Homework Solution #3: Organization

Parent and pupil of preschool.

By fourth grade it can be helpful for a child to use a homework notebook. This is a place to jot down homework assignments, due dates and materials as needed. If your child is struggling with any of these pieces, you might ask his teacher to spot check the lists.

It can also be helpful to have a large calendar at home to organize your child’s schedule. This includes daily homework times, extracurricular activity schedules, project and test due dates and weekend plans (for fun). By fourth grade, it can be helpful to teach your child to break down projects and studying for tests in to small pieces over time. If your fourth grader has a book report, you might show them how they can read five pages for six days and then have four days left to write. If there is a big test coming up, you might note studying 20 minutes each night the last several days.

If your child still has text books (that is a sad topic for another day), it can be helpful to color code the book covers and subject notebooks and folders by topic.

Teaching organization includes their notebooks, backpack, homework space and desk at school. If your child needs support in this area you might go through their backpack together once a week to throw out trash and organize their notebooks. It may be helpful to have an extra folder in their backpack for notes from home, permission slips and fliers from school. At least occasionally you might include cleaning up their homework space as a chore or as a few minutes of their homework time. If it seems needed, you might ask their teacher or guidance counselor to help them clean out and organize their desk.

Homework Solution 1: Time

Homework Solution 2: Place

Homework Solution #2: Place

Father helping daughter to finish homework

Another common homework battle is over place. The goal is a well stocked, well lit space with a good table or desk and a comfortable something for reading.

Well stocked means having everything your child might need for homework for the year. In elementary school this might be pencils, erasers, wide lined paper, markers, crayons, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, construction paper, tape, glue and a ruler. By fourth grade add a protractor, poster board, a dictionary and thesaurus. By middle school a compass, highlighters, index cards, college lined paper and pens. At some point, depending on your child’s school this should also include access to the internet. At any grade, it may be helpful to have a list pad. Children can list their homework and check off tasks as they finish.

It may be helpful to have a table or desk that is a comfortable height for your child and provides enough table top space to spread out their work. It’s nice to also have a good beanbag or comfy reading chair nearby. For all of this, also helpful to have bright enough work lights.

It’s best to plan all of this in a space that is relatively calm and quiet. The kitchen table may not be the best place if it’s during dinner prep and a TV is often on in the room.

If they can give each other quiet and space, it can be fine for siblings to work in the same room. If not, separate rooms are also fine. My girls shared the kitchen table in grade school and often put up a science fair board as a boundary between them.

It can be helpful to also provide a place for their backpack. In our house this was a painter’s tape X in the foyer. Homework was not done until it was in the bag and on the X.

Homework Solution 1: Time

Homework Solution 3: Organization

 

 

Homework Solution #1: Time

AdobeStock_108295871.jpeg

The most common homework concerns are related to time, space and organization. I am linking three blog posts with the aim to answer each.

There isn’t a best time to do homework, just several options. The idea is to find what fits your family best for now. There are some children who just want it done. These kids might start homework during the ride home and finish the rest before doing other things. I wish these were my kids. Others need a break after school. They need to eat snack and move their bodies before tackling homework. For some families after dinner is the time. I think this is also fine as long as there is truly enough time to get it done and it’s not making bedtime later. Some families fit homework time in the morning. This seems the riskiest. Maybe if my child was an early riser, they could put their 20 minutes of reading in the morning. The drive to school might be a good time to review spelling words each day.

Whatever your decision, good to include the children in the conversation. Ask what time they think is best and why. With schedules being as busy as they are, it might not be the same time each day. A child might have different activities at different times each day. Get a calendar, add the activities, discuss the homework times and add them. The aim is to have all their activities and homework times for the week on the calendar by Sunday. This lets your child know that homework is a priority and hopefully lessens the debate about when to get started each day.

Another consideration is the amount of time homework takes each day. The trick is to first consider how much time it typically takes, or should typically take. If your child is focused and working, what’s the average? When my older child was in second grade it took about 20 minutes so we set the minimum at 25. This meant Monday through Thursday there was a 25 minute stretch marked on the calendar for homework or homework type tasks. If she finished early, she was welcome to study her spelling words, play academic computer games or practice recorder to finish the time. I’m easy on this one, over the years I allowed word finds, crosswords, piano practice, sudoku and the occasional MadLibs. Having a minimum amount of time to finish discourages them from rushing through. If the nights they only have a few minutes of homework, they wrap it up and go play, the push may be to rush everynight.

