Category Archives: Brave New (School) World

On Track

E. brought home his first report card this week.

It was a progress report rather than an official report card, but it was still a serious assessment of how he is handling Grade One.

The short answer is he’s doing just fine.

Nothing was identified as being “unsatisfactory”.

There were no areas where he was currently “progressing with difficulty”.

And his “highest” score for the behavioural section of the progress report was in collaboration, an area that has been a huge struggle in the past.

There’s room for improvement, sure, and E. will probably find it easier to meet the expectations of the classroom as he gets older and is better able to self-regulate.

But this was a great start, and we told him he should feel very proud of himself.

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, E.- the seventh year, Grade One

On Growing a Reader

When E. was in the second half of junior kindergarten, he started to learn to read. His JK teacher missed that fact (as was obvious from E’s final report card), but Q. and I noticed. That fall, E. started senior kindergarten, where all of his classroom instruction was in French. Although it was never explicitly spelled out to the parents, it was clear that English reading fluency was something that needed to be developed at home.

Despite significant resistance from E., we instituted a routine where he had to read to us for ten minutes every day in order to earn his screen time.

We did this the entire year.

I spent a LOT of time at the public library that year, finding readers that were the right level for his abilities, as well as ones that were more of a challenge. I’d change the readers every couple of weeks. When we found one that worked well, I’d scour the shelves for books by the same author.

When E.’s Granny came to visit us, in October of 2016, E. was reading at level D or E on the guided reading level scale. We liked Olivier Dunrea’s books about Gossie and Gertie and Ollie the Stomper. He was able to sight read Busy Busy Train (from the Wonder Wheels series) while she was visiting.

E. would get very easily frustrated.

He would fling himself around on the couch, or race off into the kitchen.

He would complain and yell and protest and whine and sulk.

Eventually, he would calm down enough to continue.

And so it went, ten minutes a day, weekly trips to the library, new books in his basket.

At some point, it all clicked.

E. developed enough fluency that reading became fun instead of frustrating.

He started sitting on the floor in the library, reading through the books before deciding whether or not to take them out.

He started disappearing to his room “just to relax” on the weekends, where we’d find him an hour later still immersed in a book.

He started reading books at lunchtime, in the bathroom, while waiting for dinner to be ready.

It made my heart so happy.

There is nothing I like better than disappearing into a good book. I often read while walking somewhere (carefully and while remembering to look both ways before I cross the street!). Reading is a major source of comfort and a way to control my anxiety, and it has been for as long as I can remember. I’ve always, always hoped that E. would love reading, and I held on to that hope all through the daily battles where it felt like we were both banging our heads against a brick wall.

I wish I’d taken better notes of how it happened, because I can’t pinpoint exactly where it all came together. The books just gradually got longer and longer, with more words and more complex sentences on each page. I do know that by this past August, E was reading at level M or N on the guided reading level scale. He read (and loved) the Ivy and Bean chapter books. We often read them together, but it was clear that he was capable of reading them independently (and that he’d been reading ahead during his book time before turning out his light in the evenings).

Currently he’s reading The Magic Tree House series. He also loves nonfiction. When we drove up to the cottage over the Thanksgiving weekend, he spent the entire trip reading a book about the Titanic (and you have no idea how excited I am that he seems to no longer get motion sick in the car).

E. generally is very quick with language- another mum told me a couple of weeks ago that her son told her that E. was “the best in the class at speaking French”, so I’m quite certain most of this success stems from his own abilities and from developmental readiness. This isn’t meant to be a “how to teach your kid to read” kind of post.

It’d be nice to think, though, that all those hours at the library choosing exactly the right books, and all those hours spent listening to him read (or helping him work through his frustration so that he could read), made a difference.

 

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Filed under Books, E.- the seventh year, Grade One

The Dreaded Homework

Now that E. is in Grade One, his teacher expects him to spend some time every night on homework.

If the homework were busywork, I’d have no trouble at all if E. refused to do it. I don’t see the point of homework for homework’s sake.

What E. is sent home with, however, is undeniably useful. He gets two new French readers each week, and a list of dictée words every fortnight. In the first round of homework he also came home with a huge stack of French sight word flashcards, which we’ve largely ignored because he knows almost all of them already, and some number cards (now up to 0-40), which we’ve also largely ignored because the goal is for the students to be able to recognize and write from 0-100 in French by the end of the year and E. can already do this.

