Sometimes something speaks that the others can't hear Sometimes a soft music plays in my ear Sometimes in a crowd yet I still feel alone This feeling goes with me wherever I roam Sometimes I could fly yet I sometimes get down My head's in the sky and my feet on the ground Sometimes, something's just aren't as they seem Sometimes I believe that it's really... a dream
So you’ve got your Kindergartener as far as the dining room table. You’ve got out the books and sharpened some pencils. You’re ready to do some work. And so you begin.
Once we DO get our children to begin, how much “homework time” should we push for? We know our children need to be guided not only to get to the table but will also need to be supervised so they stay there for a while. But for how long?
When it comes to homework duration, let your child’s age be your guide. For every additional year of age you can conservatively expect your child’s attention span to increase by about 2 minutes. So while a 1-year-old child might only attend to something for 2 minutes, a 2-year-old can attend to something for 4 minutes, and a 3-year-old should now be able to focus for 6.
At our house, I’ll be expecting my 5-year-old son to be able to work for about 10 minutes at a stretch. I’ll be looking for 12 minutes once he has his 6th birthday.
As a wise mom once said “We generate expectations in this house.” It’s important that children have a sense of what’s expected. Consistency is important too.
If your Kindergartener is like mine, time is not their strong suit. My son has no idea how long an hour or minute are and still counts the days until anticipated events in “sleeps.” While a child like this does not know how long ten minutes is, a parent can still keep this goal in mind. For independent work, a timer is useful.
Communicate homework expectations in terms of what you wish to accomplish, yes, but also how well you want it done. Many children will rush through unpleasant tasks if the only goal is completion. They will do some sloppy work, shout “Done!” and hurry back to their tv and toys.
Having an idea of how long they should be able to sustain an effort puts the emphasis back on the process of learning. It’s not about the quickest way to the finish line but rather about the discipline of investing some time productively each day. As a parent, my goal is to impart to my children that learning and reading are things we value.
The first few sessions, when my son’s printing became sloppy, I gently erased it and told him that the offending letters would have to be printed again. As I did so, I made sure I praised his efforts on the letters that were done well. I praised specifics that were within his control – his pencil grip, his patience, his “slow and steady” approach. I soon saw that my son’s penmanship was improving.
Reading to Mumma from one of his early readers has become a separate event. We do some each night. His immediate reward for reading to me is having me read back. He also gets smiley faces on his chart (more about this next time). Recently, his French teacher has implemented a weekly “book in a bag.” So now we have begun nighttime reading en français too.
My son is already learning to love reading. He is already learning the feeling of pride in himself he gets from finishing yet another page in the Jolly Phonics workbook. But, as we press on, I find that reading and spelling have gone from an exciting new adventure to a mundane daily task. How shall we ever get through these sophomore blues? A question for the next installment!
All for now,
As a music teacher in private practice, I adhere to 3 rules of conduct that all my students learn up-front. These are:
- Practice 5 times a week.
- Do not take a “day off” the day after your lesson.
- Do not take 2 days off back-to-back.
Like becoming a top athlete, learning a musical instrument requires near daily commitment. Could it be that learning to read is the same too?
I like to refer to myself as the “mostly stay-at-home mom” of my young son and daughter. I am self-employed outside our home, but – these days – I only teach about 10 hours a week. The rest of my time is devoted to raising our children, 5-year-old Boo and 3-year-old Lou. And, seeing as I am here for them nearly 24-7 already, I was a bit shocked a couple of months ago when I realized that I need to get more involved with my son’s education.
I try to give my children the best of myself and help them find their best in the process and I’ve always felt sure I was doing a pretty good job at that, so I was both surprised and embarrassed when – upon meeting with Boo’s teachers at Parent-Teacher interviews – I learned that my Senior Kindergarten-aged son was not keeping up with his classmates. He had fallen, seemingly, far behind on phonics. A recent assessment score of 4/18 was pushed under my nose. “We’re not suspecting anything like a learning disability… yet,” his kindly teacher added.
I swallowed. Hard.
We live in Ottawa, Ontario, where children start school at age 4, entering what has now become full-day Junior Kindergarten (JK). 5-year-olds progress to Senior Kindergarten (SK). In our neck of the woods, SK also means the start of Early French Immersion (EFI).
