Category Archives: School daze

That time of year…..again

It;s that time of year again, end of school.  You know what that means; teacher gifts!

Teacher gifts always stress me out.  They are supposed to be easy but they are not.

I never know what to get.  I can pretty much guarantee the teachers have enough hand lotion and coffee mugs to last them three lifetimes.  So I don’t like getting them things I know they already have too many of.

Then there is just the sheer volume of gifts I have to get.  The boys each have two teachers plus three after school teachers; that’s seven teachers that I have to buy for.  That gets expensive really fast.  Because even though I intend to spend $5 a teacher, that never happens.

So now I am trying to figure out what sort of “unique” present I can get for them.  Usually I get them all the same thing.  One present across seven teachers makes organizing easier but this year I think I might switch things up.  I am thinking of getting individual gifts for each teacher and seeing if that works out better.  Maks has one teacher who really loves Nutella so she is getting the biggest jar of Nutella I can find.  The teachers who love coffee are getting Starbucks gift cards,  The only one left is the teacher who loves music.  Maks suggested a Yamaha P105

That’s not going to happen.  I just need to figure her out and I should be in good shape.  Oh, and I need to figure all this out by Wednesday.

Yikes!

Say No To Flash Cards

At the meeting with Mats teachers, they suggested some ways to incorporate word games into Mats daily life. It is to help him recognize letters and numbers and encourage him to write them in the right order and direction. They didn’t recommend flash cards because they didn’t feel Mats would respond well to having letters flashed in front of his face. Mats teachers wanted me to get creative when it came to word games because Mats tends to get bored so easily and trying to cram in a list of words into a short period just won’t work.

They gave me a lot of suggestions and I picked a few to start out with. We started playing the games almost right away and I have found that both boys have benefitted. I can adapt either game into French and English and for Maks, I have even started incorporating math into the games.

Here are two of their favourites. These work really well for either English or French, not so much for math.

Memory:

This one seems obvious but it never occurred to me to give it a try until Mats teachers suggested it. To make the game I repurposed some old business cards. I flipped the cards over to the blank side and wrote out one word on the back of each card. Then I wrote out the entire list again on another set of business cards so there were two pairs of each word. When we play, I pick out 4 to 10 pairs of words and mix them all up. Then I lay the cards, word side down, on a table and the search for matches begins. All the participants have the say the word they flip over and when they make a match. If Mats doesn’t recognize the word, then we spend some extra time sounding out the letters but otherwise the game moves along quickly. Both boys are competitive and they each want to find the most matches so it is in Mats best interest to learn the words as fast as he can so he can beat his brother.

Lego Blocks:

This one requires a large amount of Legos, which I have stored in what feels like a bazillion boxes all over my house. The Lego blocks take a while to set up but once it is all put together, Mats can spend some quiet time putting them together. You use one long piece of Lego for the entire word then Mats has to put the word together using smaller pieces of Lego. It’s a Lego word puzzle. It helps Mats learn to sound out letters and put words together but he can also work on family words. This game best suits his personality, he gets to put things together and he gets some quiet time. Both of those things are important to him.

So far, I see the games helping Mats. He is getting better, the backwards letters and numbers are still there but they are getting to be less frequent. I am hoping this gives him a more exciting perspective on reading and writing.

Excelling with difficulty

At the beginning of the month, Mats teachers called Millhouse and I in for a parent/teacher interview. They had some things they wanted to discuss with us about the way Mats was progressing.

Before I go on, I should be clear on something, when it comes to formal education Mats has been able to adapt and thrive faster than his brother ever did. Maks took several years before he became comfortable with the elementary school curriculum. He and I spent many nights working through his difficulties and he is now very comfortable with learning in a school environment. There are still some times when we do need to step up the work he and I do at home but for the most part, he is doing leaps and bounds better than he was.

