Yesterday at the dinner table my son asked me if sentences could start with the word when. I thought a minute and told him that yes, sentences could start with when, but that usually questions started that way. He hung his head and said that his teacher said sentences could not start with when. He continued saying he wrote a sentence with when and that he was embarrassed when his teacher read it to the whole class essentially saying it was wrong.
What to do? I listened. I asked questions. I tried to make it okay, saying that the teacher probably just wanted to use his sentence as an example to teach the class about sentences. I told him that she didn't mean to embarass him. We hugged. It is not okay to embarrass a child in front of whole class. I don't think the teacher meant to embarrass Collin. In fact I don't think she even used his name when sharing the sample. I do know, according to Collin, that he shrunk down in his seat and tried to make himself very small while the teacher talked about it. He hung his head and the kids at his table inferred enough to ask him if it was his writing.
Collin's shy. He's reserved. He likes to follow the rules and to get things right. My heart went out to him. I asked him if he wanted me to talk to the teacher; he said yes, then no. I don't want to be an over-protective teacher-parent. Nor do I want Collin's first forays into writing to be fraught with bad feelings. In the end, I had Collin dig his paper out of his backpack and I talked him through what was incorrect about what he'd written. He was writing a reading journal which essentially consisted of responding to questions. The question asked "What was your favorite part?" Collin answered "when the dog went through the car wash." He's learning. He's practicing. He's developing sentence sense, right? I explained to him that what he wrote wasn't a complete sentence. It isn't a complete thought. We went through a couple of examples, so that he could see if I said "when you finish your homework" he wouldn't know what I really meant.
Eventually, he'll have that sentence sense that will tell him when a line he's written isn't a complete thought. For now, he's still learning and practicing--something I'd like for him to enjoy.