First weeks of elementary school - how long will the good times last? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 09-25-2012, 08:14 AM - Thread Starter
 
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So DS has started elementary school (first grade) and LOVES it. After his strictly playbased pre-school and K pullout, this is the first time he is in a structured academic environment, however playful the beginnings, and he is noticeably calmer than he has been all summer! He loves the teacher, takes all the cutting, gluing, tracing, colouring and counting awfully seriously, enjoys spelling the "word of the week" with animal names, does his homework with (for him) little fuss and drama and from what he tells us, might actually be one of the more focused kids in his classroom. Whoda thunk?

 

What made me very happy: while he is the youngest in the classroom (entered early with a birthday shortly after the cutoff), 10 out of 24 kids are fall- and summer-born, none of them red-shirted, the rest evenly spread across the reast of the year, no child more than a year younger than he is. So socio-emotionally it should be a great fit.

 

We picked the school (Catholic 1-4) for its emphasis on both academics and community and their promises of differentiation. On our first parent-teacher meeting yesterday, the teacher was pleasant and professional and so were the parents - it's a somewhat oversubscribed school due to its reputation but charges only nominal fees so the demographics appear heavily skewed towards middle- and upper-middle-class families who are invested into their kids education but not too invested, no Tiger Moms and no entitled rich people who tend to gravitate towards more expensive schools in the area. Some immigrant families, no language barriers, every single family turned up with at least one parent. So a bit of an odd spaceship environment, but no excuses for a teacher to insist on having to spend all her time to catch up the kids who are behind due to language problems or educational neglect.

 

The first two out of five periods until first recess are taken up with a Montessori-inspired work cycle which is currently free choice, but which they have explained will be used for differentiation by steering struggling kids towards areas of practice and advanced kids towards areas of challenge. So far, DS loves the work cycles too because he gets to read his favourite book every morning. Which makes him happy but isn't exactly learning. Which leads me to my nitpicky misgivngs which make me worry it'll all come crashing around our ears soon: the teacher talked about the once weekly reading workshop/library hour taken by parent volunteers, mentioning that she had "a number of good readers in the classroom, for whom it is of course boring to sit through reading instruction but who have their chance then to show their stuff." Hmmm. What about actually learning something? Why make them sit through reading instruction in the first place if there is an ideally sized group which might be pulled out for reading practice by a parent volunteer at that time as well?

 

Also, I asked at the end of the evening about the expensive (29 €, I think about 40 $!) letter tile box they use for "word of the week" activities, saying something like "I feel this is very expensive - I appreciate that there is value in DS currently doing just the same as everyone else is doing, but in the light of the differentiation that is soon going to start, is it possible that DS may not need this box for very long anyway?" (She knows that he is advanced and a fluent reader). She insisted that it was very important that he put together and sound out the "word of the week" until the end of first grade and that it was very important for him to learn how to spell, too. What she does not know of course is that he is currently teaching himself how to spell by now typing his 5th Magic Treehouse "novel", using the word spell check!

 

So I am worried about the reading and math instruction he'll have to sit through anyway and just how long it will take for him to be totally turned off by those. I will shortly disappear into the NICU for weeks with a special needs newborn and will be out of the loop...should I still just wait and see? Schedule a conference before I disappear? Am I overreacting? I just thought it sounded very close-minded, not at all like the principal who talked to us after his trial day and spoke about 2nd grade work by Christmas and having to keep the option of a grade skip in mind.

 

Sorry for the novel! Am huge and hormonal and short of breath IRL...


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#2 of 6 Old 09-25-2012, 11:23 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Tigerle View Post

So DS has started elementary school (first grade) and LOVES it. After his strictly playbased pre-school and K pullout, this is the first time he is in a structured academic environment, however playful the beginnings, and he is noticeably calmer than he has been all summer! He loves the teacher, takes all the cutting, gluing, tracing, colouring and counting awfully seriously, enjoys spelling the "word of the week" with animal names, does his homework with (for him) little fuss and drama and from what he tells us, might actually be one of the more focused kids in his classroom. Whoda thunk?

 

What made me very happy: while he is the youngest in the classroom (entered early with a birthday shortly after the cutoff), 10 out of 24 kids are fall- and summer-born, none of them red-shirted, the rest evenly spread across the reast of the year, no child more than a year younger than he is. So socio-emotionally it should be a great fit.

 

We picked the school (Catholic 1-4) for its emphasis on both academics and community and their promises of differentiation. On our first parent-teacher meeting yesterday, the teacher was pleasant and professional and so were the parents - it's a somewhat oversubscribed school due to its reputation but charges only nominal fees so the demographics appear heavily skewed towards middle- and upper-middle-class families who are invested into their kids education but not too invested, no Tiger Moms and no entitled rich people who tend to gravitate towards more expensive schools in the area. Some immigrant families, no language barriers, every single family turned up with at least one parent. So a bit of an odd spaceship environment, but no excuses for a teacher to insist on having to spend all her time to catch up the kids who are behind due to language problems or educational neglect.