Books, however, are useful, as E. is a very fluent reader in English but doesn’t yet read well in French (unsurprisingly). And the dictée, although more rigid than I would like to see at this stage in his learning, is invaluable because he is motivated to do well, which means he will sit most nights and practice writing out the words. Writing is his weak spot. He’s improved so much since last year already, but he finds it hard and his hand gets tired and it can be a battle at home to get him to write anything.

The recommendation from his teacher was that homework should take a maximum of twenty minutes a night. I’d say most nights we spend closer to ten minutes- E. doesn’t need more at this stage.

What we’re really trying to instill, of course, is the homework habit- the expectation that he will be able to sit and concentrate and do some work, because as he gets older the homework will come and it will start to be more important and it will start to require more effort from him.

I’m trying to foster a growth-mindset (rather than a fixed one). When E. came home with a perfect score on his first dictée, I didn’t tell him how clever he was or how smart he must have been. I told him that he had worked hard for two weeks and his hard work had paid off.

E. is easily frustrated and a perfectionist. When things get harder, as they inevitably will, or when he makes a mistake, as he inevitably will, I want him to be able to recognize that this is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Before the first dictée we talked about what he should do if he realized he’d made a mistake but his teacher was on to the next word (go to the next word and come back later to fix it if he had time) and what he should do if he couldn’t remember how to spell a word (skip it and start fresh with the next word). To be honest, I was hoping he would make a few mistakes so he’d have room to improve and see that he could still do well even if it wasn’t perfect.

Overall, I have no problems with the homework.

Trying to figure out WHEN to do the homework? That has been painful.

After much trial and error, we’ve finally realized that the only time where it makes sense for E. to do homework is after dinner. He sits at his little table in the kitchen and Q. reads him dictée words or quizzes him on numbers while cleaning up the kitchen. I’m upstairs, putting P. to bed, because she still nurses and needs desperately to reconnect with me after I’ve been at work.

It’s not an ideal situation, as Q. didn’t learn French from a native speaker and has a less-than-perfect accent and pronunciation (as he would be the first to admit). In particular, Q. feels very uncomfortable reading the books with E., as he doesn’t want to lead E. astray.

But when we tried to do homework before dinner, when I was available, it was a constant battle.

E. was tired and hungry.

I was tired and distracted.

P. was tired and hungry and wanted my attention.

By the time I’d settled in after getting home from work and we’d said goodbye to our nanny we usually had thirty minutes (at the most) before I needed to do something about dinner (and this is with Q. largely prepping and cooking the dinners ahead of time on the weekend).

E. didn’t want to sit down and concentrate on homework during those thirty minutes, and P. most certainly did not want me sitting down with E. to concentrate on homework.

Someone always ended up yelling.

Someone always ended up crying.

P. could often be counted on to do both.

Finally I realized that a) E. is six now and can go to bed significantly later than P. does with no ill effects and b) it’s so much easier for him to concentrate when he’s no longer hungry and he doesn’t have his baby sister glued to my chair leg screaming, or yanking his papers off the table and throwing them on the floor if she’s sitting on my lap.

Most days I still listen to E. read (in both English and French), but it’s easier for everyone involved if the rest gets saved until after dinner.

How does homework work at your house (or how did it work when you were a kid)? Any tips or tricks for us newbies?

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), Grade One, Siblings

Eat My Words

Last week I had a post all planned for Microblog Mondays.

It was going to be about how I used to love September, how it used to be my favourite time of year, how much I used to love looking forward to the new school year.

And then I was going to write about how I was dreading Tuesday, because it was the first day of school, and E’s first day of Grade One, and I was just.not.ready for another eight-week four month transition like we had with JK and SK.

I wasn’t ready for the endless tears, the bargaining, the requests to stay home, the plaintive statements that school was “just too long” and he just missed me “so much”.

I wasn’t ready for the phone calls from the teacher, the meetings after school, the behavioural charts.

I wasn’t ready for the feeling that everyone else’s kid was getting it when mine just wasn’t.

But Monday was Labour Day and we got busy and I never found time to write the post.

