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2012-10-18 10:36 am
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Amusing followup

After I suggested she get out her times tables flash cards last night after dinner, Casper confessed that she didn't actually want to work on her basic math facts, but the self-guided conference required them to choose an area that needed effort, and she couldn't think of anything better. I pointed out that the fact that she didn't want to work on her basic math facts did not negate the valid point she herself had made, that her lack of mastery was holding her back.

I giggled on the inside. She half-heartedly flipped through the flash cards for a bit.
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2012-10-17 01:29 pm

First Quarter School Reports

Because school doesn't start until 9:15, they do conferences in the early mornings. So we hauled our sorry western-edge-of-the-time-zone asses out of bed at 7am in the full dark, had a mishap involving hot coffee and Dillo's ear, nearly lost mr. flea when he didn't realize we were in the car waiting for him and started wandering off down the street on foot, and got to school at 7:45. (I pointed out that last year, when I was working, we left the house at 7:20 every morning. Nobody believed me.)

Casper led her own teacher conference, following a script she'd prepared as a class exercise. She identified her strength as organization, and a weakness as spelling. She also noted she enjoys and is good at group work. She identified assignments she felt were her best work in all 4 subject areas, and assignments where she felt her performance showed a need for growth. She decided to focus on her math, noting her grade of 100% on a recent homework assignment made her feel good. She said she wanted to work on her basic math facts (i.e. the time tables) so she could succeed on future assignments like that.

Wow! I agreed with almost everything she said. She is doing very well at staying on top of her assignments and being responsible for getting work done, with almost no need for checking by me. I know that this issue is a big one for many 4th graders, and I feel like she's really stepped up in this area. She knows she's weak in spelling and basic math facts, and wants to work on them (!). We'll see how well she follows through, given that she hated the flash card times tables project of the summer and resisted it often.

I also met with all 4 of her teachers, and the school psychologist, last week, about assessment for possible interventions (the required precursor to any formal testing for a learning disability). Her reading teacher did an assessment and reported she was reading at a 3rd grade level. Her math teacher said she was able to do the work and understood concepts, but she was very slow. The teacher was already cutting down the number of problems she was giving Casper for in-class work, to allow her to have a reasonable chance of completing them in the allotted time; the example was she have Casper 3 problems, when some students were doing 20. (Whoa.) The Social Studies teacher, who has the most experience working with gifted kids, and who is Casper's favorite, noted that her test scores on file were very mixed - overall she passes, but she either excels at a section (scores "enrichment") or bombs it (scores "reteach.") They noted that she is compensating for her struggles remarkably well, that she works very hard, that she knows where she has trouble and asks for help, and that she is cheerful about it all, and does not seem to be ashamed. This made me really happy. The next step is some assessment by the school psychologist to try to pin down what exactly are the areas she has trouble with. (I've been doing reading and I am pretty sure she is dyslexic - probably mildly so, and really good at compensating for it. Among the things that make me think this are her troubles with learning to read, especially around inability to sound out words, coupled with problems memorizing times tables, which is a very common symptom of dyslexia apparently.)

Dillo's conference followed a more traditional format. The teacher said he was doing very well, and there were no areas that seemed to challenge him or that he needed to work on. The class is 12 K students and 6 1st graders, but she is mostly teaching at the first grade level. Dillo needs no help, and generally finishes in-class work with extra time, which he is allowed to use reading. She sat a new student next to him because Dillo is good at helping others figure out how to do their work. She mentioned she might start looking to pull some 2nd grade work out for Dillo and a couple of other kids who are at his level. I ran into the paraprofessional for his class yesterday (whom I like and suspect is actually a better teacher than his teacher), and she is working with the top readers, and wants to get them into reading some chapter books at the Magic Treehouse level. (I was in the school library showing her what we have.) He's also doing just fine socially; he's got good classroom behavior down but is friendly with the students and has a friend at every table. She recounted social interactions with the 2 boys Dillo has identified as his two best friends.

As a note about "gifted", Casper, who is pulling low Bs, is reading below grade level, and has other struggles, is the one who tested into gifted. Dillo, who is working well above grade level and has not yet had anything academic challenge him, took the same gifted test Casper did (CogAT) and while he scored high, did not qualify as gifted on the first go-round (they test 'em all in K, and re-test the ones that score high but don't qualify later on.) So there's that. I would like to see Dillo challenged, as I think Casper's struggles have overall been a boon to her, in terms of character development. We're talking about music lessons or sports as a way to introduce the idea of working hard for a result to Dillo, since right now school is not going to be able to provide that.
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2012-03-24 07:51 am

more on schools

I guess the only thing worse than no choices is having choices, right?

