Saturday, May 5, 2012

Wishing on the stars

I’ve told a lot of stories about Augie, many of them bragging/reporting on how smart he is. Not yet in kindergarten, he’s reading like a third-grader. He got in trouble last week for reading a chapter book in bed for two hours past his bedtime.

So it was puzzling when he could not or would not write his name, or anything else. He played connect-the-dots with his finger on the iPad screen, but it seemed almost painful for him to grasp a pencil or a marker and control its movement. Turns out, it was.

Peter created a sheet of letters for him to trace, offering a Lego reward if he earned a series of stars for pages completed. Augie hated every minute of it. His preschool teacher told his parents that some kids really struggle with fine-motor skills and he may simply not be ready and able to use a writing instrument. We backed off the practice pages and said he could start again whenever he wanted to.

About a week later, he told Pa he never wanted to practice letters, but he wouldn’t mind writing numbers. Next day he had a new worksheet with five columns of inch-high numbers to trace. He could do one column a day, more if he liked, and he’d get a star for each page he completed. He and Peter bargained over how many stars it would take to earn a particular Lego firetruck: Peter started at 50 and Augie started at 1 and they ended up at 9. He did the work, and before long, he had a new unit for his fire brigade.

After that, we moved on to shapes. Stars, clovers, squares, circles with smiley faces, all good practice for grasping the pen and controlling those resistant writing muscles. Another fire vehicle, a new set of shapes, a new goal. Now he hurries to get his sheet and choose a marker, works quickly but with focused attention, and comes running for feedback on his work. He’s proud of how well he’s doing, and when he writes his name on the sheet (another requirement for a star) the letters show much more control. He’s only a few days away from the next goal, a Lego fire chief’s car.

Last night we were at a family-friendly restaurant celebrating Daddy’s new master’s degree. Augie took Peter and me to see the working fountain; he’s fascinated by plumbing, and a bit intrigued by the coins in the water. I pulled a couple of pennies from my purse and the kids each made a wish.

Augie returned to the table clearly triumphant. “I wished that instead of earning stars to get my new fire chief’s car, I’ll get it for making a wish!” I was laughing and thinking, “Augie, you get points for working all the angles.” Peter just said agreeably, “I bet you’ll get it in the next week or so.”

And he will. But not without earning the stars. This will be another teachable moment: Sometimes you get your wish not by receiving the thing you wished for, but by getting the opportunity to obtain it for yourself. Then it’s a double win.


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