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Advice for struggling 1st grader

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    Advice for struggling 1st grader

    I need some advice regarding my 1st grader. Some background on us: We have a 5th grade boy at an all boys classical Catholic school. The intention is for our current 1st grader to join his brother at the school in 3rd grade (that is when the school begins). Our first grader attended a different all boys school that had a very academically relaxed kindergarten last year. Before Covid the plan was to pull him and have him join his sister (3A this year) at home and do MP for 1st grade. He left kindergarten knowing all letter sounds, able to read CVC words, and do basic addition facts. His kindergarten teacher discussed with me that he would be able to go on to first grade and she felt he would do okay, but due to his high energy that he may want to repeat kindergarten. This had already been a concern of mine and had I not been planning to homeschool him, I would most likely have wanted to have him repeat kindergarten due to his late(ish) birthday and how active his is. He has a hard time sitting still for most things, and ADHD does run on my husband’s side.

    During the COVID spring and summer we went through first start reading books B,C, and got part way through D. I decided to go with the 1st grade curriculum and hoped that with one on one attention he might actually be up for it. It only took 1 week before knowing I had to go back to kindergarten for phonics. MP’s awesome customer service gave me the lesson plans and we decided to start it at the beginning of book D. I got about a week through that before knowing that it was still too much. So, we have been going at our own pace for about 5 weeks now, using Fun in the Sun, reviewing flashcards, classical phonics, and a few other things. He really needs to gain confidence (in reading and in general - as the youngest he is constantly cutting himself down). He is starting to turn a corner in confidence/mastery with cvc words. I think in about two weeks or so, I will be able to go back to the MP lesson plans to finish out kindergarten phonics. In the meantime, we have dropped 1st grade spelling. It was above him and too much overall. And of course we are not doing the story time treasures yet. He is doing well in memorizing memory verses and learning cursive and with recitation. Most days are a struggle. He needs total one on one with constant redirection and even me reading each math problem aloud as he writes the answers (with many many distractions from him throughout just one row of a page of problems. It is a rare occurrence that I can get him to do one row of math problems independently. Sometimes, I write the answers for a row of two (for my own sanity) and we are also cutting down significant portions of the arithmetic sheets. He will do half of a page or I will write them. Speed drills are not speed drills. They are just more work we do, because he just isn’t there yet. However, today he flipped to the back of the speed book and was doing much harder problems on his own, because he just felt like it. Then, we went back to the correct page and he labored over them like he didn’t know them. My daughter has been really amazing through this and is doing a lot of the 3A curriculum independently. I step in for reviewing and checking work.

    I don’t want to push my little guy too hard. I am having a difficult time finding the right balance. Especially because it’s not that he can’t do the work. In reading he will labor over 4 sentences, be distracted, take forever and then when I say,”Only two sentences left.” He will read them without error and take 20 seconds. He needs firm boundaries, lots of encouragement and loves to cuddle and be read to.

    Does any of this have alarm bells to you? Any advice? We have done star charts for helping to motivate in terms of focusing on short sections of work. He has come a long way in 7 weeks, but I am thinking to the future. Should I have this guy in Simply Classical? Should I repeat first grade next year? Should I do something differently now to make it a more positive experience for him?

    I did not love the academic side of school as a child and was not a strong reader. My goal is to develop him into a confident reader and have a positive experience at home this year so that he starts to develop a love of learning. I know MP will do that over time, but I want to make sure that I am using the right path. Thanks so much!


    (I'm also going to post this in simply classical to see if anyone has ideas there.)


    I'll let you get some advice from the moms on the Forum because your story sounds very familiar and I feel as if we talked on the phone. My one comment from what you posted is for you to remember most students will do the least amount of work they have to do. Your son turning to the back of the speed drill book and completing more difficult problems on his own "because he felt like doing them" was a flag for me. It may be a struggle but we need a plan to wean from your completing the writing for him to his doing it. Maybe set a "tranisition" day for him. Let him know you will continue as you have been for a while but each week you will turn over a section of work and it is his job to do the writing for it. Plan snacks or free time around those independent sections. For instance do the interactive math lesson then complete some of the writing as you have been but reserve a section for him to complete. When it is time for his independent work be sure he understands the expectation then tell him you are going down to fix his snack and that he should be finished by the time you have it ready. Or tell him you had scheduled some free play time for him in __ minutes (your best guess as to time for completion) but then you will have to move onto the next subject to be finished in time for dinner. Consider making a written schedule that you post somewhere it can be seen and referenced by all your students! The use of an egg timer can be helpful as well.