I went to the open house at the school very close to our house. This fall they will definitely have the Gifted Academy there (3rd-6th) and a neighborhood school Kindergarten. It sounds quite unlikely that they'll offer first grade this fall, as there had been a rumor going around about. That could only maybe happen if they have, say, 35 Kindergarteners sign up, and they could open a second K and make it K-1 if they got 10 1st graders. So this school is unlikely to be a choice for Dillo until fall 2013.

The Gifted Academy, on the other hand, sounds pretty good. The school manager spoke and ran the meeting, and I was impressed by her - she was frank and transparent about uncertainties (it's unclear how things will progress with the neighborhood school because a lot depends on how many people actually enroll). Next year the Gifted Academy will have 2 3rd and 4th classes, and 1 each of 5th and 6th. This means there is still room in 4th, and she implied when I spoke to her personally that there will be for some time to come, so we don't need to sign up immediately. She says the school is diverse ethnically, religiously, and geographically - it currently draws from 25 neighborhood districts in the city, and next year she expects it to draw from 35. The work is project-based. When I spoke to her one on one, I asked what sort of student the school was for - was it for the Hermione Granger types, or the wicked smart but more disorganized and more creative thinker types? She said there were both kinds of kids at the school and suggested I go over and talk to a current parent who has a 3rd grader plus 2 other kids at our current school.

So I did, and was really heartened by what this parent had to say. I re-used my Hermione Granger analogy (that was the kind of gifted kid I was) ad she totally got it, and she said her son was not that type, but he was thriving at Gifted, and they teach to the kids' learning styles. She obviously likes our current school - her other 2 kids are happy there, and she'll be president of the PTA next year - but it was good to hear someone else say that the very traditional pedagogy there is not right for every kid, even every smart kid. (I have been feeling guilty about being unhappy with one of the best schools in the city.)

We're getting Casper's Georgia gifted testing scores faxed over to our current school, and hopefully they will let us see them (they wouldn't fax them to us directly; ah, bureaucracy.) They do Ohio testing April 21, so if Casper's scores won't get her in, we can consider that, if we want to go forward.

I'd still like to go look at the Montessori public school our neighbors go to, and the School for Creative and Performing Arts downtown. Now that my job is, for the moment, over, I hope to have the flexibility to actually go to the schools, although the Open House season for them is basically over, and we might not be able to get spaces for fall 2012. But if one or both of them screams perfection, we might stick with the current school and plan a transfer in fall 2013 for Casper. We might, after everything, stick with the current school anyway. You remember what I said about the paradox of choice?

Dillo, I dunno. He is excelling academically at the current school, and while he isn't Hermione Granger in personality, he does have a really straightforward sort of high intelligence, unlike Casper. Everything academic so far comes easily to him. He hates change, which is an argument for keeping him in the current school. On the other hand, he did really well at his Montessori preschool, and the Montessori elementary might be a good fit. And as far as social atmosphere, the current school's traditionalism does extend to gender roles, and I think that's unhealthy for Dillo. His fundamental nature is beta, but the past 2 years of school social environment seem to have made him act out a lot and his primary emotional reaction to anything is anger. I'd like to see him in a gentler social environment. (In good news, there's a "feeling class" at school that's been started - by external researchers from a local college - about teaching emotional awareness and social skills to K-1 kids, and we got Dillo into it, and it's pretty damned awesome. I hope it helps him.)
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2012-03-19 06:45 pm

red flag?

As you may remember, I've never felt super-great about the kids' current school. It's rated excellent, they have a lot of good enrichment and so forth, but we haven't felt like it's a real community for us, and it seems like there's an excessive focus on test prep and achievement generally.

A couple of weeks ago we did a Girl Scout Cookie booth, and the leader, who has daughters in 6th and 3rd grades, gave me an earful about 4th grade at our current school (unprompted). She said, "4th grade is the year [school] loses kids," and talked about the 3 4th grade teachers who have worked together for 15 years and are very tight, how parents are explicitly discouraged from spending time in the classrooms (despite a school-wide open-door policy), and how they are very hard on the kids, with respect to strictness and high standards. Today Casper told us that her current (3rd grade) teacher gave them a lecture today about how hard 4th grade is, and how if you forget to turn things in you get a 0, and (unlike in 3rd grade) they don't let you correct mistakes in your work for extra points after a first grading. Casper was in tears about this.

So, what to do? I definitely think it's a bad idea to paint the 4th grade as a "make or break" year, presenting a challenge in a negative light, to the children, as Mrs. S did today. Casper now has the impression that the 4th grade teachers are mean.

