18 August 2010

a note for Young One's reading notebook


Dear Young One,

Your Dad and I had our final meeting with your reading teacher this week. This time we were actually all three together in an office instead of uncomfortably fidgeting in preschool chairs in Chiara's oh-so-green classroom.  We braced ourselves for the worse as we were scolded a bit at the previous visit with the Great One, Erminia -- scolded for not reinforcing her efforts at home. Not surprisingly, she was well aware of the fact that we didn't take much time to read the Italian books to you that she sent home each week. We also failed to encourage you to read them to us. While we did make an effort to include them in the nightly routine for a bit, the idea was never really popular with you, so we let it go rather easily. Somehow you managed to deal with Erminia's disapproval of our practices each week when she quizzed you about your little books and reading habits. I wonder if you also told her about the countless stories in English each night. I doubt you mentioned that.  I probably wouldn’t have either.  Erminia is a tough one to crack.

Even with the lack-luster support of your slacker parents, you somehow managed to pull through and gain the approval of Erminia. I think she is in love with you. Really. Seriously, in love. While she reports that you are not at the same level as some of the other native speaking kids, she also told us that you work twice as hard and that makes her hopeful for your future.   She used the word "precisia" over and over again; it was especially evident in your precise handwriting. Wow. Impressive stuff, little girl. Unfortunately, this same precision also often causes you to finish behind the rest of the class or, worse, not finish at all! Obviously, you’ll have to find a way to manage this part of your character as time passes.  Not to worry, though, at about year 35 I was able to break free from the perfectionism habit; let’s hope that it comes sooner for you. Do not look to your father as a role model on this.

Erminia flipped through your notebook and impressed upon us again and again the importance of keeping it for posterity because it is just that well done, that dang cute, albeit partially incomplete in places.  She also surprised us with a mathematics book that she has been working with you.  Here we thought that you had a natural curiosity or penchant for addition and subtraction – sneaky Erminia.

I am proud of you.  Your Dad is proud of you.  You have shattered the years of research that show that learning a second language is natural and easy for young children as you have struggled to find your way through Italian preschool.  We know that the results of research are not always all-inclusive, and in this case you’ve been the exception.  Despite the difficulties and frustrations you’ve encountered, you’re essentially fluent in Italian now, even with a thick Veneto accent.    The fact that you have also managed to learn to read and write in this language – early. . . well, you are pretty special little girl.  You impressed Dad just yesterday when you began to read the label of a bottle of wine as we traveled to yet another end-of-year party.  When I look at your notebook, I am most amazed by the quality of the dictation exercises.  You can write like this, already?  This experience further convinces me of the importance of class size  and confirms our selection of this preschool for you;  a class of only seven kids has been a benefit of your school.

The final report is that you’ll do fine in first grade next year.  (Erminia even has plans to pass by your new school for a chat with your teacher regarding your progress.)  Of course, it is also coupled with the truth that most of first grade reading at scoula primaria  will be a repeat of what Erminia has already taught you.  While some shake their heads at this or clearly disapprove, as your Momma, I know that for you this is a true blessing, a very good thing indeed.  After all, lessons with Erminia have been only a small part of your overall preschool experience.   To transition to a new environment with an advantage, an advantage that will boost your confidence and self esteem, will make a difference for you, my anxiety-filled Young One.  We have a feeling that you’ll likely meet with academic success as you go through school . . . now if we can just get you to believe this.  I also have a feeling that you are just on the verge of blossoming into that confident big girl that you want so desperately to be. . . it won’t be long.


*I wrote this in June go to insert into the front of the famous notebook before stowing it away safely.

dictation2Examples of Typical DIctation Exercises Found Scattered Throughout the Notebook
It's just as it sounds: the teacher dictates while the students write.
This represents only a small part of the contents of the notebook.

Judging from conversations with other mothers (Italian and American) with same-aged children in other preschools in the area, this is quite advanced for a child entering Italian first grade. Unlike the American experience where, generally, kids leave kindergarten with a serious set of early literacy skills, with many reading proficiently, Italians generally wait until first grade to get started. We credit this success to the reading teacher and small number of kids; she credits it to the kids -- her professed "Favorite Group Ever. "


  1. Wonderful! I hope your little one has an amazing experience in first grade next year; it sounds like you've set her up nicely. As for the notebook, what a treasure!

  2. That is fabulous! Dictating is a difficult process and a very advanced skill! I can't imagine how difficult it must be for children to learn in a second language, but your little one seems to be doing wonderfully!

    I understand about perfectionism. It is a curse in our home as well, but there are times that it can be a blessing. Learning to not let it keep me from trying for fear of failure is the toughest part for me.

    Well done Mama and Papa too! You have a lovely young lady. :)


  3. She did well! And so did you: you almost sound relaxed at the the whole thing:)
    PS in many north european countries kids don't start schooling until age 7 (which , by the way, is also the age that Waldorf pedagogy recommends).

  4. Wow! This post makes me want to cry! I'm so pround of her!


  5. Thanks for the support. We, too, are proud of her. And very strangely, she is also learning English reading skills along the way -- without interference from us. I'm consulting with a few elementary school teacher friends about teaching her to read in English, but I'm not too concerned. She'll get it.

    School starts in a few weeks here!

  6. That is so wonderful that they taught her to write and read before going to regular school. In Germany and Switzerland they do not teach these elements until the 1st class. My opinion is that children are sponges. My two oldest are fluent in German despite the fact that they only hear it from their father and at Saturday German school. It hasn't been easy; especially, around age 5-6 when my oldest declared that he shouldn't have to speak German since no one else in the neighborhood did. If you have an international DVD player it is a great way for her to learn both languages this way while watch tv. Another great way is through computer games. It makes it fun without being a chore. You would be surprised at how much they learn from this. In Germany through the national geographic each month they come out with a magazine that teaches about all kinds of things for children such a pirates, pets, history, new, and it comes with a CD that is in English and German. Maybe they have this in Italy. My children love to listen to it as the are getting ready for bed. I think she will go fantastic!

  7. Amazing for that age! I bet you are proud of her!

  8. We are proud, yet keenly aware of what may await her in first grade. I'm really hoping for a teacher who "gets" her and her bilingual needs.

    I don't really make much of an effort for her to learn Italian, besides the full-on immersion in the schools. I think it's enough. Since we spent most of the summer with only English-speaking people, any tv she watches before going back to school in September will be in Italian. She'll also have contact with native speakers. The summer break has been difficult for her in the past. I thought she was over that hump, but now I'm not sure.

  9. wow - what a lovely blog! i love this post and your letter to your daughter left in her notebook. i may have to borrow your idea for the letter when we finish with asilo this year...grazie!