Tag Archives: education

To My Son at the Start of 2nd Grade

Zach's haircut

I got the idea to write a Back-to-school letter to my son Zach last year from The Four Wendys. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to get back into the schedule of getting up early, packing snacks and lunches, and buying school supplies, but it’s really nice to take a moment to reflect on the year ahead and how far we’ve come as a family.

To my sweet, beautiful boy,

First of all, I’m sorry your recent haircut was a bit traumatic. I respect your right to grow your hair out, and I appreciate that you agreed to get it trimmed at the start of the school year. I know you’ve said you don’t want to be “handsome,” but you’re kind of out of luck there. You are one good-looking kid. Girls may come up to you again and announce that you’re their boyfriend. That’s okay. You can say, “Okay,” or you can say, “Well, let’s just be friends.”

I’m sorry that a couple of your friends have moved away to other schools. I know you will feel their loss, and I’m always here for a hug when you need it. I know you have a big heart, and you are a fiercely loyal friend. I will help you keep in touch with your friends, even if it means driving an hour each way to see them.

I’m excited to see what new friendships you will develop this year. I hope that you will play with kids where you tell me later, “we” did this and that together, not just that “so-and-so” told you what to do and how the world works. Real friends give and take, and you know quite a bit about how the world works too. You’re so easy-going you follow other kids’ leads well, but being easy-going can also make you a good leader too.

You’re already well along in your training to be a future Mythbuster. You already love math and science. Your reading has improved so much you’re devouring Pokémon and Ninjago graphic novels. Even though I can’t always keep up when you try to educate me about them, I’m really happy that you’re so passionate about the things you love.

I know handwriting is not your favorite thing, but I’m really glad you’ve been practicing over the summer. You think that it’s useless because eventually you’ll just type everything, but you never know when you’ll need to send another ninja a message, and he’ll need to be able to eat it to avoid having it fall into enemy hands. It could totally happen.

It may be stressful at the beginning of the school year. You’ll have a new teacher, a new set of classmates, and long days of having to pay attention. I promise you though that we’ll still have lots of fun. We’ll spend time with your friends who go to other schools, I’ll still take you to fun places, and I’ll help out in the classroom as much as I can.

Whatever happens, I want you to know that Daddy and I love you very much. Your sister loves you too, she just shows it differently. We are all very proud of you. You are sweet, funny, smart, creative, friendly, and generous. You are also extremely patient and forgiving when I’m grumpy and rushing you all the time.

Thank you for being my favorite son, my sweet, beautiful boy. I am grateful that I get to be your mom.

Why I Won’t Home-school My Kids

There’s a “Hackschooling” TedTalk that keeps showing up on my Facebook news feed. It’s given by a thirteen-year-old boy named Logan LaPlante, who talks about how he “hacks” his education, tailoring it to suit his interests, and to cultivate a practice of being happy, healthy, and creative. Another great TedTalk is Ken Robinson’s “How Schools Kill Creativity.” They make good points about how important creativity is, and that the educational system’s current goal of making kids college- and career-ready simply isn’t enough.

An empty classroom

I’ve been attending meetings at my son’s school about the Common Core Curriculum State Standards that all of the states have recently adopted. I’m glad that addresses skills my kids will need to get into and to do well in college, but I’m aware that they still need other classes and experiences to provide a well-rounded education.

I take my kids to zoos, museums, and theatrical performances. Zach studies a martial art, Kaylee takes dance lessons, and they both take swim lessons. If I did this full-time and completely home-schooled them, I’m fairly sure they would become really extraordinary individuals.

Instead, I choose to put them in public school. Zach is in first grade, and Kaylee will start kindergarten in a year and a half. We’re lucky that we got into a “choice” program in our district that’s dual immersion, where the kids learn in Spanish and English. It still follows the same curriculum as other schools in the district, but what really sets the school apart is the community of families, teachers, and administrators.

