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We had our teacher conference with Mr. H on Friday, and the counselor and the gifted teacher (Mrs. U) sat in as well. Overall, Casper is doing well, but her reading struggles are becoming more of an issue. Last year she was running average; she's still making some progress, but now she's below average in reading, so we really need to work hard with her. Reading fluidity, recognizing words and dealing with phonics, and spelling are all issues; comprehension and anything more higher-order are not.

Interestingly, Mr. H noted that her performance is extremely variable and based on context. He had her pretend to be a TV reporter when reading aloud one day and her fluency increased noticeably. She did abysmally on the standardized tests at the start of the year (20% in reading and 40% in math), after doing above average to excellent on the CRCT in the spring, where the importance of the work was emphasized. So we're starting a project of having her read aloud for the camera at nights. For the spelling, I'm going to talk about pretty handwriting, and we're going to get out the Scrabble tiles. The phonics just does NOT click with her - she works much better as a sight-reader. I'm hoping adding more hands-on practice with physical things will help.

She's doing fine in math and very well in anything content-related (science, social studies, and spectrum). She loves learning new content - states of New England, Egyptian gods - and doesn't like the rote work and practice stuff. Surprise, surprise. The goal now is to bring her reading up to a level that it won't hold her back, because next year they basically assume you can read, and she can't, yet.
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Casper is finally getting good enough at reading simple books that she can get through several sentences at a time. I've been reading with her several nights in a now, mostly practice examples for the upcoming standardized tests, and it's sort of fascinating to see her process. Sometimes she coasts along for three sentences including some harder words I wouldn't expect her to be able to sight-read, and then gets stuck on "then," which is a word that she's supposedly been able to sight-read since kindergarten. When she sounds a word out, sometimes she sounds it out fully, getting all the sounds right, but still has trouble making it into an actual word. But other times she begins to sound it out, maybe even getting some of the sounds wrong, and then it clicks as a word. She has special trouble mixing up of, for, and from. She never seems to remember that "ea" is often pronounced "ee," no matter how many times I remind her about Danny Rebus (who is annoyed by this homonymy on Electric Company). Sometimes it seems like she gets *tired* after a few sentences, and starts to stumble through things I know she can do. I feel like if we keep up reading like this every night, she might develop more stamina! It's like a muscle, right?

I should note that she breezes through the comprehension questions after the little stories. They are, in fact, so easy that one often needn't even have read the story to answer them accurately, even if one is only 6. I have no fear for her abilities on the CRCT, though her ability to focus for a long enough period may be a problem, especially if they turn the pages slowly. It's hard when it's hard (on one level, because she can't read well yet) but also boring (because the content is too simple).
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In NC, standardized testing in the public schools didn't begin until 3rd grade. When we moved to GA, I mistakenly thought it was the same here. Last week I learned I was wrong; Georgia has been testing 1st and 2nd graders using the CRCT since 2002 (http://www.doe.k12.ga.us/ci_testing.aspx?PageReq=CI_TESTING_CRCT). Georgia is in fact one of two states in the country that test in grade 1; only 7 test grade 2. There's a bill in the GA house right now that seeks to stop testing in grades 1 and 2: http://blogs.ajc.com/get-schooled-blog/2010/02/26/house-bill-would-eliminate-crcts-in-first-and-second-grade-hurrah-or-hurrumph/

Meanwhile, Casper is being taught how to take a bubble test. She told us in some detail about the practice this morning. She explained a story about a girl names Jane who buys some skates at a store and plans to skate at her grandmother's skating rink. There are questions after the story, and it was pretty cute to see her explain how the choices would be a, b, c, etc. She said (unprompted) that she was worried about the test because she wasn't always able to read the story very well. I asked if they practiced math tests too, and she said yes.

She had a tough week at school this week, struggling to pay attention in math especially, such that her parapro wrote us a note home about it. It turns out they were doing fractions this week, and she didn't understand, so she was goofing off and talking. So we did some fraction work on Saturday morning, with an apple, and then with drawings and using the 1970s math book the kids both love. I hope that helps her feel better about fractions. It's interesting to me that Casper's reaction to not understanding, and apparently being distressed at not understanding, was to goof off. I originally thought that maybe she got it instantly and was goofing off because she was bored, but it became clear that was not the case, and she was stressed out about not understanding.