But aside from the PR problem 4th grade has, is the actuality a red flag, or not? I've been ambivalent about the level of rigor at the school; it certainly feels more authoritarian and focused on achievement in the matter of grades rather than in the matter of understanding than our previous school. I have tried to convince myself that this is a good thing, or at least okay, since Casper has mostly managed to rise to the challenges of lots of homework, and she has a tendency to be a bit lazy and sloppy by her (daydreamy, rushing through boring work) nature. I told myself that the enforced rigor would be good for her, teach her that she can achieve high standards if she pays proper care to her work. Now I'm concerned that the school is teaching her that dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's is more important than love of learning and understanding concepts. Which way is right? Does anyone have experiences with school personalities and the rigor question?

I'm going to an open house on Thursday for the new neighborhood school we'll be eligible for. Unfortunately they won't have 4th grade yet next year, and they won't have 5th grade yet by 2013, so it's not really an option for Casper. There will be someone from the Gifted Academy for 3rd-6th grades which will also be moving into the building. But I'm not positive Casper would be able to get into Gifted by the Ohio criteria, and I have no idea about the environment there. And then we get to think again about magnet schools and private schools, again too late and of course the $ issue.

Next on Woes of Elementary School Parenting, we'll have a fun discussion about social anxiety, brattitude, and your 5 year old. At least he has excellent grades?
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2011-08-17 01:57 pm

Moving is Hard

I think this is my first post out of friendslock, but we're planning a big move to Ohio in 6 weeks. mr. flea was offered an excellent job rather suddenly, and we'll be moving to Cincinnati. This has many excellent aspects - we will be closer to family, especially the children's cousins (only an hour away!) and grandparents; mr. flea gets a nice raise, a steady job with excellent benefits and a fair amount of tenure doing work he really likes with excellent people; we have many friends still in Cincinnati from when we lived there in the late 1990s. On the down side, there is a lot of work. On the serious down side, we will be leaving the wonderful neighbors and elementary school community we have had in Athens.

I wrote to the kids' teachers today to tell them about the move. And now I'm crying at my desk because Casper's art teacher wrote such a sweet note. "[Casper] has a real gift in art and I truly hope that she continues to pursue it. She is really special." "I would love to see some pictures of Casper’s art as she grows up."

(Like we could possibly stop Casper from continuing to make art. But we're taking her away from lovely Miss D.!)
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2011-08-09 10:37 am

good morning

This kids went off happily to their second day of school today. Both had good days yesterday; Casper LOVES her teacher (who is impossibly young and cute and has a soft spot for Casper because beloved K teacher Mrs. E was current teacher Ms. T's mentor). (Mrs. E also won a award for excellence in teaching yesterday.) Casper had homework, and her spelling is back to IMPOSSIBLE. We worked a lot on reading this summer but clearly we neglected writing. I need to ask Ms. T about some ideas, and especially ask if she wants us to sit with Casper and correct her homework (which Casper hates and tells us not to do). I feel like she really needs to come to accept the need to edit her writing, because clearly no gift for ease with spelling is going to emerge.

Dillo is doing just fine, and seems to like Mrs. Y, who is older and very mellow. There are a few kids from his old class (I waved at Deyaneira this AM and she grinned and waved back) and a lot of new ones, and the class seems to just have a nice mellow vibe. I think this will suit Dillo just fine. He's interested in rough and tumble boy wildness, and if there are a bunch of boys like that in his class he'll act out, but he's actually more comfortable in a quieter, steretypical-girl environment. This class is pretty even but a little heavier on girls, and the teacher is very calm and low-key. Mrs. Y seems to have cleverly earned Dillo's devotion by using a dry-erase marker from the (huge bag of) school supplies he brought in. Dillo also told me, somewhat indignantly, at dinner last night that he hadn't learned to read yet! I explained that since there were many new kids who had never been to school before, the first few days are about teaching those kids the routine, which he already knows. Then they will get to reading.

mr. flea is in New Mexico today, flying home and back by bedtime, I hope. He has an interview that went very well, and expects to be offered the position, a post-doc. His current position ends next Tuesday. There is a permanent job that he's applied for that is a possibility, so if he is offered this new Mexico post-doc we will need to weigh our chances and make some decisions. I am actually feeling kind of good about New Mexico right now, although that may be in a large part due to the weather in Georgia in August.
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2011-08-03 05:54 pm

It's that time of year...

Back to school ice cream social this afternoon to meet the teachers, and this means I have baby names! Not so much babies at this point.

