When your kid isn’t excelling at school

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The first school parent’s meeting

I had my first school parent’s meeting last week. It was exceptionally short notice so I didn’t really spend much time thinking about what to expect. My son has just started reception class so my only experience of school parent’s meetings was my own 20 years ago. I always did well academically so my parent’s evenings were a bit of a non-event. I wish that was how it had been for my son’s first parent’s meeting. It wasn’t.

If you read my post about Arlo starting school you will know how anxious I felt about his transition but actually we have been really pleased about how he has settled into school. He didn’t cry once, not even the first day. He’s taken to it like a duck to water, seems to be quite popular and loves all his new friends at school. When we walk onto the playground on a morning it makes my heart swoon when all of his little pals shout for him excitedly and seem so genuinely happy to see him, as he does them.

When the first parents meeting goes badly

What was said

His teacher told me that its difficult for her to ascertain just how capable he is because he’s really shy and has only just started to come out of his shell. He’s also pretty lazy and will let anyone help him do things (he cajoles his friends into putting his coat on for him when the teachers won’t help, that’s pretty entrepreneurial I guess). She told me a number of things that he wasn’t doing yet, as well as things that he wasn’t doing as well as he ‘should’ be. Some of these things (like recognising number past 5) he is doing at home and must just not have done at school but I felt myself getting defensive on his behalf. It felt like the teacher was criticising him (which she wasn’t) but I guess it’s one of the first times I’ve been in a situation where someone has given me real/negative feedback on his educational progress. I had to check myself a few times to not be so defensive (‘keep your shit together Nyomi’ pep talk in my head).

I was starting to get the sense he wasn’t doing ‘well enough’ so I outright asked ‘so how is he doing, how does he compare to the other kids?’. She said ‘he’s middle of the road. Middle to lower’. LOWER! LOWER! Ouch. That stung. It still stings now writing it. I can cope with the ‘middle’ but the ‘lower’ makes me feel a bit sad. Then I realised that Arlo had told me that he had a new phonics teacher a few days back and the penny finally dropped and I realised he had been moved down a group. I asked his teacher and she confirmed this. Double blow. We thought he had been doing well. We were so proud at the progress he seemed to be making with his phonics and letters etc but apparently it’s not ‘good enough’. Of course at no point did the teacher put it that bluntly – she was lovely about it and said it was really a non issue until the Spring term.

When your kid isn't excelling at school

How we felt

I asked what else we could be doing to help him at home and went on my way. I immediately called Papa Ginge to talk and he was just as disappointed about it as I was. We aren’t disappointed in Arlo of course, we just don’t want him to struggle in life. Papa Ginge told me that he always did ‘badly’ at primary school and it didn’t click for him until he went to secondary school. He said he felt ‘thick’ in juniors which broke my heart for him and I never want Arlo to feel that way.

When school isn't going well

Why it shouldn’t matter

There are many types of intelligence, I have academic intelligence but my brain struggles to work logistically or practically whilst Papa Ginge isn’t academic but is amazing at knowing and understanding how things work. He can take things apart and rebuild them with ease and is fantastic with computers. I have long suspected that Arlo won’t be academic but will be like his dad and that’s just fine. To be honest it could even get him further in life. I can barely drive a car!

Arlo loves building things, especially Lego and train tracks, often building quite complex structures but he has less interest in writing/drawing etc. I also think part of the ‘problem’ is that he has lots of little friends at school and apparently they build Lego together all day, which I personally think is pretty fabulous. His teacher tells me that at any time she can look over at the construction area and she knows Arlo will be there playing Lego. What 4 year old boy would want to practise writing when he could be building Lego?

I’ve read all the studies so often circulated about how kids don’t start formal education in Scandinavian countries until they are 7 and they are kicking our arses in the education leagues tables so rationally I know that this doesn’t really matter. The main thing is he is happy, well-adjusted and learning through play. Yet it still smarted to hear that he’s at the bottom end of the class and not the top. Of course the mam guilt then kicks in and you start to think, is it my fault, did I not do enough with him? Could I have done more? Gah, what a rabbit hole.

