We’re near the end of the school year so it may seem like a weird time to introduce checklists to kids, but this is the perfect time.
Earlier in my son’s life, checklists that told him to put on pajamas or brush his teeth didn’t feel like they’d be a big help considering I was still brushing his teeth and helping him dress him. Even though he’s been able to do those things on his own for a while now, I hadn’t made checklists. What prompted me to make them last month was that Cavanaugh kept saying, “You’ve told me that a million times!” and I kept saying, “I don’t feel like you’re listening to me.” Both things were true. Because he’d heard the steps in his routine over and over, he didn’t want to hear them and I didn’t want to say them. The problem was he was relying on the reminders and if I wasn’t giving them, he’d forget parts. I had to be in the middle of his stuff for it to get done.
Before kindergarten started, we didn’t have that much of a routine. We didn’t have to be out of the house first thing in the morning. Bedtime could happen somewhere in the vicinity of a time rather than needing to be at a specific time. When he brushed teeth or whether he ever needed to wear shoes changed. Checklists weren’t necessary.
Having checklists at the beginning of this school year would have been wonderful but for most of this year, we’ve been adjusting. We were both so sleepy in the mornings that figuring out when to pack lunch, what we’d have time to eat for breakfast, or how to get out of the house took months. By spring break we’d finally managed to figure out routines for homework or snacks or even when bedtime should be. A week of vacation through even that tenuous schedule out of whack.
The transition has been a hard one for both of us. When I was talking about it with a friend recently, she pointed out that one of the great difficulties is that almost all of the time we spend with our kids–at least during the week– is in transition and full of things that must be done:
- Waking up and getting ready for school
- Getting home, having snack, doing homework, play (in between homework and dinner).
- Dinnertime to bedtime
Reminding Cavanaugh of all the steps those transitions require made him feel like I was always telling him what to do (and he was right). So he and I talked about what the steps were for before school, after school, and before bed. I wrote down the steps we agreed on. He tested them for a few days, then we switched the order around and added steps.
Things are so much better! Transitions are happening on time (most of the time) so we’re not rushing out to school or pushing back bedtime. We’re not squabbling. Cavanaugh feels proud of himself. I get to do my part and help when he needs help, but I no longer feel resentful because I can’t get my stuff done because I’m too busy reminding him of what he needs to get done.
I’m so glad we’ve got them in place now because they’re helping with the end of the school year this year but they’re going to be a tremendous help in getting us into a routine when school start back in the fall.
I’m including our checklists here so you can use them, adapt them, or be reminded of something you might not otherwise have thought to put on them.
- Wake up
- Eat breakfast
- Put on socks
- Put on shoes
- Brush teeth
- Brush hair
- Put on sweatshirt
- Put on backpack
- Go to school
After School Checklist
- Take lunchbox to kitchen
- Put homework on coffee table
- Hang up backpack
- Hang up sweatshirt
- Put shoes in closet
- Have snack
- Do homework
- Leave play downstairs. Come into calm upstairs.
- Put clothes in hamper
- Put on clothes for tomorrow
- Go to the bathroom
- Wash hands
- Brush teeth
- Get into bed
- Gather animals
- Draw a dream
I wrote yesterday about why we should write teacher request letters for school. Today, I’ll share my teacher request letter for first grade.
Dear Principal _________,
I’m writing because I’ve spoken with (the classroom teacher) and (the school counselor) about the first grade teacher assignment for my son, Cavanaugh _________, next year. They said I should send you a letter before the end of April giving you some details about (child’s name) that you might consider when assigning teachers.
As a reminder, he started out with Ms. ___________ this year. On the second day of school, he got lost between specials and pick-up so when the class came outside, he wasn’t with Ms. _______. We searched the halls and found him but he was terrified. For the next two weeks, he was very scared and upset and cried every day after specials because he was scared he’d be lost again. Though his dad and I repeatedly tried to communicate with Ms.__________ about what was happening with our son, it was clear that they were just not a good fit for each other. After his dad and I met with Ms. ________(the school counselor) to explore options for helping Cavanaugh, Ms. ________ (the counselor) gave Cavanaugh a tour of the school, which made him feel safe and empowered, and you transferred him to Mrs. ________’s class. We are still so grateful for this.