With Dillo in Kindergarten will be: Ana Maria, Lillian, Kr'eme (I do wonder how they pronounce that), DeAngelo, Maya, Mariona, Horumalachi, La'Neric, Benjamin, La Niya, Camaya, Deyanira, Sofia, Yvana, Kaleb, John, Tyrus, Joshua. Haru (if it's the same kid - how many kids named Horu/Haru can there be?), Deyanira, and Yvana were all in PreK with Dillo, and the rest are new (Maya had a dance class at the same time as Casper last year, so we've met her mother).

I do wish he'd gotten one of his special friends, and he got the K teacher I know least about, and not one of the two I hoped he'd get, so I'm not super-thrilled about it (though all the K teachers are good). He was VERY shy at first but warmed up over the 2 hours we spent there. I hope this year is better for him. He's so clever, I hope he can find his groove.

Casper is in 3rd grade!! Her teacher started as a mid-year replacement last year and knocked everyone's socks off, a just-out-of-school, very energetic woman. Wasn't my first choice but I am happy. Her classmates are named: Remington, Tyana, Juliana, Cynthia, Markah, Ashleigh, Lil Rodrick, Owen (not the Owen she sat next to last year), Angelo, Gabriel, Kourtney, Zariah, Allison, Alexandra, Trinity, Dillon, Aydan, Kimberly, David, Ietta. Most of these kids have been in her class at one point or another, and she is special friends with Ietta and Allison, so that is good.
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2011-04-02 05:20 am


It was 3rd quarter teacher conferences this week, and we had a good conversation with Casper's teacher and the Spectrum teacher.  She's really a fascinating creature, Casper is. A mix of things - brave in some ways, fragile in others (we had an awfulizing meltdown Wednesday night), capable of focus and extremely detailed work but often careless in her schoolwork. Spectrum teacher, whom I like a lot, noted that Casper does tend to march to the beat of her own drum, in terms of classwork as well as socially. She's unsure how to negotiate group work, and will sometimes wander off and just start getting things done by herself. When working alone, she is usually quite focused and confident.  Both teachers noted that she tends to approach problems in unusual ways - Mr. H noted that she almost always solves math problems through methods that none of the other kids use, and methods he hasn't explicitly taught, and Spectrum teacher noted the same sort of thing.  This is interesting to me and makes me glad she's in Spectrum where they can appreciate this - I think a lot of "gifted" kids at her school are like I was - wicked smart, precocious verbally and good readers and adept at processing and incorporating new information - whereas Casper in some ways really does "think different," even different from the average smart kid.  This could be a great benefit in her life, if she can turn it to her advantage.

Her reading is going fine - Fast ForWord does seem to be helping.  Mr. H talked about the program a bit - he's actually gone and used the software to see what it is like - and it generates reports that show things I've instinctively known for a long time - that she does often miss common and fairly simple words like when and were. She definitely has trouble with long vowels, too.  The program does some ear training exercises, with different tones, and also promotes focus.  I think there have been definite improvements.  I still worry that neither of the teachers were able to really have a conversation about what Casper struggles with about reading - what is it that makes this hard for her, and how can we specifically target strengthening it?  Spectrum teacher noted that most of the interventions for struggling readers are geared towards kids who are less generally intelligent than Casper is, and who often have other language problems alongside reading problems (Fast ForWord, for example, is especially recommended for kids with auditory processing problems, who often have limited vocabularies and are slow to talk - NOT Casper!!)  I'm almost to the point that I'd like to talk to a reading specialist, who has the background and experience to help me understand and explore what are the factors that make Casper struggle.  But, again, she's doing fine, grade-level work (except most of her Spectrum peers read well above grade level.)

I am having a week of depression and social anxiety, feeling isolated and generally low and anxious.  I cut all my hair off yesterday and didn;t even get much of the usual post-haircut boost that I do (you know, where you spend the rest of the day walking around going "I'm so cute!") It's spring and houses are going on the market and it's the time when Universities are making hires and people are planning moves and changes over the summer, and we have no idea what the plan is for the future.  Well, signing up for summer camp starts today, so I guess we just trundle forward.
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2011-03-02 07:42 pm

In breakthrough news...

Casper brought a Batman chapter book home from the school library this week, and is voluntarily reading it, out loud, to herself.  She gets a lot of the words wrong, so she's missing or mis-perceiving maybe half the content, but she's reading for fun!

She can also, I discovered as a result of her homework on Tuesday, add and subtract 3-digit numbers with carrying.  She made some arithmetic mistakes, but was absolutely clear on the concept.

