Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Operation Scribe

Last weekend, I found cool monogrammed journals at the crafts store for $1. I bought a K one for me and an R one for R. :-)

On Sunday afternoon, I sat down with R and our journals. I wrote about our day and drew some little pictures to help him see what you can do with a journal. But I told him his journal could be anything he wanted it to be and that he doesn't have to show us what he writes if he doesn't want to. (Thanks for the suggestion, Dad!)

So, without any discussion, R opened up the title page, used a couple of stamps, and wrote this:

"A scientist's journal"

On his first page, he wrote about how he found a meteorite on the sidewalk. And, he drew a picture of himself, the meteorite, and him saying, "Take that! Take that!" And, then he drew poop falling out of his butt onto the ground. 

I told him he could write whatever he wanted, right?


Today, he's home sick with a bad cold. He was up half the night, so we kept him home to rest. Except that he's been nuts ever since. Anyway, he dug out his electricity science kit, and we did some experiments with circuits and lightbulbs, a tiny motor, creating a switch, etc. (Fun!) So, we took out our journals again, and R wrote: "We mad lekchriste." (Translation: We made electricity.)

So far, the journal has been a hit!

Friday, March 26, 2010

He saves the "best" for me - and Geology Boy strikes again!

Thank you all for your comments and ideas on my last post!

I met with R's teacher again yesterday afternoon because I had volunteered in the classroom in the morning, and he lost it during Writing Workshop. His teacher wasn't in the classroom at the time, just me and the assistant teacher. I was assigned to work with kids at another table, and within a few minutes, R was at my side, completely engulfed by anger and frustration. His face was red, he was clenching his teeth, and shaking with emotion. All because he had started working on his picture first (to go with his story), and he had messed up. His friends were looking at him because he was so upset, so he kept yelling at them, "Stop staring at me!!!"

I should have just walked him back to his seat, but I was trying to calm him down and tend to the kids at my table at the same time. Eventually, the assistant teacher came over and helped him. And, then he was fine. He did great work, and he got a big thumbs-up from his teacher when she came back in at the end.

It was so upsetting to me to see this, though. I really don't think I've ever seen him so frustrated. And, I was worried that this was the behavior that R's teacher was seeing and referring to, but that she had kind of hid from us how bad it was.

Well, it turns out (if you saw in my Twitter feed), R saved that freak-out session just for me. (Thanks, buddy!) His teacher said she's never seen anything like that when I'm not there. She's sure that he did that because I was there, because he felt safe expressing himself that way with me in the room. She assured me that he's a really great kid, that he's not a burden to her or a distraction to the class, that he just has trouble finishing tasks and that he doesn't like to do writing and drawing because it's hard for him. And, when he complains to her about writing, he pretty much just sighs and shrugs his shoulders and asks her to sit with him and help him. He knows he has to do it anyway.

She also told me that he's been working really hard this week and doing a lot better. He's been using a timer to keep him focused and to know when he needs to finish something and move on to the next task. For one writing session, he didn't want to do it, and she told him that he could either do it then or do it during recess when the other kids would be going outside. Ding! That worked. He buckled down without another word.

I've been talking to him a lot this week about how important learning to write is. We talked about how scientists need to write down everything they do and learn in their experiments so they can share it with others. (Aunt Ericka was a big example there.) And, it suddenly dawned on him that someone has to write the books he loves to read. 

I was reconsidering the use of rewards, too (thanks, Bob and Ericka!). But I was thinking of letting it be less formal for now - maybe taking him out to dinner/ice cream at Friendly's, which he's been asking for, because he's worked hard this week and done better. When we offer him rewards up front as incentive, he becomes a negotiator. I lay out the ground rules, and he responds with, "Well, here's the deal. How about..." So I'd rather reward him afterwards for his efforts but without using it as a carrot up front. I've also found that unless the reward is pretty big, it doesn't motivate him. Small rewards work once or twice, but then he doesn't care about them. Although he was crazy for the stickers that came with his beginning reader sets, so who knows?

Anyway, all of this was good news. And, his teacher and I talked a lot more about R's sensory issues, and I am very motivated now to have him evaluated. His doctor gave me a referral to a great occupational therapy practice, and R's teacher said that it's a fantastic place. (She used to teach preschool, and several of the parents from the preschool raved about this practice.) We're also having the school's OT observe R, but apparently, the school can't really give him help unless he's having trouble academically, which he's not. But R's teacher and I are worried about next year when he'll have less one-on-one help, have to focus more, and when he could possibly fall behind if he doesn't complete things. So, we'll see where the evaluation takes us. I don't think R has severe sensory issues. It doesn't affect his ability to function every day. (Although it does seem to explain a lot of what we thought were just quirks.) It's just that it could be more difficult for him in school moving forward, so I want to make sure he has tools and coping mechanisms at his disposal if needs them.

