Friday, November 19, 2010

Enjoy and Enrich

[FYI - Chuck recently edited this post and added more.}

There have been a few things on my mind a lot lately - 1) Enjoying my children and 2) enriching my children.

I want to help them grow and develop into strong, confident, kind, loving, intelligent girls. But I want all of us to enjoy the process.

I have been reading a parenting book called 1..2..3..Magic. I'm about half way into it and agree with the concept. Like any "self-help" book, I implement the parts that I agree with and adjust any other parts I don't 100% agree with. I have been completely impressed with how well the 1, 2, 3...Magic concept works. I have noticed a change in the girl's behavior and especially my behavior. One of the big ideas is to not let personal emotion get in the way of disciplining your child. I get less frustrated and irritated, thus enjoy my children more.

As I think about my kids, I have thought a lot about public school lately. We are about 3 months into the world of public school and in one word it's just... interesting. You want your child to learn, be enriched, make friends, learn social skills, and have fun. I keep asking myself, "How do I make sure my child is getting the guidance and instruction she needs without somebody accusing me of not letting my kid just be a kid?"

In Leland's class, there are 18 kids for the teacher to be concerned with. We love her teacher and have always had positive experiences with the school, the PTA, the principal, the specialist teachers (librarian, reading specialist, and music teacher). But ever since our parent-teacher conference earlier this month, Chuck has been in my ear about something.

At the parent-teacher conference, Leland's teacher raved about her. She explained how Leland got 100 out of 102 on the PALS test. The target score for kindergartners is 28.

Now, if you have heard Chuck's view on making progress through life, you can guess that we like to make sure that we properly appreciate the positive, but be aware of the things that we should be working on. He is constantly balancing those two sides - pride in the girls' successes, while seeking opportunities for further growth and learning opportunities. So in that mode, he said, "That's great she did so well... can you show us what were the 2 things she missed so we can be sure to work on them in the future?"

Of course, we were very pleased with our sweet little girl. We are not the kind of people who push the girls too hard without recognizing their successes. But we also talked with her teacher about some of our concerns that Leland may be getting bored with school.

Chuck keeps saying that she needs to be challenged in life. He says, he wants his kids to be smart, but not so much so that they are the smartest in their class and don't have to work for their achievements. Some day, the girls will come up against academic challenges and we want them to be used to overcoming them through study and diligence.

He says that as we teach Leland, he keeps thinking back to a few times in his life when he came up against academic challenges and didn't handle them as well as he should have because he wasn't used to having to work hard to get good grades. He talks about his first year at Stanford being a real eye opener for him. So, you can see why he is so concerned that Leland is starting her educational "career" by getting into the habit of things being easy at school.

After the parent-teacher conference, the teacher worked with us to have Leland tested for her reading and phonetic skills. For a few days, she spent a short time doing a reading test with Leland. She tested at a 2nd grade, 8th month level for reading.

(By the way, Lucy is on the same path. Her preschool teacher says she's the only one in her class that knows all the sounds letters make and knows her numbers. She is on track to be reading consistently before turning 4, just like Leland was. Yesterday, Lucy actually read the little books that Leland brought home from school.)

Can you see why we love Leland's teacher? She cares about Leland and really tries to stimulate her, but she is constrained by the needs of the other 17 kids, not to mention the budget cuts which did away with teacher's aides.

Our school is a great school, but we are concerned that the teacher is having to teach at an extremely low level simply due to the makeup of the class. 10 of the 18 students in Leland's class are ESL. Very few of the kids entered kindergarten at the basic level of preparedness. Because of this, the teacher is having to focus on unbelievable remedial lessons that Leland was learning over the past two years in preschool and are more applicable for our 3-year old Lucy.

The teacher and the reading specialist were hoping to find other kids at or near Leland's level to form a reading group at her level. Sadly, they came back and said that after asking all 5 kindergarten teachers, they realized that there is not a single other child even close to Leland's level. So what happens when your child is above the learning level that everyone else in her grade at her school is? How do you make sure she is still enriched?

