Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature an assortment of teachers from across the country answering your education questions. Have a question for our teachers? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.
My 7-year-old daughter skipped first grade, after her small private school (we live in a pretty small suburb) recommended she skip a grade to be more academically challenged. She has always been shy and quiet. We prepared her for the skip for months, explaining what was happening and why it was happening. She seemed excited to work on “harder stuff” in class.
However, things have not gone well. All the girls in her new class have been friends since pre-K and the clique is hard to break into. My daughter prefers to spend her recess alone, reading, rather than engaging with the other kids. In harsher words, she’s basically shared the other kids aren’t like her and she doesn’t know what to talk about with them. I’m concerned about her socialization and that we perhaps made the wrong choice by advancing her a grade. Did we? Do you have any ideas for how we can encourage her social development? She does play a club sport, but is similarly shy/quiet there.
— Skipped Over
Dear Skipped Over,
It doesn’t matter if skipping a grade was a mistake since there’s no going back now. I strongly believe in alleviating parents of any guilt or regret about their decision-making. We do the best we can and move on. None of us are perfect. No point in beating ourselves up over our imperfection.
The good news is that your daughter is being academically challenged and instructed on her intellectual level, which is great for her.
In terms of her socialization, you may want to step in and facilitate some social activities on her behalf to get the ball rolling. If you can plan opportunities for your daughter to engage socially with her classmates via backyard cookouts, birthday parties, picnics, park outings, and the like, it may give your daughter the chance to find a way into the group of already established friends. It means that you’ll be hosting some of these events and putting in some legwork to make them happen, but sometimes it only takes a well-planned get together or a memorable day at the beach for a child to gain a foothold into a friendship.
You could do this by calling the parents of these children or sending invitations to school or via the mail. Shy kids are perfectly capable of establishing solid friendships, but they often need a boost in terms of getting those relationships off the ground. Fostering opportunities for her to spend quality time with kids can help enormously.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
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How can I help my child get work done in noisy classrooms? I have a neurotypical eighth grader who does well in school, but she always ends up with quite a bit of homework because when teachers give the students time in class to get started, she can’t focus when the other kids are talking amongst each other. I have been teaching art in schools and I’ve helped in the classroom (younger grades), so I know it’s quite different these days than when I went to school. We had to be quiet when we did our work, and we were. Since I’m not going to be able to change the classroom environment for her, do you have any suggestions on how to deal with this? Does she need occupational therapy? She can’t wear noise-canceling headphones or anything. I wish I could teach her a way to ignore the noise. Even at home, she can’t do homework that requires focus when there is a TV on in another room—it bothers her too much.
Dear Definitely Distractable,
I know you say she can’t wear noise-canceling headphones, but I’m wondering if this is a broad school rule (most likely to avoid having students connected to their cell phones), and whether you’ve explicitly asked her teachers to allow her to wear them? If you explain her struggle, I imagine that the school could accommodate this request.
If the school refuses, I think it’s worth pushing back. While some kids benefit from being able to work collaboratively on assignments, others really do need a quiet environment to be productive. Since it’s practically impossible to serve both types of students at once, allowing a student to wear noise-canceling headphones seems like a reasonable way to meet everyone’s needs (particularly if the headphones are not connected to a device).
I cannot say whether or not your daughter needs occupational therapy, but some OTs do help kids with attention issues. If you think she would benefit from learning attention strategies, there’s no home in booking a consultation. Good luck!
— Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)
I have noticed that my kids don’t get as much time writing with a pencil and paper as I did as a kid. As a result, my 12-year-old son has horrible handwriting, and his hands get super tired when he tries to write for any length of time. My younger daughter likes to draw so she has more experience writing and doesn’t have those same issues.
In the same vein, my kids are on devices and computers at school a lot more than I was as a kid, but they don’t seem to be learning how to type properly. I remember taking a typing class in middle school, but none of the schools my kids have had to do this.
What are the thoughts of today’s teachers when it comes to handwriting and typing? I assume it varies across schools and districts, but both are important skills. I know that I could have them practice both outside of school but it seems like school should be teaching this?
—Down With Writing
It’s a good, hard question. As the world evolves and new content is constantly added to our curriculum, balance must be reached in terms of instructional time. Unless hours are added to the school day (and teacher pay increased accordingly), we can’t be expected to continue teaching everything at the same level, since instructional content is constantly being piled on. The number of things that students today are learning compared to the past is astounding. Something has to give. Handwriting quality is probably one of those things, and it probably makes sense.
So yes, I think it’s important for children to learn to write with pencil and paper while also acknowledging that almost all of the writing they will do beyond elementary school will be on a keyboard. So I suspect that handwriting skills will be less developed compared to when you and I were in school. The tradeoff will be that students will have facility with a keyboard—something that we probably developed much later in life, if at all.
To me the more relevant question is not how handwriting plays into all of this—we’re not about to stop teaching kids how to put a pencil to paper and write—but what to do about cursive. Will cursive survive in the age of the keyboard? I teach my students to write in cursive because I think it’s important to be able to sign your name and read cursive. I also know that no teacher will require anything to be written in cursive, so once they leave my classroom, these students’ retention and practice of cursive is predicated almost entirely on their own desire. Some school districts have given up teaching it entirely.
Curriculum is a constantly changing. Tough decisions are made every day in terms of what will be added, retained, and removed as human knowledge expands, technology advances, and the needs of students change over time.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
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