I had the amusing experience of walking to the bank this morning with more than $1200 in cash in my purse (Girl Scout cookie deposits.)  I was happily not mugged on the way.  They have a great machine that counts the bills, and I was very proud that my count matched theirs perfectly.
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2011-02-11 08:09 am

kids update

Dillo is obsessed with paper airplanes lately; the house is littered with them.  He makes them at afterschool, with A., S.'s twin, who is in second grade (in Casper's class) and working on a paper airplane science fair project in the Spectrum class.  Amusingly, A. and Dillo could be brothers; they have a very similar look.  Dillo is also obsessed with a new PBS show called Wild Kratts, a mostly-cartoon show about brothers who interact with wild, usually endangered, animals.  He wants to watch it constantly.

I worked a split shift yesterday and picked Dillo up at 2:30 as a treat. We scootered home (after scootering to school that morning with an inch of snow on the ground, so pretty!) and built a lego (duplo) garage, originally intended for his matchbox cars, but which in the event was used for jumping frogs.  We also changed out the toilet seat upstairs, and he turned the old seat into a rocket for his frogs. I love the way he says "blast-es off".

He remains unhappy with school, especially after school, which is boring for him. His ideal world would involve staying home with me and playing with me and watching Wild Kratts, so. He's pretty much always been like this.  They have started doing a little bit of reading group with part of his class, and he likes to play Starfall on my computer, so maybe he will start reading and have that outlet at school.

Casper has been a little fragile emotionally of late, and I emailed the counselor again and she replied but I am not sure she's met with Casper yet; she said she's been incredibly busy.  When there are 3 children at the school who've had parents murdered in the last 6 weeks, and many children living in poverty, the counselor is probably right to make the neurotic and depressive tendencies of an upper-middle class girl with neurotic depressive parents a second-tier priority - if Casper has a crisis, we have at least some of the tools to deal with it ourselves.  We've tried.

Casper's gotten a space - apparently these are in much demand and she's been on a wait list for it - with a program called Fast ForWord, a computer-based program for helping struggling readers. I've read the Wikipedia page and some of the product's marketing materials, and am somewhat cynical.  (Well, what else is new.)  It says it focuses on phoneme awareness and is especially useful for students with auditory processing disorders.  Casper does have troubles with phonemes, but she certainly does not match up with the symptoms for auditory processing problems, which include slowness to talk and trouble with vocabulary and comprehension.  It seems like auditory processing is a fad diagnosis for reading troubles right now, lined up with the fads of ADHD, dyslexia, etc.  I hesitate to get Casper formally evaluated (independently; they have done some evaluation at school apparently, which got her recommended for Fast ForWord, but we have not heard the results) and diagnosed with something because I am so cynical about the faddiness of diagnoses; on the other hand, I do feel like the right help could get her over a hump and reading well.  mr. flea is wary of diagnoses because of stigma.

Casper hates Fast ForWord (yesterday was the first day) because she got pulled out of class and missed making shadow puppets; at least she isn't feeling stigmatized?  There was torrential weeping about this, though.  I tried to present the program as a positive - she's improved so much in her reading that she's ready for an intensive program to jump-start her and get her improving fast, so she can read hard long books all by herself.  She is improving; she notices words on signs and reads them out often now.  I do think about whether we would even be worrying about her reading if she were in 1st grade instead of second.  And I confess that although I don't know a great deal about the science, such as it is, of literacy acquisition, Casper is a little confounding.  She does write some letters backwards; her handwriting is horrible (though if she tries it is fine); her spelling is awful, even with words she has known for ages; she stumbles over very easy very common words when reading sometimes (was, there, could) and yet manages quite difficult words with ease; her reading ability fluctuates extremely based on mood.  If anything, I think she has visual processing issues with letters; she is a very visual (picture) focussed person, and I wonder if Chinese or another pictographic language would have come easily.

Any suggestions for quality readings about literacy acquisition would be appreciated.
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2011-01-21 03:20 pm

All the kids are doing it...

We (me and the kids) went to the new roller rink in town last weekend.  We knew certain friends would be there - but also ran into several other families from school there, who had come coincidentally.  And to judge by facebook, another cohort is planning to meet up there tomorrow morning. It's a decent rink - concrete and not wood, and newly refreshed, with new skates to rent - the older rink is pretty darn grungy.  It's definitely family-friendly.  Dillo is too little to do much by himself - he hauled himself around the rink while yanking my arm out of the socket a few times and then spent most of his time watching the demos on video games, rather wistfully.  Casper skates badly, but was very proud of herself for not falling down.  None of the kids in their set are very good, really.  I find it all kinda funny.  I rollerskated a decent amount as a kid, both in Maine and Lexington MA.  It was definitely something Girl Scouts did, and birthday parties, and listening to Billy Joel... I guess I find it so funny that it's suddenly popular here because it is such a timestamped activity for me.  Rollerskating is 1982, and leg warmers, and yellow overalls and stuff.  And now it's back.

