Monday, 7 June 2010

Only twelve more years of cajoling to go

Today marked the start of the last term of the school year. Personally, I was pretty excited about it. It's the summer term. Sports days, school plays, fetes and leavers ceremonies to look forward too, not to mention walking to school in sunshine, rather than blizzards. And only one more term before son 2 goes to big school and I can stop paying
for childcare. Hooray!

But the enthusiasm was not shared by son 1. He reluctantly ate breakfast and even more reluctantly read his school book that he should have read over half term but didn't. (Note for parents of boys: according to child psychologist Nigel Latta, boys don't leave things till the last minute because they are lazy. They do it because, well, you never know. They could get stabbed to death by a pirate or kidnapped by aliens before the due date of whatever the task is. So why bother wasting valuable time doing something that might end up being pointless?)

Anyway, after an excrutiatingly slow rendition of Chip and Biff's latest adventure, it was time to get dressed. It was round about this time that he started complaining of 'not feeling very well'. When I enquired after the nature of his illness, he indicated a general malaise - sore head, sore tummy, cough and possible cold. He definitely felt that he had a temperature.

He looked fine to me, other than a slightly red eye but that was probably due to excess swimming over the weekend.

I made him a deal. I said that if he had a temperature over 39C, he could stay home. If not, he had to go to school. His temperature was 36.5C.

This didn't go down well.

So emphatic were his protestations that I felt that perhaps he really did feel unwell, and how would I feel if someone forced me off somewhere when I genuinely felt rubbish. So I called the childminder and asked her how she'd feel about having him, and she said that there was something going around that caused this general malaise. Feeling like a bad mother, I said that he could go to the childminder for the day. Instantly he seemed to be on the mend.

When I picked him up I asked the childminder how he had been. Fit as a fiddle apparently. She feels he is suffering from stress about going to school.

So I googled 'child not wanting to go to school' and instantly (God bless the internet) found a very useful article that said children who don't want to go to school usually fall into one of three problems:
1. They have social issues (no friends, being picked on, thinking they're not liked etc)
2. They have issues with the schoolwork (find it too hard, feel like they're stupid, can't keep up etc)
3. They have ants in their pants issues (can't sit still and find school a bore)

Now I know that my child is good academically. I'm not saying he's going to be one of the world's top brainiacs, but he can read, and write, and spell (mostly) and is good with maths. In fact I've been told that he's very good at maths. But this seems to be slipping of late. So is it a work related thing?

I know he has had friends issues, but he hasn't mentioned this for some time. And he's definitely not the ants in pants variety.

I attempted to talk to him about this. Gently, calmly, hopefully being caring and understanding. He simply said that he doesn't want to talk about it, but he hates school and doesn't want to go anymore. Apparently, the reason he hates school is he hates 'doing work'. Hmm, could the prognosis be that he's bone idle? But it seems that he falls into category 2.

But once I managed to dig slightly deeper, I discovered that the teachers don't read out the questions to them, they have to read them themselves and then answer them. And because he says he doesn't understand the questions, he doesn't know how to answer them. And if there's one thing my son cannot stand, it's being wrong. Is it wrong for 6 year olds to be expected to read through the questions and answer them on their own? I don't know. They don't teach you this stuff when you give birth do they?

The other issue is that they have to write in linked up writing. His print writing looks fine. His linked up writing looks like a drunk spider has vomited across a page. And because of this, he hates doing any work that requires him to write, not because he doesn't have the ideas, but because he finds the job of putting pen to paper way too hard.

But I still feel that these are surface issues. And that there is more to discover, but he won't (or possibly can't) express what it is. I'm going to have to chat to the teacher about it. I recall at the parent teacher evening, they said that it was a fine line to push children who could do more and not push them too much that they feel overwhelmed by it all. Perhaps there's been too much of the latter.

Sigh. I wish I'd studied child psychology so I could figure out what is going on in his small boy head. But if anyone has any top tips on how to get a reluctant school goer to go to school, please share. Because I'm not sure I can manage another 12-odd years of this.


Anonymous said...

