School is just around the corner. If you are like us in the Critchfield house you have been to every possible school supply store to buy just the right doo-dads to get your child’s school year adventure set off on the right foot. You may be thinking “if he has just the right pencil, his year might go better than last”. You focus on the right backpack, the right lunch box, the right highlight markers, the right pencil sharpener. But the crazy thing- you have all the “right tools” at home to help your child start their school year. YOU!
I love the beginning of the year, almost as much as I love the end of the year (have to have a teacher wink on that one). I remember very fondly an old student of mine that I couldn’t wait to see after a long summer. He was going into the 4th grade and was one of my most favorite students of all time. He had Tourette’s Syndrome and together, he and I, we worked through his challenges to help him find the “right” voice to be an advocate for himself in the classroom. Instead of becoming aggressive towards those that mocked him, we worked on a little speech about what Tourette’s is, how it affects him and how it’s not a big deal. Once his confidence grew, his grades improved, his behavior improved (did I mention he also had ADHD?), his overall demeanor improved. He became, in a word, incredible. I know he was looking forward to seeing me as much as I was excited to see him. He had grown, his hair lighter, and lost a tooth or two over the summer. Unfortunately for my little buddy, I had grown too…. about 20 pounds of baby in my tummy. My student, we’ll call him Tex, walked into the door of my EC classroom alight only to see my stomach and said the words “OH CRAP” turned on his heels and walked right out! Yup, he knew maternity leave was around the corner (after Christmas) and that there would be change. I ran out the door after him shouting “I love you Tex, it’s going to be okay” to which he replied “NO IT”S NOT” pause “and I love you too” before storming back to the regular ed classroom.
You see, the school year holds adventures, some we can anticipate and some we can’t. But it is YOU, the parent, that can help encourage the most important character trait there is- a positive attitude. If you are at home, worrying about the new teacher and how he/she will teach (or treat) your child, will they respect your child and their special needs? Will they have a heart for your child? The answer comes from within you- to see the good in the teacher ahead of time, think good thoughts and if proven wrong, seek clarity. If you haven’t made an appointment to meet with your child’s school team (regular ed teacher and EC teacher) before school starts, go ahead and do this. BRING SNACKS and begin a relationship that is open, honest and full of encouragement. If your child has already started school, wait a week or three and then schedule an informal meeting with the team, just to say hi. BRING SNACKS! See this as an opportunity to build a foundation for your child to where you can be the advocate for him/her until he/she has developed their own voice. But don’t start the year off fighting, bringing up last years mistakes. Talk about your expectations, and listen. Listen to what the teacher has to say about your child. Observe her body language- is she making eye contact with you? Is she beaming with joy at the mention of your child’s name (it can happen!)? Listen with the intent of hearing something positive about the teacher and who she is as a person, not just an employee of the school system.
Promote your school year success at home. Have a routine at home that is beneficial for your entire family. I know many children with special needs are exhausted when they come home from school from trying to be “good” all day. I want to totally buck the system here and strongly encourage you to limiting the homework situation to under an hour. If your child works longer than an hour on homework- shut it down. If your child has work in their backpack that says “did not complete at school, complete at home” send a nice note back saying, “No thank you. Please see the modifications on the IEP regarding school work” (this is assuming there are modifications on the IEP for school work) and then attach a copy of the modifications sheet with a smiley face. And brownies (just kidding, sort of). Why limit the homework? Come on, do we really have to answer that question? If after an entire day at school your child needs to spend hours longer completing a worksheet, chances are he/she is past the point of absorbing any pertinent information. It becomes busy work, not work applicable to attaining learning. We all learn best when our brains are most awake, charged and ready for the day. Think about it your child is a CHILD- let him/her play, rest and grow. Our children need to be able to be children.
So to recap- You have the opportunity to encourage your child, encourage your child’s teacher and watch them play. Oh, and purchase some fun school supplies. Holly Hobby lunchbox anyone? Breathe, Mom. We’ll get through this school year together.