When your kid isn't doing well in class

How we are going to deal with it

So I’ve spent a couple of days trying to remind myself that the main thing for me is that he settles in well and is happy. All that matters is he is happy. At the moment he enjoys going to school. On Saturday when he found out he wasn’t going to school he said ‘awwww’ and was disappointed. I don’t want that to change anytime soon because of stupid Government markers on what he should and shouldn’t be reading and writing at age 4 and 5.

I’m going to try and trust in him, and trust in myself that we will both be fine in the end, we are just adjusting to this huge change in our lives. There is nothing wrong with not being academic.

Have you ever experienced your kids not doing so well at school? Any tips for how to manage it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! And if you aren’t following me on Facebook yet please I’d love it if you did!

my child is failing at school

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17 thoughts on “When your kid isn’t excelling at school”

  1. I had to read this and comment here because as a Reception Teacher I have sometimes been in the position of having to give honest progress reports on a child where the news may have been ‘news’….but I can honestly say that whenever a parent has asked me how their child compares and I have never ever given a response like that and I am a little saddened that you had to hear that. I never compare children because they are all different. Yes, there are set learning objectives your child needs to have hit by the end of reception to be considered as being ‘a good level of development’ but what your child’s teacher should be discussing with your is the progress YOUR child has made as what they need to do next. Also, the MOST important aspects in early years to focus on before anything else academic is Personal, Social and Emotional developement, communication and language and physical development. If he is shy, that is what needs to be the focus now – building a bond with him and helping him to have the confidence to have a go, to talk, not to worry about getting things wrong. From what you’ve written I think his class probably need to have a real look at the principles of the EYFS and plan opportunities around his interests to make sure he is excited to learn and engaged and then the rest will come. So he likes to build with Lego? She should Set up a construction site with builder hats/outfits. Have some building plans printed off, have clipboards with blank paper and pencils to make their own plans. Have some walkie talkies or recordable easi – speak microphones to encourage speaking and planning, kiddicameras to take photos of what they make so they can show them on the large screen to the class and hopefully talk about what they have been doing….and the teacher should start all of this off by being a ‘builder’ herself and getting in there and modelling how it is all done. Finding numbered Lego bricks for her building to help with recognition, counting the bricks as she builds, checking her plans and comparing etc….sorry for the long winded message but it really annoys me when a child’s interest is seen as something that hinders their learning. A good teacher will see it as an opportunity and use it to their advantage. Xx

    • Thanks so much for this response. You know I didn’t think about all this but you are bang on! You sound like a fantastic teacher and it’s so great to have your expertise in these comments – thank you. To be fair to his teacher I did ask how he compared to his peers so that was my fault! And you are right, it should only be about the progress he has made. I’ll try to focus on that going forward. She did say they were trying to do some stuff around counting for his building interests so I think it is on their radar – perhaps not to the extent you have described though. She didn’t describe his play distracting from his learning in a negative way, just that’s what he was interested in and they give him the freedom to do that at this stage. Your ideas are fab though and I think I’ll ask them if they are doing this and if not will they and I’ll try and do this at home too! Thank you for taking the time to write this to me, it’s much appreciated!! X

  2. I can’t add anything to what the wonderful lady said above, or to what you have said and already know yourself – Arlo is tiny, just a baby really. There is plenty of time for worrying about results and positions and league tables and stuff. Right now he’s busy playing lego, and learning in his own sweet way. Of course that doesn’t stop you feeling a little wounded by finding he’s not doing what you expected he would be. That’s because you care, and you’re an awesome Mum. xx

  3. Oh lovely. I read this on the way home from panto last night and it was a tough read – although I haven’t experienced the same thing, I can feel your guilt running right through this post. I think it is even harder because Arlo is your first born. I know what I am like with Harry.

    In my opinion there is FAR too much pressure on kids. My best friends son is in a similar situation to Arlo and she spends most of her life worrying about it. He has to stay in over lunch time to do extra work to catch up when his friends are out playing and this just breaks my heart as that is not what childhood is about or how kids learn. He’s only 5 man!!!

