A drawing I couldn't toss before preserving. Nat made up a word to tell me what this is. No idea what was in her weird little head. It looks a bit like the number bead trays in the classroom, but when I suggested that, she showed no interest in affirming. Any ideas?
Nothing on the teasing/race issue below. We are going to ask about it during parent-teacher conferences which is yet a couple weeks away.
Meanwhile, we are finding that even after nearly an entire school year, Nat is still...spacey? Distractable? It's hard to put a finger on, really. Here's an example.
Everyday, the kids have to hang up their coats, put away their book bags, change from boots to shoes, etc. before they can enter the classroom. It regularly takes Nat 20 minutes to get through all this, for the sole reason that the minute she sees another child--in her class or another--she is completely disinterested in the coat task and watches the other people. So as soon as her classmates arrive and start in with their coats, she's busy watching them. If we show up early, so that she's the first, she invariably sees other kids in the hall, etc. and it still takes her for-ev-er to get the coat task done.
BUT. If she has some motivating factor she is perfectly capable of getting the coat hung up as fast as I could do it myself. In short she CAN do it, but usually won't. Apparently she has similar behavior in the classroom.
When I've observed her, she's been distracted by the other children while she's working on something simple like spooning rocks from one bowl to another. It'll take her 30 minutes to move the rocks, because she's stopping every kid who walks by to interact with her. But then I watched her concentrate perfectly and engage in a perfectly typical way with a box of cards with story problems on them, which she had to read, then formulate equations and solve them using the Montessori beads with which, I know, many of you are familiar. For 20 or 30 minutes she worked on these story problems without interruption, even though her best friend was working on something else right beside her.
My diagnosis is that certain things bore her and she doesn't care to make herself do them when there is an alternative (like social engagement, which is usually her favorite thing). But given something with just the right amount of challenge (the math/reading activity was just a bit over her head, but not so much that she didn't feel competent to work at it).
I am convinced, though, that if she were in a more average type of school, she'd be labeled a problem child. The teacher says she's never seen a kid so "spacey" as Nat who didn't have some kind of cognitive issue like ADD or sequence processing issues or a spectrum diagnosis. Nat has no other "red flags" for these kinds of issues. So the teacher--with all her years of experience attending closely to a zillion individual children is stumped.
Me, I think it's just a very pronounced personality quirk. And I am grateful that A) there is a school where her quirks aren't overly problematized and B) that Cole and I are able to stay on top of what's going on at school and protect her right to be quirky.
I realize that she will have to be capable of moving according to a clock and to someone else's timetable at some point in her life, but I also think that learning that is far less important than doing whatever it is she's doing in her head now, instead of moving to that clock. I also think it's of virtually no importance at all for a five-year old. Again, I'm glad she's in a school where it's less important than it would be at most schools.
But this is just the sort of thing that makes me interested in homeschooling. Yes, it's annoying when Nat won't put her coat away in a timely manner (we struggle with it at home too), but it is so very unimportant to me, really, that she do. Of much more importance is that her right to be quirky and grow into whoever that quirk indicates she is, be protected.
Nat is one of three African-American kids in her class of 19 at school. There are also two Asian kids, a brother and a sister (5 and 3). Their parents are first-generation Korean immigrants. When I was visiting Nat's classroom recently, I overheard a couple of the white boys teasing the 5 yo Asian boy by saying "you're Chinese! You have a Chinese shirt! You ride a Chinese bike!" then much laughter. The kid being teased did a noble job of absolutely ignoring them. You'd have thought he was deaf to their words.
I was really bothered. The teachers in the room were far away and had not heard the exchange, but I am certain it wasn't the first time, right? Surely they have heard it before. So I began thinking about what to do. I ought, I think, to have intervened with the kids right then and there, but of course, I was slow on the uptake in the moment. And even pondering it later, I thought about a dozen ways to intervene and couldn't really decide what would have been best. So I thought I should either email or meet face to face with the teacher to share the story and find out if she has a classroom game plan for intervening in that sort of thing already and what it might be. And on the chance she doesn't have such a plan, sharing my concern that she develop one. Somehow.
But I had done none of this as yet, when Cole came home from dropping Nat at school yesterday and told me that Nat had announced that 3 yo sister of the boy I saw teased "lives in China!" then fell out laughing. Which is probably my number one biggest concern about the whole thing--that Nat not pick up the idea that it's funny or cool to tease an Asian kid for...being Asian.