Unfortunately I don't actually like it that much, and this place is kinda pricey.  But it is healthy exercise and indoors, so when it's cold or hot it's an option.

I went to school with the kids today.  We all scootered in, which Dillo still LOVES doing.  I dropped Dillo off and then spent 2 hours in Casper's class, including going to the gifted class with her.  Then back to Dillo's class, and I left when they went to lunch (which they do at 10:45 AM OMG.)  Since I worked last night I hadn't had much contact with Dillo, so we spent circle time sitting together and snuggling.  He likes physical contact a lot.

It's good for me to go to school.  It lets me see the kids in their peer group, and see that while Casper has messy writing and can't spell, and is ridiculously distractable, she's actually quite normal for second grade.  Dillo was doing really well at answering questions in his class today.  I'm not stunned with Casper's teacher, who wasn't doing enough, IMO, to guide the kids and keep them on-task.  The gifted teacher is much stronger, and the kids there were impressively self-directed and involved in their projects (they are prepping for the science fair - entrance is optional, and Casper doesn't want to, but we are going to attend and see what it is like, since they are going to be entering next year.  Casper is working on an invention, a robot hair-cutter.  Because you wouldn't have to pay to get your hair cut and you could get it cut the exact same way every time.)
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2011-01-19 06:52 pm

On 'Tiger Moms"

Since Casper, who is now nearly seven and a half, was born, we've had: Attachment Parenting, Helicopter Parents, Slacker Moms, Free-Range Kids, Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety (i.e. ADD Kids), Indigo Children ... and I'm sure I've forgotten some.

So I can barely raise an eyebrow at the Tiger Mom.

But I did get Casper to rewrite her homework more neatly, with spelling corrections, tonight.  (Report card came home yesterday, and she's doing better in her problem areas but neatness and spelling remain the big issues.  Still an A+ art student.)
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2011-01-04 09:56 am

Sad School News

There were two murders in my city last week.  Both murder victims had children who attend school with my kids; one of the children is in Casper's class.  I should note that while the city had a high poverty rate and a lot of public housing, it has a relatively low crime rate and not much in the way of gang or drug activity - and neither of these killings seem to be connected to those sorts of issues.

A single mother aged 25, with a 3rd grader, was stabbed to death at her job at a convenience store, alone and late at night.  The store was not robbed.  The daughter will probably be moving in with her grandmother; she lived alone with her mother in public housing.

A single father aged 30, with 3 children (but not residing with them; he lived with his mother) was shot to death while sitting in his driveway listening to the car radio, in a stable working-class neighborhood.  He worked for the city.  His daughter DaNaya is in Casper's class and he also had a daughter in PreK, but in the other classroom so I do not know her.

The school administration and the PTO are aware of this and doing what they can to be supportive of the families; the counselor will be coming to talk to the affected classes before the children come back to school.  It seems like a heavy burden for an elementary school class to bear.  And those poor little girls.
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2010-10-25 03:55 pm


"Practice quiz" came home for Spectrum class, 9 Northeast states. She got ONE of them in the right place, and spelled every single one wrong.

It's also like this for every single weekly spelling test right now. Every single word wrong, some in such deeply improbable ways you have to ask if she's paying any attention at all. I mean, the word "first" is spelled exactly as it sounds! No, you cannot write a word with no vowels in it!

But she can relate the entire myth of Osiris to me...
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2010-10-25 07:48 am
Entry tags:

Casper school report

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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2010-10-13 09:50 am

Public Service Fatigue

I feel like I've been working pretty continuously - at some times quite hard - since school started in early August to get a Girl Scout Troop going at Casper's school. And I've "succeeded" - we have 4 leaders, so we can run both a Daisy (K-1) and a Brownie (2-3) troop, we had a parent meeting on Monday and have about 12 girls all signed up, and I expect to add several more who are definitely committed and couldn't come to the meeting.

But I feel like I've failed. 85% of the girls are white and upper middle class. The demographic mix of the school is only about 25% white, varying a little by grade. The paraprofessionals who ran the troop last year at after school (all of whom left the school, and after school is not an option any more because of a new district policy - we are meeting on Tuesdays at 6pm at a friendly church, kill me now I did not want to meet on a weeknight but the people present voted for it) managed to run a Junior troop (4-5) as well, and pull a lot of black and Latina students, with 60 girls total.