There are over 600 families, about half of whom are in the dual immersion program, the other half has traditional English-only instruction. We got a new principal and vice principal this year, and their message consistently is that they’re working to ensure every single child in the school, whether they’re a native English speaker, an English language learner, in the dual immersion program, or in the traditional program, gets a quality education.

I know that my kids could get a better education if I home-schooled them, but I’ve realized that I’m not interested in educating only my kids. I want to help all the kids at the school. It only helps the larger community to teach all of the kids as much as we can. I want all the kids in my community to benefit from the fact that I’m a stay-at-home mom and can take time to read with them, to set up cultural events like Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and to chaperone their field trips to the local zoo, farms, and the library.

I don’t begrudge any of the families who do home-school. Kids learn in many different ways, and not all kids can do well at traditional schools. I’m glad home-schooling is an available option. I suspect that families who home-school have their own frustrations and challenges.

Overall though, I’m just really grateful that families are working to educate kids, in whatever way works for their families. Like my friend at My Migraine Family wrote, even though we may parent differently, “We can support each other, even in the face of different opinions.”

How do you feel about the education your kids are receiving?

Are School Standards Leaving Most Kids Behind?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The view I’m going to see of my kids for 12 years.

My kids are both a bit “behind” in school. That’s right, my three-year-old and my six-year-old are already “behind” in preschool and 1st grade.

My daughter’s teacher asked me to help my daughter with her colors because she confuses blue, yellow, and green. She also wants us to practice counting and visually recognizing numbers. That’s right, I need to start teaching her to read numbers. Zach didn’t have to do that until the end of kindergarten.

The teacher clarified she just wants to start “exposing” Kaylee now, maybe because my eyes were visibly welling up with tears from the shame and guilt that Kaylee’s already falling behind, only two months into the school year. The teacher has to assess Kaylee again in February, and she feels guilty if kids do poorly because they didn’t start practicing early enough. Technically, Kaylee needs to be able to read numbers 1-30 by next fall.

We were told at the end of kindergarten that Zach was reading below grade level. He’s in a program where he mostly learns in Spanish, so I figured this was kind of normal, but we still hired a tutor to work with him over the summer. Today, his teacher told us that he’s still reading three levels below what he’s supposed to be. She thinks it’s mainly because his vocabulary is very limited. We don’t speak Spanish at home, and this was not supposed to be necessary to be in this program, but I’m seriously feeling pressured to learn a whole bunch of vocabulary now.

I really want my kids to grow up bilingual, but this is harder than I expected. Part of Zach’s school day is Spanish Language Development, which I thought was teaching him Spanish vocabulary and grammar, but it seems it’s not enough.

My husband complains it feels like we’re partly homeschooling our son. We just expected Zach to get more out of what he was learning in the classroom. He has really good behavior, they never say he’s not paying attention. In some ways that’s worse. It’s like saying he’s just learning too slowly.

I worry that the standards are too high. The kids are going to be tested on solving mathematical equations and then explaining WHY that’s the answer. They have to explain things like why two plus two equals four. I can’t even answer that except to say, “It just does!”

Zach already has about 7 pages (double-sided) of homework every week, plus a book report (one page where he draws a picture and writes a few sentences). We try to do it mostly over the weekend plus one weeknight because he has a martial arts class two afternoons per week. I’m afraid that if his homework load keeps increasing, by 4th grade he’s not going to have time to eat or sleep. We do all homework, we read to him at least 20 minutes per day, and he’s still “behind.”

I’m going to tutor my kids, plus I’m going to hire a Spanish tutor for Zach for conversation and vocabulary practice once per week. Part of me wishes I could “push back,” and maybe I could, but life is competitive now, right? This is all so my kids can keep up, and with a lot of luck, maybe even get a tiny bit ahead of their peers for the few jobs that aren’t being shipped overseas or that only pay minimum wage.

Do you think schools are expecting too much of kids?
Are parents not expecting enough of them?
Do teachers have too many kids to teach all of them adequately?