Summer Learnin’

“Mom, when you get done teaching those kids in your school how to read and to write, can you teach me?  You know, when your school is done and it’s summer?”

This is the question Eddie asked me a couple weeks before school let out in May.

I think any momma’s heart would flutter with pride knowing her almost four-year-old wanted to learn to read, but my English Teacher Momma Heart almost burst.

“OF COURSE!” I told him.

Because of course.


It was then that I took to the Pinterest, the Facebook, the Twitter, and hounding asking my friends who do daycare or are active with their kids’ schools/education to give me some pointers.  I mean, if he asked me to read and discuss anything from Hemingway’s writing catalog, we would be all set, but I don’t usually teach reading from square one.

Actually, the VERY first thing I did was send an email to my awesome sister-in-law, MacKenzie because she is a first grade teacher and she is amazing and I knew she could give me some pointers.

She did not let me down. She sent me a pdf of sight words already all ready to print, cut, and use.

My next step was to talk to one of my friend, Trisha, who decided to do some summer school stuff with her two boys (5 and 7). She told me how she lesson plans out their hour and talked about all the cool ways she found to incorporate math, science, reading, and writing along with art projects into their daily hour of “school”.

People.  I am a lesson planner by nature and she blew me away.

I also decided that Eddie and I needed to not be that strict about “school” since he was just four.

So armed with all the advice, I headed to Barnes and Noble for some workbooks on basic PreSchool/Kinder skills.

It was then that I started pinning ideas for crafts and experiments and other “learning” things that I knew he would be interested in.

I decided this summer, my objectives are this:

  1. Eddie will know the days of the week.
  2. Eddie will count to 100.
  3. Eddie will be able to do some very simple adding and subtracting.
  4. Eddie will be able to draw basic shapes.
  5. Eddie will be able to read some sight words.
  6. Eddie will understand how plants grow.
  7. Eddie will learn about how weather works.
  8. Eddie will write his name on his own.

How we are working toward these objectives:

1. The first thing I did was use some printables I found on Pinterest for the Days of the Week.  We put them on the slider door with an arrow for what day it is.  He recognizes most of the days by sight at this point (about four weeks in).  We also put what we are looking forward to each day of the week on Post-it’s after each day.  Eddie likes checking this out at each meal (his seat is right by the slider door) and talking about what we will do each day.

2. We have been counting since he was born. He can count to 30 already, and if pushed, can go higher.  Thirty has been as high as we have gone so far because that is how far we count when we put a temporary tattoo on.  But we have been baking and I tell him certain things need 60 stirs, so we count those together too.  He already recognizes numerals to 100.

3. So far, we do more subtracting than adding, and he’s getting pretty good at it without having to count what is left. We do this mostly at dinner. He counts how many bites of something he starts with and then I’ll ask how many he will have if he puts two bites in his mouth. He used to have to count what was left, but he can do it by sight now.

4. Eddie has known his shapes since he was very small (his first real word was “octagon”.  Not momma. OCTAGON. Sigh), but he has always had an aversion to writing.  Part of one of the workbooks I got him has him tracing and writing straight up-and-down lines, diagonal lines, horizontal lines, etc. I can tell he is getting more confident with them, because he will randomly practice his lines when he has “free draw” time in his notebook. Eventually I hope to help him make complete shapes (and numbers and letters, but shapes I think will be easy to start with).

5. I started by printing about 25 of the sight words MacKenzie sent me. So far he has eight down pat and we are working on six more.  We do them for about a week or more…until I am confident he can read them out of context of being on the wall…and then I add more. We hang the sight words on the slider door as well.  He loves reading them for everyone who comes over. When I announce it’s “Test Time” for words, he gets an m&m for each one he doesn’t need any help with.  I didn’t set a number of sight words I want him to learn because I honestly don’t know. I want to go at his pace.

6. Eddie really wanted to have a garden this summer, and so because he has been so interested in it, we are not just growing one, but talking about HOW it grows. We talked about the seeds and how they sprout, and then a couple weeks ago he asked me how plants drink. Of course we did the celery in food-colored water trick. But this was our conversation before he put the celery in the water:

Me: Eddie, take a drink of your apple juice. (he does). How did you drink?

Eddie: Through my mouth and down my throat and into my tummy.  Oh! And later it will come out my penis.

Me: Right. So um, look at this celery. It’s a plant, right?

Eddie: Right!

Me: Does it have a mouth?

Eddie:  (giggling at me) No, mom.

Me: Does it have a throat or a tummy?

Eddie: NO! And it SURE doesn’t have a penis!

Me: Right. So how does the water get in?

Eddie: Maybe through a tube?

Me: Feel the celery. What does it feel like?