The difference has been amazing. He loves school and looks forward to going. He has gotten almost all 3’s and 4’s on report cards in academics and behavior, frequently comes home with Super Kid awards, and is absolutely thriving with Mrs. _______.
Cavanaugh’s dad are I are hoping that he can start out with a teacher who is a good fit for him next year so the transition into first grade is an exciting instead of anxiety-provoking one.
Cavanaugh is very bright, focuses for long periods, and cares very much about being well-behaved in class. Because of that, he does not need an authoritarian teacher or a firm-hand. He is sensitive and not always able to speak up for himself, so he needs someone who can emotionally read him, who can connect with him and help him feel safe and seen. He will extend himself outside of his comfort zone, try new things, and thrive if he has a teacher that he trusts cares about him.
Ms. _______ (the counselor) asked if there were any students Cavanaugh should not be placed with. There are not any particular kids. He does come home upset because boys in his class are being silly, trying to spank each other, tickle etc. His dad and I are aware that this is just what most boys do. Cavanaugh just has never been like most boys. Because of this and because his dad and I are divorced, I wonder if Cavanaugh would benefit from having a strong male role model as a teacher. I will leave that to your discretion, but I mention it because it could be a consideration.
Thank you so much for your time. Cavanaugh’s dad and I would be happy to come in to meet with you and discuss placement if that would be helpful, or, if you need any more details, please feel free to call me.
My Phone Number
The end of the school year is near and many schools are already making teacher assignments for next year.
As a parent, you can have a voice in this decision. While most schools won’t honor requests for a specific teacher by name, you still have an opportunity to let the school know about your child and what kind of teacher would be best for him or her. And honestly, asking for a specific teacher won’t always get you what you want anyway. Just because a teacher was good for your neighbor or friend’s child doesn’t mean that teacher would be good for your child. Writing about specific personality traits, skills, or needs allows the school to take what they know about all of the teachers in a grade and match your child up to who can really align with your child.
I wrote last year about sending the school a Getting to Know My Child letter for his kindergarten placement. I just sent the school our letter for first grade. Because we’re staying in the same school, they already know some about him. His teacher has put together a portfolio of his work and recommendations for his first grade teacher assignment. My son, his dad, and I have all ended up loving his teacher and her recommendations are probably just right for our son.
We still chose to write a letter to the principal. Why?
There are things that happen in the classroom, at recess, in the cafeteria, or in special subjects that his classroom teacher may not know about–even though we communicate with her frequently. Besides that, the teacher’s view of our son is just one view. He also had the opportunity to be in a play group with the counselor this year, so she knows him too. I called her last week to get her input about the teacher letter. She directed me to copy her on the email to the principal so that they can talk about our request and the counselor can share her input.
So the teacher knows our son, as does the counselor, and as his parents, his dad and I know him best. The person who doesn’t really know him at all is the principal, and she’s the one who oversees teacher assignments. Giving her as much information as possible when she’s choosing a teacher for our son makes success more likely.
All of that being said, I highly recommend you ask the school (teacher, counselor, principal, front office receptionist) if you can write your own letter or if they have another way of accepting parent input regarding teacher assignments. I included the link to our kindergarten letter above and will include the text for our first grade letter in my next post. Even if the first teacher assignment doesn’t work out, writing a letter gives you more leverage when you go to the school to ask for help. You’ve done everything in your power, which makes the school more likely and able to help you.
We wrote a kindergarten letter, which the principal read when making teacher assignments. Then the school’s enrollment grew and they had to hire an extra kindergarten teacher at the last minute so kids were placed in different classes and the letters were apparently not reread. I totally understand how and why that would happen. But when I went to the school and talked to the counselor and vice principal two weeks into the school year to describe the problems we were having, I could refer back to the letter I’d written. They had it on file. The teacher my son started kindergarten with didn’t match what we’d described at all. They moved him to a class with a teacher who fit all of it. Was it just because of the letter? No. I’m sure it was due to their caring about children, about their appreciation of our approaching them with respect and requests versus demands or threats. But, advocating for kids means doing all that we can so we have as many resources to help them as possible.
