Unprepared for First Grade

Find out what to do when your child's teacher for the new school year has higher expectations than his previous teacher.
My first-grade son has a very laid-back nature -- he works at his own pace. But his new teacher would like him to speed it up a bit. Last year in kindergarten he had a brand-new teacher, who did not give homework, and most of his workbooks were less than half completed by the end of the year. I feel that he is now being shocked by all of the work expected of him. Also, his handwriting is very poor. He has started to dislike school and I am beginning to worry. What can I do?
As you have found, expectations of first-grade teachers are higher than those of kindergarten teachers. However, most kindergarten teachers require more work than your son's teacher did. They also have a curriculum that they must cover, and most know what is required in first grade and want their students to be prepared for that work.

Talk with your son's first-grade teacher and explain what his kindergarten year was like. If you have any samples of his work or his uncompleted workbooks, show them to the teacher. She needs to understand why your son is having such difficulty with the expectations this year.

Also, talk with the teacher about setting up a positive reward system to encourage your son's work completion. Ask her to let you know on a daily basis (this could be as simple as a smiley face or a check mark in his planner) how his day was with regard to completion of written work, then follow up at home. A good day can earn an extra bedtime story or a walk around the block just with you. Two or three good days in a week can earn having a friend over to play on the weekend. You can increase the amount of good work required for a reward as he improves.

Give your son opportunities to improve his handwriting and his fine motor skills at home. Make sure that he has lots of paper and fun markers and pencils to practice his letters, scissors (even ones that cut patterns), Legos, puzzles, blocks, and clay. Give him a cookie sheet coated in pudding so he can practice writing his letters with his fingers. He can do the same with a pan of sand or cornmeal. If you feel that your son has a delay in this area, you can have him evaluated by an occupational therapist to determine if work with a therapist may help him.

Try to work with the teacher to help your son improve these skills this year. The expectations of second-grade teachers with regard to written work are even higher, as are those in third grade, fourth grade, and so on.

Barbara Potts has worked as an elementary school counselor for many years. She has a BA in psychology from Wake Forest University, and an M.Ed. in Guidance and Counseling from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

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