With all that being said, Mats has never had the difficulties his brother had. In fact, he is the opposite. He has always excelled so getting a call from the teachers asking us to come wasn’t something we expected. We ended up arranging to meet Mats teachers after school on a Friday. They were super nice but they presented a very unique situation. Mats is displaying all the signs of a gifted child. He is excelling in just about every subject, orally, but when it comes to the written word, he is far below where he needs to be. This isn’t something new to me. I have been noticing Mats writes his words as the mirror image of what he sees. It is not just backwards words and numbers, the entire words are a reflection of what is written in front of him. His teachers suspect that along with being gifted, Mats also has a learning disability. According to them, it is not uncommon for a gifted child to also have learning difficulties especially given Mats medical background*.

Now Mats is still really young and his troubles could go away in time. His teachers were quick to say there is a possibility he does not have a learning disability, he could just be bored and is not applying himself. He could be writing mirror images because writing the words as he sees them could be too boring. They want to wait until the summer before they test him. They have suggested some things I can do at home to see if it helps him improve and if he moves up by June, they will forego the testing. However, if he only makes a small amount of progress, then they will go ahead with the testing and make a plan on how to proceed next year.

Mats is also aware there is something going on. Since the meeting with his teachers, he has been trying harder. The mirror image words and numbers are still there but he is trying very hard to write what is written in front of him, some times are easier than others. He doesn’t know exactly what his teachers said but he is trying his best.

I’ll let you know what happens in June.

*When I pregnant with Mats, I was told there would be a 1 in 4 chance Mats would have Downs Syndrome or some sort of delay. Things weren’t developing as it should and as a result, I should expect Mats to experience some difficulties that most other children don’t experience.

Over-enthusiastic parents

Holy camoley! Some parents just flabbergast me.

Like for real, FLABBERGAST!

The boy’s school was having a fundraiser for new gym equipment. It is an annual thing but this year the prizes were way better than they had been in previous years. This year the 10 kids who raised the most money would be getting brand new scooters.

This is a huge deal.

Last year the prizes were basketballs. Basketballs don’t get the same kind of response.

Both boys were buzzing about the possibility one or both of them would raise enough money to win a new scooter*. I swear they turned into bees and just went on and on about the scooters.

So the kids were given a week and the campaigning started.

For the first time ever, the boys decided to employ a strategy when it came to their campaigning. They decided to combine their efforts rather than splitting the money they collected. They decided (amongst themselves, for real, there was no nudging from me) to pool all the money they collected and put it towards Mat’s mission for a new scooter. In a week, they managed to get $60 and that is what Mat’s submitted to his teacher.

I think $60 is a fair amount given they only had a week to campaign and the pool of people we could hit up for donations was limited. I mean if each kid collected $60, the school could get a whole lot of new equipment.

But I guess I am an anomaly because $60 turned out to be on the low end of things. After the fundraiser winners were announced, the boys came home and were telling us about kids who brought in hundreds of dollars. Multiple hundreds of dollars in donations after a week of campaigning.

I was blown away. Either the other kids hit up some very generous people for donations or their parents helped them out. It turns out it was the parents. They topped up their kids donations so they would have multiple hundreds of dollars in donations and win a scooter.

That’s crazy.

You can get multiple scooters for that kind of money. Just go out and buy your kid a scooter if you are going to bust out your credit card for this kind of fundraiser. I get the big donations if you are passionate about new gym equipment but these parents just wanted their kids to win.

That I don’t get.

*Now it should be noted somewhere that both boys already have scooters and Maks really didn’t want a new scooter. He just wanted to win. Whereas, Mats does have a scooter but he has outgrown it and a having a new one would mean he could finally graduate from his baby scooter onto a big kid scooter. First world problems at their finest.

Best Friend Heartbreaks

Maks is going through something right now that would be hard for a lot of people but he is handling it like a champ.  It is something his teacher even called me about because she has seen how other kids react in his situation and she wanted to make sure he was OK.

Here is the back story.

Maks and his friend R have been best buddies since grade one.  They clicked right away and were inseparable for the past three years.  R made sure to show up to everything Maks was involved in and Maks does the same.  Going into this grade they were both fairly certain they were going to be split up.  They had been expecting it to happen every year prior but this was the year the classes split because there were just not enough teachers for the kids.*  If the teachers know you are really good friends with another kid they spilt you up so you are less distracted.  Maks was sure this would happen.  So he fretted all summer long, like big time, fret.  (He gets that from me)

On the first day of school, Maks was ready super early and wanted to head out the door right away because he needed to meet up with R and find out who is teacher would be as soon as possible.**  He waited by the gate and as soon as he saw R, he ran over to find out who is teacher would be.  He was so excited to see him, he ended up hanging with R and his family for about 10 minutes before he remembered we were there and came back to hang out with us.  R told him they were in the same class and all was right in the world again.  They could sit together again, they could be partners for their science projects again and they were both happy.  And pretty much that is what happened.

