Late last year, I recognized that Elizabeth was struggling more with her numbers than her siblings. So, I created a number chart that I hung in our kitchen and every day, I would practice with her - reciting number after number after number. Until, the novelty of the number chart wore off and although it still hung on the wall, we referred to it only occasionally.
Two weeks ago, we received an e-mail from Elizabeth's kindergarten teacher. She noted that Elizabeth is still really struggling with her numbers and cannot differentiate a 7 from an 8 from a 9. She requested that we please continue to work with Elizabeth on these numbers at home, until she can recognize them with ease.
So Charlie and I broke out the flashcards and we broke out the finger pointer for our number chart, which we've started using again, every day. For two weeks straight, I'd wager that we spend an hour a day working on numbers. We spend a bit of time before school, a bit of time after school, and a bit more time every night, before bed.
Two weeks later and there hasn't really been any progress. And what seems to discourage her the most is that Carolyn and William are totally proficient in their numbers and although they only need to be able to recognize numbers up to "31" to graduate from kindergarten, her siblings can easily recognize numbers up to 1,000.
It's important to highlight and acknowledge that each of our children are so different from one another and they each possess strengths that are unique to them.
At the age of six, it's evident that one of Elizabeth's key strengths is her ability to express herself through creativity. Several of her teachers have told us that our daughter is beyond her years in art competency. She paints and draws and transfers all of her life experiences through some kind of creative outlet. For example, she picks and arranges flowers. She creates her own clothes for her dolls. And more recently, she draws pictures to capture important moments in her life. For example, a few weeks ago, when the girls were arguing over their Pillow Pets, I took them away. In response, Elizabeth rushed over and sketched a picture of me, taking their Pillow Pets with a big smile across my face, while she and her sister had tears squirting from their eyes.
I recognize that it's my responsibility as a parent, to help foster my children's confidence in themselves, while encouraging them to branch out and try new things. I also recognize that at this young age, Elizabeth's strength may not be in mathematics. And while I can appreciate that ... she still needs to learn her numbers.
So tonight, in a bout of frustration, she and I were sequestered in one of the bedrooms, working on flash cards. Those numbers that she recognized, zero through six, were removed from the deck and set aside. Seven through nineteen remained. We put them in sequential order and counted them, one by one. Then, we scattered them on the floor and I'd ask her to pick up whatever number I called out. "Sixteen!" I'd ask. "Fourteen!" "Twelve!" "Eleven!"
One pass through, she'd get almost all of them. Then, I'd ask her to do it again and she'd confuse the eleven with the seventeen. The nine with the seven. The eight with the twelve. And before we knew it, we couldn't even recognize the numbers that we knew when we had started.
What I've learned during this experience is that it's an exercise in extreme patience when you feel like your child should know something. In those situations, it's best to put yourself in the place of the child. To imagine what it must feel like when your siblings know something that you don't and how disheartening it must be when you think you're disappointing your parents.
I remember when I was a child and I struggled with multiplication tables. I remember my father asking, "What's nine times nine?" While I would try to imagine and count in my head nine nines, he'd prompt, "Think Jenny. THINK!" It really didn't help me one iota when he did that and would more often than not, send me in reverse. So I'm not sure why I thought it would help my daughter if I told her, "Open your mind! I know you can do this!" ?
(Note to self: The next time you feel compelled to tell your six-year-old to OPEN HER MIND, go hit yourself in the shin with a golf club, instead. OK?)
Tonight as I was working with Elizabeth, I had a feeling she was slipping further and further in to a pit of despair. But I also felt like I was incredibly close to making a break-through. As a result, instead of acknowledging the fact that she was tired and frustrated, I picked up the flash card deck and started to work through it again.
Just then, at that very moment in time, when my heart was telling me, "Knock it off, already!" but my mind was telling me, "She's so close to getting this!" our kitchen oven, which we estimate to be at least 40 years old, exploded. All I noticed was that the lights in the house flickered, but Charlie - an eyewitness in the kitchen - said that a puff of black smoke came billowing out when the heating element burst in to flames.
We promptly concluded our flashcard session and I tucked Elizabeth in to bed. As I kissed her on the head goodnight, she gave me a very relieved smile. Then, she grinned up at the ceiling and said, "Thanks, Mr. S."
Recall: this isn't the first time my daughter has said something profound that's made me think twice. So yeah. I've still got goosebumps and am interested to see what kind of painting she creates to capture this experience, tomorrow.