My Son Got A Zero On His Spelling Test And It’s All My Fault


Yesterday my son came home with a zero on his spelling test. There were eight words and he didn’t get a single one right. When I asked “how do you feel about that buddy?” he just shrugged his shoulders and said “I told Madame we only practiced once“.

It’s true. We did only practice once and my son didn’t seem to be that upset about it, but in all honesty, the only person we can really blame for the big fat zero is me.

Here’s why:

I chose French school which means hubby can’t help. I am French First Language, so here in Canada my kids are guaranteed entry into the French First Language system and we take full advantage of that (especially with cross country moves). While my husband is 100% supportive of the French education (and has sat through more than his share of Christmas concerts and school assemblies that he will never understand) it means that when it comes to homework, the responsibility of getting it done is 100% mine.

I am not motivating enough. Grade one is hard, and in the evenings the last thing my son wants to do is homework. His brain is already tired and then to ask him to spend 10 minutes reading two books aloud, then another 10 minutes painfully writing the titles of those books into his reading log followed by at least another 10 to 15 minutes practicing this week’s spelling words is enough to send both of us into a fit of whining. I have tried bribes, stickers, positive reinforcement, taking away privileges – EVERYTHING and it turns out I am just not that talented at motivating my son to sit for 30-40 minutes of homework every night. Don’t even get me started on the weekly oral presentations that we also have to practice for…

I am not a teacher. I thought my role as a parent was to reinforce concepts taught at school and I simply do not know how to teach words he isn’t being taught at school. Last week’s spelling words were “le, la, les, moi, toi, roi…” This week we’ve jumped to “Joyeux Noël, Père Noël, brebis…”. It’s like we’ve jumped from two and three letter words to six to nine letter words overnight and unfortunately they are also the ones that don’t spell out the way they sound out. All I know is that we get a weekly homework email from the teacher and my son continuously tells me that the words on the email are not ones he’s practicing at school. I do take that with a grain of salt because they may very well be presented at school but clearly not enough to make an impression on my child.

I don’t ask the right questions. I’ve had one-on-one meetings with my son’s teacher three times since September. She tells me he is a sweet boy, very polite, easily distracted but doing well. When I ask her advice about how to help him with spelling at home she gives me suggestions (like bouncing a ball and reciting the words or putting the words up all over the house) but none of them are working – he can read the words, he can say the words, he understands the words, he just doesn’t have a single interest in learning how to spell them out at home, after a full day of grade one.

I work. I know we are not supposed to mention the challenges of being a full-time-work-outside-the-home-mom but there are many and one of them is homework. The best time to get homework done is right after school but unfortunately I can’t leave my office every day at 3:45pm without getting fired. My son gets home at 4:10pm, I get home at 5:30pm (if I’m lucky!). By the time I’ve made dinner, fed the children, spent some time hearing about their day, it’s 6:30pm at the earliest and my littlest two need to be upstairs in the tub by 7pm. I don’t want to spend the only quiet(ish) half hour I have with my children fighting one of them on homework. I want to snuggle him. I want to read to him at bedtime and listen to his imaginary play in the tub. I don’t know how to build homework in there and quite frankly, I think 30-40 minutes of homework is ridiculous at this age.

I don’t know the solution here. My son is not struggling with school, we are struggling with the amount of time and effort required to help him memorize spelling words. He understands the concept, he can do the work, I just don’t know how to accomplish the amount of work it takes at home.

I’m thinking of getting some coloured sand for him to write the words with his finger instead of on paper because sand has got to be so much more fun than a pencil and paper right?

What I do know, is that I grew in a time where we were definitely not writing Joyeux Noël in grade one and if we were we headed to the gifted program.

I also know that if our homework didn’t get done and we came home with a zero that there was no one else to blame but ourselves.

But in this case, that big fat zero cannot be the responsibility of my just-turned-six-years-old son. That zero is my fault, only I’m not sure if I’m getting a zero on my ability to teach spelling or on my parenting overall.

I guess I have the rest of grade one to figure that out.