I tried to get Casper to read some of Babymouse to me last night. As usual, her first response was "I can't read." I said she'd read out loud one of the titles on the movie screen before the movie that afternoon ("The Book of Eli") and she claimed that wasn't her, but someone else sitting near her. Ultimately she did read a good chunk of Babymouse with me, getting at least 3/4 of the words (though partly because she knows the story well and has it semi-memorized.) So frustrating for me; I can't see how to help her forward much further. She has to decide she can do it and do it, I guess.
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mr. flea went in for a meeting with the Dillo's teacher today at lunch, so it seemed like a good time for an overall update.

He's 3.5 now, about 39 inches tall, 34 pounds according to the Wii. This means, IIRC, that's gained all of about 2 pounds in the last 18 months, which is not that surprising when you look at his figure and how it's changed (and is also developmentally appropriate). He's still got a round face and a round head and the snub nose he was born with, but the rest of him is no longer round - he's all slim and limby. He's definitely had a growth spurt this fall - I bought him 2T pants in September and they fit and now they are highwaters, so he's finally fully into 3T.

He's a bit fussy about clothes, and prefers "soft pants" (sweatpants and other elastic waist things - not jeans) and if given the choice would wear his black and orange striped pajama shirt 24/7. He likes stripes, and pajamas. We are laxer than we were with Casper - our rule is, you may wear ONE piece of your pajamas the next day to school (he usually picks the shirt) and you may not wear the same clothes two days in a row. (With Casper we had a "no pajamas at all" rule.) His hair is loooong and shaggy and I really should cut it, but he likes it long and you really can't cut the hair of a violently protesting child, can you? He dislikes having his hair washed at the moment, though liking baths otherwise, so I figure I'll wait until the phase passes before trying again with the scissors.

mr. flea reports that he's doing very well at school. It's a Montessori classroom, a primary classroom but the kids are almost all on the younger end of primary (3-4.5). His teacher says that in general she thinks he is advanced for his age, in social skills and skills. He and Evan and Adam are all very interested in their works, and spend more time together as a result. Dillo likes to do works and is really self-motivated and independent once he's understood them, and will sometimes move ahead before he is shown the next step. mr. flea came away feeling we are babying him a bit at home, and can give him more responsibility, on the one hand, and maybe expect a little more from him on the other. (Example: apparently he eats everything except tomatoes at school. At home, he's a pastafarian, and dinnertime is kind of a circus. So maybe we should impose a little more structure at meals at home.)

He's just starting figural drawing - drew a face of himself on the whiteboard last night, but was stumped about how to draw "his bones" and wanted my help. He speaks in complete sentences and is comprehensible. He knows some letters and sounds, and they work on this at school. He's interested in sound play and word play a little - replacing all the initial sounds in a sentence with the same consonant, like "BI'm the Biggest Barnibore, in the Betaceous Borest." Has been using his stomp rocket as a vacuum around the house, and we've had a lot of block and lego and train play - especially after mr. flea had the genius idea to use the Thomas duplo and dinosaur duplo together and make a Dinosaur Train!

His teacher reports that "butt" language is not a problem at school. It is one at home - every other word is "butt-butt" and he discovered the word "butt-hole" last week (I think at school - it's not something we say!) He teases his sister sometimes, and then cries when she gets angry at him. They're at a rocky point - he's old enough now to realize when she is being too bossy and to demand equality, but not old enough to be a real peer in many games. He's still a little shy/passive in the face of others' aggression at school, and shy with strangers - still buries his face in my neck. After a LOT of potty accidents over the break, he is mostly back on track, with occasional accidents rather than accidents as a matter of course.

I have been thinking of him as trying and exhausting and the other things I associate with being 3, so it was nice to get the glowing report from school about his maturity and self-motivation. He's a sweet boy, too, a cuddler, very lovey, in addition to being an energetic bouncy homework-distracting cookie-demanding three year old.
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Casper was singing in the shower last night, as she is wont to do, and I was sitting and giggling and just thinking how AWESOME she is. So I thought I should tell you.

She sings a lot, in the shower or in the car while we're driving, or when she's playing by herself. She makes up her own songs, and while the music lines tend to owe a lot to pop culture as seen on, say, Nickelodeon, the words are wonderful. One memorable song was, "I'm a tiny tiny tiny hobo ... from Hoboken." Last night it was, "Orange is a color, orange is a color, in the raaaaiiiiiinbow! Crimson is a color..." She also likes to strike poses and look at herself in the mirror.