What's been interesting about this week is that at the same time that I'm learning about these challenges for R, I've also been seeing some really cool stuff that he's doing. He reads a lot faster now. He's all of a sudden open to trying new foods and has been eating basically the same things as A and me. He can cut up his own food. (I may be late on allowing him to do that - it just dawned on me this week that I could probably give him a knife during dinner.) I gave him money yesterday, and he ran over to the ice cream truck and ordered his Italian ice, got his change, etc. all by himself. He told me how swimming in the deep end is much easier than swimming in the shallow end. He beat a teacher and two of the older kids in his after-school program at Connect 4 (and I'm 99.9% sure they weren't letting him win because he beat me three times this morning). He taught one of his classmates to ride a two-wheel bike!

The other thing is that he seems to be a huge influence on his friends and classmates. Last week on the way home from school, he found a rock in the street that he was sure was a meteorite. (As much as A and I scoffed, we actually think it might be - it's magnetic, it looks like our other meteorites, and with all of the rain we've had, it could have been washed onto the street from somewhere.) Because his class was doing a segment on magnets, his teacher let him bring the rock/meteorite into class to show. R presented it as a meteorite and explained why he thought that. Yesterday, when I was helping the kids with their writing, at least two other boys wrote about how they also found a meteorite, and I overheard two other boys talking about how they found ones, too. :-)

And, remember how R was sort of getting in trouble when school first started for picking up little rocks and pebbles from the floor of the classroom (instead of listening during circle time)? Well, yesterday, one of his friends showed me this nearly microscopic bit of quartz she had found on the rug during circle, and she wrote about it. She and R usually sit together during circle time.

So that made me smile. It makes me so happy to see him making so many friends and sharing the things he loves with them. Yesterday on the playground after school, I watched kids of all ages come up and say, "Hi, R!" And he plays with older kids, his classmates, kindergarteners from other classes, kids of all races and ethnicities (which he has exposure to because of his school's diversity - wonderful!), everyone. That makes me one proud mommy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Work to do

We met with R's teacher after school yesterday. She reassured us that R is very bright, very intelligent, that none of what she wanted to talk to us about was about his intellectual capabilities. (Phew!)

Basically, he has a couple of issues to work on. The first is that he sometimes has trouble starting tasks, especially writing. She said that it's almost as if his brain is working so far ahead - because he has so many ideas - that he can't figure out where to begin. Once he gets started (sometimes with help), though, he's fine. R's teacher thought maybe I could have R spend some time with me when I write for work - or even this blog or letters to family or friends - so he can see how much I enjoy writing and that it's not just a chore. I thought that was a great suggestion.

The other thing is that he has trouble transitioning to new activities. So, if he's working on something, and it's time to line up to head to lunch or art or gym, he has to be reminded several times to join the rest of the class. And, his teacher is worried that his future teachers won't have as much patience as she does with him. We've noticed the same behavior at home: if R is doing something that he's focused on, and it's time for dinner or bed or time to head out somewhere, he HAS to finish what he's doing first. He has a really hard time being okay with leaving something unfinished and coming back to it later. It takes a lot of time and cajoling to get him to move along.

R's teacher showed us a book that she made for her and us to read to R. It's all about him and school and what he likes and doesn't like and what tools he has available to him to help and how he has choice times but how he also has times where he has to do what his teachers ask him to do. She used his picture and other cute pictures to illustrate it. It's fabulous! She asked us if she should offer him a reward for trying to do better in his challenge areas, but we all agreed to try just reading the book to him and talking about with him first. Rewards don't always work with R, and there's something that bothers me about rewarding him for doing what the other kids are already doing. But maybe I'm being too mean?

We also talked about how R is definitely bored by some things at school, and his teacher totally picked up on how interested he is in hands-on, science-related things. She also noted that he has some sensory issues - he hates glue or other sticky things on his hands, he's very sensitive to smells, etc. I've always noticed that, too, but never really thought much about it. She didn't say it was a problem, just that she's provided him with some tools to help with sensory issues.

So, I love R's teacher more than ever for talking with us and for coming up with creative, kind solutions for R. I'm a little bit at a loss for how to help R change his behavior, but I definitely want to do whatever I can.

If any of you have any ideas or thoughts, I'm open to them!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Update on the Great Flood of 2010

The water kept rising last night, so we had to call the fire department because we were worried about our furnace being on, the water reaching up to the electrical outlets in the basement, etc. They added us to a list for visits. Then, our friend across town - who was dealing with the same issues - called us and said his pump had cleared out most of his water, so we could borrow it. Hallelujah! While A was off picking up the pump, the firemen showed up and turned off our furnace. We were so lucky to have had heat all day.

Except for one mishap where part of the pump came apart and water started spraying all over the basement and A at high pressure, the pump worked great. I woke up at 7 am and we only had about 2 inches of water left. Two hours later, it looks like an inch. Yay! A was up all night, so he's resting now. We turned the heat and hot water back on at 7 am. A and I both took today off to deal with the rest of the water and to clean up and prevent mold. And, thank God, the sun is out, and it's going to be sunny and spring-like for the rest of the week!