The 25 minutes is also a sort of maximum. If they are off task lots or arguing about homework during the 25 minutes, when the time is up homework is done. Talk to them about how it could have gone better, maybe write a note to teacher about why things aren’t finished for the night. The goal is to encourage them to focus and really work to get things done during the time. By all means, if they are working the whole time and need more, give them more.

It’s also good to consider how much time homework takes in general. I still lean on the 10 minutes per grade. Twenty minutes for a second grader and forty for a fourth grader seems to be plenty. This may vary once they hit middle and high school based on the classes they are taking. If it’s taking significantly more, maybe good to check in with your child, other parents and the teacher. It is helpful to know if your child is on task or not, if it’s just your child taking longer or others and what the teacher’s expectations for time are to begin with. Also helpful to look for patterns, are they taking longer for writing or math assignments, are they taking longer if they start later in the evening?

It may be helpful to teach your child to organize their homework time each night. This means making a checklist of tasks, including study time and pieces of longer projects. It may be helpful to start with the hard tasks first to get through them while they are fresh.

It’s beneficial for this to be a quiet, working time for the whole family. Older siblings might do their homework at the same time, younger siblings might look at books or work on puzzles. Parents might read or work.

Homework Solution 2: Place

Homework Solution 3: Organization

Providing a Foundation for Academic Success in Preschool Friendly Ways

Back to school

I am firmly in the learning through play camp when it comes to preschoolers and early academics. Done in a good way, this doesn’t mean just let them play and they’ll be ready. It means thoughtfully providing academic experiences in fun, engaging and play based ways.

Early Literacy Skills to Keep in Mind – Early literacy is focused on the experiences we can provide children to later become successful readers.

Vocabulary – There are so many ways to build a young child’s vocabulary; read aloud everyday, talk about all the things they are seeing and doing, take them on outings and highlight the new vocabulary of that place and aim to teach one new word in context every few days.

Print Motivation – This is a child’s interest in and awareness of books. Motivation can be encouraged by having books available on every level of the house and in the car, and using reading as a reward (“You can stay up late if you are reading”). You might also offer extended learning activities, if you read Blueberries for Sal then make blueberry muffins. Attending library and bookstore activities with read alouds and checking out library books also build motivation.

Print Awareness – This is the child’s understanding about how books go cover to cover, and the words go top to bottom and left to right. It is a gradual understanding of word spacing and later sentence structure. This comes from a child’s shared and independent experiences with books. Reading aloud everyday and occasionally following along with your finger is a good ways to call attention to the print. Pointing out words that match pictures in books may help. Listening and looking at books on tape together is beneficial.

Narrative Skills – Narrative skills include being able to retell a story, understand the order and be able to eventually sequence events. Answering questions about what’s been read and recalling specific details of a story is a good place to start. Occasionally discussing what happened at the beginning, middle and end of a story is helpful. Calling grandma each Monday and retelling a story about something that happened over the weekend is a good way to practice this.

Letter Knowledge – This is the child learning the shapes, names and sounds of each of the letters. It’s tempting here to go more old school academic with flashcards and worksheets, I’d still err on the side of play. Have a letter of the week and collect small objects in the house that start with that sound. Go on letter hunts in the grocery store to find as many individual letters as you can and cross them off a list, have a B shopping trip to buy bagels and butter, blueberries and beans and go home to a B lunch. Paint and sculpt the letters. Play matching games, memory and go fish with the letters.

Phonics – This is being able to put the individual sounds together to make words, pull individual sounds out of words, recognize beginning, ending and eventually middle sounds of words and later learn the common patterns of sound blends. It is helpful to play rhyming games, have listening challenges and sing nursery rhymes. It can be helpful to read aloud books that have basic rhyming patterns such as Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose books.

READ ALOUD EVERYDAY – The Department of Education cites reading aloud as the most important activity to build the knowledge and interest for children to become successful readers. There are many ways to enjoy reading aloud with young children and with children as they get older. The main idea is to start on day one and continue to build the love of books and reading together as long as they will listen. For younger children just enjoying books together, looking at and talking about the pictures, making up stories, finding details in pictures all count as time with books. For older children you might alternate who reads, read their homework aloud or read separately and have book club talks.

