Friday, October 20, 2006

Smarty Pants

It's that time of year again: school conferences. And since this is our first go-around with a child in "real" school (aka kindergarten), I was pretty eager to attend the conference and find out how he's doing. Because sometimes it's hard to get much information out of the kid himself. He clams up and says things like, "I'm not ready to tell you about my day at school yet, Mama." or, when pressed, says "school was fine. I'm hungry!" So getting a good sense of how he's doing was no exactly forthcoming. Volunteering in the class was a better way to figure out that yes, school really WAS fine and he seemed to be doing well. On par with the rest of the kids.

But what did his teacher think?

Apparently the teachers and aides have spent time with each kid quizzing them on various things to get a baseline of what they know already. Where any gaps might exist. This is what we reviewed in the conference.

"Nicholas is doing really well in school. Does he tell you about it?"

"No, trying to get him to elaborate on what he does at school is like trying to teach him how to tie his shoes: impossible and frustrating."

She then gave me the overview of the assessment and began to dig into the details. First, he was able to identify all of the letters in the alphabet even when they were jumbled up and out of order. Good. But the part that makes you go "hmmmmm" is when she says he missed quite a few of the sounds each letter makes. Made especially unusual when you go on to discover that he can read. Really really well. Like at 2nd grade level or higher. But he doesn't know the sounds of the letters? Quite possible, actually, when you take into account that Nicholas reads like an adult: whole language reading vs. phonics. He "knows" the word by sight recognition and doesn't sound it out. This is a very unusual thing for a kid to do, so it kind of throws his teacher some, but what can you do? It's how he started reading, and I'm just glad he's a reader at all. But I also suspected that he knew more of the sounds than was indicated in the assessment and was either distracted or bored or anxious. Regardless, the teacher wants to make sure there isn't a gap in his knowledge and has assigned us homework to work with him on knowing the sounds of the letters, just to be sure. But when it came to the part where he was asked to read a series of sentances, he rocked 'em. Then he was asked to read a paragraph, and he nailed that part, too. His gift is reading, it seems.

Nicholas also was able to identify a whole page of numbers out of order, except 33. 33?! He identified 36, but missed 33. Strange. The teacher is not worried and said he's above level in this area. He was not able to identify a single 3-digit number, however. 158? Nope. Which is normal - we've never attempted 3-digit numbers with him, and it's nothing they even touch in kindergarten. He also garnered a big fat ZERO when it came to money. He couldn't tell them what each coin was worth, and therefore was unable to tell them how much money was represented in the picture that had several different coins. The teacher told me that this was more a 1st grade concept anyway. Ok, whatever. Clearly we don't emphasize money in our household.

Writing was an area in which he was deemed on par for his age, but I suspect he needs a lot more work. Nicholas has never naturally held a pencil/crayon correctly
, so he struggles with writing. Add to the fact that he doesn't sound out his words/letters, spelling and writing are areas in which he has little interest. It's a funny dichotomy: a kid who excels at reading could suck so badly at spelling and writing. The assessment asked the kids to write as many words as they could - any words they wanted. Nicholas managed "MOM" and started a second word beginning with "D", but that was it. I guess this is normal.

He was able to draw all the shapes in the appropriate boxes, except diamond. That one threw him. He got oval and rectangle, triangle, square and circle. But diamond got the best of him. He was also able to do what they call "making sets" where the ask the kids to draw little lines, like tick marks, in an area and count as they make them until the reach the number asked for. So if they say, "Make 16 sets" the kids have to draw 16 tick marks, counting as they go, until 16 and then stop. Nicholas got all these right. He was also able to count to 89 (although we've heard him go beyond 100 at home), count by 10's to 100, count by 5's to 10 (we've worked on this, but he struggles with it), and count by 2's to 2. This is something we've never even attempted so I'm not surprised that he completely stalled out on this. I guess most kindergarteners draw a blank with counting by 2's.

Then she touched on the social elements. Listening, following directions, etc. As far as I'm concerned, this is the most important area of all. Academics are great, but the social stuff? That's what matters and makes the most difference. I was THRILLED when she told me she had no concerns at all about Nicholas's social abilities and in this area, he's doing really well. She went on to say that in spite of early indicators that he's a bright kid, he's the type that will likely do really well in school because he listens to the teachers well, is very articulate, is a friendly, approachable kid and he follows directions to the letter. THAT is what is going to make him successful in life, and my measure of success as a mom so far. Sure I'm proud of his reading ability, but I'm MORE proud of his respectful behavior in class. You can be a semi-dim bulb, but if you can get along with others and make friends, you'll do ok in life. But it doesn't matter if you're the smartest person on the planet, if you can't get along with others and are disrespectful, you won't find success. You won't find happiness. So the fact that my kid demonstrates the appropriate social behavior for academic success makes me very, very satisfied. And at this age, I absolutely don't want a lot of academic pressure put on him. These early school years are more foundation-building for life-long learning. Kids need to ENJOY being at school and learning. They don't need to feel the pressure to be able to read by age 5 (by the way, we have NOT pushed Nicholas to read. He's picked it up himself as a natural curiosity and ability. We've encouraged him, of course, but we haven't pushed.). Kids have far-ranging abilities this young. Sure, my kid can read, but please don't ask him to tie his shoes or ride a bike without training wheels. His natural abilities lie with reading and computers and logic, not physical stuff.

So anyway, it was a good conference and confirmed my gut feeling that he's doing great in school. And he's downstairs watching the LeapFrog "Learning Letters" video I borrowed from my neighbor while I write this post. Working on letter sounds, just in case.

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