I'll update on R and school when I talk to his teacher on Thursday. Yesterday at pickup, she told me it was nothing bad - she just wants to make sure we're on the same page about some things. Doesn't that sound like I'm in trouble?

Monday, March 15, 2010

When it rains...

A and I are so mad at ourselves. Every few years in late winter, we get a huge rainstorm, and our basement floods with a couple of inches of water. Last Friday, we knew a big storm was coming and we made plans to move things around in the basement just in case, but did we think to go buy a sump pump? Idiots! (And, why we have never had a pump installed since we know that this happens every few years, well that just proves we're idiots.)

So, we've received between 6 and 8 inches of rain this weekend, and there are at least two more to go before the sun returns tomorrow morning. And, currently, there's about 3-4 inches of water in the basement. Of course, there are no sump pumps to be had anywhere in New England. We do have one coming overnight via Amazon, thank goodness. And, we still have heat and hot water for the moment, so I am very thankful for that. But we are not looking forward to the cleanup and mold prevention we're going to have to do this week.

One good thing about the basement flooding, though, is that it always gets us to get rid of a lot of stuff. We started that process last weekend, but I think we'll be parting with a lot more items once cleanup begins tomorrow.

The other thing that's freaking me out is that R's teacher sent home a note on Friday asking to talk to us because R has been having trouble completing tasks at school. She stressed that it's not because anything is too hard for him; he just gets distracted. I don't react well to this kind of news. I immediately think I'm a terrible parent, and we'll have to homeschool R, and how will I afford that because one of us will have to quit our job, etc.

As a recovering academic overachiever, I have a hard time relating to my child who is not - at least in terms of school. He's very bright, and he is fully capable of reading, writing, etc. He's just not that interested in doing it. Homework (what little he has) is already something to gripe and procrastinate about.

The thing is, when R is motivated and interested in something, he can concentrate on it for HOURS. Yesterday, when we were stuck inside all day avoiding the deluge, R assembled his own model rocket almost completely by himself - including carefully gluing the parts together, applying decals, coloring his own design on the parachute. It took a lot of fine motor skills and concentration. I see those same things when he's assembling Lego kits. With things like that, he's completely self-motivated, he works hard, and he is so proud of himself when he is done. That doesn't happen much with his schoolwork.

Plus, I think R has become another version of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes). He's got a slightly twisted sense of humor and way of thinking. A few weeks ago, all the kids in his class were supposed to draw their dream house and write about it. When I volunteered in the classroom, I checked out all the kids' completed projects. Most of the kids drew castles, mansions, big, crazy amazing houses. R had a nice drawing, but it was a plain house. I thought, "Wow! R appreciates what I've been saying about how money doesn't equal happiness. Cool!" Then I read what he wrote about it: "I made my house boring so other kids wouldn't like it." (Actually, in kindergartener writing, it was: "I mad my hous bring so othr kiz wudnt lik it.")

Another project was writing about places they go to in our town. There were three pages of "I go to" and the kids filled that in with "the park," "the library," "the gas station," "the movie theater," etc. R's were pretty standard, except that he wrote "I go to the cemetery." Um, we've NEVER taken him to the cemetery in our town or possibly any other town, so I don't know what that was about, but whatever. The last page of the booklet was supposed to be "I don't go to..." and talk about a place that isn't in our town - like "the desert," "the mountains," "the moon," etc. R missed the point a little and wrote "I don't explode" and then drew a picture of a bomb. The clincher was that the bomb had a thought bubble that said: "Is it time to go home yet?" I think he might be a little bored. :-(

So, we'll see what his teacher says. She's very creative and has great suggestions, but I admit that I'm feeling a little pessimistic about this. I'm not sure how we'll get R more interested in school unless he gets to focus on hands-on science experiments all day long, separated only by half-hour sessions of rock climbing, running, and obstacle courses. School can be very boring. A lot of it was for me, too, even though I was very motivated to please my teachers and do well. But if R's already distracted and uninterested in kindergarten, I think we may be in for a very long 12 years. 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Can I get an Amen?

I've been working with R on the typical social niceties. You know, like saying "Yes, please" and "No, thank you" and, particularly, "Excuse me" after certain bodily noises. He's generally really good at remembering, but there are always some slip-ups here and there, of course. No big deal.

I've also been working with R (and A!) on saying "Amen" after grace at meals. I'm always the grace-sayer, so I'd at least like that "Amen" at the end as some acknowledgment that the other two people at the table listened.

Last night during dinner, a noise came from R's butt. I waited a few seconds for the obligatory "Excuse me," but when it didn't come, I reminded R, "What do you say?"

He looked at me questioningly and said, "Amen?"

Unfortunately, A and I laughed so hard that I think we may have sanctioned an unfortunate family tradition.