 

The first two out of five periods until first recess are taken up with a Montessori-inspired work cycle which is currently free choice, but which they have explained will be used for differentiation by steering struggling kids towards areas of practice and advanced kids towards areas of challenge. So far, DS loves the work cycles too because he gets to read his favourite book every morning. Which makes him happy but isn't exactly learning. Which leads me to my nitpicky misgivngs which make me worry it'll all come crashing around our ears soon: the teacher talked about the once weekly reading workshop/library hour taken by parent volunteers, mentioning that she had "a number of good readers in the classroom, for whom it is of course boring to sit through reading instruction but who have their chance then to show their stuff." Hmmm. What about actually learning something? Why make them sit through reading instruction in the first place if there is an ideally sized group which might be pulled out for reading practice by a parent volunteer at that time as well?

 

Also, I asked at the end of the evening about the expensive (29 €, I think about 40 $!) letter tile box they use for "word of the week" activities, saying something like "I feel this is very expensive - I appreciate that there is value in DS currently doing just the same as everyone else is doing, but in the light of the differentiation that is soon going to start, is it possible that DS may not need this box for very long anyway?" (She knows that he is advanced and a fluent reader). She insisted that it was very important that he put together and sound out the "word of the week" until the end of first grade and that it was very important for him to learn how to spell, too. What she does not know of course is that he is currently teaching himself how to spell by now typing his 5th Magic Treehouse "novel", using the word spell check!

 

So I am worried about the reading and math instruction he'll have to sit through anyway and just how long it will take for him to be totally turned off by those. I will shortly disappear into the NICU for weeks with a special needs newborn and will be out of the loop...should I still just wait and see? Schedule a conference before I disappear? Am I overreacting? I just thought it sounded very close-minded, not at all like the principal who talked to us after his trial day and spoke about 2nd grade work by Christmas and having to keep the option of a grade skip in mind.

 

Sorry for the novel! Am huge and hormonal and short of breath IRL...

I would do the bolded part. Just use it as a time to see where your DS is at and also explain your personal situation (will have a newborn with special needs arriving soon) that you want to get a heads up and be proactive for the next few months.  It should be a positive thing for everyone involved-- you will know what to expect, the teacher will know the home situation and also that you are keeping tabs on your DS. Also ask about differentiation and what it will look like, when it will take place, etc. Also clarify your questions---- per reading instruction, spelling, etc.

 

 A few thoughts, take them as you will:

 

2. about 8 kiddos in my DDs class are Fall (Sept/Oct) Bdays. It works wonderfully (there are 22 kids) so that my young-for grade have a good solid young-for grade cohort. It is a good thing so far since socially/emotionally my DDs are at-age.

 

3. The spelling: Great I think that a tile box could be used for differentiation depending on how it is put together. My 2nd graders have spelling and use word patterns to practice spelling, it is a great way to learn to spell unknown or new words and also increase the ability to decode.  They have started parts like - tion , pre-, ph, and other more unusual spelling patterns. They use letter tiles, word chunks, and other tools. Spelling is something that is constant and can be easily differentiated.  If it is $40 and a hardship to spend right now, can you buy a 'used' one from another family that had a former 1st grader?

 

4. If there are a lot of readers in the class, hopefully by 'reading instruction' your DS teacher means at their level. Reading instruction can be 'learning to read' and then 'reading to gain knowledge (predicting/inferences/character development/etc) that is used all the way through school.  I would ask the teacher to clarify what 'reading instruction' will look like.

 

5. Your DS is happy (so far!), I would take it for that. If he is unhappy at any point-- address quickly. But the 'newness' of school may be comforting to have work that is fairly easy and also the freedom to choose what he wants during 'work' time is likely a huge plus. 

 

6. I am sure that as the routine solidifies, that the 'work blocks' will have more structure and some individuality.

 

7. I am surprised that they are gluing, tracing, cutting, etc. We did not do K, but those are primarily K activities. In 1st- most of the gluing, cutting, etc was done with a specific purpose (art project, create a book cover for written story, etc) and was not part of the daily learning routine. They DID cut out pieces for math games regularly, but that is because what teacher wanted to cut out sheets of money to play a game for 20+ kids! The counting was only the first week or so (for # 0-50) because it was review---- in 2nd the kids are practicing counting into 1,000 s already! Give it a few weeks and see if it gets more written work vs cutting/pasting.

 

Just my two cents though!

 

 

I would keep an eye on it, some may be simply rule/routine/review establishment for the first few weeks. When a teacher focuses on beefing up confidence and also instilling a positive and controlled environment for the first month or so-- the rest of the year goes much smoother!

