It's only late September, and we're already in crisis homework mode at our house. Last evening, my daughter threw herself down on the dining room chair, shaking her head repeatedly as she chanted, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" It is a cursive lower-case "v."
Two weeks ago, she missed two words on her spelling test. In one word, her "v" looked like an "r"; in another, the "v" looked like a "w." In other words, she spelled the words right, but she wrote the letter "v" wrong.
At first I felt bad for her. What a shame, to know how to spell a word but miss it because you're having trouble with one of your cursive letters. I believe I even said something embarrassingly old-fashioned like, "When I was a kid, we never had spelling tests in cursive." (Why didn't I just go all out and announce that they hadn't even invented cursive when I was in grade school?)
Then it dawned on me that it wasn't I who was deciding what my daughter did and didn't need to know. It was the teacher; the person with whom I trust my child five days a week. If she thinks that a third grader should be comfortable enough with her cursive letters to use them on a spelling test, she's probably right.
Thus, the attitude at home immediately changed to, "Well, you just have to practice your "v." Which she has been doing. But she's still not doing them the right way.
And after an hour of frantic erasing, pencil-throwing and screaming, my daughter sits before me crumpled and defeated. Which leads me to do the only thing I can think of at this desperate point: Fix the letter for her. This is on her weekly homework assignment where she must write all of her spelling words twice, in cursive of course.
I wrote the "v" on the first word for her, certain that my little bit of assistance would no doubt help her to master the letter. "Do it just like this the second time," I tell her. She tries. She fails. The word "divide" looks like "diride." She passes the paper to me and looks at me hopefully, but she knows she's missed the mark. And again she crumples.
"It's fine," I assure her. "You tried your best. Let's step away from it for now and come back to it later." But she doesn't want to come back to it later. She now hates the letter "v" and every word that contains the letter, and she wants to rid herself of all memories of "v" for the evening. I decide to leave her alone.
This morning, I opened her yellow homework folder and stared at her spelling assignment. How easy would it be for me to correct the "v" again? Wouldn't it be helping her to see what a proper "v" looks like?
But I realized, while changing the letter might help her to receive a check-plus on her paper, it wouldn't help her to take responsibility for her work, nor would it allow her teacher to see that she has a problem that needs attention. I can't be right beside her on the day of the spelling test, quietly erasing her flawed letter and replacing it with a more proper version.
Looking at the bigger picture, I won't be right beside her down the road, when she's studying for college exams, applying for a job or raising her kids. She's going to make mistakes, but hopefully she'll learn from them. And maybe learning the hard way to write a proper "v" is just the beginning of lessons that will make her a strong, responsible person, who hopefully also has great penmanship.
Learning to let go when your child is about to make a mistake: That was my big lesson of the day.