Tag Archives: first grade


This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk

Not today’s picture, but t’will do.


I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.


Boy and girl reading

You may remember that Dash got glasses late last year. I hoped that that would do the trick, and his reading would take off like a rocket, the way his teacher assured me that with his large vocabulary and interest in learning, it was bound to.

But it didn’t. We sort of ignored it, and his reading did improve. He ended first grade reading at a mid-second grade level, which should be perfectly good enough for anyone. And yet. It didn’t help that I kept hearing tales of his peers who were suddenly leaps and bounds ahead of their supposed reading level – I mean, a certain number of people have to be average (because we don’t live in Lake Wobegone), and I’m not demanding that everyone has to admit that my baby is brilliant… but.

I still had the feeling there was more to it. The tipping point came last week when a comic arrived in the mail – a late birthday present that’s a bit more advanced in reading requirement than the sender realised, I think, but Dash was eager to get stuck in. Listening to him laboriously sound out the contents of each speech bubble was painful. Thinking harder about it, the all-caps style of comic writing probably makes it harder to recognise words than the ups and downs of regular mixed case; but surely he should be further ahead than that by now, I thought. Something just hasn’t clicked for him the way it should have.

I asked some helpful people online, and some helpful people online gave me just what I needed: the vocabulary to Google the right resources. What I needed to look for was not just a regular optometrist, or ophthalmologist, but a behavioral or pediatric or developmental optometrist/ophthalmologist. These are doctors trained not just to assess how well people’s eyes work, but also how well the eyes are working together and sending messages to the brain, and how the brain is interpreting those messages.

In short order, I had found this website and this directory, and was feeling a lot more proactive about the whole thing.

A lot of what that Vision and Reading page said had me nodding and aha-ing. I got Dash to look at the examples of blurred text and he spotted the one that looks the way his blurry words look. (They’re only blurry sometimes, but I don’t think that’s the full extent of his issue.) The clincher was the checklist: I came up with a score of 29. They say anything over 20 warrants further investigation.

The next morning I called our pediatrician’s office and our local optometrist to see if they had any recommendations, but in the end I used the COVD directory and found an office not too far away that sounded from their website as if they were just what we needed. They had an appointment for an initial eye test on Tuesday, so along we went.

Tuesday’s was mostly a regular eye test with a few different elements and a chat with the doctor about why we were there. But what we said, and my answers on their slightly different checklist, were enough for them to bring us back in today for a two-hour long evaluation that covered how Dash reads, how he sees and interprets and remembers shapes, how he writes and spells, how his eyes track lines of text, and probably many other factors I didn’t even know were being assessed.

The paperwork included a question sheet to be filled in by the child’s teacher, but with only two days’ lead time (we’d filled the spot of a cancellation) I didn’t manage to get hold of Dash’s teacher before the appointment. However, she called me back later and said that her own children had benefitted from vision therapy, that she’d been surprised when Dash did not test into TAG (the more advanced stream) based on her observations of him, and that she had wondered why his reading hadn’t improved even more than it did this year. (You know, I do feel she should have said something about that to me without this prompting.) So we’ll add her input to the pile too.

We wait two weeks for all the information to be put together, and then we go in for a conference to see what’s up. It’s likely not to be something that’s a quick fix with new glasses; it might be something that calls for vision therapy. I don’t know if there’s a middle path between those two. Worst/best-case scenario, I suppose, we just paid out of pocket to be told that our son is a perfectly average slowish reader. I would be okay with that. Honest. I don’t want him to be a supergenius hampered by dyslexia. (It’s probably not dyslexia. But the problems we’re talking about are in that sort of family.)

I will keep you posted.

Out like a lion

We have our second first-grade project. I use the word “we” advisedly, since five minutes ago his father was busy with protractor and ruler, lamenting our lack of compass, happily working out distances and angles to form a small pyramid out of cereal-box cardboard (I did suggest that one could probably just find a template on the internet, but he was clearly having fun) while the first-grader was upstairs helping his little sister throw raisins around her room.

“She wanted to sleep on beans,” Dash said by way of explanation.