First, talk to his teacher, again and again. I have found that teachers, on the whole, are very receptive to the types of struggles that children are having at school. For example, Rebecca no longer has to do "draft writing" because she struggles so much to get her ideas down, due to her spelling difficulties. Now she is allowed to draw a "mind-map" to get her story ideas down.

Second, remember that you are dealing with an eldest child. Doing everything perfectly is part of the package. It all goes back to that old re-affirmation thing. Lord knows I've tried to explain to Alex that she really doesn't need to do things perfectly, just give it her best shot, but that doesn't wash with her. Only thing that works when she is having a melt down is to tell her at least one thing that she has done really well, and then keep harping on about it. Why not try telling him that the reason he has to read his own questions is because the teacher thinks he is really clever! Then gently tell him that if he doesn't understand the question, the teacher would always perfer him to ask than to struggle on his own. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Well you have my sympathy. I am a year 1 teacher and personally I don't expect them to read the questions themselves. Having said that we often read all together and then the learners read again and complete the activity independently. However in their mind they are left to do it alone. If your son is experiencing difficulty decoding the words and identifying the "sounds" within the words so much time and effort is used to analyse the word that the meaning and comprehension goes out the window. This area of weakness is addressed with remedial assistance. As for the handwriting if all other tasks are spatially well planned and organised and his print writing was correctly formed and smoothly executed his cursive writing should pick up with practise. Well good luck trust me I have studied child psychology and have an honours degree in Parent guidance and learners with special educational needs and some days I don't know what to do with my own two boys. Take heart in knowing that all children succeed if they are just given praise, support, routine and love.

justherdingcats said...

Hi - love the blog by the way.

I have three boys ( feel free to look at my blog- 6 is a breeze - wait until they are teens!)

My two younger boys have both struggled in various ways at school but I think generally boys find the whole school thing harder than girls.

The two people who have commented already are speaking absolute sense - I agree with both of them completely.

I do think 6 is young to be expected to read the questions on their own, you may find that he has been mucking about or chatting or staring into space ( all good tricks of my own boys) while the class has been reading the questions together and then when it comes to the answering questions he will be lost because he wasn't paying attention.

Also the joined up writing is very early at 6, my 8 year old has only just recently been expected to do that for the majority of the time. I would talk to the teacher and see what her take on it all is, they are usually quite approachable. Also other Mums are a good indicator of areas that their children may ahve flagged up that the whole class might be finding difficult.

It might be that he simply doesnt like writing or feels overwhelmed by the amount he is expceted to write in which case the teacher should chop it down a bit until his confidence improves.

Good luck, we've all been there, don't worry.

Jo Blogs said...

My son refused to do spelling test in Year 1 because he only wrote in print and everyone else had learned joined up writing from reception. He'd just moved to the school. He even tried writing the letters down and then going back over them with joined up links so that it looked right. It was a real issue for a while. Once his handwriting had caught up and we'd arriving at school, ahem, a little earlier in the morning so he didn't feel like he was always lagging behind everyone, things improved. As for getting inside little boys' heads generally, with two of them, I'm at a loss.....

private boarding school said...

I liked the part where it is explianed as to why boys leave things to the last minute! Great blog

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading your blog - we've had problems with my D1 and I found talking through everything with the teachers has helped

nicola said...

Oh wow. That all sounds very challenging for a 6 year old. No wonder he is feeling overwhelmed. Linked up writing???? I know my 6 year old takes school quite seriously and doesn't like to look as though he hasn't understood anything -thereby heaping more unnecessary pressure on himself. I do think the teacher could possibly be more supportive. Both my boys are at a very academic private school right now, but I have made it clear to both of their teachers that there is only so much that I am going to push them at home - I really want us to have a shared focus on them Loving going to school and developing a love of learning in general, rather than getting stressed over anything academic at ages 6 and 4, irrespective of how well their class mates are progressing.

If I feel things are getting a bit heavy I do tend to send the teacher a quick email to touch base.

The right schooling is important - but not to the point that it creates anxiety in our children!

I hope he is coping better with it all soon - and the teacher has possibly adjusted her expectations to fit the child.