drag the sock to the wrong basket, it would quickly hop back up to the clothesline.  This was much more fun and exciting than dragging the socks to the “correct” basket, so he would just mess around and play with the game.  If I checked his score, it was not “perfect.”  If I had relied on his score to tell me what he understood, it would not have told me the real story.

In reality, his approach to the game allowed him to learn more – what happens “if”?

You will not be surprised to hear that, years later, he is the kid who has gotten in trouble for “coloring outside the lines.”  He does not do well with authority figures, especially the ones who don’t have good reasons for their rules.  He asks way too many “why” questions.  He is not easy — in fact, he’s exhausting at times.  But he is going to be the most amazing, creative, innovative adult I can imagine.

Also, you will not be surprised to hear that, years later, my daughter is very successful in school.  She knows how to play the game.  A soccer coach once called her the most coachable kid she ever had.  This kid takes advice.  She has gotten the label “model student” several times.  She gets along.

Turns out, she also has a mischievous side, a killer sense of humor, and a quiet strength to go along with her “get along” traits.  Life is going to be easy for her, but I do wonder if sometimes she may be underestimated.  We shall see, but I have no doubt this is going to be another amazing adult.

When I think about this simple example of how differently my own two kids handled a simple task at such a young age, I laugh at how truly indicative this was of their personalities and approaches to life.  They were born with this.  I did not teach them differently.  I’ve learned that I can’t interact with them the same way at all.  It’s a constant balancing act, attempting to be “fair” and to give each what they need.

I cannot label one “good” and the other “bad” – they are just two different people.  Our educational system wants to label one “right” and the other “wrong.”  But in life, in the real world, we need individuals, unique approaches, as much diversity as we can get.  We don’t really want everyone to be the same, do we?


One response to “Sorting Socks

  1. Leslie says:

    Nice one…you know how I feel….

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