Fast forward to this week.

Tuesday was the reorganization day for the school.  The teachers and admin staff go over all the numbers and they figure out if the classes are too big and if any kids need to be moved.  It is based on class size and teacher availability.  The kids get told on the morning of the reorganization that they will be moving classes and they just gather up their things and leave for their new rooms.  It’s done really quickly to avoid long goodbyes and kids having a fit about changing classes.

R was one of the kids who ended up getting moved.

I think after all the anxiety of the summer, R getting moved during the reorg, totally blindsided Maks.  He had his mind made up they were going to end up being in the same class this year, no matter what.  And then the reorg happened and he fell apart.  And to make things even harder; since Maks is in a split class, his recess and lunch breaks are not with his grade.  They are with the grade above his and since R is going into a non-split class that means the boys won’t even see each other over their breaks.  This is a  complete separation for the rest of the year.

His teacher saw how upset Maks was and she gave him the option of going with R to his new room but Maks decided against it.  R’s new teacher is the same teacher they had in grade one and grade three.  The teacher who has consistently told Maks that French immersion is not for him.  And the teacher he consistently shows that he is more than capable of handling the curriculum.  He likes his teacher this year and he thinks he will learn more from her than he will from the teacher he has already had, so he said goodbye to his friend and stayed.  The decision to stay was probably the hardest part of the day for him and he felt guilty about it.  He felt like he was abandoning his friend by choosing to stay and getting over that feeling is a work in progress.

His new teacher knew how close the two of them were and she reached out to me to make sure Maks was OK after the reorg went down.  She knew how hard some kids take change and she wanted to make sure Maks was handling it OK.

And he has.  He’s not happy about the situation but he is trying his best to make it work.

*French immersion is a small component of their school curriculum and the higher the grade, the less teachers there are to teach the French immersion kids.  So they start sharing teachers with the grade above.

**this year the school called the day before school started and let you know who your child’s teacher would be.

Story # 2: The Jaws of Life

Since I shared the story of Mats and the rum smuggler, it is only fair that I share one of Maks’ stories. Alas, his story has nothing to do with under-aged children smuggling alcoholic beverages into school during lunch. But he does have the Jaws of Life, so his story is just as interesting.

Maks’ class shares its classroom with another class. So for part of the day, they are in one room and for the other part of the day, they are in the other room. They have their desks and such but everything is shared; tables, chairs, books, you get the idea. Anything personal is kept with the kids but everything else is fair game. One room has been bag chairs for the kids to sit on and the other room has proper little plastic desk chairs.

This story starts with the proper little plastic desk chairs. The chairs are what you would expect them to be. They are hard plastic with a rigid back and a small square hole cut out of the back of them. I assume the hole in the back is for air flow given that plastic isn’t very breathable but it could just be the design of the chairs.

For the most part, the kids like the bean bag chairs the best. And really, who wouldn’t? They are squishy and fun to sit on. But there is this one little girl in Maks’ class that prefers the proper little plastic desk chairs. She doesn’t like them because they are more comfortable or easier to sit in, she likes them better because she can show off her athletic prowess in them. She likes to contort her body and squeeze herself through one side of the chair and then pull herself out the other. Given how small the hole is, it is a pretty neat trick to see.

Until the trick stops working.

One lunch break, S decides she is going to squeeze herself through the chair and amaze her classmates once more. So she lies on her tummy and pushes her legs through the hole in the back of the chair. She makes it halfway and realizes that she is stuck. She can’t get the rest of her body to go through the way it normally goes through. She wiggles and she squeezes but nothing happens. She is good and stuck. Then she does what any eight year old who is stuck in a chair would do, she calls out to her friends for help. They try to push her through, they try to pull her out, they take off her sweater and help her wiggle but she is not going anywhere. So they have to call the teacher over. The teacher tries to lift the chair off of S. She tries to pull her out or push her through but she is just not moving so she calls in adult reinforcements, in the form of the custodian.