She's increasingly tall and slim, currently wearing about a 7 slim in pants, and size 2 shoes. She's about 49 inches tall and Wii fit put her at 52 pounds in Ohio. She's picking her own hairstyles but is happy with the less-than-professional job I do cutting her hair. Currently she has a chin-length bob and bangs. Her hair is a golden blonde. She often has blue circles under her eyes at the end of the day, but overall she's a pretty child, medium-featured, pretty blue eyes. She likes to wear jeans or skirts and leggings and sneakers (generally converse-style). She wears more black than most 6 year olds I suspect, but she also likes frills and bling, and is perfectly happy to wear neutral or even boys' clothes sometimes.

She's still reading at grade level for first grade, which is to say slowly with sounding out and help required. I did her guided reading last night and she tended to guess with words based ion what she knew the sentence was going to say, not actually looking at them. (I said, "Look at the letters," about 17 times.) The new Electric Company on PBS is pitched EXACTLY at her level, and she really likes it, so we watch it most days. She's good at math and finds it pretty easy - can count and manage change, addition and subtraction up to 20. I don't think she's fully grasped the 1s, 10s, and 100s place concept, and we might add a little more math play to our home stuff. I started reading The Secret Garden to her last night and she is interested in it.

She still loves to draw and do art projects. She very carefully cut out a paper doll from a book I had from my childhood, and was using some giraffe-print scrapbooking paper someone at work gave me to make extra clothes for it, tracing the doll to get the shape right. She likes detail and elaboration. I don't see as much of the large-motor activity, but she's doing Tae Kwan Do twice a week still and likes it, and passed her orange belt test right before the break. She plays well with others (not her brother, but he's transitioning right now and they haven't worked it out yet) and the bad social stuff in her class and after school seems to have settled down a lot.

I am so interested to see how she's growing up.
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We had our first teacher conference yesterday, with Mrs. C. I felt generally good about it.

1. Social issues. Mrs. C acknowledges that this class had a very different vibe from her class last year, especially driven by the fact that there are two outspoken and competitive girls who seem to be setting the social dynamic. She is trying to get the class more involved in collaborative work, but this group hasn't gelled as well as some of her previous classes. It's a pity, since Casper seems to be good at and enjoy the collaborative work. The social issues are going to be discussed with the parents in question, and I ran into one of them after school and we had a good talk. Mrs. C knew that the dynamic was occurring in recess, but I was able to tell her that it was also happening in after school.

Mrs. C's concern about Casper is that she is shy in class, won't speak up, and sometimes when she does she used a baby voice or a very quiet voice. We said, "OUR KID OMGAREYOUKIDDING?" and told Mrs. C some anecdotes (like Casper's mean notes) that I think opened her eyes. She was interested in my suggestion that Casper held things back at school. When I talked to Casper about it at home, it was clear that this is a problem - she got very shy and embarrassed. She said the Mrs. B (the parapro) yells a lot (huh? wouldn't have expected that, and Mrs. B runs girl scouts which Casper loves). So we had a pep talk about speaking up and not worrying about being wrong, that Mrs. C loves her and wants to hear her voice.

The other concern Mrs. C had was Casper's distractability, especially when they are seated on the floor working together. Interestingly, at the end of the session mr. flea remarked that he was having a hard time focusing on our conversation because there was so much going on in the room (i.e. in the decorations and work posted). And Casper has always been a little daydreamy - I think this is just her nature, and there's not a whole lot we can do to change it. Homework at home has been a problem, with maintaining focus. We've had to take Dillo completely away.

2. Reading. Casper is right at the "normal" point for first graders. It's a little hard to be there, because there are 7 kids in the class who are reading way above grade level, and obviously everyone in the class can see that. Mrs. C wanted to emphasize that Casper was doing well and making progress and she should not feel bad about her reading skills (nor should we) because she is not exceptional. Happily at least one of Casper's friends is in her reading group. I see some clear progress when she reads to me - which she is now more willing to do and more able to do fluently. Mrs. C also had some good suggestions that we can use when we do the reading homework, to keep her from reciting the book from memory based on the pictures (which is her tendency). We've also been watching some of the new Electric Company at home, and it's pitched exactly at Casper's current level, and she seems to like it.

3. Math. Casper picks stuff up easily (she totally got greater than and less than instantly), and loves that this work is more hands-on and collabroative. No content concerns at all with math.

