12 September 2013

Much to our surprise ~ and Happy Birthday, Elsie Mae!

We found a space at the first campground we actually tried in Yellowstone... 
(We hadn't made reservations, but were the first to ask right after another group left!)

It wasn't one of the remote campgrounds 
(very important to this mama because I knew I had to do some laundry...).

Look who was there to greet us!
Like literally... in the parking lot!


And today is my Elsie Mae's birthday. 

Hard to believe she's SEVEN!!!

She's surprised us the past two weeks... 

and she's very happily adjusting to 
first grade 
all over again.

But before I explain, here's the back story ~

Elsie Mae has struggled some in school. She's cheerful, friendly, helpful, affectionate and at least according to the reports I get, mostly always happy. But reading, one of the key goals of early elementary, isn't easy. Her teachers mentioned this to me several times, but I've never been overly worried... She continues to make progress, she enjoys and asks to read to me, and loves being read to... and I've done a bit of work in the area of reading difficulties and so while I definitely notice that her phonics skills were weaker than I'd like them to be, her willingness to look back to outside sources and her contextual reading skills were phenomenal... additionally, when reminded, she could and did use appropriate word attack skills to decode new words. I've just always figured she's a bit of a late bloomer, know she has a different learning style than most kids, and continued to work with her, encouraging her to utilize her strengths. Since I aim for 3rd grade to be the year that my kids transition into comfortable independent readers, I really just hadn't been overly concerned.

Then, last March I had a meeting with her instructors who were very concerned that she wasn't meeting the necessary reading objectives to move along into second grade. We already knew this might be a possibility as she was going to transition from a school in W Africa where there were lots of English language learners in her class to a private Christian school in the States that follows a rapid paced and advanced curriculum. And that talk with the teachers prompted an almost panic in my little girl. Elsie Mae didn't want to repeat first grade. She began working - her own initiative - bringing me books and asking me to read with her - up to 1.5 hours at night - almost every night until she was literally falling asleep on her book... Her reading improved dramatically. You should have seen the look of delight on her face when she saw on her report card that she'd been promoted to 2nd grade.

Now, flash forward to about two weeks ago. 

Because of the change in curriculum, because of some testing results we'd forwarded to her school, due to class sizes, concern for that 2nd grade placement reared up again. I spent an afternoon discussing pros and cons of both placements with the administrator and the 2nd grade teacher at her school - and we left that meeting finishing with prayer for clear leading and me taking home the last first grade reading text to see how Elsie Mae did with that. My biggest concern was that if Elsie Mae was told she was repeating first grade, she'd be sad and discouraged. After all, she had been the one to initiate such dedicated and persistent effort the last 3 months of "African" (her term) first grade, and she'd been so ecstatic to see that she'd been promoted to second grade as a result.

When I handed her the book, she opened it, looked at it and said, "That's too hard. I can't read that!" 

When I sat with her, however, she easily read the first story in the book. Then we flipped to the last story, which she also read without much difficulty, but only as long as I was sitting beside her and running my finger under the words. It was clear that, like before, she relied heavily on contextual clues and only used phonics as a last resort. I also suspect, more strongly than ever, that some of her speech and language issues complicate the whole reading process, particularly oral reading.  I'm hoping to be able to address that issue while we are in Midland, with access to real (i.e. trained, knowledgeable and NOT ME!) speech and language pathology help during this time.

After we were through reading, Elsie Mae looked at me and said, "Mama, I don't think I'm going to like school this year. There's so many changes, I don't have any friends and it is just too hard."

At that point in time, I reminded her that she could stay in first grade for another year, if she thought that would help with all the differences like the changes she'd have to make and all the work. I didn't know what to say about the friends question (she's missing her sweet friend, her very close friend, from last year... a lot... these days). She turned pensive on me, quiet for several seconds and then she asked me one question: "Mama, how many boys are there in the second grade classroom?"

Only an almost 7 year old girl would ask that question... !!!

The craziest thing? At my meeting that afternoon, the school administrator had pointed out that 2nd grade was a much larger class, that there were more boys than girls and that some of those boys were active and needed lots of time and attention from their teacher. So I answered her, saying, "The principal told me that there were definitely more boys than girls in 2nd grade."

"And in 1st grade?" she continued.

"I think the numbers are about equal," I answered.

"You mean there's the same number of boys and girls instead of there being more boys or more girls?" she clarified.


"Well, girls rule and boys drool... so can I do first grade again this year, Mama?"


 I couldn't have been more surprised - but God had clearly answered our prayer.

And He used Elsie Mae to tell us just where she needed to be this school year. This happy-go-luck, delightful, feisty and all around adorable little gal 
continues to amaze and inspire me.

So I'm baking chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ice cream and rainbow sprinkles...
and we'll be headed to one of the first grade classes.

(And it's second grade's loss... on all counts!)

If you see my mini-extrovert today, you'll probably get a hug and she'll let you know that it's her birthday.

Celebrate with her!


  1. Well, it might be the biggest decision that has ever been made based on the idea that girls rule and boys drool but I'm so glad that the answer was clear and that Elsie Mae is happy to be there. Trust that you'll see the decision pay off in the long term with continued growth in confidence and ability.

    1. hee hee. so true, beth! we pray that same prayer as well.

  2. Jayson says "Happy Birthday Elsie Mae, when are you coming back?" We miss you and your sweet family!

    1. and Elsie Mae says, "I wish you were in my class at school this year. I miss you 'cause you're still one of my bestest friends ever."

  3. "Girls rule and boys drool".....I'm glad God doesn't see it that way

    1. nope... He doesn't... but I think He probably smiled at her reasoning... and as far as her daddy is concerned, she can continue to think that way for the next 15 years or so... ;-)

  4. Blessings, Richelle! What a great story and super photos of a beautiful family! Loved the Yellowstone shots, too - memories of my visits there when I lived out west, and the devotional inspirations the Lord blessed me with being so close to such beauty in Creation! Love that you were so sensitive to your daughter's awareness about her placement this year. So funny how she worked it out - but she will be leading the class, not trailing, and her "feisty" good nature will flourish. I am starting a Book Review series on my blog - weekly or bi-weekly (undecided yet) - where I'll use my literacy enrichment background to share what classic reads I would recommend for family read alouds. Hope you visit again.
    Joy to you!
    Kathryn Ross

    1. thanks, kathryn, for the return visit. she does seem to be quite happy where she is now - but she's one of those kiddos who chooses to be happy most of the time, regardless. it is one of the things that makes her so endearing to others who know her.

      we LOVED the mountains... and hope to visit again sometime, although it may never be the whole gang again for many years.



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