Who am I to say so? A teacher, an educational advocate, a learning center director, a director of education, and an Attachment Parenting chapter leader. Most importantly though, I’m a parent who knows the power of advocating for our children. If we know what we have the right to ask for, our kids are so much more likely to get what they need.
There’s been a lot of talk around here lately about how to avoid Cupid’s arrows, or avoid falling in love should one be hit by an arrow. Cavanaugh’s kindergarten teacher taught him how to do this. Apparently you’re supposed to look at your arm. Why? As she tells it, if a boy looks at a girl (or a girl looks at a boy) after being hit by an arrow, they’ll fall in love, s0… look at your arm.
I said, “But boys can fall in love with boys and girls can fall in love with girls.”
Cavanaugh said, “I don’t think my teacher knows that.”
I told Cavanaugh I wasn’t particularly worried about getting hit by Cupid’s arrow. He wasn’t worried about me getting hit either because I was already in love.
“You can fall in love more than once,” I offered.
“Right. You were in love with Daddy. Now you’re in love with me.”
Ah. Got it.
So we made our own bow and arrow for Cupid. And then we made a set for ninjas. I’m getting quite a Valentine’s education this year.
My son and I started a kindergarten letter campaign this summer. Not a political protest kind of letter campaign, a learning-his-letters campaign designed to prepare him for kindergarten.
The current Texas public school curriculum has moved what used to be first grade expectations down to kindergarten. For boys especially, this is a bad fit. Many of them don’t have the fine motor skills to do the handwriting. Beyond that, what is expected in terms of reading and math skills is far beyond anything kids used to be asked to do: reading multi-syllabic words, memorizing sight words that are the exceptions to phonics rules, counting to 100 by 1′s, 2′s, 5′s and 10′s, solving word problems, and being able to write a full page with words written correctly in upper and lower case letters.
Cavanaugh had not shown much interest in learning his letters or in the sounds they made. He’d randomly remember letters and always skip or rearrange numbers when he tried to count to twenty. At the preschool he’d attended last year, they’d practiced handwriting. He came home saying he was bad at writing, that he couldn’t do it and would never be able to do it. I knew that wasn’t the message he was getting from his preschool teacher, but he’d always been super hard on himself about trying to write or draw anything. He’d ask his dad or I to draw something rather than attempt it himself. If he was being so hard on himself about handwriting in what I knew was a supportive environment with an encouraging teacher, what would he do in a classroom with up to 22 kids, in a higher pressure environment, with a teacher who might not be so positive.
If he was going to have a voice in his head, I wanted it to be a kind one. I wanted it to be mine–saying, “It’s okay if it’s not perfect. You’re just learning. That’s what practice is for. Keep trying. You’ll get it.”
So we started our letter campaign. I didn’t want drill and kill. I didn’t want to turn letters, reading, or books into work or a power struggle. Reading and writing are two of the most exciting things in the world. They enable you to visit other times and places, to get to know people, to visit worlds and to make worlds. I wanted learning to read and write to be a ticket to great adventures, a way to escape, to dream, to learn. I wanted it to be fun!
Worksheets weren’t going to do that. Neither was teaching him phonics rules and running memorization practice. Still, Cavanaugh turned in his Word Wall list before Thanksgiving break. He had to know all of the words by sight without having to sound them out. He was so proud of himself when he checked off the last word and is excited to get the next list of harder words. I don’t think we’d be here (yet) if it weren’t for Leapfrog videos. You no screen folks probably won’t like this, but for all the people I’ve been talking to whose kids are struggling with reading, here’s the post I’ve been promising you, hopefully in time for some holiday sales, in case you’d rather order the videos than try to check them out from the library.
