Wednesday, February 06, 2008

All he ever really needed to know he learned in pre-Reception

To be fair, I should clarify the Evan reading thing. He is beginning to read, but not necessarily because of any great stroke of brilliance on his part. Yes, I think Evan is brilliant because he's my son, of course, but I think he's reading because of the English educational system. He has been systematically taught to read in school this year, which makes the fact that his reading light bulb has clicked on exciting and gratifying, yes, but somewhat less awe-inspiring than if he had simply picked up Hop on Pop one day, examined the words on the page and pronounced it great literature. (Might he have done that anyway if his teachers hadn't intervened with their Letterland characters and their Jolly Phonics techniques? I guess we'll never know.)

Watching Evan learn to decode the written word has been fascinating because the process has been so completely different than the way his sister began to read. She was a head-under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight kind of kid who actually did teach herself to read, almost entirely without help or intervention. I never understood her process or her technique and neither did she, it seemed; one day she just... knew what all of the words said. (All of them. Seriously.) She was -- and still is -- a whole word reader, and it was only later in school that she doubled back and learned the phonics rules behind the whole business. As a result, she's a fantastic reader but a horrific speller, and she still struggles a bit with the process of sounding things out. She simply seems to recognize 99% of the words in the English language, so when she comes across an unfamiliar name or a word she's never heard before, it can completely confound her. Evan, in comparison, is already shaping up to be a better speller than Julia and he's not at all bothered by the process of sounding out a word he doesn't recognize. But simple everyday words which just do not follow the laws of phonics flummox him to no end. I presume this is a time and experience thing, but I'm no help since my experience with Julia leads me to make useful suggestion like "well, just look at the word and see what it says."

Now that Evan is classified a "reader" in school, he has his own special reading folder which he brings home with him every afternoon. Each day, he receives a new game or activity designed to strengthen and encourage his reading skills. To me, this sounds suspiciously like homework for my barely-4 year old. I remain skeptical and a little disparaging about the whole idea of teaching children this age to read in the first place; I now can't deny that it can be done and I also can't deny that my child is overjoyed about the whole thing and that's all terrific of course, but I also still wonder whether it's necessary and how this is going to help Evan to do his very best at the sand and water table in American pre-K next year. The homework thing pushes me over the edge, though; every time I sit down to play one of these games with Evan, I feel like the flash card-wielding Mommy of my worst nightmares. I'd just blow it off, except predictably, Evan loves his reading folder and can't wait to get to work each afternoon.

This morning, Evan and I realized simultaneously that in all of the excitement of his birthday, he'd never done his reading work yesterday. He looked like he was on the verge of freaking out about it and I was in a hurry to get us all out the door, so I set the 2 worksheets on the table and told him to go grab a pencil. "This stuff is easy for you," I told him. "I'm sure you can finish it while I get breakfast together." I was right; I came back less than 5 minutes later to find that the work was done, and we all ate breakfast in peace. But it occurred to me later that perhaps this tantrum-avoidance tactic was a dumb move on my part. Evan is a sponge right now and he's learning things left and right which will undoubtedly stay with him throughout his academic career. From his teacher, he's learning to read. And from his mother? Apparently, he's learning from me that it's not a problem if he parties too hard because he can always just do his homework quickly at the breakfast table the next morning. Which one of us do you think he'll thank in his valedictory speech some day?


Blogger Iota said...

Last minute cobbling-together is a vital life skill. Vital.

We moved here when our second son had done a year and a half of all-day school, and he went into kindergarten (it was all-day, but many moms lamented this). He was very bemused when they told him to bring in a special cuddly blanket for the nap time after lunch. I was so glad that it was called kindergarten, and not nursery or preschool - that would have been a blow to his ego.

I have always felt that we push our kids on too early in Britain, and as I understand it, there's evidence to show that. Most seem to cope, but it is a struggle for some.

Hope Evan isn't bored at pre-k when you get back to the US. This has been a bit of an issue for us. With the wisdom of a year's hindsight, we should have pushed the school to be more flexible in its approach. We just kept thinking "surely the work will catch up soon", but it's done so only just now. Academically he could easily have skipped a grade - although we're glad he didn't, for all those other reasons.

Has he got a place at the pre-K you want yet? If not, would they consider putting him up into Kindergarten (if there's a place)?

9:05 PM  
Anonymous Mom said...

This really gave me a laugh.

I do feel the need to point out that the teenager who did much of her homework on the school bus or in homeroom seems to have morphed in to a different person now that she is a mom.

I look forward to Evan's graduation speech!

1:00 AM  
OpenID glcrumpacker said...

Well, the really interesting bit about this post is the insight into how every kid learns differently. I was an early reader (not as early as Julia, but before I ever attended any type of school) but a championship speller. I think because I learned by sounding out, driving my parents crazy (what sound does this letter make? and that one?).

Rebecca, it's funny that the girl who did her homework on the bus grew up to be one of the smartest women I know. Me, I was a homework weenie.

I still say your kids are brilliant. How many American kids could keep their heads above water in the UK school system?

3:25 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

Ok, I was thrilled Ethan has sight words. He spells dog, red, off, on, Ethan, Mommy, Daddy, Alex, his friends names, etc. He's 4 1/2 now and in preschool.

You really may want to push Evan to a kindergarten - otherwise he's going to spend next year learning the alphabet.

W E E K.

He might just go crazy!

Then you'll have to wonder what he'll say at his graduation speech about coming back to America and becomming completely bored...

7:05 PM  
Blogger denzylle said...

There are news reports today (in the UK) that our four year olds are stressed and that our children should start school later as they do in Europe.

Obviously, it depends on the child, but my own experience (as a reader before school), and my son's experience, and that of Evan, all suggest that early school is exactly what some children need and want.

I'll be very interested to read how Evan does when you return to NJ - I do hope he continues to thrive and enjoy school. And what about Julia? Will she go into school at the same 'level' as she's learning in London?

12:26 PM  
Blogger pinksundrops said...

And I thought the decisions we have to make about our kids' schooling were difficult! I don't envy the decisions you'll have to make coming back to America. It sounds like you've already made up your mind though and are just hoping for the best! That's a good thing!

4:39 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

You. He'll be thanking you. Because, really, once we're all out into The Real World, quickly doing homework at the breakfast table is a VERY useful skill.

8:13 PM  

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