Cole's response to Nat was based on one of the ideas I had tossed out to her about addressing what I had seen at the school, which was to lay down the facts. She told Cole, "no, 3 yo sister lives in ChicagoSuburb." She then coached Nat in this and role-played with her what she should say if anyone said her friend lived anywhere other than ChicagoSuburb.
I gave her a refresher at the door to school, since 3 yo sister and her mom were the first people we saw today at drop off. "Where does 3 yo sister and her 5 yo brother live?" I asked Nat. "ChicagoSuburb," nat said. "And if someone says they live somewhere else, what will you say?" I asked. "I will say, 'No! They live in ChicagoSuburb!'" she answered.
But that's all I've got at the moment. We will need to do a larger talk about racial differences in people's bodies--which we've done since Day One, with regard to the racial and phenotypical differences in our own family. But as for what to do/say to the white teasing boys and/or the Asian kids and/or the whole class, and/or the teacher? I'm swimming with feelings and thoughts, but would really appreciate feedback from those of you with more experience with these things a la school and multiple racial differences. Obviously the school's "multicultural potluck" is hardly a way to address such issues. But the school does care about getting it right. Help me help them do that.
Nat does art every day at school. For a while it was all markers, but these days, there's been a lot of paint. Thought I'd share.
First up, we have standard Nat style, which always includes both ground (a horizontal slash across the bottom) and a sun (here, it is purple, found in the top right-hand corner). This picture also includes, according to Nat, lots of stars and planets:
Next, we enter the self-portrait genre. Here you can see that Nat is wearing sunglasses, and no wonder, since the sun in this case, is bright yellow. There's no ground here, but there is an odd third appendage there at the bottom of the person. When asked, Nat explained that the third appendage is a penis, because "in this picture, I am pretending to be a boy." Well okay, then.
Most days, Selina stays home with either a mom or a baby sitter while Nat gets dropped at school, but last week, Selina came along to drop off. Apparently, Nat thought about her sister all day, because she burst out of the classroom at pickup, and barreled into Selina, handing her all the papers she had done that day. Almost all of them had Selina's name on them, but I liked this one the best. If I was Selina, I'd make up some personal stationery featuring this picture:
Nat has been pretending she can't read at school. That is, she has been pretending to haltingly sound out three-letter words that she has known by sight since she was two. When she does this, the adult in charge (I think it all began with a week of substitute teaching) was praising her highly, not expecting her to be able to do it. Nat was eating up the praise, gathering that most of her peers (I think all but BFF, J) can't read--or are only just beginning to read and adjusting her behavior accordingly.
I got my first clue when we had new babysitter, W, come over for the first time. I had given Nat a very simple thank you note to copy out for my mother, for the presents she had sent the girls. I didn't expect her to copy it perfectly, but figured it would be nice for her to give it her best shot. It was along the lines of "Dear Grammy, Thank you for the dog, trucks, blocks. Love, nat and Selina." She could write all of those things and has done, on her own initiative with invented spelling. She has never written that much at once (unless you count her spontaneous ABC lists), but anyway, I was just gonna give it a try and see what she might be willing to do. In short, no pressure.
Step one, I said, "Nat, here's the note you can copy. What does it say?" Mind you, there's not a word on the note she hasn't known by instant sight for two years. But she looks up at new babysitter, W, makes big eyes, tilts her head and says "I don't kno-ow!"
I was dumbfounded.
So I told her, "W knows you can read, because she has seen you read the menu at the restaurant" (where W is a waitress we've known for a while). And Nat immediately switches gears, says, "oh," and reads the note out.
I itched about that all through the holiday trip East and back again via blizzardy Ohio and when we arrived home, Cole picked up all the mail and there was a letter from Nat's teacher, thanking her for her part in the class teacher gift. It was two pages long and chatty and written in adult-style half-print-half-handwriting, not at all intended to be read BY the child to whom it was addressed, but TO the child, right? Nat, however, tears it open with glee (she was super excited about getting a letter from her teacher) and reads it out nearly flawlessly (she got stuck on handwriting a couple of times) with great enthusiasm and perfect inflection and comprehension, etc.
Well, I had laid aside that thank you note to my mother, so I took it and the teacher's note to school and laid them side-by-side and told the story of Nat's experience with each.
Now the teacher was dumbfounded.
But she engaged me in a discussion about the whole thing for about half an hour (we had only scheduled twenty minutes) and to talk to her, I would have thought Nat was her only student and perhaps the only student she had ever had in her teaching career. She was fabulous.
