Watching Them Learn

We had parent teacher conferences for both boys this week. I get nervous before parent teacher conferences, I admit it. I’ve been on the teacher side for fifteen years and I never get anxious for that even though I know that I will have to have difficult conversations sometimes. Sitting on the parents side of the conference is a whole different feeling though.

We have not had to have any hard discussions with teachers about our kids, and for that I am thankful. Yes, Eddie has been known to have impulse control issues, and we had a bit of a rough start to Kindergarten with Charlie learning the routine and learning respectful behavior with all adults, but we have been lucky to have two kids who have not had any academic concerns.

That said, I walked out of conferences this year with a whole new respect for elementary teachers.

I’ve always laughed when people have said they think middle school would be the toughest. Yes, it’s a tricky age, but I don’t have the same kids all day teaching them ALL the subjects. I worry about the ELA standards, not ALL the content area standards. Plus I get a guaranteed planning hour every day. I don’t have to work around specials teachers who don’t have their own classroom or recess duty.

As Charlie’s teacher handed us writing, drawing, and math samples from the first term compared to current assessing, I was no less amazed than when we went through this with Eddie. The vast improvement is almost unbelievable at that age. In less than a year, Charlie went from a non-reading little kid, to someone who is reading a little above level and writing words by himself. It’s astounding to me to watch that learning take place.

Then we walked to Eddie’s teacher where we saw social studies scores and math scores and writing samples. He, too, is reading a little above level, and has a fierce love of learning.

Holding a salt dough map of Michigan with all the geography terms labeled smacked me in the face with how much kids learn and grow at this age.

Elementary teachers must be magicians of sort. They literally mold and shape our children’s minds into something totally new throughout the year.

I realize that I probably know more about standards and laws and proficiency and the research about whether to retain or not to retain, about whether homework is actually good for kids than the average parent because it is my job to know these things. However, knowing that stuff and watching it in action with your own children is very, very different.

I know, for instance, that a child’s success in school and college is linked to their ability to read at grade level by third grade and if they are behind then, they may stay behind. I also know that retention solves nothing without intervention. I know a good early childhood education is key and that third grade is the pivotal year.

I know these facts, but I am watching them in motion with my own children and it’s amazing.

 

One of my most favorite parts of being a mom–that I did not foresee when we were in the baby stage–is watching my children learn.

Eddie asks so many questions! Just tonight, he mused, “When I spin my water bottle, why does the water always go down?”

(Of course,  I was tired, so I said, “physics.”)

We went to my district’s fall theater production of Freak the Mighty and he was FULL of questions about language and acting and bullies and books and writing.

Charlie wants to sound out every word! Today he eagerly did all his homework that was supposed to take until Wednesday because he feels so accomplished and proud when he writes whole sentences (with punc-shay-shon, mom mom!) by himself.

He reads his Just Right Library book over and over to anyone who will listen, and almost every night he reads Brown Bear, Brown Bear because he can.

His current favorite game is chess because he loves strategy. HE’S FIVE. HE LOVES STRATEGY.

I would like to say I am proud of my kids–because I am. But here’s the thing: I am actually amazed by them. The things they learn and know and say. The way they think.

Getting to have a front-row seat to that and cheer them on is an honor. It’s an honor to have these small people call me mom.

Fall Frenzy

Do you see that? Those red leaves? Last week those were not there. The calendar turned over to September and BOOM the tree-line started to turn.

Tomorrow the kids go back to school. I’ve been back to school for two weeks. Things are going to be the same, but very different this fall. Alice will be going full time to daycare all by herself. For the first time in five years, we only have one kid in daycare!

Charlie has graduated from daycare! He is starting Kindergarten tomorrow, and he is so dang excited! Eddie has always loved school, but starts the year cautiously with some worries. Charlie has no worries at all and cannot wait to start. We have had to count “how many days now?” since early August.

Eddie is starting 3rd grade tomorrow! This means he’s officially an “upper el” kid at their school. He moves to the Upper El” playground and gets to be a reading buddy for a lower el kid. He knows almost everyone in his class, but he is nervous about not knowing his new teacher’s rules or the consequences. He has trouble controlling his socializing, so he worries about whether his new teacher will like him. Spoiler alert: everyone loves Eddie because he is helpful and kind, but sometimes he thinks getting redirected means someone doesn’t like him. We are working on that anxiety.

Eddie is continuing scouts this year as a Bear Scout. Charlie could start as a Lion Scout, but we are not sure if we will start him this year or wait until next year. We are just so busy already as it is because both boys are doing soccer this fall too!

Eddie took last fall off, but he wanted to play again this year. He is a little slow, but he’s got pretty good footwork and I think he could be a good defense player if he practices and tries hard.  He says it’s fun, so we are supporting his efforts and cheering him on.

Eddie is the jogging green shirt in the center of the pic

Charlie is doing soccer for the first time this fall. He is ridiculously excited about it. He is a pretty natural athlete and loves to learn and get better at things. He’s pretty quick and will great on offense. He is willing to go all in and sacrifice his body for the game…which I’m sure will make me nervous more often than not.