Boo’s days in SK are a 50-50 split between French and English. Next year – Grade 1 – will be 100% French. Grade 2 is a 80-20 split (80% French). And the percentage of time spent learning in English goes up again from there. It’s all part of the progression in EFI. The bottom line? My son is expected to arrive in Grade 2 already reading in English, even though that ISN’T taught in Grade 1.
Full day kindergarten’s sister policy of “Play-based Learning” doesn’t help matters much. Although intended to ease these young ones into the experience of full day school, it also means that children spend their days “on the carpet,” in rooms with no desks. There isn’t a lot of rote-learning time.
All of a sudden I’m feeling a lot of pressure about Kindergarten. It’s not what it was – nearly 40 years ago – when I was 5. SK today is the last port of call for learning to read in English until my son hits the second grade.
What to do? Sticking my head in the sand apparently isn’t going to cut it, although I’m tempted. A few weeks after my audience with the teachers I’m standing in the school’s main office with my son when he says, “Mom, what does S-T spell?”
I turn my head and see the word “STUDENTS” on a sign on the wall. My son can’t identify anything beyond the first 2 letters. A light bulb goes on in my head: We’re nearly halfway through his second year of school and my son still doesn’t recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet. A-ha! THAT’S a problem.
We pick up the first 3 Jolly Phonics workbooks that very night. It’s off to the races now. We start right back at the beginning, reviewing what has been taught thus far in school.
Boo’s teacher for the English portion of his day has been using Jolly Phonics as her method choice for her “Emergent Readers and Writers,” as she likes to call them. She raves about the method, but I’m a bit ambivalent. I never learned to read this way. I suspect I won’t be much help with phonics. So a big first step for me is buying into the process myself, and putting a bit of faith in Boo’s teacher. Jolly Phonics it is! After all, how can I teach my son about learning if I am unwilling to do some myself?
We start back on page 1. We review the sound ‘S’ makes. Boo makes the sound and traces the letter. And the next day we review the sound of a (short) ‘A’. And so it goes.
“You can do it or you can sit,” I tell my son when he whines about this. I put the oven timer on – I’m prepared to keep him there an hour if he doesn’t settle and accept it. He caves and is soon done. Each page is about 4 minutes work. Soon, Boo is learning to enjoy homework time.
I egg him on. Rewards like public swimming or extra screen time (he already loves computer games!) act as added incentives. “Do you homework and then…“ I hear myself say.
My son needs to be directed that it is now time to sit down and read. When given a choice between blocks and workbooks, he will choose blocks everytime. There needs to be a time when he is gently, but firmly, handed his pencil. As a parent, I cannot abdicate the responsibilty for ensuring this, in fact, occurs.
Schools weigh the needs of the many. I, on the other hand, must specialize in the needs of only two. My own children.
If I want my children to absorb what I already understand about learning, I will need to “lead them down the garden path”, as it were. They will have to see it for themselves. I hope that, along the way, they will become proud of their new skills and develop the motivation and self-discipline to later independantly use the learning tools they’ve acquired. This means I now have to teach my SK child about Daily Discipline as if he was a piano student. Well, so be it.
In a piano lesson recently, a student who was un-prepared for a quiz quipped that “Pessimists DO stuff.” The student – a chronic optimist – unfortunately did not. We need to be at least somewhat pessimistic when it comes to our children’s learning. I would much prefer – if anything – to be over-prepared for what lies ahead.
So we’ve started our Jolly Phonics workbooks here. I have a huge stack of early readers on the kitchen counter. And I’m trying hard to implement some routines. I’m dealing with the pushback as it comes. I’m experimenting with how best to motivate and praise my children. And it IS working – my son knows his letters (and their sounds) now. He’s starting to read to me too.
Stay-tuned for the next installment. I’ll update you on our progress in this Reading Adventure. We can do this. Join the journey as Boo and I find our way, together.
Another hidden perk of staying home in my jammies for two weeks of February! Although lousy for Boo’s homework and reading schedule (after venturing outdoors to get him by 3:30 I’m just too gosh darned TIRED at night right now!), being home and attentive to Lou Lou all day long lately has resulted in (finally!) getting her to go to the toilet.
Yes, my friends, Little Lou Lou now goes to the Loo. This is truly a momentous occasion.
