A collaborative cat, outlined by Ronin and colored by Claire
School has been very busy and it has been taking us a while to get into the swing of things. Each Friday Claire and Ronin get the entire week’s homework packet, including 12 spelling words to learn for the spelling test, language arts lessons including punctuation and capitalization and reading and writing, and math, which so far includes adding and subtracting numbers up through 12, pattern recognition, sets and subsets and beginning algebra. They also need to use best-guess spelling to write and illustrate a 3-page short story with a coherent beginning, middle, and end.
Ronin has written stories about “A Knight’s Life” where he discusses how as a child they serve food to the grown-ups, and when they are older they get their first horse, and when they are adults they get their armor and spurs. He has written about places he’s traveled. He spends enough time on the story that sometimes he forgets what he was planning on saying for his middle and end while he’s writing the beginning. In fact, toward the beginning of the school year I was very worried about the amount of time Ronin was spending on his homework, just like last year. He needed to be coached through every page, sometimes every problem. Not that he didn’t know the answers, but he was just spending too much time on the execution and then in between getting distracted by other things, like rolling pencils around.
Ronin’s math problems
Claire’s math problems
These sheets were from the first week of school. I talked Ronin out of coloring the drawings he made, since this was just one of about 14 pages of work, not including the story and spelling words. He is very detailed and creative and Claire will just zip right through these sheets and be a little messy. Her stories are often things like, “Colors I Like” or “Halloween Costumes I Have Had” because it’s fast and easy for her, and the illustrations are sort of amorphous blobs and shapes. She writes stories and does drawings at home for us, and those are better examples of what she can accomplish. Ronin, meanwhile, gets a problem that requests a drawing of an animal and he runs to the drawing books to see what examples there are if he can’t see anything as a reference on the page.
Ronin’s cow and brown bear math problems
Claire’s speed is to her advantage in a lot of ways. She gets done faster and she doesn’t forget what she’s doing. Aside from the story plot, Ronin can forget about other things while he’s concentrating on his drawing. He can get caught up in the process and forget that he was only supposed to draw two or three of something.
Things got much better when I started putting a timer on the table and giving Ronin a set number of minutes to finish a page or a drawing. He was a little reluctant at first, but gradually started appearing relieved and then became happy. He likes to beat the timer, and this past Friday he did the entire week’s homework ahead of time from start to finish in one sitting and said he enjoyed it. And that was without the timer. He has gone from saying he doesn’t like school very much to saying how much he loves it, and how he likes learning about everything and how he feels like he knows so much and he feels like he is able to go places and do things.
First week of first grade, spelling test
Ronin’s spelling test
As Ronin’s mood and homework skills have improved, Claire’s have diminished. I’m not sure why, but she seems a little down on school and often shouts, “No!” or “I’ll do it on Wednesday!” when told that it’s homework time. She has a best friend, Sophie, and another best friend, Mitzi, and she plays with them a lot. She and Sophie have had a lot of play dates and Sophie’s mom even suggested they take a gymnastics class together and volunteered to drive them there after school on Thursdays, so Claire has been thrilled with that. She feels very grown-up going to a class with her friend and riding in a booster seat. Aside from Claire’s gymnastics class, both Claire and Ronin are taking an origami class after school (they took this last year from the same instructor and loved it), and Claire is taking a beginning acting and stagecraft class on Fridays that coincides with an Engineering with Legos class for Ronin. They are really enjoying all of their after-school activities, but that makes it more imperative that they squeeze homework in on the weekend and on the days they don’t have activities.
I know that first grade has the word “GRADE” in it, but really?
Speaking of a beginning, a middle, and an end, I realize my post about school and homework is meandering a bit. This is the problem with writing my first post about school after it’s already been six weeks, and when most of the adjustments were all right in the beginning. I keep looking at the pictures I took and wanted to put in here, and they are all from the first week or two, so I’m scattering them in between bits of description and it makes me think of more things I wanted to say. Anyway, the big shock was that at the end of the first week of school, I got the homework and spelling tests back and there were grades! Ronin got a C and Claire got a B+. It seemed like their teacher was very VERY particular about everything being perfect, including spacing between words, punctuation and capital letters.
Claire’s test, with a letter grade
I looked at their tests and was just amazed. I went out to the living room to talk to Justin and he said, “Whoa, take it easy there Tiger Mom.” He reminded me that it was okay to be average. I told him I was not going to try to ensure that they got A grades, and that was not the source of my conflict, but I was mostly just unhappy that I had thought they were doing so well when I had been missing some big chunks of necessary knowledge, like how to use punctuation conscientiously and to not toss capital letters into the mix and for Ronin to ensure proper spacing between his words. Well, I had been talking to them about it but hadn’t been emphasizing it very much. After that, I started having them try to pay more attention to these rules when doing their homework as well. I found out from other parents that nobody else had gotten grades, though. It was very weird. Not in other first grade classes, and not even in our class.
During the parent information night at school, I went to the classroom and was informed by the teacher that he’d heard he accidentally graded a few tests with letter grades. He said he hadn’t meant to do that, and he writes corrections on the papers and often comes up with a letter grade in his head, but doesn’t intend to write it down. Since then, there have been no grades and Ronin has been spacing better and the homework has been reinforcing punctuation.
A Cat by Claire
Claire and Ronin both really like their teacher. He seems to be strict and meticulous (if you hadn’t guessed already) and they both want to please him and want him to be proud of them. They think he likes them, which is important. He has been responsive when I have emailed him questions or left him notes, but I don’t really know him the same way I got to know our kindergarten teacher, since they just get let out of class and he doesn’t have to hang out and make sure everyone is picked up. Ronin mentioned that the teacher is not as focused on science as I told him he would be, since he didn’t know about the late heavy bombardment when Ronin brought it up. I told Ronin it was comprised of common words and not as famous as The Big Bang so he should try not to be too disappointed if a lot of people didn’t recognize it.
My Family by Claire
It’s been about six weeks of adjustment, and I think they are settling into their new routine. There are only a few kids from their kindergarten class in their current class, but Ronin also has a new best friend — Simon loves science and medicine and hangs out after school and plays games with him. They still see many of their old friends at recess and before and after school and around town. I can see how nice it is to have that security of having friends around, year after year, and how much easier it is to start a new school year when you know your way around already and know the teachers and staff and the rules. We might be busy, but I think we all can appreciate how much we are doing that is interesting and fun, and if we can do the not-so-fun stuff without too much fuss or procrastination, it’s easy enough to get out of the way and move on to the entertainment.