Charlie is in the yellow shirt to the left of the pic.

In two weeks all three kids will start Children in Worship (our church’s Sunday School Program) after church. Since Cortney is a deacon and has counting duty this fall, Sunday mornings will be my writing time. This is the first time in a long time that all the kids will be occupied for an hour after church and I’ll get some alone time to work on my PhD application writing. This is giant relief since the weekly schedule of scouts, soccer, and Cortney’s bowling league night had me panicky about when I would actually have time to sit in front a keyboard.

I’m not a huge fan of having something on the calendar every day. It feeds my anxiety and worry that I won’t have enough time for myself which means I will overload on anxiety and then fall into depression.  However, we do have a Game Plan and Plan B’s for when I feel like it’s all too much.

Oh and we took the kids to the zoo as a Fun Family Adventure before all the schoolscoutssoccerbowling madness hits the fan.

And yes, we actually let them choose something from the gift shop. Their minds were blown too. We had a moment of weakness.

Oh and yes, Eddie chose a Snowy Owl because Harry Potter has one. We are reading Harry Potter together. It’s my first time too.

Happy fall.

Setting the Precedent

In a week my firstborn will be done with Kindergarten and ready to start what he calls, “the number grades.” He had a great year in Kindergarten and never once did I wonder if maybe we should have held him back because he still isn’t even six yet.

Nope. Eddie was ready for absolutely everything–even homework.

As a teacher, I am not the biggest fan of assigning homework, but Eddie’s teacher didn’t give the kids more than was appropriate for their age. Eddie brought home five books from their Just Right Library each week which he read to us nightly. In the beginning of the year, they would bring a writing packet home on Mondays and it wasn’t due back until the following Monday. And occasionally he would need to bring in things like seeds or leaves. He also had one large project that they started at school and had to complete at home by the end of spring break (it was assigned two weeks before spring break, thus giving us plenty of time to prepare).

Everything about this school year felt to me like we were setting precedents: what we expected of our children as far as getting homework done, the quality of their in school and out of school work, their behavior, their effort. This school year we discussed kindness to others and when to walk away from an argument. We talked about being respectful to adults and peers. We discussed when you need to get help from an adult.

And we also set a precedent for parent-involvement in homework.

Obviously we prize reading in our house. Most of the time getting the Just Right Library books read was not a big deal and didn’t cause too many struggles. Writing packets started out rough, though, and in the end I told Eddie if he did one page a night he wouldn’t find himself crying on Sunday afternoon. I also told him I was not going to make him do them. That if he really didn’t want to, he could bring it back undone and tell his teacher about why he chose not to do it.

He never left his homework undone. He didn’t want to disappoint his teacher.

By the middle of the school year, Eddie was more and more excited about things they were doing in school. Just before spring break each student chose an animal they would like to make out of clay in class. Then, at home, they needed to create the animal’s habitat using a box (diorama-style). The habitats with animals would be displayed above each student’s locker.

We decided to do ours over spring break since Alice had just been born, and spend the couple weeks before then brainstorming and planning. Cortney did all the morning drop-offs and most pick-ups and reported that habitats were already starting to come in and be displayed–and you could totally tell the level of parental involvement in each one.

I had to tread lightly.

As a perfectionist, I wanted to tell Eddie exactly how to create a rabbit (his chosen animal) habitat, and then maybe take over when he didn’t do it how I wanted. But as a teacher, I knew I needed him to do all of the thinking and as much of the execution as possible. I just had to help him get there.

So first we talked about it. I asked a lot of questions: where do rabbits live? What do they eat? Where do they sleep? When he wasn’t sure about something, we Googled it and read the information together.

He started telling me what he wanted in his habitat: trees, a burrow, berry bushes, and a sky. So we thought about what we could use to make those things and he started a list of what we would need with check boxes. Then we went to the craft store. He brought a pencil and checked things off as we went.

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I was very proud of him that he was taking such ownership of this project and that he seemed to want to get it just right. Not once did I have to prod and say, “come on, you need to do this.” In fact, he sort of pestered me about it. Once we had the supplies every day he asked, “are we going to put it together today, mom???”

Finally spring break arrived and one day during Charlie’s nap, I actually got Alice to sleep at the same time. We hurried to get some of the painting portions done so they could dry before we attached them. All I did was get the paint out for him. He did the rest. The next day, he worked during nap again to get it all together.

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He asked my advice, and I sat by him holding things for him here and cutting things for him there. I never told him how to do any of it other than once saying, “I don’t think you can glue that rock there and have it hold. But if you want to try, you can.”

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Once he had it all done, it was all he could do to be patient until Cortney came home so he could show daddy his finished product. He had trees (because rabbits live in a forest), a log with fluff and feathers (because that is the burrow the rabbit put her nest in), and berries (because rabbits like to eat berries for dessert). It was his idea to gather real leaves and grass. It was his idea to collect TP rolls for tree trunks.

It was also his idea to cover the diaper box in blue paper because he didn’t want his friends to see he used a baby diaper box. Apparently your baby brother and sister’s diapers are embarrassing in Kindergarten. Whatever.

