Category Archives: School

Q&A: toilet talk

Tiel writes:

"My question is about ‘toilet talk’. I have  an almost 4 year old and since starting kindy and I think with the influence of another little charming friend at family care, his language has gone down the toilet so to speak. He isn’t swearing. He says things like. ‘poo poo dog’, ‘smelly face’  etc etc…you get the gist.  Some things are quite creative, like ‘radio monster’ and  my favourite..’you’re a mustard pickle!’ But on the whole it is driving me insane. I know that a lot of children do this, but WHEN IS IT LIKELY TO STOP???? Any suggestions on how to approach it. I’ve tried talking to him about ‘naughty words’, even ignoring him, but he thinks it is all very funny."

Well, in all honesty, it is pretty funny. "Mustard pickle," especially. But I feel your frustration, as we were in this exact situation after a few weeks of preschool last year, and it was driving me off the deep end. Truly, I thought I was going to gouge out my eardrums rather than listen to any more fart and poop talk and random word string insults.

My son’s teachers had a policy that we continued at home about "bathroom talk" (the effluent-related words and insults), which was that you could say those words all you wanted to, but you could only say them in the actual bathroom. It seemed to work fine for them at school, but was a constant battle at home. (It was truly hilarious, though, when El Chico would run to the bathroom and I’d expect to hear him lifting the toilet seat to pee, but instead I’d hear him shrieking "Poop! Farts! Doodoohead!")

Meira and her husband used reverse psychology to get their older son to stop with the bathroom talk at that stage by taking his favorite potty words and setting them to a tune, and then singing them loudly and with gusto for days until he got tired of them and stopped. (Because anything will become instantly uncool if your parents are doing it.) You can see why this appealed to my imagination, so we tried this method. I don’t know if it was the singing of the potty words that did it (we kind of did a fugue style in harmony), but El Chico finally stopped with the effluent-related words. He kept up the random-strings-of-words-as-insults for a few more weeks, but then that petered out, too.

So you can try this stuff (and I’m sure someone else will have suggestions of other things to try), or you can buy a big roll of duct tape and tape his mouth shut get some earplugs so you don’t have to listen to it anymore wait it out. He and the other kids in his class should move on to the next thing in a month or two. It will probably be pretending to shoot each other, or dressing in capes and being superheroes.

Hang in there.

Q&A: teaching a preschooler how to read

Danielle writes:

"I know you touched on this briefly in a previous post, but I’m very
interested in finding out more about how to best teach my daughter how
to read. Actually, I really want to know how to teach her babysitter
how to teach her to read.

Dylan, my daughter, is 4.5 years old.
She is very stubborn and very opinionated. While we have a great
relationship, I am the first to admit that it is often hard for me to
sit down with her and calmly show her something. We end up bickering,
and nothing gets accomplished. Plus, I’ve found that she is much more
willing to listen to adults who aren’t me. (Are all kids that way?)

story short, we have hired a full-time babysitter to watch Dylan and
her baby brother this summer while I am at work. She is starting in
July. In the mornings, she will be taking the kids on adventures to the
pool, the park, the library, etc. In the afternoon, she will be hanging
with them at the house so that the baby can take his long afternoon
nap. I thought it might be nice for Dylan to spend maybe 1/2 hour a day
working on her reading with the sitter (who has a degree in education)
while the baby naps. She knows her alphabet, can write every letter,
and knows the sound that every letter makes. She is very interested in
reading and has told me that she would like to work on her reading with
the sitter. Are there any books that you would recommend I pick up that
they could use for their lessons? I thought she might like to have a
little workbook of her own. She is very enamored of binders (she calls
them her "folder work"), so printouts that I can hole punch would be
great as well."

The previous post Danielle is referring to is this links roundup with a link to a PDF on Synthetic Phonics, a new way of teaching phonics from Scotland that seems to be more successsful than regular phonics teaching, especially with boys.

I don’t have any specific recommendation for books for your babysitter to use with your daughter. But I asked my mom, who is a former second grade teacher and reading specialist (including working with remedial reading and kids with learning disabilities back before anyone knew anything about learning disabilities). This is what she said about teaching preschool kids to read:

1) Separate the reading from the writing. Kids this age don’t always have the manual dexterity to write well, and they don’t need to write to be able to read. So work on the reading and if she’s able to write well she’ll start doing it on her own anyway.

2) Use manipulables instead of worksheets and books. The most entertaining and simple manipulables are letter blocks, magnetic letters that you can do on the refrigerator or a file cabinet or just on a table or floor (you might have to buy 2-3 sets to get enough letters to make the words you want to spell), and sidewalk chalk.

3) Let your daughter type words on the computer. (We do this by putting on Word, then setting the font size to 26 or 28 and turning on bold. We used to put on Caps Lock until we move on to lowercase letters, too. When I was a preschooler and learning to read my mom let me type letter by letter on her manual typewriter.) This is also a way to let a kid "write" who doesn’t have the physical ability to write, or to write quickly enough to get his or her thoughts down.

4) The best texts for reading are the things your daughter sees every day–cereal boxes, signs, all the words that are at her level.

5) Make sure to emphasize phonetically regular words so that she starts to internalize the rules.

6) Don’t forget to cover vowel and consonant clusters as well as the 26 letters. If you start out teaching that "th" makes the th sound, for example, you won’t have to have her struggle through sounding out t and then h and then having it not be the correct sound.