I think there will be some social fallout in the class based on conversations Mrs. C had with parents. I'm interested to see what happens. I'm also thinking of asking Casper's friend Penny's mother to keep her after school one day a week, as a sort of break from the very long day she has with all the same girls, some of whom fight with each other which stresses Casper out. I still think the main after school teachers aren't very good.

shaggy boy

Sep. 20th, 2009 04:34 pm
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The Dillo's hair is getting very long indeed - I often offer to cut it after baths, and he declines, saying he wants it long. I think this is in part in imitation of his sister, whose hair is juuust long enough to make a single braid. I don't mind his hair being long, as it's delightfully curly at the nape of the neck, but the front is a little out of hand and gets plastered to his forehead with sweat in warm weather. Boys are wearing their hair long these days in general, as I noted to my mother, and she concurred that her Sunday school third graders were shaggy. Today in the car he was pulling his bang out and noting they went down to his nose! I offered to cut his hair so he could see, and he told me he'd just brush it back off his face when he needed to see.

He's quite interested in the zoophonics he's getting at school. Today he & mr. flea went to work putting all the alphabet magnets back on the fridge (after he deliberately thew them on the floor - testing, testing three year old). He turns out to know many of the letters - their sounds, and what zoophonics animal they go with, if not their proper names. Dee-dee Deer, and someone Gorilla, and Sammy Snake. He knows E and O and P. He really likes the number four for some reason, and is pretty good at the numbers from 1-5, recognizing them and understanding what they mean, and putting up the right number of fingers.

He's at that age where he tells long rambling stories that don't really make a lot of sense but are full of ideas and drama and import. Like the infamous little French girl, Capucine, on Youtube, who is probably also three.

Casper was deeply embarrassed every time I mentioned her recent gastroenterological illness (i.e. to her father, and to my mother - I wasn't informing strangers at the supermarket, and as I told her, there's nothing to be ashamed of in sickness), so let's pretend I didn't mention it here, shall we? Conversations elsewhere have made me worry again about where the line is appropriate to draw. She still can't read. But should I be locking this down pre-emptively?
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Casper is asking for comic books. Can anyone recommend any that are both good and geared at beginning readers? She's currently at "hop on pop" level, but anything pitched lower than, say, Calvin and Hobbes (which she loves but can't read) would be great. Superheros, girly stuff, fairies, any subject would be fine.
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1. Casper lately has a tendency to wind up in freakouts sometimes over fairly routine issues (i.e. when reprimanded for stealing life savers from the cabinet and stashing them under her bed). The freakouts consist of saying, "I know, I know, I'm the stupidest!" and placing herself in time out in her room. Sometimes there is also screaming. The reaction can go on for a long time; this weekend nearly two hours after the initial issue she was still incredibly touchy and just barely able to cooperate in us going out together.

Needless to say we have NEVER told her she is stupid; we do say things like, "that was a bad choice," "you're not listening," "it's not right to steal candy," etc. - we try to criticize an action, and not a person.

Ideas what this might be about? Often her reaction is strongest when we catch her doing things she knows are not allowed, and is probably feeling a little guilty about. We have a neighbor who is a school pyschologist and has 5 and 3 year olds and knows Casper. Do you think it's worth asking her for some input? mr. flea is worried we are too hard on her, while I worry we aren't hard enough - it's so hard to step outside and see objectively.

2. School is out for the summer a week from tomorrow! A neighborhood woman, a retired English professor, does some volunteer tutoring at Casper's school. Casper likes her a lot - she is the grandmother of Casper's old day care playmates from Durham - although we haven't seen as much of her this year as I'd meant to. She taught the twins (her granddaughters) to read the summer they turned 5. Casper has not yet had the reading switch come on as people say it does, and remains extremely reluctant to cooperate with any reading practice at home (we have not been pushing, just reading to her). Would it be appropriate to suggest to our neighbor that she and Casper meet once a week for a "reading playdate"? We could offer to pay her or offer to trade yard work, dog-sitting, or other minor domestic help. Am I being a ridiculously pushy yuppie mother to want Casper to continue reading practice over the 10-week break from school? My hope is that this would be a pleasurable thing for her, since she likes the neighbor and actively asks for playdates with her.

writing

Jan. 25th, 2009 07:08 pm
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Casper remains not really yet a reader, at least as far as she is willing to demonstrate this skill at home. She brings home "homework" books to read (and we are bad and rarely read them, preferring to read big books out loud to her), and she generally has them memorized and is not looking at the words. If pressed by me, she will sound out words, but often has trouble putting the correctly sounded out phonemes together into an actual word. (Incidentally, while I could read before kindergarten, and I know many of my online friends were also early readers, some strikingly precocious, I am struck by how much kindergarten today is basically teaching what I was taught in first grade. I went to an unusual, alternative kindergarten, but my impression as a rule was that kindergarten was for play, and usually half-day at that.Now it is full-day in all the public schools I know about, and is for learning to read.)