Okay, there was some bribery involved. Okay, okay – truth: There’s been A LOT of bribery involved.
I have mentioned previously that I often find myself swimming in smartie pants parenting advice from well-meaning friends and acquaintances. Although I was growing to resent much of this advice, I have to say that there have been two little gems of late that have proved to be critical to our progress.
The first – from our family doc (thanks Dr. Fisher!!!) – was this: “Figure out what MOTIVATES her.” Although the sweet man who said this had NO CLUE what motivates my daughter, suggesting such laughably innocent rewards as underpants or a “big girl” bed, this advice got me thinkin’. In fact, I know (and have always known) exactly what motivates Lou Lou. Scooby Doo.
Soon we were at Toys ‘R Us. I found a plastic package with all 5 members of the gang rendered as little pirate-themed plastic figures. I opened the package (after purchasing, of course…) and dumped all 5 members of the Mystery Inc. gang in a shopping bag. I hid the bag in my secret treasure box, in our basement.
“Which figure would you like to win first?” I asked Little Lou.
“Shaggy,” she replied, without missing a beat.
I talked about Shaggy all day long. I reminded her how pleased she was going to be when she peed in the toilet and won him. I held my breath and endured the agony of her initial tears (once she figured out she wasn’t getting Shaggy that very second). My daughter cries the biggest, fattest tears you’ve ever seen, splashing down her face like a waterfall. Lou Lou in tears is hard for me. I wanted to hug her, and fix her broken heart by immediately giving her whatever it was she wanted (in this case, Shaggy). Instead I reminded her hourly what she needed to do to win her Shaggy.
And she did it. After a whole day. One pee down. Was she ever pleased with herself!
I had put a pottty chart on the wall for Lou Lou sometime shortly after Christmas. It had a couple stickers on it, some of which she earned merely by sitting on the toilet for a moment, after some pleading from me. So the fact that my daughter had sat on the toilet and peed, all by herself, was a really big deal.
Lou is nearly 3 and 1/2, and I quit being ashamed of our lack of progress a while ago. The chart became – in my own mind – a way to monitor small changes towards potty training. You know the ones - a “sit” here, maybe a (small) pee there, perhaps going from, uh, going once a month to once a week. In other words, I’d long since given up on expectations of a quick, big change (even though it had been a “quick and big” change with my son, and when he was still 2).
So my doctor’s advice really resonanted. I had to admit – she didn’t seem to be feeling very motivated about this, and what I’d been doing – up till “the Scooby moment” – hadn’t really helped. She really didn’t care about stickers, praise, or even special outings.
But about Scoob? Aha! At last I’d hit a nerve!
Slowly, Lou Lou set about winning the Scooby gang. It took her a whole week, but she did it. A week ago Sunday, as I prepared my hospital bags for my own early departure the next morning, I put the 5th character (Daphne) on my sleeping girl’s night table.
Earlier that evening I’d taken Lou with me to the washroom at a restaurant. She’d been acting up and I pulled her into a private space to remind her about her behaviour. While in there, I went for a whiz. On a whim, I sat Lou Lou up too. And – lo and behold – she immediately peed. She’d actually peed.
And so we’d gone from “4 in a month” to “5 in a week.” That’s a pretty exciting change.
The next piece of advice came from a friend (also, coincidentally, a physician) during a chat on the phone. “Have you tried just sitting her on the toilet at all the times during the day that it’s normal to go? Like just before you leave to go out, meal times, and bedtime?”
A while before my own Scoob-phipany on this topic, I had a few days of trying to “force the issue” with Lou. These were days when I’d simply tried to make her sit there until she did, in fact, pee in the toilet. I’d read somewhere that this form of torture was a bonefide potty-training method.You sit them there till they urinate. And, in the meanwhile, you give them lots and lots to drink.
I gave Lou a manicure as she sat. I gave her a milk. A Scooby story and a glass of water followed. Then a pedicure. Finally…
“Mumma, can I get up? My bummy’s hurtin’.”
“Well, okay, put this pull up on. But I’m setting the timer. In 10 minutes we’ll try again, okay?”
Ten minutes later I’d removed a saturated and steaming pull up. Later, on the phone, I related all this history to my friend Heather.
Still, Lou Lou was doing better. The advice caught in my head somewhere. Heather’s words stayed with me. Perhaps we should try that behavioural approach now. Maybe it was the right moment.