Early Math Language to Keep in Mind – There are four areas of math language that can be built in to all the play and activities you are doing in the regular flow of the day. This language builds the foundation for understanding basic math concepts.

Numbers and Counting – Count napkins when you set the table and apples as you put them in the bag at the grocery store. Count often and challenge children to gradually count larger groups of things. Estimation language is a piece of this. Once children are versed at basic counting, estimating how many cookies in a jar or marbles in a bag helps with later math skills.

Position – Position language includes in, on, over, under, near, far, above, below, next to, in front of and behind. You might hide toys and give clues to finding them using this language. You might build an obstacle course and narrate or have people narrate themselves moving through. You might play Simon Says or Follow the Leader using this language.

Measurement – Measurement language is talking about how big or small, short or tall, heavy or light things are. For younger children this might be sequencing big, bigger, biggest. For older children this might be measuring things in inches or feet and then comparing.

Amount – Amount includes some, more, a little, a lot, more than and less than language. This also includes actual amounts like a quarter cup, half cup and whole cup. Baking and cooking activities are an easy way to build in actual amount.

Motor Skills to Keep in Mind – There are many fine motor and gross motor skills that are important for later academics, particularly for handwriting which is important across academic areas.

Pincer grasp and in-hand manipulation are important for eventual pencil grip and pencil pressure. Pincer grasp is practiced by putting pennies in a bank, using tweezers to move cotton balls and putting together puzzles with gradually smaller pieces. In-hand manipulation is practiced playing with small manipulatives including duplos and legos, bristle blocks, Lincoln logs and tinker toys.

Bilateral integration is important for eventual coordination for handwriting. Bilateral integration is using both sides of your body and in this case both hands in a coordinated way. For using your whole body this includes crawling, skipping, and swimming. For your hands this includes most craft activities such as lacing and sewing cards, weaving looms and latch-hook rugs. Midline activities and crossing midline activities include songs with clapping and simple motions like The Wheels on the Bus and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This also includes popping bubbles and throwing or rolling and catching balls on one side of your body and the other.

Offer a wide range of art supplies – There is a different pencil grip and pressure to using thick and thin markers, different crayons, pens, pencils, dot art, roller art and pebble and ball crayons. The wider range of experience the better. Once they are comfortable provide a wide range of writing activities. This includes scratch paper, invisible books, dot to dots and mazes.

Offer in range of postures – Think of the different postures for art and writing at a table versus on the floor, or in a bean bag versus at an easel, or laying on your back with paper taped to the underside of a table. All of this benefits handwriting.

Ways to Encourage Early Writing

Preschool Kids Education

Before they are writing

There are lots of ways to encourage the skills that support writing from long before they are writing letters and words.

Fine motor activities – Starting in the first year, you can give activities that practice the pincer grasp and exercize the fingers. This is picking up small food like Cheerios or raisins. Later it is using tweezers, putting coins in a piggy bank, dress me dolls and playing with small manipulatives like bristles blocks and legos. This is making small balls with playdough and folding paper for planes and oragami.

Gross motor activities – This includes crawling, climbing, swimming, ball games, frisbee and gymnastics. This is anything that encourages the strength, flexibility and coordination of their arms and hands.

Lots of art supplies early and often – The goal is to encouarge a wide range of art supplies early and often. There is a different pencil grip and pencil pressure using thin markers, thick markers, crayons, pencils, dot art, roller art and paintbrushes. Spray bottles and hole punches build hand strength.

Writing props in play – If children are playing store, give them long paper for shopping lists and a notepad for writing reciepts. If they are playing office, give them a calendar for meetings and a legal pads for taking notes.

A writing supply drawer – By three and a half or four years old, it can be helpful to have a writing supply drawer or box separate from your other art supplies. This might have list paper, notebook paper, staitionary, pens and pencils.

Other writing activities – In preschool this includes maze books, dot-to-dot books, Color Wonder, stencils and scratch paper. In elementary school this includes tracing paper, spirograph, and invisible ink books.

Encourage new positions – When they are coloring with crayons, you can encourage them to color sitting at a table, laying on the floor, standing at an easel, or under the table with the paper taped to the underside. Each position gives a new view on arm and hand position, pencil grip and pencil pressure.

Once they are writing

Once they are writing letters and words, the goal is to encourage writing often.