The custodian comes in and works with the teacher to try and dislodge the child from the chair. They try wiggling her, pushing her, pulling her but she is good and stuck and they call in more adult reinforcements, in the form of the admin staff from the front office. Now the room is it a buzz with activity; it is full of adults who are standing looking bewildered at a child stuck halfway through a chair, the child in the chair is bawling and terrified because she can’t get out and the other kids are all standing around shouting encouragement and trying to help. In other words, it’s chaos.

The office staff decided to take a different route from what the other adults had done so far, they know that there is only so much that they can do and they go off to call the child’s parents and the fire department. They need her parents to come in and give the fire department permission to assist in this very odd situation. S’s dad comes in just as the fire department is pulling up. He walks into the room to find S halfway through a chair, crying and very scared. He finds a flabbergasted teacher and custodian trying to figure what to do and an office staff asking that he sign a bunch of papers. The firemen just stand there for now because there is nothing else they can do. The teacher ushers the rest of the class out of the room so things aren’t as chaotic but that doesn’t really stop them. They crowd around the window in the other room to watch.

Right after S’s dad signs the papers from the office, the firemen all converge on S. They give her a teddy to hold and they try to get her out of the chair. When it is confirmed she is really stuck, they break out really big bolt cutters and she freaks out. There are now firemen coming after her with giant tools. Her dad has to calm her down and keep her still while the firemen cut her out of the chair. The firemen cut the chair in half, freeing S after being stuck in the chair for two hours and her dad takes her home.

I doubt she will ever be trying that trick again.

Story # 1 – The Tale of the Rum Smuggler

Lately the boys have been coming home with some interesting stories from school. And I swear there were these two stories that just left me flabbergasted. I had to ask for clarification halfway through both stories and I even asked them to tell me the stories again after they were done, just to make sure I had heard the right thing the first time around. Turns out the stories were just as crazy the second time around.

Here is one of those stories. This one is from Mats’ class.

During lunch one day, a little girl in Mats’ kindergarten class decided to show everyone what she snuck into school in her lunch bag. Now the school has pretty strict rules on what you can bring in for lunch. It is a combination of the usual things like; no peanuts or other tree nuts because those allergies could lead to some pretty serious reactions, to some pretty nutritionally specific ones like; no candy or chips at all because the kids need to eat healthy. From what Mats’ tells me all the kids in his class are pretty good at making sure their parents only give them the things they are allowed to have but every once in a while someone sneaks in some chips or candy and they cannot resist showing the rest of the class whatever it is they have snuck in. Successfully sneaking in gummy fruit gushers is a pretty big deal in kindergarten. So on this day one of Mats’ classmates was really excited to show the other kids what she smuggled into class because it was way cooler than candy. When they were sure the teachers were otherwise occupied, she pulled out her loot. It was a teeny little bottle of rum. RUM!!! As one little boy pointed out rum is alcohol. And yes, it really was rum as in the alcohol. She had snuck into her parents alcohol stash and swiped a little sample bottle of rum that they had put away. She thought it looked very neat and wanted to show everyone the really cool baby bottle of rum her parents had at home. Now she knew it was wrong to sneak the bottle but she wanted to show it off to her classmates so after her mom has made her lunch and left the room, she went over and swiped it and hid it in her bag. (According to Mats) But the big part of Mats’ story was that she lied to the teachers when they came around and asked about it. She claimed it wasn’t hers and that was what Mats’ was flabbergasted by. She lied after telling everyone about it because she knew she would get in trouble. Now if the little boy who recognized that rum was alcohol, hadn’t made such a big commotion about it being a bottle of rum, the teacher would never had known that some sort of contraband was being passed around the lunch tables. But when the teacher heard the commotion, she came over to investigate and discovered that the hoopla was not over fruit gushers but a bottle of rum. She took it away from the kids and went to make some phone calls. I can only imagine how interesting the call to the parents would have been that day. This child will forever be referred to as the Rum Smuggler.