And that, it turns out, was a good thing.

E. went to school on the first day worried, because he had heard that “In Grade One you just have to sit and write all day.”

He came out of the school at the end of the day bubbling over with excitement. Grade One had been fun! He had his own desk and his own pencil case! His teacher had told him she was amazed at how much French he knew!

It’s just kept getting better.

All week we had a few tears at drop off (because, as he told me, he finds drop off “so hard and scary”), but he was fine during the day.

He’s been eating his lunch, despite now being in the lunchroom, “which is really really noisy and filled with like a gazillion kids”.

He’s wanted to play in the playground after school every day, something which he almost never wanted to do last year.

He loves that he can go anywhere he wants during recess.

He loves that he has an agenda.

His best friend is in the class, and they come up with crazy games to play on the field (“Mummy, this morning we made a dust storm!”), and he’s already playing with some of the other kids he was friendly with last year.

On Friday he came home, starving and exhausted, and told me, “Mummy, I’m so disappointed it’s the weekend. I just love school so much!”

To top it off, today he voluntarily went to school 45 minutes early because he wanted to try out for the cross country team.

I’ve had no phone calls from the school, no notes from the teacher, no hand waving me over at pick up for a “brief chat”.

My kid, it turns out, is rocking Grade One.

I have never been happier to have been so wrong.

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, E.- the seventh year, Grade One

Not My Story

If you’ve been reading me for a long time, you’ve probably noticed that I post a lot less about E. these days.

Partly this is because of lack of time. I post less about everything these days and my Google Doc file of “potential blog posts” keeps getting longer and longer.

Mostly it’s because I’ve decided that E.’s life is not mine to share.

When he was a baby, his life and my life were intertwined. Writing about learning how to be a mother meant writing about what he was doing.

He’s six now.

He’s a big little kid (or a little big kid depending on how you look at it).

He has his own thoughts, wishes, dreams, plans, questions, and opinions (this child is NEVER short of opinions).

Writing about him without his permission feels like a violation of his privacy, but he’s too young to be able to give me permission to tell a story- he wouldn’t truly understand what giving me permission means and what the ramifications are of something being published online (he’s desperate to be able to put “how-to” videos on YouTube when he makes, say, a conveyor belt out of toilet paper rolls and old linens, and can’t understand why I keep saying no).

The problem is, I desperately need someone to talk to about him, and (as I said recently) I don’t have the right kind of friend nearby.

E. is not easy to parent.

I know all kids have their challenges, but I also honestly believe that some kids are harder work than others.

Nothing drove this home more than chatting with one mum after school one day when she told me that the teacher had called her about her daughter. “That’s the first phone call I’ve had from the school about any one of my kids,” she said (she has three- the eldest is in grade four). “I guess one of them had to be the rebel.”

At the time, I was right in the middle of a months-long stretch where I touched base with E.’s teacher (bless her) every single day after school. We talked with E. about what went well, what hadn’t gone well, and what we could do to make things better the next day.

I went home after that conversation and cried.

I feel like most of this past school year has been spent trying to figure out what is going on in E’s head.

I’ve been to eight appointments (not counting follow up discussions with his regular doctor) with three different specialists.

His teacher and I have filled out questionnaire after questionnaire.

I have spent hours Googling, even when I know I should NOT be Googling.

The end result is that the developmental paediatrician thinks that E. probably does have something going on. It’s mild enough that for now we’ve avoided a formal diagnosis (because E. has made huge strides in the areas where we were concerned over this past school year), but we’ll revisit this in a year’s time as the demands of Grade One are going to be much heavier.

I don’t like labels.

I especially don’t like the label that the developmental paediatrician thinks probably applies to E. because it brings with it a lot of assumptions for a lot of people, assumptions which, for the most part, are not applicable to my son.

At the same time, if E. does need more support to be able to thrive in the school environment, and a label is required for him to become eligible for said support, then I will do whatever is necessary to make sure my child gets what he needs.

It’s hard though.

I’ve cried a lot in the last couple of weeks.

It is hard to think that my beautiful boy’s brain is likely to make it harder for him to cope with school (and with life) than it will be for his peers.

