Is your child spending another year in the same grade? Think of it as “a gift of time”

Is your child spending another year in the same grade? Think of it as “a gift of time”

Kines, Barbara

When I taught kindergarten, the readiness of children for the demands of a school day was a crucial consideration. There were always a few children who were just not with the group, whether it was participating in songs and conversation or listening to a story.

I could find nothing wrong with them. They just needed more time to develop a longer attention span, to become more coordinated and to experiment with materials at their own pace. In other words, they needed time to grow.

I watched as some of them struggled to handle scissors with fingers that simply would not cooperate. It troubled me to see them compare their achievements to those of their older, more coordinated classmates.

At that time, teachers were instructed to observe individual children and to tailor objectives and the means of attaining them to the developmental level of the students. We were aware that our state had the latest possible cut-off date for school entrance–children need be only age 5 by December 31 to enter kindergarten–and the tremendously wide range of maturity levels was all too apparent in the classrooms.

Throughout the school year, we had a dialogue with parents, and near the end of the term, when it was obvious that the demands of a full day in first grade were going to be too much, physically and emotionally, for a few of the children, parents and teachers together often decided to give those children a gift of time. They spent another year with us, with the parents deciding whether it would be with the same teacher who knew the child well, or with a different teacher with a fresh approach.

I believe it was the kindest thing we could have done for those families. Through no fault of their own, the children were destined to struggle through their school years. Giving them a year to grow meant that school challenges were well within their ability to master.

Unfortunately, the trend has numbers to obtain funding–it’s required that children be promoted automatically, ready or not.

For too long, our system has forced children into the next grade, then failed them when they didn’t meet some arbitrary grade level standard. There are those who believe that it is the system that has failed, not the children.

We need to respect individual growth patterns, to value and appreciate children for their uniqueness, and to surround them with conditions that enable them to be more completely themselves.

Children are so vulnerable, but they have parents who are their advocates. Don’t let self-styled “experts” interfere with any decision that your heart tells you to make for the good of your child.

Reading Aloud Increases Children’s Reading Ability

In a workshop I attended recently, Jim Trelease, author of The New Read-Aloud Handbook, pointed out that a child’s listening vocabulary is normally four or five years ahead of his reading vocabulary.

We need to think of those listening vocabulary words as the contents of a pitcher from which a child pours glasses of reading vocabulary. That made very clear to me exactly what the connection is between reading aloud to children and their becoming better readers. I realized anew how essential is that precious time when a child and an adult read a book together.

In recent years, many school systems have taken a hard look at the “traditional” ways we’ve been teaching. They have noted the appalling drop-out rate and the growing illiteracy in our country and have become painfully aware that what “we’ve always done” hasn’t always worked.

Educators have begun to turn the face of education away from the idea that the teacher is the font of all knowledge and transmits it in chunks to students to the idea that the teacher is a learner, too, guiding students to seek answers to questions that are meaningful because the students themselves have posed them.

Many teachers have adopted a philosophy that you may have heard referred to as “whole language.” The problem with the term is that it is “in” right now, and consequently some educational practices–and a great many educational materials–have been labeled “whole language” when, in fact, they’re far from it.

Properly initiated, this is a bright and hopeful direction for education to be taking. Methods developed 50 or 100 years ago for an industrialized population are no longer adequate to help today’s children meet the challenges that await them. We know so much more now about how children learn. We must base our instructional practices upon the best that we know.

The problem is that simply because whole language is “in,” it doesn’t mean that every teacher is prepared to adopt new approaches and ideas. Going through the motions without understanding the philosophy and developing a personal set of beliefs is an empty exercise and dooms the chances even before they are initiated.

If teachers in your school are interested in increased personal autonomy and flexibility in planning and scheduling to meet individual differences, it would be an excellent use of PTA funds to underwrite their attendance at some of the excellent inservice workshops and seminars that are available.

Change often makes us uneasy, and it’s important that you understand new ideas in education before you can support them. In each of these newsletters, I’d like to write about an aspect of whole language that interests you. If you’ve heard or observed something that you can’t understand, ask the teacher, or write to me and let’s see if we can throw some light on the subject. In the meantime, try the brief inventory shown below.

What Do You Know About Whole Language?

Mark true or false after each of the following statements. Hang on to the answers until you read next month’s column.

1. Basal reading systems are never used in whole language classrooms.

2. In a whole language classroom, children are allowed to spell any way they want to.

3. Whole language classrooms are noisier and more confusing than are traditional classrooms.

4. Whole language teachers don’t believe in teaching children phonics.

5. Whole language teachers do not engage in any direct teaching.

Recycle Your Stationery–Straight to the Classroom

In most schools, paper is in short supply. When I wrote to parents about our predicament, I was swamped with offers of “recyclable” paper–8-1/2″ x 11″ sheets that had been used on one side and were fine for us to turn over and write on.

With business take-overs abounding, reams of unused letterhead stationery are being discarded, while teachers borrow paper or buy it with their own money.

Classrooms can use the paper in many ways–for rough copies, scratch papers, etc. Larger sheets can be transformed into banners, murals and posters. Talk to people at work or to friends who might have access to a paper supply. Also, school art departments are always in needs of various sizes, weights and colors of paper. And you won’t find more grateful recipients anywhere.

Role Models Who Read and Write Can Make a Profound Impression on Your Child

Is your house “littered with literacy”? We know that kids want more than anything to be like the adults in their lives, to be “grown up.” That’s why little girls clump around in Mother’s new party shoes and little boys and girls push plastic lawn mowers across the grass on Saturday mornings.

Seeing you read and write will make a profound impression on your children. If newspapers, books, magazines, lists and notes are all part of your daily routine, it will be natural for your child to understand why learning to read and write is a necessary part of being a productive adult.

Before her retirement last year, Barbara Kines taught first and second grades in Baltimore, MD. She is a Teaching Editor of Teaching K-8 magazine.

Copyright Early Years, Inc. Feb 1994

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