Updates on the smart girls…

I occasionally get insomnia. It’s mostly annoying, because I really crave sleep – especially with having 3 closely spaced still relatively young children (3.5, 5 and 6.5). But occasionally, it is a good reason to get up and blog.

I was thinking tonight of how busy life has gotten since school started. The summer months drag so much because I’m trying to figure out how to keep my three girls from being bored and from antagonizing each other. But since school started, I realized I have had little downtime. Not just because school started and I have to drive them to and from school 4x a day, but because of the additional worries I have about their adjustment to school.

With my first grader, I’m trying to keep a watchful eye over her education without being one of “those” parents. She’s bright and she is probably going to be eligible for the gifted program at school, but since that doesn’t start until third grade, there is not much to really “do” unless she complains about the current level of work at school. But, for a while there, she was complaining that first grade felt more like kindergarten, because they were doing more complex work at the end of kindergarten than they do at the beginning of first grade. So, with her, I spent a lot of time worrying that the course work may not be challenging enough. And I was left with a burning question: “Do I say something about it or do I take a wait and see approach and hope something changes for the better?”. After a few attempts to write a letter, I decided to wait and see what happens. After the first few weeks of school, they started differentiating the children’s reading programs. So now, in addition to her regular reading assignments (the Scott Foresman Reading Street textbook series for first graders), she also goes every day to a special reading pullout class for advanced readers where they work on story development and comprehension.

She also likes to participate in the Accelerated Reader program, and has passed the quizzes on books she’s read. Her last book quiz was at a level 3.7 (I think that translates into a 3rd grade, 7th month level). I know the quizzes aren’t as extensive as a true reading assessment is, but it is helpful to know that she is doing pretty well at that level. She also is continuing to read for fun the Magic Treehouse Series of books.

Her math work is Saxon Math, and while they do a bit of repetition and review, she is mastering it well without complaining. She hasn’t missed word on a spelling test yet, even the extra words she doesn’t know ahead of time.

The true litmus test is that she seems happy and content and still enjoys what she is doing. Because of that, I’m content enough (for now) to wait until the first parent-teacher conference in November.

***
With my preschooler, the selectively mute one, it’s been really challenging ever since school began. She is in two preschools, her early childhood special needs preschool two days a week, and her community preschool three days a week. She is making partial progress. At her early childhood class, she is actually participating pretty fully now. She had a rough start of it, not speaking for the first 45 minutes of her first four days, but started speaking from the get-go about the fifth day of class. And not just whispering, either, but a full blown, big girl voice. And not just to the teacher and helpers either, to her friends, too. In addition, as long as she holds one of her friends’ hands, she actually participates in the singing and movement part of the class session.

I observed her today in class and was actually so proud of her to be speaking out loud and volunteering answers, and singing and dancing and looking like she was having fun. It just warmed my heart.

Her community preschool has been another story though. She has been able to whisper to the teacher, but so far (a month and a half into school), she hasn’t been able to speak to any of her peers, nor join in the singing and dancing. Plus, she’d been met with disappointment, when the promises that they made that she’d see more of her close friend hadn’t materialized. The friend is two doors down and they told us they’d make sure she’d have time to visit during free play. That hasn’t happened and my daughter is well aware of it.

What’s more, is that her behavior has been very challenging at home ever since school began again. I know it’s the fallout of being in school five days a week, and being in the morning class as well. She’s not a morning person to begin with, but couple that with her stress of extending herself in school, and in particular, still holding herself back three days a week at the community preschool is very hard on her. By afternoon, we are in meltdown mode if I don’t consciously work at my responses to help her. Or she’s in angry mode because she’s frustrated with me for not responding the way she wants. I know my attitude can make things better or make things worse. Of course, I’m only human, so even though I know better, I don’t always act like I do.

So…in trying to get help, I’d attended parenting workshop sponsored by a mental health group provided free of charge to the parents of the kids in the special needs class. That’s marginally helpful, because I know more than the instructor does (thanks to countless hours of personal research). The class does promote positive connection with the kids, though, so it wasn’t all bad.

I’ve also spoken to the social worker at school, and she’s given me some ideas for creating social stories to help with her emotional behaviors. But I’ve actually found better luck with some internet resources. I am going to contact the owners of the websites to ask permission to link to their websites on my blog. For young children who need emotional coaching, anything you can find with pictures is absolutely worth a gold mine and when you can access some for free is an amazing gift. However, I don’t want to infringe on their good will, so I need to make sure it’s okay before I share the gems I found.

My oldest sister, the one who’s most highly critical of me, actually had some really good advice for a change. She asked me what I did when this daughter had one of her meltdowns. When I told her it varied, depending on how much tolerance I had for it. She told me, that I shouldn’t expect to get her to deal with her emotions on her own, that I should allow her to have her meltdowns on my lap if she’d let me. She felt that if I just let her come to me when she was falling apart, she’d be less likely to persist in her negative emotions and that it would go a long way to restore her ability to cope.

Wow. I have never been more stunned to hear that, especially coming from my oldest sister, the one who’s been my arch nemesis most of my life (I say that only half-kiddingly).

***
Now, with the littlest one. I don’t talk about her much, but I have concerns about her again too. She didn’t start really having a word explosion until about 26 months, about one month after she had been evaluated from the state 0-3 Early Intervention program. She missed services by a few points, and was deemed a classic “late talker”. Fast forward to now, at 3.5, there are a lot of words she still has trouble with pronunciation with and if she gets a few of those words back to back in a sentence, you have no idea what she is talking about, unless you have her repeat it back a few times while you play “Guess what I’m saying mom”. So, because I’m a test-happy kind of gal (okay not really), I’m having her evaluated once more at the preschool level now to see if it would be beneficial if she got speech therapy now or if would be all right to wait a little longer.

This daughter is surprisingly unlike her sisters in almost every way. They were difficult babies, she was very happy as an infant (and still is very silly to this day). They were early talkers (full sentences by 18 months), she a late talker. They are very shy. She is incredibly outgoing and will say hi to just about anyone. They identified all of the alphabet letters early (by 2.5). At 42 months, she still can’t identify many letters (X, and E and maybe two others), but wow, can she count, and identifying shapes and colors is no problem. She can also draw smiley faces, and she can do easy puzzles and use pattern blocks to make pictures. She’s a definitely a visual-spatial learner.

So, yeah, I’ve had quite a bit on my mind lately, wondering how everything is going to turn out, and trying to keep tabs on everyone’s development. It’s not easy to keep the right amount of advocacy going for any of them. You wonder to yourself: do we address this now, or can we wait awhile? Even when you try to take the middle road, you realize you don’t even know exactly where that is.

Then, if you are like me, you spend countless hours observing them, studying them, research children’s behavior in books or online, perhaps blogging or journaling about them. It’s no surprise to me that Jean Piaget used his own children for much of his research on the stages of cognitive development. There is a lot to learn from them. [Of course, this task would be immeasurably easier if I had a housekeeper to attend to the daily tasks of living. But I digress…].

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