When Mats’ told me the story, I had to stop him a couple of times to confirm what I was actually hearing because I couldn’t believe that a five year old actually smuggled rum into an elementary school.

I thought that only happened in high school.

Expecting to Fail

Maks is in grade three with the same teacher he had in grade one. This has me anxious.

This is the teacher that broke him down big time. She called him lazy, called me into her class weekly to tell me how badly he was doing and that he should drop out of the French program, and towards the end of the year she just stopped teaching him. She would not read with him and did not go over any of his assignments with him. He was basically ignored for the last month of grade one.

It broke his spirit and he thought he was so dumb because that is what she kept telling him.

Last year his teachers helped him. He did phenomenally well and he thrived.

Now he is back with the teacher that doesn’t like him and even worse, won’t give him a chance to prove just how intelligent and imaginative he is. She has him pigeonholed already and I doubt she is going to change her mind.

When I went to see him off this morning, she pulled me aside and told me how surprised she was that Maks was still in the program. She had not expected him to stay past grade one and I should know, up front, that this year is going to be extremely difficult and she has very high expectations for all the students in her class. Maks is expected to do well because she does not want a repeat of grade one.

WTH!

I let her know about Maks’ outstanding grade two experience and even though she said she was happy to hear how well grade two went, she wanted me to know that she was going to push Maks as hard as she could this year and I was to be prepared for it because grade three would not be as easy as grade two was.

It was ten minutes into the school year and she was already telling me how she was going to put a lot of pressure on my son. She didn’t even give him time to get his pencils out before she had her mind made up about his abilities. It is frustrating.

I want Maks to do well. I want him to know he has it in him to do well. But telling him as soon as she sees him that he will have to work harder than he has ever worked because she only likes having smart children in her class is a bit much.

She is the only grade 3 French immersion teacher in the entire school so I cannot have him change classes. If I had that option, I would have switched him as soon as I saw who his teacher was but I cannot do that. The only other option I have is to have Maks drop out of the French immersion program. I don’t want to do that either because as much as he complains about having to do French work, he was actually improving last year. He understands when people speak to him in French; he is catching up with the others when it comes to reading and writing. He is beginning to get it and I don’t want him to quit just as he is beginning to get it. He has worked so hard and he has earned his knowledge, I don’t want to just throw it all away over a teacher.

I am hoping in my heart of hearts that I am being too judgmental and overreacting over a couple of trivial comments. I want this teacher to give Maks a valid chance so he can prove himself to her. I am hoping she gives him this chance.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the world is full of people that don’t like you and don’t want you to do well. I just wish Maks didn’t have to experience that at 8 years old.

Changing change is hard

Both boys are now officially back in school. Mat is starting Senior Kindergarten and Maks is going into Grade 3.

Throughout the summer Mat just wanted to get back into the routine of school. Two weeks into summer vacation, he asked if he could go back to school because doing summer things was just not fun. He did not enjoy being at home and he wanted to go back to his friends, routine and his class. So when it came time for him to head back to school, I figured that he would be happy.

He wasn’t.

He found out last week his kindergarten class had changed and he would not only be in a new room but also with a new teacher*. He had never heard of his new teacher and was not pleased that his old teacher would not be returning to teach kindergarten.

Once he found out about his new room, it was the end of wanting to go back to school. He kept telling me he didn’t want to go back to school. He wanted to stay home now because he did not want to go to his new class. He cried this morning and refused to get dressed. He just did not want to go to school because it was not what he remembered. He wanted to go back to what he knew.

It didn’t help matters that the process for dropping off kindergarten kids changed today as well. Last year, the kindergarten teachers all lined up in rows in the kindergarten area of the school, and the parents could go line up with the kids behind the teacher until it was time for everyone to go in. This year, the teachers waited for the kids in their classrooms. The kids had to go into the classroom, have their names crossed off the class list and then wait for class to begin. I think this new way of doing things made it easier for the teachers. They didn’t have to wrangle as many kids or risk misplacing a child. But it made things a bit scarier for the kids because the returning ones had no idea what other kids were in their class until they had already walked in and found a seat.