I don't know how they did it, except maybe having existing relationships with the girls and parents, since they worked at the school. I have tried really hard to send print messages home as well as emails for people without internet access, and to send all messages in Spanish as well as English. I always emphasized that there are financial scholarships for girls who can't afford the $12 registration fee (sadly, there are a lot of families in this situation - including one of our troop leaders. 39% of the children in the city live below the poverty line (which, remember, is only about $21,000 for a family of 4), according to the new American Community Survey data.) And the turnout was all people like me. I guess we keep trying to recruit. I have some names that we can try phone-calling, but I am terribly phone-phobic; maybe my co-leaders are braver.

I'm just so worn out by it all, and we haven't even started actually meeting.
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2010-10-10 10:02 am

Better, sort of

Friday morning was the 2nd grade parent breakfast, always a fun time. I had a chance to chat with some other parents briefly before the kids came in, and then I sat with Casper, Danilo, Jaquan, Skyler, and Angelo. Everyone but Danilo was anxiously waiting for parents to show up (Danilo did not expect his) and slowly over half an hour they did in fact arrive, and there was joy. Just showing up means so much, even when it's hard and you may have to miss work. I had an interesting chat with Danilo, who has 2 big sisters, one in middle school, and one in high school who is pregnant. He seemed amazed to hear that people who don't speak Spanish want to learn it; he said his parents don't speak much English but he started learning English even before he started school, thanks to his big sisters. (He is perfectly fluent.)

Then I went to Dillo's class and stayed until they went to lunch at 10:45. When I arrived he was on the computer; they wear headphones and there's a significant audio portion. He was finishing up identifying letters and got to spend some time "reading" the books - each word can be clicked on which makes the computer read aloud. He seemed very accomplished. Yvana, next to him, was being asked to pick a letter - she was supposed to choose Y, and did not seem very motivated or interested, and the parapro was not helpfully scolding her, telling her she wasn't even trying.

We went to the library and read two books and sang some songs. The library teacher does a good job of managing the kids and alternating encouraging them to discuss and add things about the book, but not letting the louder ones dominate.

The class has few girls - one tall loud and confident one, and a bunch of very quiet shy ones, mostly Latina, at least a couple of whom I would guess are just starting to absorb English (the don't do language pull-out in PreK, but I am sure the repetition and singing are helpful). The boys are all black and white, and kind of a mix - I could definitely pick out one who has an early Sept. birthday (after the cutoff, so he's 5) and could easily hold his own in K.

Back to the classroom, singing and talk about patterns, this week's topic, and then we went to the tables and did patterns with M&Ms and I helped. The boy with multiple allergies did his patterns with animal crackers, and we had a talk about keeping our M&Ms on our napkins and not touching him with our hands. The grasp of simple alternating patterns among 4 year olds was rather minimal, though they all did great at separating the colors and making lines. Then off to the bathroom, washing hand AND sanitizing for the benefit of the allergic boy. More circle time and fun singing - some very funny songs about Halloween that Dillo loves - and off to lunch.

Dillo was rather clingy and babyish because I was there, but the report was that the rest of the day went very well. He was definitely glad to see me. So maybe some Wednesdays instead of (or in addition to) painting the bathroom I will go spend time with him. I love meeting the really little ones - I do the singing and act all goofy and their eyes are so wide! (Are other parents less silly? Perhaps.)

And then Dillo fell asleep on the couch at 3:15 yesterday and slept all night, woke up feeling poorly and threw up. Two hours later he's demanding Dunkin Donuts.
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2010-09-28 06:08 pm
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Casper tested into the Spectrum (gifted) this go-around. mr. flea is very chuffed; I am endeavoring to keep things low-key for Casper. The report, written by the Spectrum teacher We Are Not Impressed With, says she has strengths in verbal, analytical, and motivation areas. (And recommends Accelerated Reading, heh.) The Spectrum Teacher We Think Has Brains is the one who will actually be teaching her.
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2010-09-01 06:02 pm

Could this be a busier week?

Sunday night Casper cricked her neck and was in terrible pain and up several times in the night. I thought small children were supposed to be like unto elastic bands, but perhaps she is getting decrepit at her advanced age of 7. She stayed home Monday with mr. flea "working from home" (=watching Harry Potter IV.)

Tuesday night had some issues (Dillo woke up needing to pee - why do my children not wake up and take themselves to urinate in the night? Instead they cry loudly half awake and the parents must rescue them and deposit them on the potty. Both of them do this. Is it me?? Anyway Dillo made so much noise it woke Casper and she freaked out about her neck and spent the night in my bed, again.) Then when we went to take Dillo we found he'd had a nosebleed in his sleep. Sheets and mattress pad into the wash. Casper got off to school okay; Dillo too (and reported that the big blood-booger in his nose, named "Bloody," natch, came out at school.) mr. flea got a last-minute invite to a social event for work, and went, so I dealt with dinner and bathtime solo.