Eddie: It has bumps.

Me: What do you think those bumps are? Think about how you said it might drink.

Eddie: bumpy tubes?

Me: Shall we see?  Put the celery in the blue water and we will check back tomorrow.

Obviously the celery “drank” the water through the tubes and we talked about how our plants in the garden have roots and when it rains or when we water the garden, it sucks it up through the roots and into the tubes (stems) to get the water. We also read a book about worms from the library and how they make the tunnels for the water to get to the plant roots.

7. Eddie is obsessed with weather right now, so that is going to be our next science/art project stuff.

8. Home Sluice totally laid this awesomeness on me yesterday:

2013-07-08 16.36.59

Of course we are also doing lots of reading; we hit the library about once a week for 10 more new books. Eddie’s thirst for reading is insatiable. It’s awesome.

I’m really just going with Eddie’s pace right now.  We don’t do “school” every day, just when he wants to (and when Charlie is sleeping because that child wants to crawl ON THE TABLE).  When we do school, though, Eddie calls me “Teacher” even when I told him he can just call me Mom.  He said he likes it.

Silly kid.

I do love his love of learning though.

He’s definitely my favorite student of all time.


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Through Their Eyes

This particular day, I had been asked 2347983345ddfa234879 questions.

(yes, there are letters in the middle of that number.  It’s a whole new high number that was just discovered the day that many questions were asked of me).

Every single one of these questions was begun with either “Mrs. Sluiter?” or “mom?”

And all of them ranged from slightly tinted with whine, to being drenched to the point of dripping with it.

I had calmly answered all of them.

(Calm being subjective.  On the outside, I never snapped.  There may have been twitching, but no snapping.  My insides, however churned fervently.)

For those wrapped up in getting their questions answered and their “needs” met (needs also being subjective here and really would be better defined as “wants”), nothing was different.

I was just a means to an end.

A grade question.

A make up test.

A missed assignment.

Absent work.

A sounding board for complaints.

Chocolate milk.

Mickey Mouse via Tivo.

That rattle over there that can’t be reached {yet}.

Doing all the things that aren’t allowed.

They didn’t notice the weakening in the wall…the cracks running up from the base all the way to the top, slowly splitting the foundation of the calm exterior.

That which was whole and safe was moments from crumbling.

But no one noticed.

I sometimes wonder if these fault lines would be detected if I was around friends or family or my husband more than I am during the week.

If Cort wasn’t gone three nights a week he might see me weakening.

If I reached out to my mom, maybe she would recognize the tell-tale signs of a wobbly foundation.

If I was around more friends during the week would they notice the chips and cracks?

But adding “people” to my already jam-packed week is more stressful than relieving.

And so the foundation quivers.

And the cracks deepen.

At first I speak uncalmly.

Then I speak unkindly.

And then I do not act out of love, but out of frustration and anger.

My boys cry.

Out of sadness?

Out of fear?

Out of hurt?

Probably all of them.

I don’t hurt my children ever.

Not with my hands.  It never comes to that.

I would rather die.

But I know my sharp words and harsh tone and surprising volume pains them.

They bear the brunt of it because their wants and needs happen last in the day.

All day my bucket is emptied into others’ buckets and there is precious little left for what is most precious in my life.

The ones who deserve the most of my bucket get the least.

As soon as a chunk of my wall falls, I immediately work to patch it up.

Fill the hole with plaster.  Sand it down.  Paint over it.

All is fine.

Fix it.

It didn’t happen.

I’m sorry. Mommy is sorry.

And every time they forgive.

There is love and hugs and…understanding?

But after everyone is put to bed and the house is quiet and all I hear are humidifiers humming and the heaving breathing of all the boys slumbering…

when I lie there and try to quiet my brain–and heart–I wonder.

What do they see?

What does mommy look like to them in a fit of rage and weakness?

And what does mommy look like as she immediately humbles herself and makes herself vulnerable before them?

What effect will this leave on their impressionable hearts and minds?

How will this mold their view of me, of women, of family?

And I am left to pray for a fresh start, a new heart, and a stronger wall tomorrow.

I miss you all day

Every day when Eddie and Cort come home, Eddie calls up the stairs, “Hi Mommy!”

Eddie takes his hat and coat off, stuffing the hat in the sleeve of the coat.

He sits on the step while Daddy pulls off his boots.

Then he hurries up the stairs to tell me the highlight of his day or to show me the craft he made or to hand me the mail.

I busy myself by getting him a snack and some milk and I ask him what he did at Renae’s house that day.

Usually he starts by telling me he played cars, but eventually he tells me about “circle time” and the songs they sang and the shape and color of the month, the letter of the week, and any other things they are learning.  Lately, for instance, he has been a wealth of knowledge on the subject of bears and caves.