What my mom emphasized most is "It needs to be a game. If you push what the child is ready for you’ll only end up frustrating you both." In her experience, kids who had reading problems later on were usually the kids who were pushed to read before it really clicked in their heads. It sounds like Dylan is totally ready for it, but your babysitter should be alert to make sure she lets Dylan take the lead and backs off if she’s tired or distracted or just not into it that day.

Two Updates

Bobbie wrote in to let me know that she talked to her daughter’s teachers. Her daughter is one of the most prepared in the whole class, so it was no problem for her to be out. So they went to visit Bobbie’s husband with no worries. Yay!

Sheila C sent me the link to this article about an enzyme present in the blood of people who died from peanut allergies. It may be a way to tell who will have fatal reactions and who won’t ahead of time. Very cool, and why I love science. Thanks, Sheila.

Q&A: school time vs. time with traveling father

Bobbie writes:

"I have a question about my daughter and waswondering if you could help me.

My daughter is in Kindergarten and
is doing really good. She is where she needs to be and in some cases above where
she needs to be, but due to where school is new to her she has been sick a lot and
has missed 7 days alltogether. But the point I’m trying to get to is this. 
Her dad is gone on a business trip for 2 months and her and her father are very
close and she is missing him really bad. He has been gone for 2 weeks now and she
is to the point where she cries herself to sleep at night!

In two weeks we
planned to go up there for a few days but she can’t wait.  What should I
do?  I don’t want to get into trouble for her missing so many days or them
holding her back for going to the first grade.  Emotionally she is falling
apart because she has never been away from either one of us–maybe overnight, but
not weeks or months at a time. Mentally I don’t want her to behind in
school. Can you please help me?"

Your daughter needs to see her father.

Call the school and ask for a meeting with the teacher and principal for the next day, and go in and tell them what you told me. A kid who can’t function because she misses her dad so much is not going to do very well in school anyway, and the teacher and principal will understand that.

The principal will know what the legal guidelines are for your state about how many days she can miss and still go on to first grade. If she’s been sick those days shouldn’t count against her (but it depends on state law and whether she was sick enough to get a doctor’s note). You might have to get her assignments for the days you’re going to miss and do them with her while you’re gone.

Good luck. I hope the principal can give you good news that she’s in no danger of being held back, so call as soon as you can to talk to them. Your daughter sounds sweet, and the attachment she has to your husband is heartwarming. I hope the rest of his time away from your family flies by quickly so you can all be together again.

Q&A: missing the first week of Kindergarten

Tonya writes:

"I know your sons aren’t ready for Kindergarten yet, but I trust your opinion so here goes:

My sister lives in another state and she’s getting married this year. She wants to get married on Labor Day weekend.  My sister wants my daughter to be her flower girl. Unfortunately, my daughter is starting Kindergarten this fall. School will probably start the week before Labor Day, so I’d have to take my daughter out of school at least one day if not the whole week to be at the wedding. (We would be driving to the wedding because we can’t afford to fly, and the trip is about 13 hours of driving, so 2 days of driving.) I’m not willing to do this because I think that my daughter will miss out on the friendships that occur on the first few days of school. Do you think I’m overreacting? I feel bad for making my sister choose a different date for the wedding, but I also need to be an advocate for my daughter. My daughter goes to daycare/preschool everyday because I work out of the home, so I know my daughter will not have problems adjusting to being away from me. I also don’t think she will have problems making friends at Kindergarten, I just want to make sure she has every opportunity to do that."

Thanks for the vote of confidence–I hope I can live up to your expectations.

I’m going to completely leave your daughter out of it for a minute, and suggest that your sister should not have her wedding on Labor Day to begin with. It sounds like a great idea to have a wedding on a holiday weekend, because everyone has that day off so they can take an extra day after the wedding. But in reality, you’re costing them more money because all plane tickets are super-expensive on a holiday weekend, and hotels are more expensive. Plus, you’re robbing them of a holiday weekend they could otherwise spend going somewhere else or just sleeping in and drinking beer and barbecuing in the backyard or doing whatever they like to do best. Which is most certainly not going to a wedding, no matter how much they love you and want you to have lifelong happiness. (Unless they really love the Electric Slide.) So it’s actually a favor to your guests not to have your wedding on a holiday weekend.

You know, it just occurred to me that if you could convince your sister not to have the wedding on Labor Day weekend for the above reasons, then your daughter could be completely left out of it. Which would just make it easier for everyone involved.

The actual issue of whether or not missing the first few days of school is going to hurt her socially is a tough one. It’s absolutely true that she’ll be able to make friends even if she misses a few days at the very beginning of school. However, it’s also true that missing time in the first week will put her at a disadvantage and might make her feel insecure and confused. I don’t know your daughter’s personality, either. Some kids can just hop right in and not feel self-conscious. If it had been me at that age, missing a few days at the beginning of school would have made me even shier and hesitant than I already was (with the other kids–with grown-ups I was fine). Kindergarteners can be tough.

If you think it’s going to make it awful for your daughter to miss those days, then you have to go with your gut. But honestly, I’d try to see if your sister will move the wedding date (although it’s probably a little late for that by now since it’s only 8 months away) just to make it easier for her guests. If that works, then you won’t even have to consider the issue with your daughter.

Let us know what happens.