Elderberries, Juncos and Schoolwork

February 25th, 2009

It’s a beautiful day today and I have grand ambitions for taking care of many outdoor chores.  By the way, that little shrub that I mentioned the other day in the picture is an Elderberry.  How it grew there I don’t know, but it blooms in May and June with pretty white flower clusters- and I love the berries for jam and jelly that mature in late August or September.  Here’s last summer’s efforts at making jam– the elderberry jam never set up, but the sauce is wonderful on pancakes or biscuits.  We’re almost out of the elderberry sauce now, and I’ll have to pull some more berries out of the freezer.  Maybe I should trim around the elderberry bush so it has a little more space to grow?  Last year I was stuck in a patch of briars trying to reach the elderberry clusters.  The good thing is they were blackberry bushes… but ouch!

We’re still feeding the birds- they go through almost four feeders full of seed every week or so.  I think we’re finishing the second 40 pound bag of mixed seed, and the second 15 pound bag of thistle for winter and that should be it.  I love having them here, but you’ve got to keep the feeders full.  The young boy helps me with that and loves seeing the birds.   I’d like to think it helps some of the birds make it through winter that would otherwise have a difficult time.    And yet with days like today in the 60’s the birds are off exploring for insects and other natural fare.   Soon it will be time for them to disperse to nesting sites, and for birds like the Junco to head back north.  We don’t have them here in summer- they leave in March and come back in November.   Here’s a Junco on the Mugo!

Junco on Mugo

By the way, have you seen the math the second grade kids do these days?  I’m amazed by the expectations that schools have and how much work they are assigned.  Overall it’s a very good thing, but it seems like so much more than we ever did as youngsters, and I have to wonder if the strategies are really effective at times.

Between the reading, weekly book summaries and reports, spelling tests, composition and math, it’s a wonder they have time to be kids. At least his school still has recess, music, art and PE. But our little guy is having a tough time being fast enough with his “math facts.” That’s where the kids are timed- and he has to do 25 addition or subtraction problems in 2 minutes! He knows it really well, but it takes him 4-5 minutes to finish them. We even practice them every day on paper and with a little electronic gizmo to help memorize them, but he’s at a plateau… I’m sure he’ll improve with time.

Personally I don’t believe in forcing speed drills on kids so young- and to grade them poorly even though they know the math. In fact he’s very good in math, but because he sees himself finishing slowly and he thinks he’s “not good at math.” I try to help him understand that he is good at math, and with time and practice he’ll get faster. I just want him to continue learning- remaining receptive to it, and to understand that it’s not all about speed. Skills he learns now are important as building blocks for the skills he will need in later grades, but some children develop more slowly in certain areas. Obviously the standardized testing is a big part of it- and those tests begin in 3rd grade where he will start taking the timed tests that will be part of academics for the rest of his school days.

What’s very strange is that he can naturally remember the words to poems, jokes and songs without even trying- he’s far better at that than I am. And yet he doesn’t remember numbers the same way, or doesn’t think he does. Contrast his math with his reading… he’s already at an advanced reading level, and simply devours books. I’m so proud of him, and feel like lots of effort really paid dividends. I used to sit with him for hours as a 3, 4 and 5 year old, going over sounds and sentences every day to develop phonemic awareness, and practice his reading skills. And he always had mom or dad or grandma to read to him as well at bedtime. But the reading practice wasn’t easy, and he didn’t always enjoy it. At one point he really didn’t like the book/program I had, so I gave it a few week break and switched to a more fun phonics reading approach. He loved it.

But I remember at one point wondering if he would ever get it, and finally around age 6 he just took off.  To this day I still remember the first little phonics book he read on his own-  afterwards I said “Guess what?… You just read that all by yourself!”  He didn’t believe me at first, and then he was surprised at himself.   Now he knows he’s good at reading, and he really enjoys it and is proud of himself.   I hope he can develop his skills and appreciation for math and such to feel the same way.   Yet who knows, maybe he’s just more of a word person than a number person… everybody is different.

6 Responses to “Elderberries, Juncos and Schoolwork”

  1. pamela

    Lucky for him that you recognize that fact. I once sat near a woman in a restaurant who was engrossed with working on flashcards with her infant. The child was perfectly content playing with items on her tray, so distraction wasn’t the object. It was all about the mom, who didn’t interact with her husband or the other couple at the table at all.
    It was mesmerizing, but sad. Can you imagine the pressure on that little kid as she goes through school?

  2. I’ll take a reader over a mathematician any day.

  3. R. Sherman

    This morning, I woke up to see about 200 birds in my back yard picking through the grass for who knows what. They stayed for over an hour and were there when I left, so they must have been finding something.

    BTW, my kids were always 2-3 grade levels ahead on reading but right at grade level in math. This, of course, means that they will be literature majors and lawyers instead of rich orthopedic surgeons who can purchase their parents a retirement villa in the Caribbean.



  4. Pamela- Wow… that sounds odd. But a good point- sometimes I really have to look at where our expectations are too. I probably pushed reading too hard at first because I was so excited about it, then relaxed and just kept it steady but at his pace.

    Pablo- I hadn’t thought of it quite that way in words before… :)

    R.S.- That’s a lot of birds… Hitchcock comes to mind! And maybe one of those lit majors will become a prolific author? Heck, we all should- everytime I’m in the library or on the rare occasion, Barnes and Noble, I’m just amazed at some of the most awful books out there. That’s the road to that villa!

  5. When in elementary school, I remember getting lots of C’s and D’s. Then around third grade or so, something just clicked and by the time I graduated, I was Valedictorian.

    Despite that, even in college I was always a slow learner. When it groups of people, I was forever asking people to explain concepts and not understanding things that they obviously did. Then when the test would come and I would score a lot higher on it, they would take it harder. It just takes me a lot longer to make things click than others but once it does, I take off. Perhaps your boy has some of that too.

  6. Ed- Goodness, that sounds a lot like how he learns. He loves science, and is forever asking the neatest questions, and a lot of the same ones too :)

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