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  1. Heather Gardiner says:

    Wow did this post ever hit home for me! My daughter is also in FI (Husband is French speaking I am not). We have certainly had our share of spelling and reading challenges!
    The only thing that has worked for us is practicing in the morning, because really who doesn’t have time in the morning between making lunch, breakfast, & getting everyone ready, right?
    Good luck figuring out what is going to work for your son, and hopefully in January they go back to three or four letter words!

  2. I can totally relate Maija. I’m finding grade 1 overwhelming and not enough time to review the 2 reading books from my son’s English class, the reading book from his resource teacher, the word lists from the resource teacher and spelling tests haven’t even started yet. I review everything in the morning when we are both the most fresh and energetic. I agree after school everyone is tired, cranky and needs to relax, or get dinner on the table. I’m glad to hear someone else is finding grade 1 stressful because we definitely are!

  3. That is way too much homework for a six year old! Most schools don’t even allow homework for grade one! My oldest is also in grade one, and she has home reading and one word of the day. I sometimes feel that is overwhelming! Good luck. Maybe share some of your concerns with the teacher/principal?

  4. My daughter is in grade two, and I feel your pain. I get an email if she does poorly/well. I feel it is my fault/failure if she doesn’t do well. It is really hard finding a balance in the evenings between homework, chores, dinner, activities and bedtime.

  5. Don’t sweat it. Really. I know it’s hard not to, but don’t. That’s too much for grade 1! The important thing is that he continues to enjoy school and that he’s learning to read and that he has a happy home life. The rest will come in time. You’re doing great mama.

  6. It’s tough for sure. My son is also is Grade 1 and getting him to do his homework is a fight every night. He just doesn’t want to do it. We have recently started to bribe him. I am of the understanding whatever works. Oh you want to play minecraft. Cool but first we must do your reading log. Oh you want to play Angry Birds. Cool but first we must finish your writing homework. We also do it in small increments. I guess it helps though that we have more time in the evening. There isn’t a perfect solution. You just need to find what works for you. Turn it into something fun they will enjoy. HUGS!

  7. I find grade one to be quite the shock to little ones especially coming from play based jk-sk even more so for boys I find, we’ve been sayin for years boys and girls learn completely differently why they continue to teach it all the same is beyond me! Gotta say though, I grew up attending French as a first language with two non-French speaking parents,get that hubby helping now, my mom jokes by the time she did homework attended her 2nd grade 8 grad (of 4) she pretty much had the French thing figured out, my dad too! She made the 4 hour trip this week from her Oshawa home to my city to attend my daughters Christmas concert and said she still knows what they are talkin about, lol.

    Does your school use the “espace VIBE” on the new school board website ? (We have the same board Windsor – Woodstock -Owen sound) our school has just started taking advantage and it’s awesome! Teachers are posting links to games to replace some of our reading homework and there’s some recommendations for apps and other sites that have been just awesome. We have an app that allows me to pre-load the dicté words every week and she can type on the key board or use the stylus. (Of course she’s gone with the iPad right now but I will share the name of the app – it’s not coming up on my phone)

    Don’t beat yourself up momma – we’ve all been there!

  8. I AM home at 3 o’clock with my kids and I still don’t have the patience for the homework of my first grader. I make lunches for the next day, get dinner started, and usually I get through the daily reader, but often not the online comptines and words of the week. I was ambitious at first, but the motivation dies down. Ha.

  9. Errrrr……so I may be the worst mother here but I didn’t enforce homework with either of my boys until they were in Grade 3. It started after a year of fighting with my oldest son when he was in Grade 1 because homework was such a struggle. There were tears almost nightly (mine and his) and I finally just said screw it. I would read with them but other than that, homework went undone. I honestly think that after all day in school, they need a break and to go out and play and be kids.

  10. So homework… I am not yet there but I’ve certainly been on the opposite end giving homework to kiddos. I’d have to ask you if you’ve asked your son or his teacher how he learns best? Maybe you already know if his learning preference. Something about the spelling may not be clicking because of the approach. From there I’d suggest capitalizing on his learning preference. If it’s a matter of just practice time, would car or bus ride to school be an option? Also allowing him to select from a menu of preferred ways to practice spelling during the week on his own could earn him some extra snuggle time (win win for the both of you) or free time for him? Then you could choose two or three words nightly to quiz him to jut check if he indeed studied might reinforce his independent practice.

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