And yet, she is learning. This Friday she brought a book she'd written home:

were [sic] Evelyn likes to go

Click through to find out where she likes to go! Hint: ice cream is involved. But not donuts; that would be Dillo's book, if he could write yet.
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She seems to be doing well. Mrs. E spoke of her as a good citizen of the class, friendly with several of the girls and a good example to them of standing up for herself in the face of a few boys who are behaviour problems (which Mrs. E says they are working hard on. They the teachers, I mean, as well as they the boys in question.) She knows all her letters and the sounds and is starting to sound out words in her reading group. She's well into working on or already meeting most of the grade-level skills for the year, and we have 3/4 of it to go. They do do phonics, which relieves mr. flea, who attributes his inability to spell to newfangled non-phonics education. (English is HARD.)

(She's not in the most advanced reading group - there is a group that is reading the simplest books already. Must not tell my mother, who in a recent phone call when I talked about how Casper is getting close to reading, said that my grandmother Dod, who was my mother's parenting oracle as she had dysfunctional parents and had me at 22, told her that HER children (my father, aunt and uncle) all could read when they started kindergarten, so my mother decided I had to be able to read when I started kindergarten, and so she taught me at 4, and (unspoken, so far) why didn't Casper get to kindergarten already reading, must be flea's fault!!)

The only thing Mrs. E brought up that we could work on is that sometimes when she is tired/not feeling well/ upset she stops talking and resorts to little whimpering noises and then gets frustrated when Mrs. E and the aide don't understand. She does this at home, too, of course, so we are already working on it. It can be hard for her to express her emotions; she's pretty stoic for a while I think and then topples over. Possibly I am projecting.

I picked her up early today - they were released at 12:30 because of the conferences, and I picked her up at 1. We walked home, spread some "spider webs" on the front bushes, planted some iris and daffodils that I brought from NC, Casper built the most adorable treehouse for her little mouse figure out of a magnolia leaf and tape and some lambs' ear leaves and a tiny doll quilt and a washcloth (and the mouse has a dress made from a wipe), we took a big bubble bath together, I made soup and she ate bacon and did some art stuff involving a large vat of blue-dyed water, and then we walked back to school, visited the Scholastic book fair where I spent $24 and got some good bargains, and then to the conference. She is looking tired and run down and still is having digestive problems off and on - had diarrhea this afternoon. She often says her stomach hurts, and her voice is hoarse like a cold is coming on. I had hoped to get her to nap, but fat chance. I hope mr. flea can get her to sleep early tonight. She feels fragile to me right now. But I am proud that she is happy at school, working carefully, and a good citizen (who also, Mrs. E told us, likes to make people (including Mrs. E) laugh, but she's good at choosing when to be funny, and isn't disruptive with it, as some of the other kids who think they are funny are.)
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Harvest:
6 pole beans
6 carrots

Yesterday we took Dillo with us to the movies (Pirates, good silly fun - yay Scruffy!Norrington, boo Girly!Keira K.) and the ex-nanny took Casper. They visited the kittens at Nanny's house again, and Casper bent forward towards them and said, "Are you guys nervous?" Apparently so, as Casper was telling me about how they have little claws.

Casper's getting numerate: can count objects to 5 pretty reliably. Numbers greater than that tend to get broken down into fours. So it's not that she can't count higher than 5, it's that she's already mastered Base 4! Holds up two or three fingers to indicate numbers with adorable concentration.

She's very interested in letters right now. When she draws she makes a line of vertical lines to indicate writing. She "spells" words aloud - will say a few letters, not anywhere near the right ones. Like this exchange: mr. flea, "What are you saying? I can't understand that word." Casper, "F A H L R!" She sings the ABC song with gusto. She doesn't reliably recognize any of the letters as written, however, not even her own initial. Right now we have Toot and Puddle's ABC and the Dr. Seuss ABC out of the library.

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