It is hard to realize that I have many, many more meetings with teachers ahead of me, that the school may not be able to look past the other stuff to see what he is capable of (and he is so incredibly bright, so capable, so curious).

It is hard to think of myself as a special needs mum, even as I recognize that I am his first and best advocate.

It is hard not to be scared of what the future will bring, especially if you start Googling.

It is hard to know that P. will be at a much higher risk for the same thing and to also know that it will likely be years before we will be able to tell whether her brain is wired like her brother’s or not.

It is hard not to think that this is somehow my fault, that I have done something wrong somewhere along the line to cause this (even as I read over and over again that it is not my fault).

It is hard not to feel guilty that he was five before we put in the paperwork to start asking questions, that we didn’t investigate earlier, that I kept telling my gut to be quiet when it whispered that something was going on, that I thought he would grow out of it or that he just needed more time to adjust.

In my heart, I know that E. is going to be fine in the long run.

Scratch that.

He’s going to be more than fine.

He’s going to be amazing.

P. too.

But the road to get there just got a lot rockier.

And I wish I had someone to talk to about it.

 

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Filed under Anxiety Overload, Brave New (School) World, E.- the seventh year, Grief

Microblog Mondays: Pink

A couple of days ago I called E. over to look at a prospective sun hat on the computer (because who has time to go to a store in person?). E. badly needed a new hat, not only because he’d just lost his current one at school, but also because that hat was getting too small for him, and although he’d repeatedly said he wanted a new hat that was “exactly the same as the old hat!”, I’d several years ago only purchased said hat in small and medium, not large, and now the store no longer made it.

The potential new hat was from the same store, but in a different style. E. came over, looked at it, pronounced it a good hat, and then said, “Oh, and look, it comes in pink too!”

“Do you want to get it in pink?” I asked.

“Yes, please,” E. said immediately. “Navy really isn’t my style.”

I ordered the pink hat with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

E. loves pink: he will tell anyone who asks that it’s his second favourite colour because “pink is closest to red!”

Thus far, E. has remained blessedly oblivious to the gendered associations of pink (even though he frequently comes home from school and tells me that something is a “boy movie” or a “girl book”). At a birthday party in January he picked out the last pink balloon when it was his turn and seemed genuinely perplexed when the girl behind him challenged him on his choice (she had clearly assumed that that balloon was hers because she was the next girl in line).

But he is about to turn six, and I know someday soon he will be told he shouldn’t be wearing his pink hat or his pink, orange, and red leggings, that he shouldn’t choose the pink balloon. It will come from his peers or (worse) from adults in the community. I don’t know when it will happen, but I know it is going to.

I hope he is strong enough to ignore the naysayers.

It breaks my heart that he’s going to have to defend his choice, that he’s not going to be allowed to just be a kid wearing a hat.

Do boys wear pink where you live?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, E.- the sixth year, Microblog Mondays

(Not) The First Day Back

Microblog_MondaysE should be back at school today but he’s ended up with one extra day of holidays due to vomiting yesterday. So instead he’s had a lazy day in his pjs and has been generally cheerful (once he finally stopped being too hangry to eat breakfast when he first woke up).

I’m the one who’s out of sorts.

I miss our routine.

I was looking forward to seeing all the other Mums at drop off.

I was looking forward to some quiet time when P was napping.

I was looking forward to sitting down with a cup of tea and organizing what I need to get done over the next couple of weeks. I function best with to-do lists and planning. Right now I have a whole bunch of amorphous “I should do this” thoughts floating around in my head, and I find that quite stressful. They’re easier to quiet when they’re written down somewhere.

I was looking forward to having a few hours most days without E’s incessant questions. I am so glad he is so curious but it can be exhausting, particularly when his questions outstrip my ability to give accurate, detailed answers. Currently his main interests are the universe and microbes (the macro and the micro), neither of which is an area of strength.

I feel a little guilty feeling the way I do, as E is a homebody at heart and would love nothing more than to be able to stay at home, with me, all day, every day. I get it- he’s an introvert, just like I am. The difference between us is he can recharge by being with me, whereas for me to recharge I need to be alone.

I miss school, even if he doesn’t.

If you have children, do you look forward to the end of the holidays and the return to the usual routine?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

 

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Filed under Brave New (School) World, E.- the sixth year, Microblog Mondays