This morning Dillo had a nosebleed at 4:30. Sheets and mattress pad into the wash, again. I had randomly missed 3 hours of work in the last week (2 hours after Dillo refused to go back to school after his dentist appointment last week, and one hour dealing with Casper Monday morning) so I came in at 10 and will be here until 10pm. Joy.

Thursday we need to grocery shop and prep for the weekend and it's trash night and a bath night and we have the farmer's market pickup and... that's all, I think.

Friday is Bike to School Day, and a parent coffee until 8:30, after which I must dash to a meeting at work at 9, so maybe we will drive and not bike to school. At the parent coffee I hope to corral some parents into making Girl scouts happen. I emailed the PTO list asking for volunteers at 11:30 am today and have had no response yet. Very worried. Oh and it's FACT (Families and Children Together) day for 2nd grade, but I really cannot make it to school to spend time in Casper's class on Friday (see above: parent coffee and 9am meeting); must remember to ask mr. flea if he can.

Friday night we've been invited to cocktails with the Classics faculty (5:30-7) and a baby shower for mr. flea's coworker (7pm) and have not yet secured a babysitter. We are deeply incompetent about babysitters.

Saturday at 10am is the birthday party, so some cakes need to be baked and frosted at some point, and all the other assorted things associated with a birthday party (like PLATES and DRINKS and maybe FAVORS remember my birthday party paralysis, people?)

Then we're going camping. Which needs its own separate planning and organizing (but I really really needs to get out and it will be good to do). And then back Monday in time to catch Casper's makeup dance class at 5:30 and grocery shop for the week.

Have I mentioned I dismantled the dining room table to refinish it on Sunday? We've mostly eaten in the living room or on stools in the kitchen. The polycrylic is rather harder to get off than I'd anticipated, but I have only one coat of tung oil left on the table base and I am hoping to set it up with the spare leaves so we'll have some flat surface to work with by next week.

I hope next week is much less eventful.
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2010-08-25 11:30 am

Yadda Yadda

We moved the kids into one room this weekend, assembling the bunkbeds for the first time in this house. Bedtime is going okay - still too late. We've started with music at lights out (the Bernstein recording of Peter and the Wolf) which is helping. One problem is mr. flea is reading the crux of Harry Potter IV, and Dillo is bored by it. When he'd done I'd like to try reading to both of them together, whether in bed (chapter books with few pictures) or out on the couch. I think an "extra" birthday present for Casper (turning 7 on Saturday) will be an itty bitty book light so she can look at books after Dillo falls asleep. The other room (Casper's) is the playroom; I'd like to move the yellow futon couch in there for reading and snuggling.

It was Curriculum Night at school last night, so we had a more formal introduction to PreK and 2nd grade. Honestly, because of his home socialization and book-reading and his Montessori daycare, Dillo pretty much has all the skills they seek to instill in PreK: deal with others without hitting or messing with people; understand how books work; know letters and numbers. He accurately read "P E Z" on a pez dispenser last night. His fine motor work is weaker; we need to do more drawing projects, maybe while Casper does homework.

Casper is doing reading in a group with Mrs. H, in another classroom (they mix them up for reading time). She is with Nathaniel, who was in her class last year. She brought home guided reading books for the first time this week, and read them to me okay (reluctantly). Her homework often consists of "read for 30 minutes" and she says she does this at afterschool, but her idea of reading still does not necessarily include actually reading the words in the books. Mr. H, her teacher, said she is doing fine with comprehension and her tendency to guess at words based on context and first letter is a useful skill (this drives me nuts when we read together - I am constantly saying "look at the letters.")

Mrs. U, who is a parent whom I like, is the Spectrum (gifted) teacher for 2nd grade this year, and they are doing recommendations and re-testing this month. mr. flea wants to recommend Casper. You may recall she was tested but narrowly missed the cutoff in K; her increased maturity and test-taking skills (she did fine on the CRCT) should help her this time. I think if it were me I wouldn't bother recommending her again, but mr. flea feels strongly about this.

She's a little down about school right now and I'm not sure why. Complains she doesn't want to go in the morning; told me she doesn't want to do writing and puts her head down on the desk (which Mr. H did not mention.)

After school is still poking along; apparently they are interviewing new directors this week. I signed the kids up for a Spanish class at after school, taught by UGA students, that will start in a couple of weeks and run for a month. No word on Tae Kwan Do, though Casper asks about it. Dillo says after school "takes so long" so I really hope they get a director who does stuff with the kids so they are not so bored..

I called the Girl Scouts last week but they never called me back. Don't they know how hard it is for me to make phone calls, dammit?