30 January 2010

ABC's and 123's

Lately monkeys and penguins have been popular at our house. Makes a lot of sense, actually. Penguins are one of my favorite animals and monkeys are Matt's. I love the fortitude of Emperor Penguin mothers as they leave their families to search for food and the faithfulness of the fathers as they stay to take care of the egg. Matt loves the playfulness of monkeys and, well, just that.

Two books that Isaac has chosen recently at bedtime are Counting Penguins and Naughty Little Monkeys by Jim Aylesworth. It just so happens that these books focus on learning and recognizing numbers and letters, something that we have been working on as Isaac gets closer to entering kindergarten.

Counting Penguins is a counting book, as the name implies. Each page shows a different species of penguin, the number of penguins in the photograph getting larger with each turn of the page. Matt lets Isaac say the numbers as they turn the pages. When they get to the end, he has Isaac read the numbers in reverse order as they go backwards through the book. Going forward is much easier because Isaac can say his numbers past ten, but is having trouble recognizing the number symbols past 5 or 6.

Naughty Little Monkeys is an ABC book. The parents have 26 monkeys, each one having a name that begins with a letter of the alphabet. When the parents go out for the evening, all 26 create havoc at home, each action matching the letter with which their name begins. Isaac thinks the mischief the monkeys cause is hilarious, from sliding down the banister to cutting up Dad's newspaper to breaking the window with the yo-yo. As we read this book, we have Isaac name the letter before we read the rhyme that goes with it.

We realized a couple of weeks ago that Isaac did not know as many of his letters and numbers as we thought he did. He has been able to recite the alphabet and say his numbers for a while, and we both thought that the recognition was coming along, as well. We were wrong. I talked with his teacher to get her perspective and she reminded me that he is a boy, and boys take longer to tackle these skills than girls. He is also the youngest in his class, but is probably in the middle as far as progress, so he is doing pretty well. All of this I know rationally. But my parenting nerves kicked in.

So Matt and I have been focusing on helping him with these skills. We are trying to make it as fun as possible, using books and games. We are also trying to praise the effort that he makes to help him begin to value the act of learning.

Kindergarten is not what it was when I started school. Students are expected to know more coming in and accomplish more before the year is over. I want Isaac to be prepared and I want him to value learning for learning's sake. I also want him to be able to have fun and enjoy the social aspect of school and time with his friends.

A good friend just had to decide whether to enroll her son in a traditional 4 year old part-time preschool program or in a full-time pre-k program. As a parent, I understand her wanting her son to have one more year to enjoy the freedom of a less structured environment. But as a teacher, I see the value of pre-k programs and the foundation they give students before starting school. It is a difficult decision for parents who have the choice to make.

I know Isaac will be fine when he starts kindergarten in the fall. If he struggles, he has Matt and I to help him and support him and teach him to learn from his mistakes. But I still worry and probably always will. For now, we will keep reading and working and learning. And we will have fun.

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