Give them jobs – There are several fun jobs that encourage writing. The ‘list maker’ writes all the shopping and activity lists. The ‘navigator’ draws maps or traces the route on an actual map for car trips. The ‘historian’ keeps a journal of family activities. The ‘mail carrier’ writes postcards to grandparents weekly.

Notebooks, journals and diaries – Especially over the summer months, it can be helpful to encourage writing daily. This might be easiest with a dated journal or diary. It may also be helpful to keep a writing notebook and pencil in the car.

Writing prompts – For young children, this might be having them draw a picture and then tell or write a story to go with it. As they are older, this might be giving them a starting story line or topic and encouraging them to write the rest.

Book making activities – You can make a book with a few pages of paper, a pencil, crayons and a stapler.

For more writing and other academic supplies, visit: Lakeshore, Kaplan, Discount School Supplies and Community Playthings

 

 

 

Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Wanna Go to School”

Parent Taking Child To Pre School

At some point, most children go through a phase of not wanting to go to school. For others, that push can ebb and flo for years. My younger daughter, Claire, has always had a difficult time going back after the Winter Break. There were tears in January throughout elementary school.

Smooth, calm morning – I understand their not wanting to go to school upset alone can be enough to knockout off the feeling of a smooth, calm morning. They may lose it, but you need to stay calm. Be the rock. If you need ideas to meet this goal, you might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel or Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Markham.

Matter of fact empathy – When your child is upset, it is best to start there. Matter of fact empathy mean acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might be, “I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes, and, “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. Avoid starting with denial or reasoning. Denial would be “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Focus on the routine – It may be helpful to refocus on the routine. Talk to your child about the time available, steps that need to be done and the order. It may be helpful to make a chart together to keep track of the morning. Within each step, it’s often good to offer choices or challenges. When it’s time to get dressed, they might get dressed on the bed or the floor. A challenge might be racing you to get dressed. Here’s a blog post focused on improving your morning routine. If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns – By day two, the second year of Claire’s January blues, I was ready. Maybe it’s worse in September in your house. Maybe Mondays each week are hardest. Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with their teacher – Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, it’s good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information. You might also ask the teacher for help. This might include setting up a specific way for your child to start school each day. Coming into a known situation (everyday the first thing will be this) may be easier than not knowing day-to-day. This might be giving your child a morning buddy; a friend to be together with for first transition activities and classwork.

Speak with your child – Occasionally and out of the moment, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask what they are thinking about. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about or scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone, at a calm time may be helpful.

Organize one-on-one playdates with a variety of kids from the class – Playdates give kids a chance to get to know their classmates. The more positive social connections they have with classmates; the more they might want to go to school.

Carpool – So this might be more time consumming than the initial push to avoid school, but your child may be more willing to go if they arrive with a friend. If your child is a bus rider this may mean having a bus stop buddy or asking the bus driver to help with seating friends together.

Alternate who manages the morning or drop off – It may be easier for a child to move through the morning with or separate from one parent than another, or from a sitter or grandparent versus a parent (if that’s available, even short term).

Things to bring – Not everyday, but occasionally, it may be helpful to have something for your child to take to or deliver to school. This might be something small to show his teachers or friends, a note he wrote or drew to someone, a snack to share with the class or a thing you need delivered to the office or guidance counselor.

Open talk time – As children move into late elementary school, keeping communication open is so important. Open talk time is an easy way to work towards that goal. This allows time for the child to vent and be heard, and for you both to work through things in a calm exchange.

Address any known causes – If there are academic concerns, revisit your homework plans, find new ways to practice the needed skills or hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage or follow up with the teacher. On either front, continue to monitor and follow up with interventions as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child in the area of concern.

Read related storybooks – For younger children, these books could be I Love You All Day Long, Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Kissing Hand or DW’s Guide to Preschool. For older children, Sophie’s Squash Go to School, The Brand New Kid or Sometimes I Worry Too Much but Now I Know How to Stop.

Read related parenting books – If it becomes a longer term or bigger issue, helpful parenting books include Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety, or School Refusal by Eisen and Engler or When Children Refuse School by Kearney and Albano.

There are also therapists who work with children around anxiety issues and school refusal.

 

Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school, and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this, and jot yourself a few notes.

By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.

Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Go prepared – It’s good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.

During

Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.

Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is also a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.

Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully, your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. It’s still good to consider where there is overlap.

Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).

Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more and move forward together.

Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers, and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.

