Friday, October 26, 2007

A Breakthrough

Albeit a minor one, I had a breakthrough with Nicholas last night. About something as simple as holding a pencil correctly. Silly, right? Actually, no - it's a Big Deal in 1st grade. You see, ever since Nicholas first started grasping at crayons he either held him in his fist caveman-style, or gripped them awkwardly, using 4 or 5 of his fingers to pinch-grip the pencil. Which makes writing difficult, to say the least, and look atrocious. Plus his whole insistence on writing the letters from the bottom up instead of top down. They've really been working a lot on writing in 1st grade so far, which is a very good thing, but still he struggles. And at the parent-teacher conference a few weeks ago we were told that he's a very bright kid in the top reading group, but that he needs work on his fine-motor skills - penmanship, specifically - and he's a bit emotionally immature. None of this was news to us.

Whenever we've tried to sit down and teach Nicholas anything we're met with resistance. Claims of petulant, "I KNOW how to do it!" erupt from him in fits of crabbiness and are usually accompanied by something getting thrown. It's really unpleasant. Mr. Know-It-All. I hate that. And I've been trying to get him to fix how he holds his pencil for years, to no avail. When I mentioned this to his teacher, she nodded knowingly and said it's going to be hard to break that habit. Great.

But last night I tried. Nicholas had a good week at school - has been on a really good streak for weeks now, actually. A small rough patch after ballet, when his foul temper reared it's ugly head and a visit to the Naughty Corner and a demand for an apology seemed to turn things around, didn't sway me from trying to work with him. And surprisingly, he was very receptive. I made a bunch of lines like they use in school - upper and lower boundaries for the letters with a dashed line in the middle. I wrote in my grammar-school best penmanship "I will hold my pencil correctly." and asked Nicholas to copy the words, holding his pencil the right way. I showed him the right way. And he did it! He didn't bark at me when I reminded him - many times - to form him letters from the top down. Or when he'd erase something and initially grab his pencil incorrectly, falling back on old habits. Instead, he laughed and kept it light. It was working! This teaching your kid something was great! Then, after practicing, we tackled his homework. And it took a long time to unscramble and re-write 4 simple sentences, but we did it together. Mr. Chick helped out by entertaining Lauren and leaving us to our work, uninterrupted. And his writing really was vastly improved with a little attention and effort. He was very proud to turn that homework in this morning.

This whole teaching thing felt very cool. It was special that Nicholas allowed me to show him something, and was open to intentional learning from me. I know it sounds silly, but it was very rewarding to sit there and help my son with his homework. I felt like more than just someone who makes the food and cleans up after him. I felt like a parent. And there is nothing cooler than that.

Our son has always held his crayon/pencil wrong. The teachers tried and tried to get him to switch to the 'right' way. He just couldn't hold the pencil and feel comfortable. His writing was horrible when he held it the 'correct' way. We have a friend who is a kindergarten teacher. Ironically, she went to a workshop where they discussed this topic. Basically, the speaker's take on it was-leave the kid alone, let them hold the pencil however it is comfortable for them. As long as the penmanship is legible, they should not be reprimanded for how they held the pencil. So, we told our son's teacher to lay off, gave her the website that the speaker referred to, and she did back off. Our son is now in 6th grade, and still holds his pencil between his first and second fingers, but his penmanship is great!!
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