    Should work not be completed, stick to the schedule and rest of day. Any independent work should be done before anymore free time. When I homeschooled different things motivated different children. My oldest either wanted to be sure and eat dinner on time or have extra X-box minutes (no judgment please) while my daughter relished her alone reading time.

    Sounds like the phonics path is a good one and you are progressing nicely. Some of the struggle in math may be that he feels as if he can't do the problems fast enough, so working on the flashcards, which require no writing, would be beneficial.

    Keep us updated !



      Michelle - thank you for responding and for the great ideas. I haven't spoken to you on the phone, so there must be a someone in a similar situation out there. Some days I don't write for him at all. Some days I do a row to a few rows of writing. I mainly have seen this help to make it less visually overwhelming. We have cut down the amount of problems he has to do on fact heavy pages and also been utilizing flashcards. It honestly seems like he makes a decsion of: I am going to do this and not dig my heels in vs. today I am going to dig my heels in. I really love your idea of a schedule. I haven't used one yet, because it wasn't needed with my daughter, but he seems to be different. As you said sticking to a schedule for the day and no (extra) free time until the work is complete will help him (and me!). Based on what others said, I think we are going to look into Simply Classical, as well. Thanks again for taking the time to help!


        Hello! Thank you for offering such a detailed explanation of what you are dealing with and hoping for with your son. I guess I am the first mom who is going to chime in here...and I did want to offer something sooner, but life around here has been a bit nutty lately! lots going on!

        First, honestly, I think from your description of your son that he just sounds immature and perhaps not ready for the academic work that you are trying to help him do. I am not very familiar with special needs, but coming from a mom of many, nothing of what you described raised any red flags for me other than he just sounds like a really active, young little boy who may need another year to age up and be ready for more school work. This is one of those times where I would try to adjust your plans and expectations of when he will be ready for the school path you have in mind for him. And from experience I will say that trying to piece together parts of a couple different grade levels to catch up or address weak spots is really frustrating for you, and can be really confusing for your child because it is harder for the days to be consistently the same.

        From my experience, the best route to take when a child does not hit the mark on skills is to back up, find the right level where he actually is, and then start from there. In your case, I really think that what you are doing right now is good...sounds like the repeat of K you were thinking he would have needed if he had stayed in the school. I would treat this year as that "repeat of K." Pull together the rest of the K program and try to have your days be as regular as possible by following the lesson plans. The K program is short enough that it will suit his short attention span and current writing ability. Then treat next year as his first grade year. I don't have many boys, but I know a lot of friends who have A LOT of boys...and what I see them do is usually to be on the later rather than earlier side of things. The older the better. We even had to hem and haw for years about what grade level our older boy was because he has a September birthday, and I didn't want him to be heading off to college still being 17. That is still how it turned out for him, but thankfully he has chosen a college where his young age will not be an issue because of the close-knit collegial nature of the school. But it still does not negate the YEARS of angst I had trying to decide exactly where he fell for a grade level!

        Believe me...I like things neat and orderly. Our kids are all 2 years apart in age, and I expected them all to be two years apart in school. But our 6th child really wasn't ready on the same schedule as her older siblings. She has had her own path that met her needs and helped her build confidence. Her primary years were very, very slow. But now she is in third grade and while I still see differences between her third grade abilities and her siblings', I know she is hitting her own benchmarks and doing great. She would still be "on grade level" now, even though for a while we were making a lot of adjustments. It is just the way some kids need it to go. Making sure to set the strong foundation now, regardless of how old he is for the grade he is doing, is the most important factor in helping him be successful in his grammar school years, and thus, every year after.

        Hope that helps a bit!
        16th Year HSing; 10th Year with MP
        DD, 19, Homeschool grad; college sophomore
        DS, 17
        DD, 15
        DD, 13
        DD, 11
        DD, 9
        DD, 7
        DS, 2