If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.

After

Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.

Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.

Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request to touch base with teachers moving forward.

For Teachers:

Before

Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).

Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations, and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.

Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity, or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.

Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.

Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.

Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.

Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.

Bring extra paper and pencils – It’s nice to have these on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, it’s best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – For the teacher, taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.

Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school, and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.

Speak plainly – It’s best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, it can be helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences, this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.

Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.

Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning they’re stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with, “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say, “we are working on having John use gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.

Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation, so it’s not a one-sided listing.

Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is, during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done, or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it, or you might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations, and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.

Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making, or guessing, at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating, or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.

If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, it’s helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.

Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.

End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive note. It’s all the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions, a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.

Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.

Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot down any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, it’s good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable, and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.

 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Preschool

Child.

If you are hoping to enroll in a preschool, there is a lot to consider. A great place to start is scheduling visits to all the preschools you are considering. This may be individual tours or open houses which could be offered while children are in classes or not. If children are in classes, it’s best to watch for happy, relaxed, busy children who are enjoying the program. Also make sure to pick up their brochure during your visit.

You can also compare preschools by visiting their websites. Print their mission statements or About Us pages then add these to the brochures from visits and compare. These write-ups should give you a good sense of their overall philosophy and lay out of what they feel is most important in the preschool setting.

Here is a list of things you might consider. While you likely can’t observe or ask about each, it can be helpful to pick the ones most important to you and compare.

  • Location, drive and cost – This is a practical place to start and can easily rule out certain preschools.
  • Schedule of program – If you are not a morning person, it can be a struggle to make a 7:50 a.m. start time. Consider the start and stop times and number of days available. Consider your abilities between morning and afternoon classes, and also full-day classes.
  • Discipline philosophy – This might be the most important thing to consider. Many preschools take a positive discipline approach. Others use time-outs and reward systems. A few religious schools hold on to the threat of corporal punishment.
  • Class size and ratios – Smaller class sizes and lower ratios are often a goal. However, there are some systems, such as Montessori and Catholic schools, that tend to have higher class sizes and run smoothly.
  • Teacher requirements and ongoing training – Different preschools have different teacher requirements. Some require a high school degree, others a college degree, and others a college degree in an education related field. NAEYC accreditation (see below) requires the school to have a percentage of teachers with education related degrees.
  • How they build in academics – Think of academics on a continuum, from an academically oriented preschool that focuses on letters and numbers through worksheets and seat work; to a play based system that incorporates academic ideas; to a play based system that doesn’t focus on providing an academic foundation. I prefer that middle play based system that provides a strong academic foundation.
  • Wide variety of appropriate materials  – There should be more than enough toys, art supplies, books and other supplies for the number of children in the room. Many schools have a large storage of toys, art and other supplies so teachers can easily rotate what is available in their classrooms.
  • Mix of time – This is looking at how much time children spend in small groups, large groups and independent play.
  • Daily activities and enrichments – This is looking at what’s built in to a typical day including center, snacktime, playground and enrichments. Some schools have no special enrichments. Others offer music, science, nature, second languages, art, P.E. and other enrichments.
  • Parent-teacher communication – Some preschools offer one or two parent-teacher conferences. Some send monthly, weekly or even daily notes home. Others have classroom or school message boards.
  • Parent participation – Cooperative preschools require participation in a regular way. Some preschools have parent organizations that do fundraising and other classroom activities. Others invite parents in to the classrooms to read stories or run art projects. Some preschools prefer parents stay out of the classrooms and don’t offer much in the way of participation.
  • Previous and current families’ feedback – You might ask to speak with other families. You might also go online; in the DC area you can log onto dcurbanmom.com and scroll down to the Preschools forum to anonymously ask for feedback. You might ask parents in the neighborhood.
  • Sense of organization – If it’s during the school day, there’s going to be some amount of chaos. In general rooms should be organized, materials stored in a neat way and furniture placed so there’s plenty of room to move and work and play.
  • Cleanliness – Except for momentary circumstances or incidents, the place should generally be clean. The toys and supplies should be clean.
  • Indoor and outdoor space – Some preschools have large classrooms. Others have small classrooms, but they make very good use of their space. Some have acres of outdoor space; others have none.
  • Quality of playground area – There is a wide range of what is available on preschool playgrounds. If they are going to be outside daily, it’s good to take a look.
  • Amount and use of outdoor time – This is something to consider at both preschools and elementary schools. Nature immersion schools can spend whole days outside. Other schools may not go out daily.
  • Potty training requirements – Some preschools are relaxed about age guidelines. Some encourage potty training by a certain age, and others require it. If you aren’t there, it’s helpful to know the expectation.
  • If full-day: nutrition, eating style and naptime – Full day kids are are eating at least one meal, sometimes two at school. It’s helpful to know what is provided and the logistics around meals. Families are often encouraged to help children build healthy eating habits. Full day kids are also napping at school. It is important to know your states nap requirements and how your preschool follows them.
  • Types of preschools – There are several types of preschools available and each with their own approach. I hope to write another post soon about the differences in types of preschools, but for now, know that if you are applying to one you should know how they differ from others. This includes play based preschools, religious schools, Montessori, High Scope, Reggio Emilia, nature immersion, Multiple Intelligences programs, Waldorf and Museum preschools.

