June 6, 2009

Who's the mom here, anyway??

When we were living in California last year, our daughters (K - 5 and L - 3) attended a Montessori school. They would come home chock full of random pieces of information about waterfalls in Africa and the breeding habits of frogs. K even learned to belly dance and painted a portrait of Frieda Kahlo during art appreciation week.
And every day they would recite the days of the week, months of the year and sing hello in about 50 languages.
German Kindergarten is a bit different. The focus is more on social interaction and motor skills than, um, actual learning. I liked the Montessori better but we're in Munich now and all the Germans I know personally seem knowledgable and well-educated so I'm doing my best every day to withhold judgement.
However. About six weeks ago I discovered that K didn't know the days of the week any more. Not that we'd been actively practicing them or anything but they do get mentioned daily and this strikes me as something a Kindergarten could be teaching.
So I started ramping it up a bit after Kindergarten. I wolld say things like, 'Today's Monday, so we have gymnastics.'
Wednesday is ice cream day, a routine I introduced to cut down on daily bids for ice cream. The kids ask if it's ice cream day and the answer is either yes or no. No exceptions. No whining.
Stepping up the pace, I started asking, 'I don't know if it's ice cream day. What day is it today?'
K couldn't tell me.
OK too much pressure. I eased up a bit and only wanted to know what day we get ice cream. Wednesday right? Always Wednesday. How can she not know the most important day of the week?
She couldn't tell me this either.
We practiced it every day for a week. We repeated it. This is how I used to learn with my grandma, repeating things in the car, and it worked really well. For me, that is. But not for K.
At one point I lost patience.
If you don't try harder I'm not buying you an ice cream.
On Wednesday I said, 'It's ice cream day, K. Tell me what day it is and you can have an ice cream.'
L could do it. But not K.
I bought them the ice cream but I was deeply disturbed.
Ralf is a man of action. He wrote down the names of the week on a piece of paper and worked with K to draw little pictures next to each day to help her remember the name. They practiced until she could say them all, then pasted the paper onto cardboard and put in a thumb tack next to today. K's own little calendar. I watched with interest and pride as she mastered the days of the week and graduated to reciting them from memory with no visual cues.
We discussed it after the fact with the Kindergarten teacher and she said of course they talk about days of the week every day during circle time. K used to be the star of the show but for about two weeks she'd been refusing to open her mouth.
I felt awful. 'Yep,' said Ralf to me, not unkindly, 'you suck.'
After Kindergarten I sat down with K to apologize. I explained that I was mad because I thought she wasn't trying. But I didn't want to take the fun out of learning. I just want to be a good mommy and help her learn things. And I sometimes make mistakes.
When I was finished K smiled and said, 'Papa did better than you did. He showed me how to do it. You just told me I couldn't have ice cream.'
Pretty mature stuff, huh? She'll probably be a better mom than I am.
Me: 'Thanks, baby, that's useful feedback. I can work with that.'
Didn't I tell you I always admit when I'm wrong?
Me: 'One more thing, Lovebug. I still expect you to try things and I will still get mad sometimes if I think you aren't trying. But even when I'm mad, I'm ALWAYS proud of you and I ALWAYS. . . '
She rolled her eyes dramatically and interrupted, 'I know, Mommy, you always love me!'
Cheeky monkey!
Me: 'I don't know if little girls who talk to their mommies like that still get ice cream.'
She stared at me, horrified, until I burst out laughing.
Me: 'Just kidding, sweetness.'
Giggles reigned for several minutes, followed by a magic show that required me to close my eyes while she put things in a silk bag, then dramatically 'materialized' them from the bag.
Me: 'Wow. Great magic trick, baby! What day is it today?'


  1. Oh I'm definitely with you on this! I was beside myself last month over Lily not being able to count correct change, not knowing the value of a quarter, etc. Of course, she knew, but, not sure why she wasn't "knowing" it for her homework? Same thing with her vocabulary. I was all "Please, just hang in for a couple more weeks. Don't give up at the end. You wanna go to 2nd grade don't you?" Deaf ears, I tell you.
    She did fine.

    And judging by the correction your daughter gave you, I'd say she's more than fine!

  2. Awww don't feel bad, I'm sure that on the list of things that you can do wrong with your kids, thats like at the very bottom.. She probably won't even remember it in a week.
    Cute story. :)

  3. You're still a good mom... Ice Cream Day? My kids would do anything for that! And as for requisite memorizing, my little JJ (age 6) still forgets "N" in the alphabet. L.M.O.P. EVERY TIME!

  4. I'm off to look for a Montessori at our next port of call...

  5. It's interesting. I am really fond of our kita, but I think it's clear that prschool /kita is not comparable to the US. When I first moved here, my Berlin pediatrician warned me that the kitas would not actually teach anything and that I might be dismayed. He did tell me that they generally catch up by the 4th grade, though. For me, although I was annoyed at the concept of kita as only socialization (my kids were socialized), it was very useful for them to become mother-tongue fluent in German. That's why kita is free for the 5 year olds in Berlin- an effort to help in integration.But my friends' kids are in 1st grade at 5 and all learned to read in pre-school, before 6 in the US.

  6. You are awesome! At least you have ice cream day. My mom would have had broccoli day or something.

  7. Aw poor little kiddie! At least she got it right in the end!

    And I love stories where parents learn from their kids :) Probably because I'm still categorized in the latter category haha.

    Shawna's Study Abroad

  8. I agree with Shawna It is wonderful when we can say we're sorry and let our kids know we are only human

  9. We've had our Flowers for Algernon moments over here, too. Mr. M went to Montessori and used to be a whiz at geography, the colors in Spanish, etc. Fret not.


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