I told her I don't want Nat accelerated or anything, but I certainly don't want her learning that it's not okay to be as smart as she is. Mind you, I actually believe that someday, it will serve her well to know when to let people know she's a genius and when to demur. But now? It's about peer conformity and social approval and that's not serving her.
Nat is in a three-six-year old classroom with a half dozen kids who come 90 minutes early for "kindergarten enrichment." We aren't putting her in the extra two hours (partly because it costs more) but the teacher has been encouraging Nat to work more with those older kids on more academic tasks and she's come home with some books she's written and shapes she's cut out and identified, etc.
The bottom line is, I am still over the moon about the school and Nat is even more so. And the fact is, with only a three-hour school day, we are still home schooling. We have "unschool" all morning in which the girls just play, play play in their rooms together (and get along about 90%) and I add little lessons throughout the day in drips and drops. For example, lately, we've been talking about water, ice and steam and other aspects of the water cycle. This emerged naturally when Nat and I saw all the ice on the lake while driving to school. Nat said it was silly that somebody put ice in the water, so I clarified for her how it got there. I got her a book about weather at our favorite book store and we've been reading up on ice and hail and snow and rain and clouds and--Nat's favorite--rainbows.
Nat can go for a half day (well, plus the extra kindergarten time) for another year before there's only a full day option. That will make her six and a half when she starts full days. Right now, I can't fathom it, but in another three semesters and two summers? I'll probably be more than ready, right?
Nat has this crazy habit of asking me for something, then, when I've said no, turning to Cole and asking her for the same thing--even though Cole was right there when I said no. Cole keeps saying, "Mama Shannon and I are on the same team!" The other day, she added, "the parent team!" To which, Nat responded, "and Selina and me are the kid team!"
How very true that is. They are, indeed, already ganging up on us--purposefully, I mean. And it's worrying, because they are both shaping up to be scary-smart.
You know, we were aware that Nat was a super-genius. We are in enough awe of that. But now, at 2 and a half, here comes Selina. She is not reading a couple dozen sight words as Nat was doing at her age, but she is speaking in (lispy, baby-talk) grammatically, syntactically correct paragraphs using vocabulary beyond her years (months?).
Also. Selina started sleeping in a real bed a couple of months ago. By real, I mean, the trundle we took from under Nat's twin bed. (They sleep in different rooms, however.) It took her a while to realize that she was free to move about her room, now that the crib was no more. But once she did, she quickly developed this pattern:
We put her to bed a la the usual routine of books and songs and rocking and hugs and kisses etc.
She gets up, turns on her light and reads books in her bed. (She "reads" out loud, from memory, or makes up stories based on the pictures.) Then, after 30-60 minutes, she puts away the books (after a fashion), turns the light back off and goes to bed. Seriously.
Our strategy is to pretend we don't know she's doing this. But the whole time we are listening to her read to herself. It's gut-wrenchingly adorable. Now, Nat might try the same thing, but it's more of a challenge to our lights-out policy, rather than just a pleasant "I will read until I'm ready to sleep" personal routine, like with the guileless Selina.
I say Selina isn't reading like Nat, but of course, she could if she was the elder/only child getting Mama Shannon's games with learning words. On the other hand, Nat loved that game, and I don't think Selina would be as into it.
But she is into letters and words more and more these days. And I think she may end up an early reader too, if only because Nat teaches her (poor neglected second kid). Here's an example:
Selina: (reading aloud to self) "B-R-O-O-M-I"
Nat: "No, Selina, it's a V, not a B, and that's an exclamation point, not an I! See? V-R-O-O-M: 'Vroom!'"
Selina: "B-R-O-O-M: 'broom!'"
Nat: "No, Selina, V, not B!"
Poor Selina, in fact means V, but she has a bit of a speech thing going on. For example, "Mama Shannon, I want to sweep wiff you!"
"You want to sweep with me?"
"No, Mama Shannon, not sweep, sweep!"
I know, I shouldn't tease her. But it was funny.
And don't worry, my ears are open to make sure her speech clears properly as she gets older. It's much clearer now than it used to be and she's still pretty little. But if she seems to need any help, we are, of course, on it.
And that's the adorable children report for the New Year.
