My oldest son is six, and will turn seven in a couple of months. He doesn’t read well yet, and is behind his peers in class. His teacher has expressed concern about this throughout the year, and I think she may have been hoping that I would do more work around reading and phonics at home with my son.
I am an involved parent, but I did not do this. My son has often met milestones later than other children his age, and then he catches right up (and then some sometimes) when he is ready. I’d call him a late bloomer, except I don’t really think of him as late for anything; he’s just on his own clock. I have every confidence that, on his own time, he will be a wonderful reader, as reading is prized in our home.
It’s interesting, and sometimes difficult, to see your child through someone else’s eyes, but my son’s teacher is a warm, gentle and positive presence in my son’s life, so I listened to her.
Still I was surprised when she told me she had planned a meeting for us with a School Support Team, including the principal, school social worker, the school psychologist, the school librarian and resource support, and the school speech and language specialist. This seemed like a fairly serious intervention at a fairly early stage of things. I try not to be blind to my children’s shortcomings, but in this case I really felt that what my son needed was time.
I gave my consent to have the team meeting, but discomfort with the possibility that I was not advocating well for my son prompted me to speak with my son’s teacher again. What follows is a series of steps for how to deal beautifully with a worried parent.
1. The teacher granted my meeting promptly and openly.
2. She listened to me.
3. She clarified my misunderstandings. I thought that my son was to be tested at this team meeting, but he wasn’t even going to be present.
4. I wanted reassurance that I could withhold my consent to any testing that might be recommended. She immediately affirmed that I had this power, and that I could assert it at any time regardless of her recommendations.
5. She expressed her concerns, but had positive things to say about my child.
6. She was honest about her own needs. “It’s mostly for me,” she said. And then she said that in some Waldorf schools, the teachers will come together and meditate on a child. She said she loved this idea, and wanted to come together with other people to share ideas about my son.
Thus disarmed, I attended the meeting with my husband. And everyone was attentive and kind and not alarmist. We are on their radar, and we have some time.
If I were homeschooling my son, we would have all the time we’d need, and he could read on his own time, whether it be this spring, or four springs from now. I’m not persuaded that earlier is better, and I’m not alone in that: many European countries don’t introduce reading at school until children are seven or eight years old.
But I want to be part of a school community, and I’ve put my son in school. While he’s there, I want him to feel good about himself and to be successful, and I was distressed to see him losing confidence at his inability to read as his peers do. Primarily for that reason, we’re participating in an after-school reading club, where my son is able to read very simple pattern books. They are at his level, and finally, instead of being confused, he can read books that are given to him. They’ve boosted his self-esteem, which is what matters most now, as the rest, as I’ve said before, I’m quite sure will come with time.
What did I do to support my child’s education? Some might say not very much. But I think it was useful to receive without defensiveness an interpretation of my child’s ability that didn’t resonate with my own understanding, while still expressing my views. I also didn’t attach myself to shortcomings in the classroom that may be there. These things allowed me to recognize allies where I might not have otherwise. I’m also happy to wait for my boy to come into a facility with reading largely on his own. Less is more is working pretty well for us.