He tells me that bears’ eyes go like this O_O

And last night he told me that his milky cup has the numbers 1, 3 and 10 on it.  He was right.

He is two years old.

He gets up by 7am every weekday and is at daycare until almost 5pm.

He has one more year and then we will be sending him to preschool.  To say he is excited to go to school is an understatement.

He enjoys learning.

He loves asking “why”.

He is like a little sponge…he absorbs every piece of information around him–memorizing songs and books and sayings, roll-playing doctors and mommies and chefs and puppies.

And as a teacher, my heart leaps to see my boy fall in love with learning.

To him, learning is just a part of being a kid….and he can’t wait to keep learning.

Every day I see kids who are not interested in learning at all.  I wonder when that happens?

At what age does learning become more of a chore than part of the excitement of just being?

Recently it has become federally mandated that all schools offer Kindergarten all day every day.  When I heard this, the only frustration I had was that they will not give more money to schools to staff and operate this, but they will take money away if districts don’t comply.

So either way, districts are losing money.

But this past week I have seen other concerns that never even crossed my mind:  parents worried that their five year old is not ready to be in school all day, every day.

I honestly think this didn’t worry me because I know Eddie already handles being away from me all day, every day.  He already handles learning and routine and getting up early.  He already thrives on being with other kids and taking directions from a “teacher”.

I know in a couple years he will do half day preschool, half day Day Care.  So all day Kindergarten the year after that seems natural.

I know this isn’t true for every child though.  And I know that most of the concern (at least from those on my facebook timeline and in my twitter stream) is mostly from moms and dads who stay at home with their children.  Those who will go to having their kids home to not having them at all.

And I can empathize with the anxiety these parents have because at one point, I had to go from being home every day with Eddie to not being home with him at all.

Aside from being a mother, though, I also know why schools need to go to all day, every day Kindergarten.

Currently, our country is in the process of changing from State Standards and benchmarks to Federal ones.  I think this is a good idea for many reasons (mostly due to consistency of test scores and knowing that a freshman in Iowa is hitting the same standards as a freshman in Maine), but that is not what I am going to spend time on here.

The “Common Core”, as they are called, are more stringent than what a lot of states are currently using. (Michigan is already pretty close on our standards matching, so we don’t have as much work to do to realign to the new federal requirements. at least at the high school level.  woot to that.)

However, in order for American students to reach these new standards, all day Kindergarten is necessary.

The public complains all the time that American students are behind the rest of the world (I could do a WHOLE other post on this subject); these new standards, in theory, will help ensure that ALL American students will be learning the same things.  That instead of state-chosen testing, there will be an identical test given to all students–from those in New Orleans to New York City to Los Angeles to Appalachia to wee little West Michigan.  No more 2+2 being a standard for high school algebra in some states, but higher level-almost-calculus being a standard in others.

Scores from all 50 states will be equitable.

Or at least that is the plan. (I have opinions on this too…and how funding is needed…but that is another tangent for another day).

To meet these common standards–to stay at the “correct” level–kids need to go to school all day, every day starting in Kindergarten.

I believe this is doable.

Not just as a mother, but as an educator.

Of course, this re-emphasizes my belief that ALL kids should be mandated to go to preschool and that it should be government funded…but maybe that is another post too?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that to me, school is not the “end” of being a kid.  It’s a continuation.

I’ve heard the argument that “kids should be allowed to be kids,” but I don’t know what this means.  Being curious and learning about the world is part of being a kid.

Learning to read and do math and understand history is a great part of being a kid.

Their brains are ripe for this knowledge to be introduced.  They are prime for instilling a lifetime of curiosity and questioning…and learning.

Are all kids ready?  No.

But they will be.

And as a parent you know your child.  If they need an extra year of pre-school or need to do Young 5’s to ease in, do it.

Both of my brothers did preschool twice.  It was what my mom and dad felt was right for them.

You know what is right for your child.

But make sure when you make the decision, it’s about your child and not about you.

While you might want to keep your child home forever, unless you plan to home school, you can’t.

So do what is right…for your child.


Since posting this I have had the opportunity to chat with my superintendent.  Kindergarten is NOT necessarily compulsory and their rules/regulations are still set by the state.  That being said, the state of Michigan (and many other states) are mandating that Kindergarten be full day in order for students to be prepared enough to enter first grade and tackle the rigors of the new standards.

That being said, parents do not HAVE to send their kids to preschool or Kindergarten, but it is my opinion that unless you are homeschooling your child with a curriculum that is based on the standards of public schools, your child will most definitely not be ready to transition from no school to first grade…neither academically or socially.