Thursday, September 24, 2015

Quantum Leaps

            It seems about every two weeks for the last couple of months I have found myself writing about how Polly and Pip are aging right before our eyes. Much of this has to with the new school year and the changing levels of expectations that occur as they move up from one grade to the next. These moves create quantum leap moments when the kids are suddenly asked to do things they haven’t before, and we have to figure out how to make those things happen in ways that promote good long-term habits. For Polly last year it was adjusting to kindergarten and learning how to manage her feelings after a long day at school. For Pip, it was shifting his expectations for doing homework from the ten minutes every other day of first grade to the thirty minutes every day of second grade. Both challenges were at the time overwhelming and fraught with their share of tears but thankfully in time we all adjusted to these new realities.
            This year Polly’s leap involves spelling words. Polly watched for two years as Pip has done his spelling words – writing them out on Mondays, putting them in alphabetical order on Tuesdays, going through them with me on Wednesdays, and doing a mock test on Thursdays. She hovered over his shoulder through it all and took turns calling out words. She even created her own spelling lists from time to time. So when her turn came around three weeks ago, she was close to ecstatic. The moment she got home she whipped out her list of twelve words and did all the assigned exercises for the week right then and there. Then she brought the list over to me and had us run through them three times to make sure she had them all right. The next day she had us do the same thing again.
            While I was thrilled by her enthusiasm, all of this spelling required me to do some balancing. Pip still had his words to do as well and I needed to figure out how best to split my time among the both of them. This was particularly true on Thursdays when both wanted to do their mock tests at the same time. The first Thursday I didn’t handle their competing pulls very well. In the middle of doing Polly’s words Pip came in ready to do his. Polly got frustrated at the interruption, and Pip got annoyed because I wasn’t ready when he was. This in turn made me upset with both of them for having unreasonable expectations of what I could actually do.
            The next Thursday, after establishing a schedule beforehand, things went much smoother. We started with Pip and Polly reprised her roll of looking over my shoulder while I called out his words. Once those were finished we flipped around on the couch and did the same thing for Polly. The whole affair went so smoothly I happily ran through Polly’s words a second time so she could organize them according to their first letter.
            It was nice having us all working together for a few minutes that day. It reminded me of some of my favorite moments with them: the evenings in the winter when we settle in on the couch and I read to them. Pip leans in at my shoulder to watch the words go by on the page. Polly hangs out on my other side coloring or fiddling with a stuffed animal. It has been a while since we’ve done that with each other and it made me happy to have the spelling words bring that memory back.


            Pip’s challenge this fall has been to take greater responsibility for organizing his schoolwork. Every day he come home now with assignments in spelling, reading, and math. At school his teacher expects him to write down his assignment off the board each day, collect the proper classroom materials to bring home with him, and get it all done and returned the next day. While he had the same responsibility last year, the amount of material and the level of attention to these details expected of him are significantly higher. The teacher doesn’t remind him to get his worksheets into his folder. She doesn’t check to see that he’s written things down correctly. She has a formal set of consequences established for those who do  not get their work done on time.
            While Pip is eight years old and it’s probably time for this shift in responsibility, the change is still taking some getting used to. Pip’s already had to use a homework pass after he left a worksheet at school and had to face one of the consequences when he failed to write down his spelling words after he alphabetized them. He’s never been punished at school for absentmindedness, and this new regime is requiring him to recalculate what it means to be a good student. This is all well and good but a touch frustrating for me to watch. I don’t mind having consequences for failing to do what you need to get done. That’s a necessary part of life. However, I like it much better when I’m in control of those consequences instead of the teacher.

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