Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Cool Geek

I am one proud mother! Nicholas has recently been making all sorts of "breakthroughs" in a scholastic sense lately, and both my heart is swelling as well as my ego, truth be told. It's nice to know that you have a smart kid - it just is. We ALL want our kids to be smart, so when you get concrete proof that they are, well, it's cool. Now, if there was only a fool-proof way of ensuring they make the most of their intelligence THAT would be priceless! Nicholas may be smart, but he's lacking in the motivation department.

Anyway, pardon me a moment while I brag: Nicholas is a reader! He's reading! Words! Books, actually. Aloud! It's so cool. He's not even 4 1/2 years old. He's suddenly very interested in reading and his progress is amazing. I think it has something to do with me telling him, over and over, that he needs to start working on reading so he'll be ready for Kindergarten next year. That prospect has really fired him up. He wants to go to K so badly that he's determined to be ready for it.

We borrowed a couple of Easy Reader books from a neighbor who is home-schooling her 2nd grader. These books have 4 short stories in each book. Nicholas is able to read most of the stories! It's funny the words he can read and the words he has trouble with. A lot of what he's doing is sheer memorization after the first couple of read-throughs, combined with some lucky guesses. He'll nail words like "garden", but stumble on "them" vs "they" vs "then". He does what is called Whole Language reading vs Phonics. He's not trying to sound out the words by looking at the letters that make up the word. Instead he looks at the word as a whole and recognizes it in it's totality. He's always done it this way - this is not something we've taught him to do. In fact, I kept trying (and still do) to get him to sound the word out if he has trouble. But that rarely works - he's wired for the other method. Fine - whatever gets the job done.

So we got this book and started at the beginning and Nicholas just sort of took over reading the book TO ME instead of the other way around. It goes a little something like this:

"Father and Oliver were making a garden. First they raked the dirt. Then they made five very straight rows. Then they dropped in the seeds and covered them up. Now our garden is ready to grow, said Father."

Nicholas was able, on the first try, to get most of that, believe it or not. And since his memory is water-tight, he's able to remember the words he needed help with and get them right the next time. It's really impressive. We videoed him reading to his Opa this weekend - very special. When he would come up against a word he didn't know he would stop, look up so sweetly at this Opa and say, whisper actually, "I'm stuck" and his Opa would read the word that was problematic and Nicholas would continue to read. I seriously got a little emotional watching this, and I don't normally get choked up about stuff. But this touched me.

To keep the momentum going I rented a reading DVD from the library. It's perfect for him and the way he learns. Like the book, there are stories on the DVD. When you begin a story it tells you the words to memorize (like "we" "into" and "the", for example). Then the story starts and you see an illustration and one sentance of the story. There is a long pause to allow the child to attempt to read the words.

"Bill and Jill went to the farm"

After a bit, the narrator speaks the words as they are individually highlighted so the child can follow along. Sort of like preschool karaoke. Nicholas is now in the habit of actually hitting the pause key on the remote to give himself plenty of time to read the words before letting the DVD play and check his work. It's very exciting and validating for him to have the words read back to him and know he got them right. That he read them himself!

The next geeky-but-cool scholastic thing for Nicholas lately is math. For some reason the idea of doing math popped into his brain and he was bugging me about doing math. I would ask him stuff, while we're in the car or something, like, "if you have 2 fingers, and then add 3 more fingers, how many fingers do you have?" and he'd literally stick out the fingers as we went and then count the total and tell me. But then he wanted to "write the math down on paper". Umm, ok. So I wrote out several simple math problems in the correct format (one number on top of the other with a line underneath and the "+" symbol). We practiced writing the numbers and then he did his "worksheet" (calling it a worksheet, like they do at school, made it more enticing). He still counted his fingers, but always got the right answer and wrote it down. His writing needs a LOT of work still, but it was cool to see him so excited to learn. What geeks we both are!

I chatted with his preschool teacher about what sort of Kindergarten program would be best for him. That's coming up and I want to be ready. We both agree that Nicholas would not do well in a Montessori type of school. He is very structure and rule-bound. He's a planner that likes to know what is coming next. He's not self-directed in the slightest. I am constantly having to be "cruise director" and suggest various things for him to do or he says he's bored. He doesn't seem to be able to come up with entertainment ideas on his own (yet??). So a program where the kids are encouraged to pursue their own areas of interest would not work for a kid like Nick. His teacher thinks a regular school would be just fine for him, but to be careful about class size because Nicholas will get lost in a big class. He needs to feel connected to the teacher(s) and requires attention. His preschool teachers' only concern is that he does appear to be "advanced" (whatever that means) compared to his peers and could get bored in regular school. He may not be pushed or challenged enough. So I'm perplexed about which type of school situation will be best for him. Sure, he's showing some early academic aptitudes, but please don't ask him to tie his shoes or button his own pants. He's still in Pull-Up's at night, for christ sake! Regardless, it's just so amazing to hear your kid reading and doing math at levels expected in the first or second grade, and he's not even 4 1/2 yrs old. Very, very cool.

And finally, Nicholas is a dancer. We have frequent "dance parties" in our living room in the evenings. He selects classical music and then dances his hiney off, shrieking as he moves to the rhythm of the music. He's a shrieker and it nearly pierces my eardrums. So today I enrolled him in a beginning dance class to start in January. He is so excited! We were at the mall having some pictures taken and to have a little chat with Santa, and we grabbed some lunch. He finished eating before Lauren so he told me he was going to practice his dancing for his dance class. And he did - he danced right there in the middle of the food court. It was hysterical to watch him. No music, just him in all his dramatic glory. Big arm gestures, funny footwork, and a few shimmy's thrown in for good measure. At least he refrained on the shrieking element in public. All that was missing was a hat in front of him for tips, I swear. My little street performer-to-be. I noticed quite a few fellow diners grinning appreciatively? Smirking? at him during this impromptu recital of sorts. At least he wasn't shy about it. I was happy watching him.

I definitely have a smart, dramatic cookie on my hands. I've always known he was bright, but it's super-cool to see it emerge like this. He's always been gifted on the computer (his latest thing is to download digital pics from the camera onto the desktop all by himself. And he is able to add various kid websites to his "favorites" list on his own, too. He's very, very good on the computer. Scary good.) but to have him take an interest and show achievements in more traditional and basic areas like reading and math is just wonderful. I credit his interest in the computer for a lot of it, actually, because many of the games he plays on the computer reinforce these areas. The two go hand in hand. Pretty soon Nicholas will not only be able to read the instruction manual for the computer, he'll be able to program it himself. All that between dance recitals and naps, probably.



Nathan recently brought the Brandnewreader book series home from preschool and I LOVE IT! And so does he!

We may buy a couple more of the box sets for Christmas or his 4th bday in April.

Have fun with the Xmas decorating this weekend!
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