When we were in our pre-adoption stage (pre-Nat), we had to take an extraordinarily silly--maybe even harmful--course via telephone conference that was supposed to teach white people about parenting children of color (it was mostly white parents/Black children, but there were a few other race mixes too).
but its silliness and possible harmfulness aside, I remember one of the women in the course telling us about something that was distressing her, that had prompted her to take the course voluntarily, as she was already raising two Black children. What she said had upset her was that her 4-year old daughter had told her she wished she had pale skin and straight hair--like her mommy.
I remember telling the woman that I thought it was pretty normal for a child of that age to identify with her primary caregiver (this woman was a single mom too--so very, very primary) and that what she had was a teachable moment to start expressing ideas about race and family and identification overtly to her children and create for them a comfort level in discussing those things. Freaking out might be her first impulse, but she ought to take a deep breath and start talking nonjudgmentally to the kids about their feelings about looking different from their mother.
The I made a mental note not to freak out, myself when the same thing inevitably happened to me.
Now, mind you, I am not suggesting that something like that never will happen to me, and I promise not to freak out (too much) when/if it does.
But I was one deeply pleased mama last week when Nat drew a spontaneous portrait of her family, featuring Mama Shannon with curly hair and something that looks to me like crosses, sticking out all over my head. When asked to describe this picture of me, Nat explained that the crosses were my braids.
Nat has never seen me wearing any braids at all in my hair, mind you. I have at various times in my life braided my hair (in one, single, pathetically thin braid) but not lately. But when I saw that Nat had fantasized me to look like her, rather than wishing she looked like me, I must admit it gave my heart a little thrill.
Here's the picture, for those of you who missed it on FaceBook:
I am now number four in Nat's affections behind Cole and Babysitter J and now also--bumping Cole out of the top spot--J. Nat's new BFF made in three short days of school. End of story. J. is nearly six (Nat's class is 3-6-year olds) and she likes Nat, too. They ran around together at the ice cream social this evening, completely inseparable, both complaining loudly when it was time to part. It helps that I really like J's mother, M, too.
Nat had school for two hours today, tomorrow she bumps up to the full 2.5. Today, Selina stayed home with J. and I took my computer to the playground and wrote while Nat was in school. About half-way through the class, a crew of middle-schoolers showed up and started playing softball right in front of the bench where I was working. So I finished working and watched.
It's a small school with lots of attrition as the kids get older, and this was probably most if not all of the 7th and 8th graders (who are all in one class together), on two softball teams, with one teacher pitching and one playing third base.
If you've read Operating Instructions, you might recall the bit in which Lamott says her reluctance to be a parent was largely about the fact that her child would someday have to be in middle school. It's the very definition of the worst possible moment of childhood for most people, right? So here before me were all these middle schoolers, playing this game together and it was just lovely. Some were athletic, some were arty, some needed 10 pitches to hit the ball (and got them), one hit two home runs one-handed (he volunteered to handicap himself), some hit for those afraid to hit, and let them run instead. One team was up and down in three at bats and one team got run after run, but no one kept score and members of teams kept shifting back and forth depending on what position needed to be filled.
I swear it made me wish I was in middle school again. You could just tell that all of these kids liked each other; they all felt like they belonged; they all enjoyed the game even if sports weren't really their thing--even if sports really were their thing.
I can't overstate how good I feel about Nat being at this place.
Nat is still "phasing in" at school. Selina went with me again today to wait for Nat on the playground. When it was time to go in and get her, I told Selina we were going to get sister.
She hovered by the classroom door waiting and waiting for Nat to come out and when Nat appeared, Selina threw her arms around her and gave her a huge, spontaneous hug, saying "sister! you are finished with school?"
One of those moments when you wish you had a video camera behind your eyes.
LOVED Nat's teacher, loved her assistant, loved the room, loved the other parents, still think this is the school for her.
Up today: first day of leaving Nat alone in the classroom. But they have a phase-in policy for kids new to this school; new to school in general; new to Montessori, so it's only for a little over an hour. The PTA (which is called something more PC than "PTA" is having a coffee for parents all day so I can do that while Nat's in the classroom.
It's weird, diving into private school culture when I'd been plotting home school culture for the past several years. Not to say we'll never home school (we likely will at some point, if only to travel around the world for a year or whatnot), but for now, there's this whole new culture to adjust to. One nice thing though, is that it seems lots of Nat's classmates' parents share quite similar values to ours--many live in our neighborhood and work in similarly lefty/creative/education-oriented jobs. I might actually make a friend in the neighborhood this way.
Oh--and yes, I emailed the teacher a letter and she seemed really gracious about it and didn't seem annoyed with me at all. So that's good.