He has to make an animal out of 3-D shapes, the better to exhibit his understanding of angles, vertices, and sides, and also his knowledge of our natural world. He was quite gung-ho when he came home with the instructions, and has been busily stockpiling items from the recycling ever since, but showed some reluctance to actually get down to working out which shapes would go together, and how, to form whatever animal he wanted to make, which he said was a lion.

“I’m waiting for another toilet roll,” he said every time I asked him how the lion was going to manifest.

When we finally had five empty toilet rolls – one for a very fat tail as well as four legs – he did a slapdash job of sticking things together with a lot of tape. His sister took the tape and started an animal hospital, putting plaster casts on the legs of all her teddies. We haven’t much tape left any more.

Then I noted that he needs to use at least three different shapes and his lion was made of one cylindrical ice-cream tub, two cylindrical bottle caps (eyes) and five cylindrical toilet rolls. He added a square tissue-box head. Thus it stayed for two days, until I wondered out loud a few dozen times how it was ever going to look more like a lion and what the third 3-D shape would be.

Boy writing
Writing the accompanying text

The paint came out today. I hate painting with the children more than I hate baking with them. This is why I send them to school, so they can make this mess on someone else’s time (and table, and floor). We did it outside on the deck and it still made an unholy mess and left me twitching in the corner. He disassembled the lion (so much for all that tape) and tried to paint it, but the writing on the boxes showed through, so instead we painted some sheets of paper yellow to cover the boxes with.

We were still one shape short, though, which is when I came up with the pyramid idea and his father put it into action. I’m not sure if it’s going to be a nose or a tail-end; maybe the student himself will have some input at this point.

But I feel I’m falling short of my lofty plans to have no input at all in Dash’s school projects. If we’re getting this involved at this point, what will be expected of us by the time he’s doing science-fair baking-soda volcanoes, or decoding genomes, or whatever the kids are expected to accomplish these days? It’s the sort of thing that makes me wish we could all just unschool, let the kids follow their interests, let them earn a crust doing something that makes them happy, make them self-motivated and entrepreneurial. I don’t know exactly how you grow an entrepreneur, but I’m pretty sure it’s not by bugging them to paint sheets of paper yellow and making pyramids for them.

So now I’m just going to sit here in the other room until I stop twitching, while his father helps him put the lion together.

Finished 3-D shapes sculpture
Note the mismatched-on-purpose eyes. I think it’s the Lalaloopsy influence.

Most people are good

I think it’s a form of survivor’s guilt that makes it so hard to turn off the coverage of tragedy. We think that perhaps if we steep ourselves in the information, in every tiny gleanable detail, we can take on some of the sorrow, maybe bear some of the brunt for the people who are hurting the most.

Or maybe we’re looking for some detail that will make it turn out to be not so bad as we had thought. Some tiny panacea for our global pain.

Well, this time it was so bad, and no amount of detail is going to fix things. Knowing more about the tragedy is not going to help me deal with it, and trying to imagine how it must have been is not going to improve matters. There’s no common quota of tears – by shedding my own I’m not helping someone else shed less. Everyone is crying.

I’m only looking at the news once or twice a day, and not clicking on a headline unless it really has new information. It was only last night that I saw the names and the ages and the fact that they were first-graders, and as soon as I did, I scrolled quickly on because I couldn’t immerse myself in those details. They were all Dash. They were all my son the first-grader. People keep saying “They were babies,” but because he’s my eldest I know that they were big kids, with new teeth, and bright ideas, and responsibilities, and far more understanding of the world than we give them credit for.

And I’m not going to tell my first-grader about what happened, if I can possibly help it. He’ll say “Could that happen in my school?” and then I’d have to lie and say “No, they have procedures and checks and sign-ins so that people can’t come in if they’re not supposed to.” And then he’d say “Well, didn’t they have those things at that school?”

What can we do? We can demand gun control, we can campaign for better mental health services. And we can turn off the news – not because we don’t care and not because we’re unfeeling, but because life has to go on, where life is there to do it.

Most people are good. Most people are healthy. Most people are sane. We have to keep believing that. It has to be true.


I’ll be offline for a while because we’re travelling tomorrow. Back soon with cheerful stories of flying with children and holiday hi-jinks.