I want her to be challenged. I do not want her to develop the habit that school is easy and not want to take on challenges. Her teacher is doing well at trying to give Leland instruction to take her work to the next level, but I know she is capable of so much more than the simple worksheets she is bringing home. Let's face it, if a teacher has a child preforming above grade level and a child performing below grade level that needs extra one-on-one time, the below grade level child is going to get the attention.

I'm not really an advocate of skipping grades, but Chuck has spent the last 3 months wondering if we should move Leland up to 1st grade. It might be fine now, but on a social level I just don't think it's best as teenagers. I do not want my 15 year old in class with 16-17 year old kids who are driving and dating.

I only have 3 hours with Leland each day between the time she gets home from school and the time to get ready for bed. I try my best to make that time with her enriching, but I 'm making dinner and she is just worn out. Do we move to a school where there might be other kids her age at a similar level? The gifted program in our district doesn't start until the 3rd grade. It is an immersion program, so not every school has a gifted program. Do we make sure we buy a house in a district that has a gifted program, so she does not have a 45 minute bus ride to and from school?

Let's just put it out there - I do not want to home school. I believe in the public school system. (Both of parents were school teachers and Chuck says he pays tuition for school every April 15.) I just need to figure out how to make it work for my child and our family. I can do all I can with her during those 3 hours in the evening, but realistically, she is at school for 6 hours, that's where it needs to happen.

I need to be an advocate for my child. I am trying to find that balance between enriching my girls and letting them enjoy being a kid. Any suggestions?


  1. Yeah, we need to talk! ;) This is flashback to me 11 years ago! I have helped my children navigate giftedness and the public school system in three different school districts now and Chesterfield County has the best services I have seen. I am now on the gifted education board for our school district. I can give you some ideas of where to start and then suggestions as a parent of what to let go.

  2. Oh, that's so hard Ashley. I agree that if she's in school for 6 hours a day she needs to be challenged. I think you should at least consider skipping a grade if socially she could handle it. I skipped the 6th grade and it was the best choice for me. Good luck with your decisions, being a parent can be tricky, but you are her best advocate!

  3. I don't have any suggestions but really liked this post and just wanted to let you know that. :) I am so impressed with how well your girls are doing with reading, writing, learning, etc. Please keep us updated. I would like to hear what kinds of things you come up with.

  4. I don't have any ideas, but I'm interested to see what you decide to do. What I DO have to say is way to go! for the parenting and enrichment you have provided your girls thus far to get them reading at such a young age. They're great kids and very smart, and that doesn't happen without great parents. Maybe you could do a blog post sometime about the things you do with your kids at a preschool age to get them reading so early. I always thought I was doing a lot of enriching of my preschoolers (weekly library outings, daily reading to them, having them write their own greeting and thank you notes, etc.) but it hasn't resulted in a reader yet. They are definitely excelling in lots of areas, but I can't help but think that if I knew the right tricks of teaching reading, they totally have the capacity and interest to succeed. Instead, right now, they have a love for books, love to be read to, and know that learning can be fun. All good things, but I need to learn to teach reading itself. I don't know how. What's your step-by-step detail?!

  5. In your position, with what I know now, I would probably ask the teacher if my child could bring books to class that he/she could read after whipping out the worksheets and other assignments. I am more and more convinced that having my children immersed in great literature will enrich their education by leaps and bounds over the years. Choose the right books, and their minds will be challenged and inspired by great ideas, which will spark even more imagination, creativity and learning, along with all of the other benefits of reading.

    It does seem so wrong that they are in school for so long and still lacking! She shouldn't have to be robbed of free, unstructured play time at home because of a deficiency in school!

  6. By the way- we had the same experience when Abby was in Kindergarten. Abby was so disappointed- to the point of tears at first because she felt she wasn't learning anything. It got better as the year went on, though. Or, rather, Abby resigned herself to it and just had fun. I have learned that the focus in Kindergarten is mostly on behavior- especially for the first half of the year. They aren't concerned with academics or reading. It's frustrating, but I've seen it with all 3 of my children now, in 3 different schools. 1st grade is better. And now, I am impressed with how closely the teachers watch my children to meet their needs, in 2nd and 4th grade. Hopefully you will have a similar experience down the road.

