Must try harder

I’m having a bit of a crisis of confidence on behalf of The Boy this week. I’m worried that he’s not achieving as much as he could (or working as hard as he should) at school. Theoretically, he should be a high achiever; between us, DH and I have seven A levels at grade A (before A* existed), a first-class BA Hons, a 2:1 MEng, a PGDip with distinction and engineering chartered status, so really, there’s a strong genetic argument for The Boy to have at least a couple of brain cells to rub together. And throughout Reception, and at the start of Year 1, I thought he was doing really well, and so did his teachers.

Now, though, I’m not so sure. There has been a whole raft of little things that have made me question his progress lately. Facebook is partly to blame. It seems that every day, my news feed is full of people’s tales of their children’s achievements. Star of the week awards. Headteacher’s certificates. Letters home from teachers celebrating their work. Beautifully written, beautifully spelt stories and notes.

I don’t blame anyone for boasting. I would, if I had cause to. But I don’t. The Boy doesn’t get certificates. He doesn’t get awards. His handwriting is appalling – up and down, spaced out and squashed up, full of crossings out and backwards letters – and his spelling not much better.

Then there’s the fact that sometimes, he just seems so spectacularly dense. Last weekend’s homework – a numeracy task involving some fairly basic addition and subtraction – looked like it should be a breeze. On Monday morning in the playground, other parents indeed confirmed that their kids had raced through it in minutes. In our house, it was a half-hour ordeal involving mistakes, counting on fingers, and utter exasperation from DH and me.

On top of all that, The Boy has absolutely no interest in writing stories, solving problems, doing anything that resembles work, in fact. Homework sessions are always accompanied by whinging, fiddling, staring out of the window, completely failing to concentrate on the task in hand, and doing the bare minimum. If this is what he’s like at school, no wonder he’s never singled out for praise or reward.

And I blame myself. Okay, not entirely; The Boy has his father’s genes, and although he’s clever, he has no self-motivation at all. DH is one of the cleverest people I know, yet his GCSE and degree results were well below what he’s capable of. Fortunately, he’s developed a work ethic with age, and is now very, very successful in his career – so there is hope for The Boy.

But I do feel like The Boy’s current mediocrity is my fault. Firstly, I don’t think I’m pushy enough. I don’t want to be a competitive parent, filling every moment of his free time with work, but perhaps I should be making him put in some extra effort at home, whether that’s by learning a few spellings, practising his handwriting, or doing some numeracy exercises. Perhaps I should be one of the parents whose children come into school on a Monday morning having done extra homework.

I also wonder whether I’m too hands-off where school is concerned. The Boy’s teacher always has a long line of parents waiting to talk to her after school, whereas I’ve always intentionally kept a distance, trusting her to get on with her job and assuming that she would tell me if there were any concerns. But earlier this week, I had a conversation with someone who was saying that you have to make your presence felt if you want your child to succeed at a state primary school. Her theory is that teachers invest more effort in the children whose parents shout the loudest, just to get them off their backs. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I’m doing The Boy a huge disservice by standing back. The title of this post refers to me, not The Boy.

DH and I fundamentally disagree on how to handle this. He concedes that The Boy doesn’t seem as smart or motivated as we hoped he’d be, but says that at six, it doesn’t matter; that it might take him until he’s 20 to find his stride, but that it’s not a problem (it wasn’t for him, after all).  But I keep pointing out that it’s different for The Boy than it was for us. When we were kids, there were two comprehensive schools in our town, both of which were much of a muchness, and neither of which had entry criteria. Here, though, our two nearest secondary schools are polarised; one is an extremely well-regarded super-selective, while the other is a pretty average comp that until recently, has had a dodgy reputation. Okay, so The Boy is still five years away from the Eleven Plus, and I am absolutely *not* considering tutoring at this age, but I do feel he’s not too young to be developing a work ethic.

So what do we do? I don’t know. I am adamant that I will not ruin his childhood by hothousing him, but equally, as a parent, I have to take some responsibility for his learning. I would be letting him down enormously if I didn’t encourage him in the right direction. But it’s hard – especially when I have such an unwilling learner on my hands, and not a whole lot of patience.

Next half-term, The Boy will get his first formal school report, and then I will find out if my concerns are valid, or if he has – as predicted at the start of the year – achieved higher than average levels. My suspicion is that he’ll be above average, but won’t have done as well as he could have (just like his father). Then I suppose we can make an informed decision about how much we push him at home.

For now, though, nothing would make me happier than him coming home with a certificate in his book bag. Just once…

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6 thoughts on “Must try harder

  1. I agree with your DH, they do have to find their own stride but can sympathise with your disappointment too. Our school doesn’t give homework for infants apart from reading but our juniors get maybe an hour a week. I’m surprised the school doesn’t make sure he gets a certificate or award now and again for something by way of encouragement.

    • I think my worry is that he won’t find his stride unless we encourage him to. I feel we can be rather too laissez-faire with his learning (case in point, he had his show and tell this week; T said he didn’t want to make any notes and would just say what was in his head. I’m sure he was fine, as he can talk for England, but really, I should have insisted that he do at least *some* prep – the note that comes home specifically says ‘Please help your child prepare a short presentation’). I hope he’ll get some sort of certificate at some point, even if, as you say, it’s only to encourage him.

  2. Don’t worry, I have 5 boys, they rarely work at their best unless it is something which really captures their imagination. Boys come good later, so long as they enjoy school they will take it all in and do well. Having said that we have given all ours after school help in the primary years as I believe in really enforcing the basics in maths and English.

    • That’s good to know. Boy mentality is not always the easiest thing for a mother to understand, is it? I agree that Maths and English matter an awful lot; luckily DH is Maths/Science and I’m Arts so hopefully the combination of our genes will see him through.

  3. great post, all three of mine are how you describe and I sometimes wonder the same if my lack of pushy parenting is allowing them to not furfil their potential, but homework is met with frustration from me and upset from them as they sit and twiddle their thumbs acting like its the most difficult task ever! I have a firm belief that if they enjoy school and their childhood then thats got to be more beneficial than making everything about how well they have done, pulling them up on their mistakes and ultimately lowering their self esteem, i don’t know if its the right way I just hope like your other half they grow into loving learning and find that something that sparks their enthusiasum as they get older, as long as they go to school and return with smiles on their faces I’m happy with average grades

    • I’m so glad I’m not alone in these homework dramas. And yes, let’s hope our children grow into a love of learning without us having to be too mean to them!

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