Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Back to school

Ellie went back to school on Tuesday after two-plus weeks of between term holidays. She didn't much want to go, and truth be told, I didn't much want to send her. We had a great holiday this time! She was so happy to be home, and she started getting excited about learning again.

For much of this year, I've been questioning the decision to send Ellie (and soon Stephanie) to school. I am a Montessori trained teacher, and I have always been a huge advocate of Montessori education for ages 3-6. Sending Ellie to Beehive was an obvious choice. It hasn't played out quite as I anticipated. At first, she took to it like a duck to water. She loved the order, the precision, the detail...and in many ways, those things continue to make it a great fit for her personality. But the precision seems to have taken her natural tendencies of perfectionism to a new level, a level where it interferes with her desire to learn new skills (namely reading and writing) because that would mean making mistakes along the way that she is unwilling to make.

Her school insists on cursive writing at this age, and her teacher requested I discourage printing at home. I did that, so as not to give conflicting messages, but I have regretted it. Cursive just doesn't appeal to Ellie, and she is put off by it. Not being "allowed" to print, she has lost the drive to write at all. In the Montessori environment, writing comes before reading, so she is being held off from reading progression. She is a frustrated and saddened kid. Her love of learning has withered. Her desire to attend school has faded. Her enthusiasm for new skills has disappeared. It hurt me to see it, though it took me until the recent school holidays to figure out all the whys behind it that I just explained.

Once I clearly saw what was happening, I was able to start putting it right for her. She is a clever girl, so although it is against my usual to give mixed messages, I told her she should feel free to write in print at home as long as she remembers to stick to cursive at school. I told her I missed her writing (true!!!) and I wanted to see it again. I told her I didn't care if it was print or cursive, and she should write whatever made her happy to write, as often as she wanted to do it. THIS HAS MADE ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD. Her writing has taken off like wildfire again. I just had to fan that smoldering little flame. I made her a little purse with a notepad and a multi-color ink pen inside, and she keeps that with her in the car to jot down words as she thinks them up. This morning on the way to school, she and Stephanie were taking cafe orders (a favorite game in which they usually draw whatever you order), and Ellie wrote "PESTO" all by herself without even a hint from me! Naturally, this has led to her trying to read more things too. She is regaining confidence and enthusiasm because that pressure for perfection and correctness is off, at least at home. I've also had specific, direct talks with her about how it is okay to make mistakes, that it is part of learning and is no problem at all, that we should expect to make mistakes and learn from them rather than worry about them. Mistakes help us learn, and they shouldn't stop us from trying. Although perfectionism is central facet of her personality, she is a smart girl and my words are getting through. She hears the message and has even transmitted it to others in a loving way when she sees classmates struggle, so I'm thankful I am being heard.

I have been so happy watching her light up again that I almost didn't want to send her back to school at all. I didn't want to see that light get snuffed out again. Ultimately, I figured this is a short term (only 10 weeks or so) followed by a really long holiday (end of school year/summer/Christmas break), so back she went to finish the year. It has only been two days, but hopefully, we will stay on track. I plan to teach her to read myself in my own way over that holiday so as not to conflict with what she's seeing at school or raise her teacher's notice as to why/how Ellie is approaching words differently than expected (I want to avoid the latter more for Ellie's sake, so she never has to be told that's not how it's done). I am far more the wiser for having sussed out the core problem, so I am much more able to help her than I was before. Ellie is such a sensitive soul that we are sure she will always require direct support from us to help her make her way through this world of childhood and adolescence. I am just relieved for now to be able to address the problem she is having and to help her manage it.


schlelly said...

Congrats on the discovery! I think you were absolutely right to follow your intuition. Did the teacher not see the diminished enthusiasm? I know they have many students to monitor but it seems a bit worrisome to stick with something that you can see isn't working for a student. Alas, I am not trained in education and I do not have children so that is a very uneducated observation.

Kudos to being a great mom - who may or may not make mistakes :-)

Karly said...

I am so proud of you for getting to the root of the problem and helping Ellie through! I hope that the rest of this school year goes smoothly, and I know that you will continue to help Ellie thrive. She has one fantastic mama!

Mimi said...

You are such an amazing mama, to be so in tune with Ellie. Do you know how many children have parents that would just tell them they are going to school, and that is that? Lucky Ellie! Yet, my heart aches for her. She is such a sensitive little sou(takes one to know one) I can't help but wonder if this strict environment could be suppressing rather than encouraging her little spirit. I know you know best. I am so grateful Ellie has you for her Mom.

Lavender Hearts said...

My heart goes out to Ellie but I'm sure with you there to help and guide her she'll rediscover and rekindle her love of learning. I