After all, there are logical times to go. Lou Lou just doesn’t seem to be aware of them most of the time. Not until it’s too late that is.
So, how is she doing today, you ask? Well, in the past week we’ve gone from “5 in a week” to “4 in a day.” This morning she was thrilled because she was aware enough to go #2 on time (with a little help from Mumma).
Meanwhile, the downside is Amazon’s getting rich off of us – I’ve ordered about a dozen Scooby dvds and I’m STILL trying to change Lou’s expectation from scoring a big ticket item like this every time she pees to “saving her points” and getting a prize like that after 5 or 10 bathroom visits. Trying…
To sweeten this pill, I got her a Melissa and Doug magnetic responsibility chart to help her track her own progress. I am a big fan of those (have to admit I think the WHITE BOARD is actually the best part, though). I also got some smaller prizes, like clearance-priced Papo pirates (at Mrs. Tiggy Winkles this week!) and a bag of polished stones (1/pee), so I have some little “anytime” things. And I’m keeping the sticker chart up to date, even though I admit this is probably more for me than her at this point.
She’s still 2 Scooby dvds “richer” again today, though (told you I can’t stand to see her cry!). And she doesn’t go on her own still – sh’es going when I remember to bring her. Otherwise, it still ends up in the diaper. So she’s not exactly a potty-trained kid, yet.
Still, progress is progress. I’ll take it over where we were a month ago any day. My new mantra (if you can call it that!): “We’re waking up – Lou goes pee; We’re going out – Lou goes pee; We’re leaving wherever – Lou goes pee; We’re home – Lou goes pee; we’re going to eat – Lou goes pee; We’re done eating – Lou goes pee, Time for bed – Lou goes pee…”
You get the drift. So Heather’s advice (although lots and LOTS of work for me) was really excellent. It’s the “extinction” coefficient for the bribery thing that’s got me biting my nails now.
Truth be told, I bribed Booba too (with a Hot Wheels car every 7th pee). Lou is doing this whole business later and it’s costing me more. Some kind of weird inflation, I guess.
What about you all out there? What’s the kookiest potty training method you ever heard of? The best? What worked with your kiddos? Was any bribery required?
All for now,
“Don’t do it faster than you can.” Someone once told me Ernest Hemingway said that. Turns out it’s the truest kind of true advice.
Somethings we can’t do before we’re ready. Even if we want to. Even if we should. Even if we absolutely know in our hearts they totally need to get done. And will get done. Later.
Turns out recovering from surgery is a lot like this too. So – even though I expected to be up and about and training for the (next) Olympics by now – I am not. Sure, every day’s a little better. But feeling 100% isn’t happening as fast as I wanted or would like.
I guess I can’t do it faster than I can.
‘Cause I’m (still!) a Crazy List Lady, here’s a list of some things you don’t think about before hand when you’re having a hysterectomy:
- that you’ll be learning how to pee on the toilet all over again. That was the first 3 days.
- that you’ll be learning how to do that other (nasty) business on the toilet all over again (the NEXT 2 days…).
- how much sitting and standing hurt when you’re incapacitated by sciatica (go lie down some more and wait for this feeling to go away)
- that your incisions will feel sore sometimes and that your children have really, REALLY pointy elbows
- that your insides are actually going to feel like you’re getting the worst menstrual period of all time (ironic, isn’t it?). Don’t ask for how many days. I haven’t identified the end point for this particular sensation yet.
- that pain killers will switch your bowels off (refer to bullet 2 above)
- that walking will switch your bowels back on (refer to bullet 3 above)
- that switching your bowels back on may perhaps remind you that it’s still pretty painful to SIT for long….
And so it goes. And so, recovering from the “Lucky You” surgery is a slow process. For everyone who’s been watching out for me – for us all – THANK YOU. For everyone who’s asked how I’m feeling: “It’s comin’. It’s slower than I thought.”
Every day I walk a little farther. Every day I stand a little longer.
Every day I set one more small goal for myself. Okay, days 3 and 4 the goal stayed the same (“Poop”). Still. Today I am walking farther. And today I made dinner.
But, really, I underestimated this project. I underestimated this project by a lot. This has been a pretty big deal after all.
“And that’s all she wrote today…”