Start Strong: It's that time of year again- back to school. Some parents see this as a relief from the day to day challenges of having kids at home during the summer. Others feel burdened by the school related challenges and the new balancing act required to transport kids to all the places they need to be. My kids are now in their 3rd week of school. I have one college student, 2 in high school and 1 in middle school. Never a dull moment! I truly believe that it is critical to get the kids off to a strong start. I know first hand how hard it can be to balance it all!
Help is available: In my private speech therapy practice (Innovative Speech Therapy) , I have been helping more and more families establish their own 'back to school" routines and learn about the many assistive technologies and drill and practice iPad apps, devices and computer programs that can help with literacy and learning. Many parents dread the homework, nagging and increased stress that school often brings. The diagnoses of executive functioning disorder, attention deficit disorder and learning disabilities are becoming increasingly common. We all want the best for their children. Many parents invest a great deal of time and money to have educational specialists and neuropsychologists complete thorough workups, and families receive insightful reports- but not enough guidance regarding the implementation of the worthwhile suggestions. Hired tutors and teachers are often not aware of the many ways technology can make learning easier and more fun.
To ease the burden of parents and to maximize student success, I share with families, as well as the professionals who they hire for academic assistance, strategies that I have found to work. Rather than place extra burdens on parents, most of the strategies I use are meant to make life easier. Here are a few suggestions that you or someone you know may find helpful. I am available for individualized help as needed- online or in person. If you live in the greater Washington area- I may be able to have our session in your home.
Decluttering and Organization:Since they were in kindergarten, my 4 children have been exposed to a "back to school" routine to promote organization and school success. They know that just before school starts and during the first few weeks, their desks, closets and rooms needs to be organized and ready. We spend time decluttering the house and add upcoming dates to our family calendar. We focus on their individual work spaces and make sure that each person has whatever they need for school and home in terms of paper, ink, folders, backup systems etc. Ever since they were very young, I have provided my kids with file folders and a box or desk drawer to arrange school papers which will be saved for future reference/ admiration. We also take a look at the computers they use and set up files for each class as well as remove unnecessary icons from the desktop and make sure their digital equipment is functioning well.
Calendars: I believe that in addition to a family calendar- each student should have their own calendar which is their responsibility to look at each day and to keep current. I want them to get used to keeping track of their sports practices, games, music lessons, rehearsals, meetings and daily homework assignments and projects. It's great training for their future! Younger children can use stickers and digital pictures. Older kids can use a paper or digital calendar- but I have a strong preference for web based digital systems to plan for the future and manage time. It's helpful if they can view items by day, week or month. They need to keep a to-do list. It's also very helpful if calendars can be accessed from multiple computers. All students benefit if their information can be shared with a parent or teacher who can help with data entry if needed. Calendars can be downloaded online to insert items such as school events and holidays. Time can be saved by setting up recurring events such as a soccer practice each Friday afternoon for 10 weeks.
Task Lists and Portability: Task lists can be established and large projects can be broken up into smaller chunks and target dates placed on the calendar. I especially like it when notes can be written which pertain to certain events and emails with specific info can be cut and pasted into an area that can be viewed which corresponds to an entry. Once children enter high school- I think it is great if their calendar can be synced to a phone, iTouch or other digital device so that it is accessible at all times to facilitate good organization and time management skills.
Many families are already comfortable with Microsoft Outlook for PCs and iCal for Macs. These calendars can continue to be used and synced with web based calendars and task management sites such as calendar.google.com , www.todoist.com or Myhomework app for idevices.
Picture Schedules/Calendars- For younger children, visual calendars/schedules are a great way to go. When shown pictures of activities that are scheduled, transitions are often much easier to manage. Visual calendars can be as simple as pictured activities cut out and laminated and arranged on a daily board. Poster board and sticky-backed velcro work great. Real photographs may work best for some kids- others may do fine with pictures taken from images.google.com. I encourage parents to think about the circle times the young kids have in school and to recreate that at home with discussion in the morning about events of the day supported by pictures. I find myself using iPads more and more with the young kids I see in therapy. If you are interested in learning more about some visual scheduling apps, check out First Then Visual Scheduler and iPrompts.
Reading and Writing- My children have been blessed with many wonderful teachers and schools. However, I have always done my best to supplement learning at home. Teachers have a really difficult job. They need to meet the demands of administrators, know the strengths and weaknesses of all their students, fulfill the expectations of IEP and 504 plans and work with tight time constraints and budget limits. Classes are getting larger and resources fewer. Educating our children is a team effort and using technology at home can sometimes show incredible gains!
Young children at the pre-literacy level can benefit from spending time online on sites such as Starfall and Literactive. If they have an iDevice an app such as First Words Deluxe can really help with phonics. Elementary and Middle School kids can benefit from spending time on Brain Pop and Spelling City. If students have difficulty reading, they may benefit from having digital versions of books read aloud to them from Bookshare.org or Reading Ally. Research has shown the if individuals listen to words being read aloud as they read the text, retention and comprehension improve along with reading ability. Children who have difficulty writing may want to improve their typing ability with a free site called Dance Mat Typing or benefit from word prediction, text to speech and voice recognition with a product such as WordQ/SpeakQ. Older students in high school and college can benefit from online flashcards at memorize.com or Quizlet.com. Online sites can be organized for research projects with a Diigo account. Notes can be taken while recording lectures and the paper and recordings can be synced and uploaded and saved and shared on a computer with a Livescribe Pen.
Rewards- It would be ideal if all students were intrinsically rewarded by feelings of success and accomplishment when they do something to help the family or do well in school. As we all know, this is often not the case. Many students need external rewards, but finding a fun and motivating way to reward kids can be hard. When my kids were young I remember setting up many systems for this- butthey typically failed because the burden was on me to implement them and life was always so busy! Now- whenever I can- the burden needs to be placed on the kids with a sufficiently motivating reward system that they will be inspired to use regularly. Here are two that I have found helpful in a number of situations: ChoreWars.com which is ideal for elementary and middle school age kids and iRewards Chart on the iPad for younger kids.
As I write this newsletter- I feel that I could write pages and pages about suggestions about how to help kids using easy to implement affordable technology. Actually- I already have:) The title is The Ultimate Guide to Assistive Technology in Special Education. It became available Spring, 2011. Most of the suggestions can help all students and adults- not just children who have been diagnosed with "special needs."