This year we have watched Eddie grow and learn so much.

When he went in he could read a handful of sight words, now he is reading like crazy. He even reads bedtime stories now instead of me doing it.

When he went in he thought toots and buns were funny, but now he thinks farts and butts are funny. And poop. And he says “Oh my gosh!” and “I’m just thinking out loud here…”

He is sassier and bolder with his talking back to us, but he is also a better playmate and role model for Charlie.

And he is like three inches taller or something crazy like that.

I’m excited for him to start First Grade in the fall. I’m  pleased with the high expectations we have set both for him and his siblings.

As fellow oldest children, Cortney and I know what it’s like to have to “go first” with everything in life. To have to be the ones that are the precedent setters for the younger siblings. To be the “Guinea pigs” for strategies to deal with behavior.

We don’t want to go “easy” on Eddie because we empathize, rather we want him to know we are all a team getting through this whole thing called parenting and school and life together.

My Favorite Time of Day

He’s looking for me when I walk up, straining to see around the other kids and the tall adults. When he spots me, he smiles and heads right for me.

As soon as he gets within earshot, he starts talking:

Mom do you know what?

Mom, I found a book with George AND Katy No Pockets in it!

Mom, can I look at the book when we get to the car?

Guess what? I was sort of bad at school today, but actually it was a great day I mean.

And guess what? Gionna was the baddest at school today because she laughed at me when I dropped my book box. That isn’t even kind.

And guess what? There is a kid named Brennon who sings “Pharaoh, Pharaoh” with different words. Isn’t that weird? I didn’t tell him it’s weird though.

Hey mom, guess what? This is my apple chart. This one goes up to 100. That number is so big. Actually 1000 is bigger, but I don’t know how to write that yet. But I bet I will soon.

Guess what? I got a coupon for a free pizza because I read every day in October.

And mom? Can I just say something? I was really hoping I could pick a piece of my candy for a snack when we get home.

Hey mom? Can you carry my backpack? This book is pretty heavy and I’m not done looking at all the different illustrators in this book yet. I think Daddy is going to be excited to read one of these chapters tonight.

Mom! You forgot to take all those posters out of your car! I bet you couldn’t carry them all because you didn’t have me and Charlie to help you out like on the other day at your school.

And it goes on.

And on.

AND ON.

I love it. All of it.

Some days I forget that he was a late talker. That he had no word for me until he was nearly three, only two short years ago. Especially when he says things like, “perhaps you and daddy can take turns reading the chapters in my new library book.”

“perhaps”

He kills me every day from the minute I pick him up to the second his dad and brother get home.

It’s my favorite time of day.

Kindergarten

Dear Eddie,

Today you start Kindergarten.

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We have been talking about it for months. You have vacillated between super excitement to absolute tears of nervousness. Choosing a lunch box/bag was all excitement. As was picking new batman, light up, tennis shoes.

But each night for the past week and a half you have held onto me (or daddy) and cried out your anxiety and fears. Your biggest stress is that you are so afraid you will miss me and daddy. You have been going to daycare your whole life from 7:00am to almost 5pm. You are used to being away from us. BUT you have also had Brooke and Evan with you as your buddies since you were two. They even were in your preschool class last year. Now you have to move on to something new without your besties.

I can see where that is scary.

But Eddie, I know you don’t believe me, but you will be amazing in Kindergarten.  While your fears break my heart because I can so very much remember feeling anxious like that, you are such a wonderful, smart little boy.

You will easily make friends and get to know your teacher, Mr. F, quickly.  You will learn so much this year. You love reading and math and noticing things…you will get to do all those things this year!  And more!  You will sing songs and do crafts and play outside. You will learn to tie your shoes and say your phone number. You will be reading to ME by the end of the school year!

I want you to know it’s Ok to be scared and nervous. Change can be super scary. I’m changing schools this year too, remember. And I’m a little nervous too!  I have taught high school kids, mostly 11th and 12th graders for 12 years!  Now I am going to teach 8th grade. That is a little scary.  So right now? You and I are both starting new schools and we are both nervous.

And it is OK. Because at 3:45, I will be there at the door to pick you up. And we will have an hour together before daddy and Charlie get home where we can rest or have a snack or just cuddle. Whatever you need.

I could say I can’t believe you’re old enough for school and that time has flown and all that stuff, and it’s true, but the truth is, you are ready. You are not a baby or a toddler anymore.  You are a very busy five-year old boy who is in love with learning and playing.

While I’ve been a little wistful (I only teared up once…when they showed that dang video at Kindergarten orientation that said this was your first step toward graduation. Sheesh), I have been mostly just proud.

I love how you hold your head a little higher when you tell people you are going to go to Kindergarten. I love how you look up with me with your proud little smile because you are proud of yourself and you KNOW I am beaming for you too.

You got this, my Eddie Bear. You do.

And I got you. I am here when you need to cry out your fears and anxieties, yes. But I am also here to listen to all the things you have learned and all the fun you have had.

Kindergarten is the start of a whole new part of your life…one you will excel at. One you will CRUSH.

I love you so much, my Eddie.

See you after school.

Love,

Mommy

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