    In these situations, I always try and picture the situation in 20 years time. Will this matter? Probably not because like you say, Arlo is a fantastic little boy who has so much to offer the world and I have no doubt he will find his vocation in life as he is well loved and supported which for me, is the most important thing.

    School is very target driven and it winds me up so much. I wish it was more about the individual child 🙁

    My Jack is soooooo lazy too. In reception he refused to do any sort of homework and used to pretend he couldn’t read to get out of it. I sometimes used to catch him out! haha! He has changed this year though and now he’s in year one, he actually does try and is conscientious – you just never know how your child is going to change. I thought Jack would be lazy forever and just coast through school but he proved me wrong.

    I also think that it hasn’t been too long for the school to really ‘get’ Arlo and like you say, he is really shy so perhaps he has lots going on his his brain but just can’t express it to his teacher yet?

    • Thanks so much for sharing Sam. Yeah it’s definitely early to say. He’s not even a term in yet so I’m jumping the gun. I totally agree as well, I’d much rather my kids played out with their friends at this age than working towards silly targets! Let them be kids. I never had homework at primary school! It’s ridiculous how assessment driven schools have become and our education system isn’t benefitting from it. Hopefully Arlo will be like Jack. Yeah I do feel a major dose of the mam guilts – never takes much to set that off!! Xx

  4. I think you are me!! I also have a little boy who seems bright to me but doesn’t always seem to fit into the school mold (I’m also a primary school teacher so the guilt is immense!)

    Mine is in year three now so here a a few tips that might help.

    Try and keep him excited and enthusiastic about school and learning- talk enthusiastically about school and remind him how clever he is. As he’s got older we’ve also talked to E. about how new skills take time and practice.

    Read, read and read some more. This really helps to develop their understanding of books and language so when reading and writing clicks they’ve already got the other stuff.

    Talk about how much you love learning new stuff and how much you love to read.

    If you’re trying to teach him something new keep it short and fun – 15mins for 4 or 5 days a week works better than a whole Sunday morning fighting over homework.

    Good luck xx

    • Thanks so much for your tips Beth. That’s super helpful! I’ll definitely make note of those to do. Great to have your insight as someone who has experienced the same as me and also has the expertise of being a primary school teacher. Thank you for commenting!!

      • You’re welcome- it definitely gets easier. E. is in year three now and while we’re happy with his progress we’re worried he’s going to get left behind.

        It’s always worth (politely) asking the school what they are doing to help. That’s definitely the stage we’re currently at so we’ll see where that leads us! xx

        • Yeah that sounds like a good idea. I will do that. I was a bit flustered in this meeting as the baby was with me and phoning her grandad! I hope things keep going well for E too! Xx

  5. I think the reception teacher who commented talked a lot of sense. With Harry being the youngest in his class I’ve steeled myself for him to take more time to pick things up than the others and not to compare him. In reception he got off to a slow start he was still so tired most days and had only just turned 4. The teacher wanted us to focus on his independence -getting dressed a bit quicker on a morning etc I think he was taking forever after PE! Come Easter he seemed to have a big leap forward and was moved up a group in phonics. Same again this year, slow start then a jump forward in October. I guess my point is they all learn at different speeds and in different ways (his teacher told us he is a kinetic learner) so when we do spellings we get him to write them first so they sink in. He would also spend every day in the construction area but since moving classes he now draws every day and is better than me (doesn’t take much!) it’s still such early days and he is really young, just wait until the end of the year you will be stunned at how much progress he has made. xx

    • Thanks Helen, that’s good to hear. It’s definitely early days and I’m totally jumping the gun! Everyone has been so lovely and helpful in the comments. It’s really helped both Mark and I feel better about it so thank you!!