I didn’t know about the new process until we got to the school but having to tell Mat there was another new procedure freaked him out even more. He was so nervous to start with, not knowing what kids were beyond the door, frightened him and he didn’t really speak all morning. But the nerves did not stop him, and he was a big boy about the situation. He found himself a cubby, got his stuff all organized and then (tentatively) walked into the room. He didn’t recognize any of the kids when he went in but he did recognize one of the teachers. She was a substitute from last year and she walked right over to him and started talking to him. He only nodded at her and didn’t say anything but I think having her there helped to get him out of his shell for a bit.

When I left him he was looking for a place to sit with the teacher and I am hoping he starts talking by this afternoon.

*Last year Mat was in a shared JK/SK class and usually in those situations, the kids have the same teacher for their entire kindergarten career. Having the teacher and room change from JK to SK is something new.

Close your eyes for a minute, or ten

So remember how upset I was yesterday about Maks not getting his award?

Well, that is not exactly how it happened and so I need to correct some things.

First, Maks was not deflated. He was actually pretty damn near elated because it turns out that he was called out at the assembly and got the recognition that he had been waiting for.

Second, Millhouse did not see any of that part.

Now here is how all this went down. Millhouse was at the assembly. He showed up early so he could get a good seat and make sure that Maks saw him there. He ended up getting a seat towards the back but on the end so there was no one blocking him but he was not front and center.

The first part of the assembly was dedicated to the individual awards. It was for the kids that had gotten the principal’s award or the character awards. After that part of the ceremony, it turns to student performances. So they have the kids singing and putting on skits. After that part of the ceremony, all the kids that had won student awards; so outstanding keyboarding, outstanding reading and the gym awards are all called up together to stand at the front and get their round of applause. Then at the very end then they have school announcements about upcoming events and the principal gives her update about the state of the school. And then everyone is dismissed.

But a key point that should be noted for all this is that the microphone was broken at yesterday’s assembly. That meant that at some points of the program, it was hard to hear what was going on because even though the principal is extremely loud, a lot of the other teachers are not. It was especially hard to hear at the back of the auditorium, sitting behind ten classes of elementary school students who were all fidgeting around.

Now Millhouse remembers seeing everything except for the part where the student award winners got their round of applause. He swears that that part of the ceremony never happened. But Maks swears that that part of the ceremony did happen because he was there and he went up with the other kids for his accolades.

They were both able to tell me about things that happened at the beginning of the ceremony but Millhouse gets fuzzy towards the end.

Based on both of their versions of the events that took place, I have deduced that this happened; Millhouse feel asleep. Not a full blown snoring, drooling type sleep. More like let me shut my eyes for a minute because there are thirty children singing in French and I really don’t need to pay attention to this and he ended up keeping his eyes closed for more than a minute. He probably did not open his eyes and fully comprehend what was going on until the very loud principal started saying her closing remarks. So even if he did open his eyes during the performances he did not fully wake up to pay attention. And since he was dozing in or out, he would she would have missed when the softer speaking teachers called up the students for their student awards. Also, if he did wake up and look up towards the end and see a large group of kids standing around the stage, he most likely would have assumed that it was just another performance, not the student awards assembly. So he would have gone back to dozing until the announcements from the principal came down. Millhouse vehemently denies that this is what happened. But based on what I heard yesterday, I think that this is pretty much how it went down.

Now, I know you are asking why Maks did not see Millhouse. Well, it goes like this; he wasn’t looking for him. Remember we hadn’t told Maks that morning that his dad would be there for the ceremony and since Millhouse was in the back, if Maks did look out he would not have seen him. And even if he did get a glimpse of him, he would not have made the connection that it was Millhouse and he most likely would have just written him off as someone else’s dad and not retained it to memory. If Maks knew to expect Millhouse there, he would have made a conscious effort to look out for him and knowing Maks, he would have found him even if Millhouse was in the back of the crowd asleep.

So I learned two things from all this.

  1. Never send a sleep deprived Millhouse to a school assembly because it is just cruel and unusual punishment for him and it will only result in an peeved off phone call later in the day
  2. Always tell Maks when we are coming to the see him at the assemblies. Because even if we don’t see him, he will always find us.

Next time we will be better prepared.