Will and his Six Sentences: November 2009

You’ll recall that, two weeks ago, I decided to “open the vault” and share some of my old newsletter missives about my own children. Today’s installment focuses on Will Norry, now a high school senior, and the start of his writing career.

My son completes his homework at the kitchen table. While this arrangement has much to do with the fact that his room is a mess, it does facilitate our ability to look over his shoulder. When I arrived home last week, I learned that his assignment consisted of writing six sentences. Not exactly preparation for college, I thought, but after all this is only second grade. Besides, with some semicolons, commas, and conjunctions, he could probably produce a masterpiece. When Will got up to raid the snack drawer, I focused my attention on his journal. It read as follows:

“My name is Will. I see mom. I see dad. I see the table. I see a napkin. I see a cup.”

At that moment, the next fourteen years of Will’s life flashed before me. I remembered every high school term paper, as well as churning out five-page paper after paper in college. Writing has been an important part of my life for the past 25 years, and while I was staring into the eyes of a seven-year-old, I had a vague notion that “I see a cup” wasn’t going to win any awards.

Unsure of what to do next, I asked Will why all of his sentences were so simple and so similar. Not surprisingly, he pointed out that he had, in fact, completed the assignment. Over the next few minutes, our conversation escalated into an argument. As I talked about exceeding basic expectations and doing your best, he became increasingly frustrated. Finally, I put my foot down and made him compose another sentence. Will frowned, picked up his pencil, and got to work.

“Dad stinks.”

I knew it was time to back off.

Parenting is a humbling experience, even more so when we focus too much attention on what we perceive to be real problems and then demand immediate solutions. Will does several things very well. He loves to read, cares for his two sisters, and regularly beats kids twice his age at chess. At that moment, however, my entire being was consumed with how to improve his writing and kick start his work ethic.

I’m learning from my mistakes, albeit slowly. Yesterday, I pushed Will to try a multiplication worksheet, figuring that if he could count by fives, he could find the product of nine and five. Sensing his frustration, I quickly put the worksheet away and picked up a deck of cards. This morning when I sat down with my bowl of cereal at the kitchen table, he was attempting the math problems again.

Sometimes kids need to be pushed, and sometimes they need the time and space to figure things out on their own terms.

Doug Norry
Head of School