  6. Wow, what a great post Ny!
    I fully agree with Sarah, at this age it should be all about identifying what the child is interested in and using that to further their learning. I have two completely different children in terms of interests. Sophie (the 2yr old who self proclaims she is in fact 32) is all about pretending to read and write creative stories. Oliver on the other hand sounds much more like Arlo who was lucky enough to find a fabulous year one teacher who embraced his love of numbers, facts and building things. She encouraged his learning and many other boys in his class (as well as a couple of girls) through interactive role play of The Black Death, how the body works and a fab topic about Kenya. This helped a boy who was reluctant to put pen to paper into a little man who embraced writing but in ways which were much more interesting to him…. a science experiment, cooking a meal and writing the recipe, etc. Try factual books on things he loves, children’s encyclopaedia, dinosaurs, planets, etc, these things really helped Oliver. But the best advice I can give is to not to give yourself or Arlo any additional pressure, he will learn at his own pace and in his own way, we are all different!
    We as mothers all have a tendency to feel guilty however irrational and unsubstantiated, trying to maintain the balance between work, motherhood and retaining your identity is one hell of a tough gig. We all have a tendency to over criticise and over analyse when the reality is that having a happy, healthy child is one hell of reminder that you are doing a fantastic job ?! Arlo is still an incredibly young little boy who has the potential to be a great academic, a world renowned artist or even better a fabulously, wonderful, genuine, honest, likeable guy, whatever he becomes we will all be incredibly proud of him and his Mam!!! Now go forth Arlo and build the worlds biggest ever Lego structure!! ?

    • Awww thanks Rebecca, that means a lot. It’s good to hear Oliver was similar and those are some great tips! And you are right, it’s a bloody tough gig eh!! Much love xxx

  7. Ok, I haven’t finished reading the comments, but Noah and Arlo are so similar (that and only being a week apart in age) and it makes me want to hug you through the phone. I’ve posted several images of the things Noah builds with legos and duplos and I’m amazed at what his brain (and hands) have created. He’s just recently gotten interested in writing/drawing (he went from making scribbles to drawing robots… robots that look like actual robots) and it was almost literally overnight (he never drew before that, even though I made crayons/pens and paper readily available). He has no interest in writing though (letters or otherwise) and isn’t much interested in learning numbers either, but he is a kind and sensitive child and has abilities to see things outside the box.

    While I get that there are all these “standards” that are believed to be needed to be met by a certain age, I’m of the belief that a person will learn something (and it will stick much better when it’s self motivated as opposed to “forced” learning) when they’re interested and no sooner. The drawing of robots (overnight) is a perfect example. The drawings relate to his building with legos and his interests.

    Continue what you’re doing. Cater to his interests and he will learn what he needs to. Legos and building can be related back to SO many things… math, writing, creativity, science (what is needed to actually make a lego… you could even find out if there’s a factory you can take him to… physics (structure, strength, design, etc), mechanics… etc), history (how someone came up with the idea, when, and how it impacted society… it’s a universal toy and I don’t know many kids that don’t enjoy them), plus it can help him develop and expand his imagination (make up stories about his legos that he could eventually write down?)… so so so many options.

    Btw, I didn’t really learn how to read until I was 8 years old, however my writing and reading skills quickly caught up.

    Focus on what HE is learning and how HE is progressing for him. I used to compare Noah to other kids his age all the time and I’d get upset that he wasn’t able to do some of the things that the other kids could, but he has skills that the other kids don’t and he eventually catches up (every single time) when he becomes interested in it. He’s always been like that. It’s why I refer to him as the cautious child and Ziva as the bull/go-getter. Noah took his time coming into the world and then he arrived and he was quiet and just took the world in (he didn’t cry or make a sound after he was born). Ziva, on the other hand, came into the world quickly and with purpose. She screamed for the first 30 minutes of her life (my doula refers to it as her birth song and that she wanted the world to know she was here). They are so very much like that with everything. Ziva attacks with a vengeance, until she gets something, and Noah is shy and takes his time.

    With all that I want to say you are a wonderful mom and I firmly believe that Arlo will excel in his own way. ❤️

    • Hannah I’m so sorry I didn’t see this post until now!! Thank you for taking the time to write me such a kind and thoughtful comment. Noah and Arlo are very alike in many ways. I really respect you as a mam so when you say these things, that I think myself too, it helps me trust in myself! Thank you xxx


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