Don’t be a Puzzled Penguin

In the past six months, I’ve learned more about being a first grader than I have since I was a first grader. Part of each of my days is spent in first grade, learning to read and do addition and subtraction. Part of each day is spent in third grade as well, learning to read a little better and do multiplication and division.

There are a lot more parents, like me, in first grade this year than there were in the 1973-74 academic year. As I recall, it used to be mostly little kids, but now parents are having to figure out how to use all the many online tools that make the remote learning elementary school go. Fortunately, we all have a six or seven-year-old nearby to help us.

It’s kind of a vicious cycle, but in order that we don’t get too frustrated, we call it a symbiotic relationship: Big Man wants help with his homework; before I can begin to help him, he must teach me how to use the online platform that jealously guards this day’s homework inside its electronic labyrinth.

It can be taxing, but we’re getting through it together. Our two heads combined are enough to graduate one of us from first grade. I just hope it’s the one still full of potential.

Along the way, we’ve have had some adventures and met some characters. One of the noteworthy entities I’ve met in electronic first grade is the Puzzled Penguin. The Puzzled Penguin shows up occasionally on one of the arithmetic applications.

I first met the Puzzled Penguin when Big Man and I encountered a math problem that went something like this:

                The Puzzled Penguin thinks 7 + 5 = 10 + 3. Is he correct?

Before I had even finished reading the problem, Big Man announced with certainty: “Nope, he’s wrong!”

I was amazed at the speed of his calculation. “Wow! How’d you do that addition so fast?”

“I didn’t add anything.”

“Then how do you know he’s wrong.”

“Easy. The Puzzled Penguin’s always wrong.”

“But why is he wrong?”

Big Man shrugged. “Because he’s dumb?”

“I mean why is he wrong in this case?”

“Because he’s still dumb?”

I put the screen squarely in front of him. “Okay. Do the math and tell me why he’s wrong.”

He gave me an exasperated look. “I already told you the answer. Because the Puzzled Penguin is always wrong.”

As he was speaking, Buster entered the room. “Oh, the Puzzled Penguin,” Buster mused. “I remember him. That dumb bird is always wrong.”

The only thing we learned about arithmetic that day is that penguins are consistent.

Believe me, we’ve tried to help him.

Reading is fun, except for all those words

I was helping my 1st grade son with his homework. This isn’t the perfect bonding exercise, as he does not like doing his homework and I do not enjoy watching him not like doing his homework. It leads to impatience in my voice, which he likes almost as little as he likes doing his homework.

Earlier this year, as I was dragging him out of bed for school, he told me, “I don’t like learning. It’s not really fun for me.” Dragging him out of bed in the morning is not really fun for his parents, but I suppose that’s an issue for another day.

Part of his homework that night was a questionnaire from his reading teacher. I guess she wanted to get a feel for each child’s attitude about reading before getting too far into the year. My son is a pretty good reader, when he has to be. And when he doesn’t have to be, he’s playing with LEGOs.

When it comes to reading practice, he’s lazy. I could compare him to a mule or other reluctant worker, but that’s not quite strong enough. The only simile that fully captures it is: he’s as lazy as a six-year-old.

The first question on the homework was: “Reading is _________”

The boy thought about it for a second, then filled in the word fun.

I raised an eyebrow. “Really? You don’t act like reading is fun.”

“Reading is kind of boring. But I think this is what the teacher wants me to say,” he explained.

It would be hypocritical of me to make him change his answer, since much of my own school career was based upon political expediency.

What books?

He loves going to the library. They have fun toys and games there, and you can even borrow Sponge Bob videos.

He answered a few more questions about his favorite subjects to read before he got to the question: “The best thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t have to think about it at all. He quickly went to work answering the pictures.

This didn’t sound much like a reading is fun kid, but maybe you can like to read and still like the pictures even a tiny bit more than the text. I let it go.

The next question was: “The worst thing about reading is _________”

He didn’t miss a beat. “The words,” he said, quicker than he could touch his pencil to the paper.

I had to slow him down this time. If you are going to start off playing this game of hiding your opinions behind the expected preferred opinions, then you ought not directly contradict yourself by letting your true feelings out later.

I should have let him look foolish with his incongruous answers, but I was in no mood to be dragged down with him.

We discussed it and decided the hard words made a better answer.

So it boils down to this: reading is fun, especially when accompanied by numerous illustrations, but the enjoyment can be diminished by an overabundance of difficult passages.

That sounds like a perfectly reasonable opinion, doesn’t’ it?