In the same way I wondered how Cavanaugh could write letters before he knew letters, I was sure he couldn’t start sounding out words until he knew what the letters sounded like. Luckily, my friend Ava told me about LeapFrog: Letter Factory. The frogs’ dad works at a letter factory and when the kids go to help make a presentation, the youngest, Tad, feels frustrated because he can’t help. He’s too little. He doesn’t know the letters. Professor Quigley says that’s not a problem because Tad can learn them all easily. He leads Tad through the factory where each room is dedicated to a letter. Whether it’s P’s popping like popcorn or K’s kicking, the letters each have such a specific association that’s easy for kids to remember and easy for parents to remind them about. After we’d watched Letter Factory, when Cavanaugh would try to sound something out, I could say, “Which letter swings through the air?” or “Which letter falls asleep?” and he was able to tell me the letter and the sound it made.
After Letter Factory comes LeapFrog: Talking Words Factory. It teaches the rules for silent E, vowel digraphs, long and short vowels, and “sticky vowels,” all that stuff that parents don’t remember the rules for or how to explain. These are the first building blocks to putting the letter sounds together to sound out words. The next video in the series is LeapFrog: Word Caper with more rules and strategies for sounding things out. They don’t feel like rules and strategies though. It’s just a game with machines that aren’t working properly and crazy adventures that engage kids. Cavanaugh remembers everything he learned so much better than if I had been trying to teach him rules or get him to memorize letter sounds.
The next in the series is LeapFrog: Learn to Read at the Storybook Factory. It teaches kids how to chunk words into phrases rather than sound out each word separately. With this video, kids start reading instead of just merely sounding things out.
We also watched WordWorld, Superwhy (all of which is on Netflix Instant Play), and Sesame Street alphabet videos. They were helpful for exposure to the world of reading, but I found none so helpful as the Leapfrog videos listed above. There are other Leapfrog videos too, but the ones I’ve included are the ones I recommend. Cavanaugh’s teacher is sending home DRA level 8 books already even though he’s only required to be at a level 6 by the end of kindergarten. It’s November. He didn’t know all of the alphabet in July. The videos weren’t the only thing that got him here so fast. Having been read to his whole life, loving stories and books, spending tons of time at the library, and listening to audiobooks in the car all set the stage for him to learn to read. Having encouraging parents and a great kindergarten teacher are also a huge help. But those videos made it easy. They took the fight and frustration out of learning to read. They are most certainly on the list of things I’m thankful for this year.
Cavanaugh turned six today. How is it possible that I gave birth six years ago? I’ve been remembering it all week, the double-check to make sure we knew had to use a car seat, the suitcases that had been packed using lists from pregnancy books and parenting magazines, all those plans for how it was . . . → Read More: Now We Are Six
It’s amazing how different kindergarten looks with a teacher that fits my son’s personality. The last times I wrote were about how we were coping with kindergarten (not well) and our fears about starting kindergarten. Now we’re in week five and the view from here (thankfully) is beautiful.
Cavanaugh’s first kindergarten teacher just wasn’t a . . . → Read More: A Great Kindergarten Teacher
Celebrating the end of the first week of kindergarten!
After I wrote my post about Cavanaugh starting kindergarten last week, I thought maybe I didn’t explain what I was so worried about. Maybe I’m crazy, or overprotective, or making stuff up. But I wasn’t. I am not. Kindergarten is hard, for my son, for . . . → Read More: Coping with Kindergarten
Cavanaugh started kindergarten yesterday. I have cried all summer in anticipation of this event. For the last couple of weeks, I have read friends’ Facebook posts about their kids’ first days. One friend wrote that she did not want to wake up her daughter to take her to school. I totally understood.
I started getting . . . → Read More: Starting Kindergarten
Want some very straightforward and easy-to-apply methods for connecting with your children when your first inclination is to scream or lecture or punish? Sandy Blackard’s Say What You See approach offers a way of connecting and respecting your children while setting boundaries both parents and kids can live with. Her book SAY WHAT YOU SEE . . . → Read More: Sandy Blackard Interview: Part 3