NAEYC accreditation is an additional thing to consider. This certification, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, is designed to ensure high quality learning experiences. They assess teacher qualifications, safety standards, curriculum structure and administrative efforts. I wouldn’t rule out a school that isn’t accredited, but if it is, you can check a lot of things listed above off your list.

Please Don’t Worry About Labels or Early Services – Embrace Them

preschool teacher and child giving high-five

I work as a school and developmental psychologist at a few private schools and in my outside practice. In this role, there is a great deal of effort put into directing families to appropriate assessments and matching children with valuable services. While I understand a parent’s hesitation at the process (it’s big), and their worry about labels (they stick), the information gained about a child and the beneficial services that often become available in the process far outweigh the concerns.

I can see how the evaluation process is intimidating. You are taking your child to see an unknown professional for a series of unfamiliar evaluations. Even on the easy end for a speech and language screening, a parent doesn’t know what to expect. On the hard end, a full educational and psychological evaluation can take three or four long visits. The happy news is that some evaluations are fun for young children. A full evaluation may include puzzles, mazes and word games. An OT’s office looks like an indoor playground. In most cases, you will likely meet a professional who really enjoys working with children and makes the process as comfortable as possible.

Evaluations can also be expensive. If you are looking at an evaluation through the public school system the cost is covered. Private evaluations can range from a hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the level of investigation. Some Universities and hospitals also provide these services. Universities with graduate student evaluators often work on a sliding or reduced scale. Hospitals often work in an easier way with insurance coverage.

And then there’s the labels. If you are using a private evaluation, it is up to the parents to share or not share the information that follows. I’d encourage you to share though, because a lot of the point is providing information to your child’s teachers and other professionals to make better informed decisions, determine placement and provide an individualized plan. If you are using the public school system and accept services, that does become a piece of your child’s records. That said, the services are often very helpful. The services are also flexible, meaning children test in and out of services with evaluations provided on a regular schedule. Parents can also advocate for changes as their child participates in the system.

I want parents to think of the labels as keys to unlock the door to better services and individualized instruction. The labels also give parents a specific thing to focus on, learn about and support that hopefully replaces the broad concerns they had previously.

There are a few other important differences between the public and private evaluations. The central focus of evaluations offered through the public system is to determine if the child’s concerns meet the criteria for their services and programs. The goal is to prepare children for success in school and best meet their academic needs. The focus is not to provide a diagnosis or recommendations for success at home.

Meeting the criteria for services and programs can be a high bar. When a child qualifies through the public system, it seems safe to assume it is at least a moderate rather than mild concern. So if qualifying points to at least a moderate concern, I strongly encourage parents to take any services that are offered. When a child doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t automatically mean your child won’t benefit from services. There may very well be a concern that should be addressed, but it leaves it up to the parents to address it through a private provider.

Private evaluations are focused on deciding the level and area of all concerns, providing diagnostic language where it is appropriate and giving a broad range of recommendations for home and school success.

While private evaluations provide a wealth of information, they may not be seen as sufficient for qualifying for public services. Often, schools will take outside testing into consideration, and will add their own pieces or provide whole additional assessments to give further evidence.

Whether an evaluation shows no clear concerns and you are given a few ideas of how to address the original concern, or your child qualifies for support services, or there is a specific diagnosis, the evaluation itself is helpful. You are gaining valuable information about your child, and are in a better informed position to make decisions and provide support moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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