Cooper the Grader

We are easing back into our fall schedule around here; school finally started yesterday. I think September 14th has to be a nationwide record for the latest start to a school year, ever, and yet I was still not ready for it to begin. We were all a little bleary eyed around here yesterday morning, and getting all of us out the door, dressed and fed and teeth brushed, by eight a.m., seemed insurmountable after a couple of months off from the grind.

But we’re back! And despite the kids’ protest, they are happy about it. Well at least Cooper is. Fergus, as you can see, has more of a resigned outlook.

Cooper is particularly excited this year because he is now “a grader,” as he likes to put it, as in a first grader, which in his school is a very big deal. No more snack time, no more nap mats. It’s uniforms and desks and HOMEWORK, heaven help me. Last night’s took half an hour, plus we had to read a book so he could mark it on his reading log, and I don’t think I am ready for the next seventeen years since I considered last night’s work to be already somewhat excessively taxing.

But it was also incredibly informative, and so I’m going to pass the blog baton over to Cooper at this point so he can tell you a little bit more about himself.

He loves to plae, and he hates babby toys, like rattles and teething rings. I very much enjoy his Chaucerian spelling. This is the new way for children to learn to write, called “invented spelling,” and it is absolutely adorable, but I am not sure, as a parent, how to navigate it.

“How do you spell ‘baby’?” Cooper asks, pencil poised. “Sound it out,” I say. “B…A…B, B…Y?” he asks, and I think I’m not supposed to say no, so I do not, but this feels duplicitous. Should I tell him the correct spelling? Pretend i haven’t heard him? Leave the room entirely? I keep asking this question at parent/teacher conferences, and have never really gotten a straight answer. Just another thing to keep a mom uncertain and on her toes, I suppose. Happy New School Year!

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mollie September 15, 2009 at 9:19 pm

That is a CLASSIC first-day picture. It says so much. I also like the family portrait… I think Ms. Maddie would approve of her placement. It looks like the rest of you are scrambling to do her bidding.


Mollie September 15, 2009 at 9:22 pm

…as for the spelling, would it be in bounds to tell him, "That would be 'babby'?" I mean, he has to learn the rules somehow. Overall he did very well though. Except for those tricky Zs.


Mike September 16, 2009 at 1:48 am

I'm happy to see that Cooper is blatantly distancing himself from babbys and the like.


Amy Zimmerman September 16, 2009 at 12:15 pm

What they always tell me is to say "yes, I can tell you are writing baby. You got all the right sounds!"
Or something like that…

Then when they get savvy enough to ask you for the "Dictionary" spelling, I just give it to them…..sometimes….


Anonymous September 16, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Being a homeschooler, and not having all these fancy rules, I would tell him, "Very good job! It's B, A, B, Y."


Sarah in NC September 17, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Amy, can I just give you a word of warning about Inventive/Invented spelling from a veteran parent and grandparent? When my three children, who were each born three years apart, went through elementary school, our first (son) and third (daughter) learned spelling the old fashioned way – spelling lists, spelling books, phonics. Our poor middle daughter got caught in the short-lived inventive spelling experiment. For three years, they wrote and wrote and wrote, without ever worrying about how to spell a word or being corrected much by the teacher – the “flow” of the writing was the important thing. But, we learn by repetition, right? And if you spell baby “babby” for three years, it’s going to be “babby” in your head for ever. If it weren’t for spell check my daughter (now a 23 year old college student) would be lost. I’d think seriously about supplementing with traditional spelling at home – and if your son’s school doesn’t teach phonics, Hooked on Phonics ought to be your next major purchase!


Heather September 18, 2009 at 11:48 pm


Ok, here goes the big teacher geek….Lots of reliable research on how kids learn to spell exists. While it is developmental, that doesn't mean, as has been the trend in the past with invented spelling, that you don't teach them anything and hope that it will just happen on its own. There is a reliable sequence in which kids learn about spelling patterns, and kids Connor's age are usually in the process of mastering short vowels, initial and final consonant sounds, sonsonant blends, and digraphs (ch, sh, wh, etc.). The next step will be the multitude of long vowel patterns. That should hold him over for a while. I totally agree that if they are giving no direct instruction that you should supplement at home. As for not contradicting what they are teaching him, I just give positive reinforcement for what Owen does right and gently nudge him toward revising or adding on for standard spelling (as opposed to "correct"). Like I'll ask him to write all of the sounds he hears and then tell him, "Great job hearing the beginning and ending sounds. You even knew there was a vowel in the middle, but it's actually the letter that makes the sound /a/ as in cat," putting the emphasis on hearing the sound vs. just telling him what letter it is. If he makes an effort and it's still wrong I'll still say great try, here's how you spell it. As for how he treats poor little Gus who sribbles and only writes the letters in his name at this point, we're still working on that one…


Dan September 24, 2009 at 7:19 pm

I was happy to discover your blog today. I was unable to find a contact link. I hope it's OK that I'm contacting you through a public comment. I've developed an educational program for Windows called SpellQuizzer that helps children learn their spelling and vocabulary words without the battle that parents often have getting them to sit down and write them out while the parents dictate to them. The parent enters the child's spelling words into the software making a sound recording of each word. Then the software helps the child practice his or her words. It really helped my children with their weekly spelling lists.

I would appreciate your reviewing SpellQuizzer in Mother Load. If you are interested in hosting a giveaway of a SpellQuizzer license I'd be happy to supply a free license to the winner. You can learn more about the program at There's a video demo you can watch at and a community site where SpellQuizzer users can share their spelling lists with one another ( I'd be happy to send you a complimentary license for the software. Please let me know if you are interested.

Thank you very much!

Dan Hite
TedCo Software


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