 

 I wish you and your soon-to-arrive babe a positive and supportive NICU experience. My DDs were NICU preemies and we had a great hospital (I still send a holiday card to thank them for the great care during a very emotional time).grouphug.gif

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#3 of 6 Old 09-26-2012, 08:05 AM
 
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I think KCMichigan covered everything well. I just wanted to add my voice to scheduling a conference now to touch base, clarify the reading and spelling issues and find out about the plans for differentiation. After that, a little wait and see is probably a good idea. Even if he has had a smooth entry to a more academic setting, he is still in the early phase of adjusting and is probably acquiring skills and learning outside of the traditional 3 Rs right now, and there are soon to be changes happening at home too.  

I also wanted to wish you good luck with the new little one grouphug.gif

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#4 of 6 Old 09-26-2012, 09:13 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you for answering my novel with a novel!

 

That is very reassuring advice about the tile box. We can afford the 40 $ - we are actually surprisingly flush atm, due to an European Court ruling that even part-time workers have to be paid full salaries during maternity leave (which even I think is a bit over the top in mommy-friendly legislation, but I am making more money for three months now than I have ever made, so not complaining). I do think it would be a lot of money spent if all it was used for were one word weekly till Christmas. I'll have to trust in the teacher to come up with more interesting stuff to do with it at some point.

I am just somewhat annoyed about the box because it was so innocently mentioned in the supplies list and I was sent from one shop to another until finally one found out for me that it had been taken off the market years ago. I asked other parents who said they had inherited them from siblings or friends and to ask the school secretary who used to sell on used boxes for 10 € but who when we called her was out, too. So when a number of parents asked about it at the conference and the teacher started musing about alternatives, one mother spoke up to say that she had found a retailer in the area who still kept a supply and had offered them for 29 €, already a special price, if she managed to scrape together at least 6 orders and that that was a lot better than what the box sold for on ebay. So, since we did not have an excuse not to order...they better turn out to be worth all that trouble!

 

DH, who is an even better classroom spy than i am, being a teacher himself, managed to steal a glance at a class list titled "reading workshop". There were checkmarks against 6 of the names, with an extra + sign against two of those, one of them DS. So we are assuming that 4 kids can read at a least a little, and there is one other kid who reads as well as DS. Should make a nice group for differentiation, right? But she explicitly spoke of "learning to read", from scratch (all the other kids, except for a few who I happen to know have been in Montessori like the other fluent reader, must have been to strictly play-based pre-schools too, there aren't any other and parents know better than to work ahead - it's just not done.)

DH says the teacher will have been trained in the same lockstep tradition the last few generations of teachers have been, his own school has introduced differentiation only within the last two years. so the work cycle may be as good as it gets. Sigh. well, at least he's got that, it's what we picked the school for, after all!

We will certainly ask about offering actual reading instruction at an advanced level but she may just say she can't do it and refer to the work cycles and workshops. I wish I could offer to pull them out myself, but there is no way I can volunteer until much later in the year!


I do know that the gluing and tracing and so on is introductory, for the kids to get into the groove and for the teacher to gain an idea of their fine motor skills. They are doing letter formation (which DS is right on target with, being completely self-taught so far and refusing even gentle suggestions to start strokes at the top and go down -  one word from the teacher and he does it! We could never homeschool, even if it were legal!). When they are done with counting, they will start with shapes. However, by the end of the year they will be doing arithmetic up to 20 so the pace will have pick up at some point. And DS will enjoy all the specials, arts, crafts, music etc. I am just afraid that once real instruction starts, we will find out just how far DS is beyond it. And I feel that he needs all the rest of 1st grade, for writing, for socialization, for learning to pay attention and so on, and don't even want to think about a grade skip right now, which is really the only option a lockstep elementary system without gifted programming has to offer.

 

I will ask when the official conference evening is going to take place - if it's during the next few weeks, I have a good excuse to ask for an extra conference beforehand and can ask, innocently, about the instruction provisioned for the readers. They are aware of our family situation because I asked for a meeting before the vacation - after realizing that not only had we forgotten to turn up to the introductory parent evening, we hadn't even managed to phone to be excused! So i wanted them to know that we were not completely useless or rude, just rather discombobulated as a family and why, and in case DS fell apart in fall at some point, they'd know what was behind it. I meant to ask about differentiation then but forgot because i was still so upset talking about the whole situation.

 

Hmmm. Or maybe I'll wait till things have settled down at home in November or so. After all, he IS happy right now.


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#5 of 6 Old 09-26-2012, 09:14 AM - Thread Starter
 
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And thank you all for your good wishes! We'll need them!

Only one week to go now...


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#6 of 6 Old 09-26-2012, 11:47 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Originally Posted by ollyoxenfree View Post

Even if he has had a smooth entry to a more academic setting, he is still in the early phase of adjusting and is probably acquiring skills and learning outside of the traditional 3 Rs right now, and there are soon to be changes happening at home too.  

I

Yes, you're right, there is learning going on, a lot! Learning that he needs, too, and that I am happy about him being so happy in acquiring. So far the classroom sounds perfect for him really - with the one exception of formal reading and math instruction. Which is kinda elementary for elementary education of course but I guess I need to let it go for now. I don't have the energy or the time anymore before I go into hospital, more's the pity.


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