No, not that kind of stew. Not the Sunday church kind of School, either. No, my Sunday School Stew is based on the following definitions:
Sunday, n., day of the week before Monday.
School, n., where my kid is supposed to learn stuff.
Stew, n., agitation resulting from active worry.
Read on, if you can take a lengthy rant about my frustration with my son's education (or lack of education). And please, if you have any ideas that might be helpful, leave them in the comments section.
My daughter flew through Kindergarten and First Grade. My son, not so much.
He is a smart kid (sometimes a little too much of a smart-alec), and he has a good memory in general, especially for social information. For example, the week he started preschool, his teacher talked about a horse she had when she was a kid. She did not mention the horse again. Three months later, he asked her whatever happened to her horse. She did not remember even mentioning the horse and asked him how he knew she had a horse. He said, "Miss L, you told us about your horse when I was new here." He can also spout a ton of information about his favorite Bakugan characters and what they can do. Clearly, he can remember information if it is important to him.
But he has a few problems my daughter did not have.
First, I think he is a little ADD or ADHD. He often has trouble sitting still for very long - although he is able to focus and build fairly complex things with his legos and Lincoln logs. My mom (a licensed Ph.D psychologist) has been doing some testing with him and says the tests definitely indicate at least mild ADD / ADHD. His ability level consistently tracks significantly above average, and tracks well above his achievement level (which is below average), and he has trouble focusing on boring tasks for extended periods of time.
I hesitate to have him officially diagnosed, as I'm not sure what good that would do. IEP's can be a good thing, but they can also be trouble with a capital T, as I've discovered with some of the cases I've been litigating on behalf of some clients lately. And I'm not sure yet about the medication issue. I know it is good for a lot of kids, and it might be right for my son, but I'd like to try other solutions before turning to labeling and medication.
Second - and I think a much bigger factor - is that I think he did not get the same fundamental drilling and instruction that my daughter had in Kindergarten, and I think he's not getting solid instruction now, either. When my daughter was in Kindergarten, they sat in a group and said aloud the letters and sounds every single day. They also did the number chart every single day, counting by ones, then fives, then tens, learning to add by ones and tens. The letter and number charts were prominently displayed in the room. I never saw a letter or number chart in my son's Kindergarten classroom (he is at a different school, supposedly a better school than the one my daughter attended). They sent home a letter chart, but he insisted his teacher said he did not have to do the letter combinations and sounds on the back (initial letter combinations and dipthongs such as ch, sh, ph, ou, ow, oi, ie, and fundamental building blocks like -ing, etc). He has trouble recognizing and reading those sounds now, in First Grade.
Third, he has an older sister who is hyper-competitive and cannot stand to think that her little brother might know something she does not, so she constantly tells him he "can't do" things and points out things that she knows that he does not. As a result, he is not motivated to try something if he does not immediately know it. I think he is afraid he'll be teased if he's wrong. I've tried everything with my daughter to get her to quit treating him this way, and she's getting better about it, but the damage will take a while to undo.
He had troubles learning to read last year. He didn't even want to try. I worked and worked at it and finally got him motivated to try. We did the letter charts, and then got out the "Dick and Jane" book. (Literally. It's cringe-worthy, but effective). Once he tried, he saw that he could do it and became more motivated. We still read every night for at least 15 minutes. He reads me a story, then I read him one. Sometimes he gets so excited, he wants to read me two stories. He still has trouble with some sounds, but his reading is much improved and he is tracking along at grade level, at least.
This year, he has had problems with spelling. He is at least motivated to try, but has a lot of trouble with it. His grades are ok, in part because I spend 15 minutes every morning working on his spelling with him. I talk to him about the sounds certain letter combinations make and we practice the words with those combinations, sometimes even making up other words. For example, if "ball" and "wall" are on the list, I'll ask him how to spell "mall" and "call," and he can do it. But when the teacher puts old words from a week or two prior on this week's list, it is like they are new words for him. He has to learn them all over again. What's with that?
I asked his teacher about it. I asked what method she's using in class to teach spelling so I can reinforce it more effectively at home. She said, "well, it seems to me you just have to memorize how to spell all the words." She also said she is having trouble keeping all the kids in line, having them pay attention to the spelling lessons.
Holy cow, no wonder the kid is having trouble. If she's truly not giving the kids any spelling rules, just random lists of words to spell, no wonder it's so hard for him. I mean, can you imagine memorizing the spelling of all the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language with no guidance at all about how certain sounds are generally spelled?!? And no wonder he seems to tune me out when I talk about spelling rules. It probably seems to him like random boring stuff mom has come up with, not relevant to what his teacher told him at school about just needing to memorize the words.
