Friday, September 7, 2007

School Days

Well the beginning is over, now. It was a long haul through the first two days of Learning Centre classes (plus more meetings and training/bug-fixing for the new websites we've developed recently). I learned a LOT about my son, about my goals and hopes for his education and our family life; about myself, even: what went wrong in my own education and how my participation in my children's education, combined with having such an excellent program can make my children's experience utterly different. I now know why my mother was so often involved in my classes: she was helping me. I suppose I always knew that, but I have now finally experienced teachers who are not only open to hearing my requests, comments, and particular hopes for Tal, but actively seek out my input. Wow. This is wonderful.

So here's the story:

Taliesin was excited, but paralyzed with fear, once we got there, both Thursday and Friday. Even after recovering a little from the initial paralysis, he refused to do the assignments, and I first attributed it to fear. First they were to go to stations, but since I was helping at the drawing station, Taliesin didn't want to do any others. Then I left it to take him to the calendar station with the other two (much younger) kindergartens, and they were shown a few numbers to copy. Tali knows his numbers quite reliably, and kept saying "I already know that" and refused even to draw a picture on his calendar. Then the teacher read a book aloud, and asked the children to draw a picture of something they liked and print the words "What I liked was ____". Then on the next page the same about something they didn't like. Taliesin refused again, and rudely, so I left the room. When the project was finished, he had drawn a tree, because he likes trees, although there weren't any in the story, and he had neatly printed: "I DID NOT LIKE THE STORY". Then he took it home to finish: "THE STORY WAS BORING".

I had two concerns: one, that the teacher had spelled and American "favorite" on the easel at the centre, and seemed to think that was acceptable as one of the correct spellings in Canada. I disagree, but didn't argue the point. Secondly, I spoke to her about the possibility that Taliesin feels patronized by being grouped with the younger Kindergartens, learning the basics of letters, when he already knows most of them. I guessed at this because I remember feeling that way myself as a child: it felt like the teachers just really didn't know that I already knew these things, and perhaps they thought I was stupid. I thought the assignments were boring and a waste of time. So I suggested that even though he is not able to sound out more than about 3 words before becoming tired or frustrated, he might prefer to be given the challenge, anyway. We went home to an evening of repeated meltdowns and angry rejections of anything and everything I tried to do (dinner, getting out of bath, etc.) I knew it was probably just the effects of a hugely-stressful day: his first ever day at school, but I was dreading what today might be like.

Today was only a half day. After some group games which Tali politely declined to participate in, while hiding in my skirt, the children were read to again, and he excitedly took a space beside Rhiannon, in the middle of the group. Then they were sent off for journal-writing. One teacher began to round up the Kindergartens for a "letter-rap" game (A is for apple, A, A, A... B is for banana, B, B, B...) and Tal went off to get his journal, not yet realizing he was on his way to the letter-rap. The teacher I had spoken to yesterday came and asked me if she should put Taliesin in with the journal-writers, instead, and I referred the question to Tal: "A is for apple, A, A, A... or printing in your journal?"

"My journal!" He smiled, puffed his chest out, and chose his own seat beside a girl we know from the Celtic Music Sessions we attend (he says it's coincidence that she's the same girl he's chosen to sit beside for lunch and pretty much every other table-task). Today he was allowed to make a picture of anything he liked or had experienced, so he drew the little space-bear he had brought with him. The teacher came over and gave him a little letter-card, which he used with great interest and care to help sound out the words he printed: "This is a spacebear." He was then SO proud of himself, that he spend the rest of the day exuberantly playing, talking to other children, and just generally being a delightful, happy boy. He saw someone taking a violin lesson, and decided he would like to start violin lessons. At home he took out his violin to practice before taking it down to the Celtic Session and fiddling there, too. He went to bed with his baby, Aslakay in his arms, and grinning sweetly at me. I am sure the road to becoming a big boy is not all smooth from here on, but I feel renewed!

I realized today how VERY similar Tali and I are at school, which is going to be hugely valuable in my understanding of him, and my ability to help him succeed. Basically he wants to be challenged far beyond his level, so that he feels respected. He deals much better with failure than with a perceived inability, or a fear of failure. When he's challenged he feels strong and confident. That's certainly a good thing to know!

As for my feelings about the classroom setting, it's still more regimented that I hoped, but certainly better than I've seen at our (what I consider to be very good) traditional public school, here. I can see how this has happened; it's a fast-growing program, and there are an increasing number of people involved who want a more traditional classroom-setting. We probably will phase out the classroom eventually if Taliesin and Rhiannon end up getting lots of social interaction through their other classes and the family events at the Learning Centre, but until then, and possibly even permanently, this arrangement is very good! The children really are, for the most part, incredibly considerate of each other's needs and feelings, which is something I've never seen at the big schools. Tali is as accepted within the older (grade 1,2,3's) groups as he is with his 4-year-old Kindergarten mates, and he finds equal ground somehow with all of them. An older boy today asked around for help peeling his banana, not to adults, but to the older children, and someone reached down from the top monkey bars to do it for him. He peeled about an inch: "There. Is that good?" "Yep. Thank you!" The children willingly left swings to give waiting children a turn after a few minutes. They encouraged each other at various activities, and helped each other in the classroom - all without being asked by adults. In a group of about 20 children aged 4 - 8, approximately, not once did I see someone teased or criticized. Not once did I hear a fight or see someone excluded. If I had had access to a program like this I would be a completely different person, today. And I think Tali will just shine, here. As far as the social structure goes, this centre is everything I hoped for.

Now for the dentist, tomorrow. :--) Goodnight!

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