Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The First Year

What are your kids doing this school year?

I keep saying I’m not sure, but school here starts next Tuesday (already?!), so I guess it’s safe to say, barring unforeseen drastic circumstances, Esmé will be back in our local public school.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t see public school and homeschool as mutually exclusive.  No matter what outside resources we utilize, we maintain full responsibility for all aspects of Esmé’s life, including academics.  Right now, as Hoagies’ puts it, we’re looking for the “least-worst” educational optionEvery option we’ve looked at has its pros and cons, and for right now, this year, it seems that the local school wins.  Next year, next month, next week, might be a different story. We’re staying flexible here.

How did last year in public school go?  For starters, we didn’t see anyone with horns – except maybe on Halloween, but we kept Esmé out of school that day.  All of Esmé’s teachers seemed incredibly vested in the welfare of their students and reasonably respectful of the parents’ role.

It also worked to our advantage that the main emphasis in lower grades is the 3Rs.  There is less room for ideology there – and lots of room for us to add in the science, history, and Bible topics from a Christian worldview at home.

And while we didn’t place Esmé in public school for evangelistic purposes, we did know her personality lends itself to standing strong in her beliefs, perhaps even stronger if they are at odds with the majority.

Oregon’s overall TAG program is pretty weak, but our local rural school seemed most willing to work with our situation.  We broached the idea of starting her in 1st grade last September, but they proposed an individual program to challenge her within Kindergarten, and we decided she’d probably enjoy the social aspect of it.


Esmé started the year off well, winning the Student of the Month award in October for being caring towards her teachers and fellow students.

What worked well:

  • Differentiated reading groups.   Esmé was placed in a 1st grade small group, and her reading fluency jumped leaps and bounds in the first few months.  Her teachers said she loved reading, though we didn’t see much evidence of this at home.
  • Weekend projects.  Her teacher gave her a nonfiction book each weekend, and she’d put together a little project and presentation for her class on Monday.  She LOVED being able to “teach.”
  • Teachers and friends.  Esmé adored her teacher and very much enjoyed the social aspect of school.  Given a choice between school and home, most days she would emphatically choose school.
  • Recess and choice time.  Her favorite parts of school.

What didn’t work as well:

  • Independent assignments.  Esmé doesn’t work well independently under the best of circumstances.  Working independently while the rest of the class was involved in other activities was tough for her.
  • Math.  Initially Esmé went to a 1st-grade classroom for math, but it seemed to be more work than it was worth, especially since the material didn’t challenge her at all.  We asked for individual 2nd-grade assignments in her own classroom.  See above bullet point, enough said.
  • Transitioning.  Esmé can get hyper-focused, and moving from one activity to another based on an arbitrary classroom schedule proved hard for her.  She also seems unable to pace herself to finish assignments in a prescribed time.
  • Friendship.  Esmé’s friendship with her kindergarten BFF seemed to give her extra “courage” in disregarding teacher expectations; when I observed them, they seemed to play in their own world outside of adult instructions.

In November, behavior challenges were cropping up, and by December, Esmé was spending considerable time in the principal’s office.  Best I can tell, she saw herself as being the exception to class instructions and rules.  We thought perhaps a change to classroom more on level with her abilities would help.

In January, Esmé spent a few afternoons in a 1st grade classroom with some of the students in her reading group, and then she made a complete grade switch for the last half of the year.

First Grade

What worked well:

  • Same expectations as rest of class.  She no longer had reason to see herself as an exception to class rules.
  • Differentiated reading groups. Reading continued to improve.  She’s finally reading chapter books at home for pure enjoyment.
  • Math-a-minute.  I was unsure how this would go at first, but once Esmé got past the addition and subtraction facts (huge focus issues), she easily learned the multiplication and division facts, beyond any of my expectations.
  • Teachers and friends. Esmé loved her next teacher and still very much enjoyed the social aspect of school.
  • Recess and choice time. Still her favorite parts of school.  Though she seemed to have less of it due to unfinished paperwork.

What didn’t work as well:

  • Paperwork.  Or busywork.  Or just about any type of assignment requiring written output.  Esmé can write reasonably well.  She just has some perfectionistic tendencies.  Plus she prefers being creative with her output, not working within boundaries, especially when she doesn’t see the point.  And she can drag things out interminably, even if she enjoys what she is doing.  So we got notes about her “bad work ethic” along with lots of unfinished paperwork.
  • No weekend projects. She didn’t have a “special” spot for presenting these anymore – her teacher suggested she share them during regular sharing time.  And she wanted to just present “regular” stuff during this time, like a watch or a doll or a stuffed animal, so her motivation for weekend projects died.
  • Math.  With the exception of “math-a-minute” (see above), Esmé was less challenged here than in Kindergarten (where she had grade 2 assignments).  To be fair, the teacher did add concepts beyond just the standard curriculum (for the entire class), and Esmé enjoyed some of the more hands-on math.
  • A separate bathroom.  Not having a bathroom in the classroom allowed for more “behavioral” issues to crop up.  I’ll leave it at that.

In both classrooms, trying to motivate Esmé was an ongoing challenge.  The positive behavior support program didn’t work.  Taking recess and choice time away didn’t work.  Treasure boxes, while making her happy for a moment, didn’t work.  Typical motivators don’t work. No surprise, I must say…

So, Esmé’s first grade was a wrap, and we are on to the next phase of challenges.