So, I'm working on that. We'll do flashcards with the words. We'll talk about spelling rules (even if I have to look up a bunch of stuff on the internet to make sure I'm remembering things correctly). Eventually, hopefully, he'll "get it" and have an easier time with spelling.
But now it turns out he's having issues with math, too. This week, his teacher wants him to memorize math facts such as 2+2=4, 3+3=6, 4+4=8, and so forth up to 9+9=18, plus 10+1=11 up to 10+1=19. But again, she seems not to have provided any foundation of rules or a method of understanding what it means to "add" these particular numbers. Maybe he was supposed to learn that in Kindergarten and it's not her "job" to teach it? I really don't know.
I just know that when I asked my son about it, he seemed to have no concept of what it means to "add" four plus four. I showed him 4 fingers on one hand and 4 fingers on the other hand, and he can count up to 8 and answer. But then I asked, "what's 5 plus 5" and he had no idea how to do that. And forget about 9 plus 9 - there aren't enough fingers for that one, even if he did understand the concept!
So, I made him a number chart on Friday (he said he had not seen one like it before) and we played with it all weekend. We started by simply identifying random numbers on the chart. He couldn't do it consistently at first but we practiced and now he can. Then we practiced "adding 1" to given numbers. He finally seemed to "get it." So we practiced "adding 2" to numbers. He finally could do that, too. We talked about what it means to "count by ones." Then we talked about what it means to "count by fives." We practiced counting by 5's, which he can now do. We practiced "adding 10" to given numbers, and he seems to "get" that, too. He seems to finally understand the relationships between the numbers on the chart - this one is one more than that one; this one is ten more than that one. He even counted by fives up to 200, even though the chart only goes to 100.
But he still hasn't memorized this week's math facts. He can do all the 10+x problems up to 19. After having practiced with the number chart, he "gets" it that all you have to do is replace the 0 with the number you're adding to 10. But having spent a couple of hours just learning to count properly by ones and fives and tens (things he should have learned in Kindergarten, I think!), we didn't have time to learn how to add the other numbers or to memorize the fact that 9+9=18. And those problems aren't as obvious from the chart, either.
And I'm not sure how to explain much more. I don't feel qualified to teach elementary mathematics. I was good at math in school, but I'm not trained to teach it, and first grade was too long ago - I don't remember what my teachers did to teach me. My husband is a teacher, but he teaches sixth grade, not first. Plus, he seems to think the school should teach our son and we shouldn't have to. I agree in principle, but if it's not happening, then what should I do, just sit there and watch him fall further behind?
I am a little resentful. If I wanted to home-school my son, I would have done that. But as it is, I have a job. I can't stay home all day to home-school the kids and I don't really want to. I want my kids to interact with the other kids and to be exposed to a variety of teachers and cultures and ideas.
And, done right, school (with the variety of teachers trained for different subjects such as math and music and P.E. and so forth) should be able to teach the kids more, and more effectively, than I could.
Plus, it's not fair to my son to have to go to school all day and then come home for another hour of lessons, plus 15 minutes of spelling every morning.
He has above-average intelligence. He sometimes lacks focus, but I have had very little trouble getting him to focus on math or spelling for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, and he learns the information fairly quickly when he focuses. I want the school system to teach him what he needs to know, but so far, it doesn't seem to be happening.
I'll be visiting the classroom to see exactly what the teacher does all day with the kids and to offer assistance. If the instruction seems appropriate but she truly is overwhelmed with a lot of behavior problems, maybe I can round up some parent volunteers (including me) to take turns coming in every day to help keep the kids in line so she can teach. And if the problem seems to be that my son isn't listening / paying attention, not that she's not teaching, then I'll keep supplementing and consider the ADD issue further. But if the instruction seems to be lacking, and it's not about behavior problems with the kids and/or my son, then I'll talk with her and/or with the principal about what she could do to teach spelling and math more effectively.
But meanwhile, does anyone know anything about teaching basic math to 6 year olds? Any good web sites I can look at? Any ideas for teaching addition?
Or am I crazy for thinking First Graders should learn math theory? Should I just use the flash cards and have him "just memorize" the basic math facts, as his teacher seems to want? If that is the recommended method, the thing that all schools do and that all kids need to do, then that's what we'll do.... it just seems to me like you'd explain the concepts first and teach how to add, and what it means to add, not just have kids memorize random facts. But maybe I'm just nuts.
Does anyone have any other ideas for what I can do to help my son learn - not just math, but spelling, too?