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At the end of September I wrote an exasperated post about working parent life and the … role the addition of nightly homework played in my state of mind.

Given we’ve now been at it for a while, I thought I’d post an update.

By way of quick background, we knew from about age two our eldest was going to struggle with school.

Let’s just say fine motor and concentration have never really been her … thing.

And if we could have play-doh’ed and busy-bagged to correct that we would have.

She trailed her peers in kindergarten on stuff like letter and number recognition, sounds and printing her name.

We got her a referral for additional help, and continued bedtime reading, played with flashcards, did summer book club at the library, and traced letters on the wall by unicorn-light, but didn’t drill her given we felt the main point of kindergarten is learning to interact with your peers and like school.

So we knew Grade One would be a shock.

The prescription for 10 minutes of nightly homework started the second week of school.

Here’s an early note home in the homework book:

Devoirs_Septembre

For the non-French readers, briefly – they were to recognize the names of the kids in their class, do some worksheets where they circled the letter that pictures started with and show they recognized the alphabet and numbers from 1-20.

That went okay, but before the month was out the reading assignments had morphed into this:

Devoirs_Unité3

Plus prep for Friday dictations suddenly with full words, plus number sequencing.

Given that, even now at the end of November, my daughter’s printing looks like this:

Dicté_practice_nov

This is the workbook we are using at home to practice printing daily. Any Ottawa blog folk might smile to know it’s an Ottawa Mommy Club notebook and my daughter LOVES it.

You can appreciate how completely overwhelming that was.

There was no way we were going to be able to teach her to a) read the words b) memorize the spelling and c) legibly print them, while also doing the math, other reading homework and worksheets.

In ten minutes a night.

We were edging up to 20 minutes nightly and not getting anywhere near through it.

We set a meeting with the teacher to discuss. After listening to his concerns – which are the same ones we had heard from every teacher she has ever had – we explained what we were doing at home, that we were engaged, that she was trying, but there was absolutely no way we could get her through the nightly homework in 10 minutes.

He stressed the importance of no more than 10 minutes.

So we asked what to focus on. Because, really, we’d have to choose to not do some of it.

We agreed to focus on the reading first.

It was hard knowing she was being evaluated on dictations we weren’t prepping her for, but she simply wasn’t there yet.

So that’s how we spent October.

Reading assignments now look like this:

Devoirs_Unité15

And I have to say, she’s improved by leaps and bounds in reading in the past month. We’re very clearly just at the “decoding” stage, but she couldn’t even do that in September and now she’s doing it pretty well. She hasn’t yet make the leap to read syllables together as full words after sounding them out, but I figure that’s coming. Either way, it is thrilling to watch and help her learn to read and to see her excitement when she figures out something new.

Given reading is now going okay, we’ve started to focus more on the printing and for the last two weeks I’ve tried to divide homework time between the two. We haven’t seen a lot of improvement yet – and honestly have had to take a lot of “breaks” from the specific word we were spelling to go over how to print specific letters – eg: which way the “tail” goes in “p” vs “q” and pages upon pages of practice to try to not do “s” backwards – but I hope, like reading, we will start to see improvement in the next month or so with the added focus.

That leaves math out in the cold. We try to do a bit of the numbers work when we can, but she’s pretty good there – except of course when it comes to printing them out – so I think focusing on printing is the right call. We’ve written to the teacher to let him know that’s what we’re doing.

The challenge we of course have – and that we’ve had since kindergarten – is that all this feels like one huge forever game of catch up. Because weekly homework? Now looks like this:

Devoirs_Novembre

Nightly reading units, weekly reading club books, weekly library books, worksheets, dictation words and numbers to 40 out-of-order and to 100 by rote. All in 10 minutes a night.

I try to make it fun where I can. Sometimes I get giggles. Other times there are tears. And storming to her room in defeat. She’s really trying and she gets frustrated quickly. There is such a fine line between pushing her to succeed and pushing her too far.

That said, I LOVE the note from the teacher in the dictation section that says if your child is having problems with the dictation words to consider this section enrichment work for kids that finish the rest quickly and to focus on reading, then mathematics.

It made me feel we were being listened to and that my child isn’t alone in struggling with all this.

Report cards come out next week. I suspect her’s will reflect that she’s still struggling, but I know she’s making progress and we’ll focus on that.

I’ll post a few updates throughout the year.

What about you? Any tips for getting through Grade One and helping with the homework?

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