  7. My advice may seem simple and obvious but prayer usually works for me when I am unsure about what to do as a parent. It's amazing the answers you will get that you probably wouldn't have thought of on you’re our own.

    On another note, it sounds you like you guys are doing an awesome job as parents. I don't think you're alone in the desire to enrich you children's lives. But it is so hard to have time for it at the end of a long day. (Plus as they get older they will have homework or another activity they need to do in those few hours.) Personally that is why I have come to love summer so much; it gives me the chance to work with Dallin in the areas of my choosing. Good luck and I am interested to hear what you decide.

  8. Wow, I so relate to this! We had really focused on reading with Matthew before he started school because I did want to challenge him (and still do!), but then he got to kindergarten and immediately became the behavior problem because he was bored with what they were doing. With close to 30 kids in the class, I didn't think it was the teacher's job to entertain him, and I didn't expect her to teach to his level when at least half of the class wasn't up to speed on ABC's yet. But still, he spent the whole year bored and disappointed that he wasn't learning anything new at school. This year has gone better. His 1st grade teacher pushes him pretty hard, which I really appreciate. But, yeah, it's a dilemma. You want them to be challenged. You want them to work at their potential. But if you give them extra stuff at home, it just means widening the gap between them and the average kid in public school, and means it's more likely they are going to spend their school day bored and doing things that are too easy for them.

    And I didn't want to home school either! Matthew's a kid who really needs to be around other kids, and I think it's good for him to learn to work in a classroom setting, even if it's boring or too easy.

    Anyway, the answer for us was music lessons. Rather than channeling his excess academic energy completely into more reading, or more science, or whatever (which just gets him further ahead in school, and therefore more bored and more likely to misbehave!), we channel it into piano lessons. It has been REALLY good. No matter how hard we push him, it's separate from school. It's good for discipline, and it's good for him to have something that's difficult for him to work through every now and then, and it's really, really good for him to have something that he's good at that most kids can't do. And maybe this makes me a horrible mom, but sometimes I think it is a really good learning experience for him to have to work on something so hard that he wants to cry. I'm right there with Chuck. School was way too easy for me, and then I got to college, which was so much harder, and completely tanked my first year. You have to find some way to teach kids to work through things that are hard, which is tough to do if nothing is ever hard. But piano is hard sometimes! I look at Matthew occasionally crying with frustration through his practice time as a good thing for him! :)

    Anyway, good luck! It's so great to have a kid that's a little bit precocious, but I completely understand the frustrations that go with it, especially when you're dealing with the school system! Leland is such a great kid, though. I'm sure, at least, she's not going to become the troublemaker in her class, which is more than I can say for Matt!

    By the way, if you want to chat with someone who skipped a grade, I'd be happy to pass you my sister's email address. She skipped first grade and has some interesting feelings and opinions on the whole thing. For her, it worked out, but I know it was really tough socially for a lot of years.

  9. Decisions, Decisions! I too am a bit frustrated with Kindergarten. But I keep telling myself that K isn't for academics, it is for learning behavior and social skills. I have been told by many people to wait until 1st grade and everything will even out. I was helping in Connor's class first I thought it was just reading that he was a grade level above everyone else. But when I was in there yesterday, everyone had to color and cut out a turkey. All of the other kids at Connor's table were asking him what color the different feathers said. Some where even asking him which color marker that meant. Like they didn't know colors! Connor cut the turkey out better then I could have. He cut into each little groove. It took him longer then the rest of the kids but that is b/c most of them were cutting off the turkey's legs or head etc. Another time when I was in there, it was fall. The teacher was asking why the kids thought she picked the colored red, yellow and brown as the colors for the week. After 5 children giving silly answers (like it's for Christmas etc.) Connor finally raised his hand and said "Because they are the color of the leaves right now," in a very well duh kind of tone. It was almost as if he was disgusted with his peers.

    Good Luck, I too hate to have him skip a grade b/c he is already one of the youngest in his class. Laura skipped a grade but that is b/c she moved to CA where the cut off was different then in UT. So it wasn't like she was a full year older then the kids. She just became one of the youngest in her class. I think it would be hard when you are 16 to have everyone else, driving, dating and kissing and you would still have almost a full year.

    Tough decisions. Let me know what you decide.