Friday, January 12, 2018

Helping Anxious Children During the Holidays


I think the question was first asked on January 1st, around 4 p.m. in the afternoon. “Mum, how long till we have to go back to school?” I paused for a moment, my 7 year old is an enthusiastic student and she generally seems to enjoy school. However, when I saw the concern on her face and heard the tone of her voice, I could tell that she wasn’t asking because she couldn’t wait to go back to school. She was asking because she never wanted school holidays to end. I told her that she had 31 days until school returned on February 1st. She sighed. And then we got on with our number one school holiday past-time, hanging around in the lounge room together.


                                  Image result for anxious child

For my 7 year old, the return to school will be relatively easy. She is going into grade 3 with two of her best friends that she has had since she started school. She has met the teacher on several occasions (and knows that I have known this teacher for 18 years) so she is very relaxed going into his class. Finally, although the transition from grade two to three is a bit of a jump, I know that her grade two teacher prepared her well. Despite all of this, my daughter is still not totally sure she wants to return to school.

If my daughter is your average school child, then it is likely that most kids will experience a few ‘new school year jitters’. When I think through the classes I have taught in the past few years, perhaps 75% of the students will be feeling mildly nervous, but not stressed about going back to school. However, for a growing number of children, the thought of returning to school is causing them significant anxiety. This anxiety may manifest in being short-tempered with family members, feeling sick in the stomach, experiencing headaches, displaying a depressed mood, not sleeping well, demonstrating an increasing addiction to devices….you get the idea. As parents, we tell out anxious kids to stop worrying about it, or to not think about it – but when you are an anxious young person – it is far easier said than done.

When they watch television, there are ads for ‘Back to School’ savings at Officeworks. The Target catalogue in the letterbox is showing off discounted shiny black school shoes. Facebook feeds are full of articles about how to be organised before school goes back…….Then there are all those friendly grown ups who ask our kids what grade they are going to be in this year. And to add insult to injury, we drag our kids to the crowded shops to wait in line to buy school shoes and then we sit in Just Cuts, waiting for the back to school haircut.

ANXIETY OVERLOAD.

No wonder our mildly worried kids end up in an anxious ball on the bean bag by Australia Day. Everywhere they look, they are being reminded that school is starting up in a few weeks. But what our anxious kids need is a total break from thinking about school for as long as possible.
So what can we do to help our anxious kids in January?

1) Plan some family activities with your child that they can look forward too.

                             - a trip to a suburban pool with great waterslides
                             - a camping trip for a night or two
                             - a movie marathon – complete with junk food
                             - a trip to the city
                             - a trip to the beach
                             - a visit to the Melbourne museum or Scienceworks

              * Notice that all these activities are low-cost, family friendly activities

2) Don’t talk about school! Let your child know that if they want to chat about anything they’re worried about, that you are really keen to listen to them. But don’t remind them of school if they aren’t thinking about it.

3) Quietly work out if your child needs any new items for school. If your child is the anxious-type, attempt to purchase the items discreetly rather than embarking on a full-scale expedition to purchase grey socks. If your child does need to try on school uniforms, shoes or have a hair cut, don’t build the entire day around that event. Take them to the shops for an ice cream and then ‘pop in’ to the shoe store in an apparent spontaneous act rather than giving your child three hours to stress about the experience. My son DETESTS the experience of going to a hairdresser. If you warn him that it is ‘hair-cut’ day, the day is doomed from the start. However, if we just ‘happen’ to walk past a barber who just happens to have a free moment to do a quick trim, the event is over in an instant. I should add that a trip to Bakers Delight or McDonalds immediately after the hair cut significantly aids his recovery process. But you get my point don’t you? We might think buying a school bag is no big deal – but to an anxious child, the thought of going out to the shops to purchase a school item is yet another reminder that school is approaching.

4) Let you child’s teacher know how your child is feeling. This is something that you can only do a day or two before the school year recommences. It is very possible that you won’t have the email address of your child’s new teacher, but an email via the admin me office or to last years teacher will find it’s way to the right person. Here is how I would write the email:

Dear Mr Smith, (fictious teacher name)
We hope you had a relaxing and refreshing Christmas and are ready for a productive year!
We just wanted to keep you in the loop with how Johnny (a fictious child) is feeling as he prepares to return to school. Johnny has had a lovely summer holiday with the family, however he appears to be feeling quite anxious about returning to school. We have been speaking positively about school when the topic comes up, but he has been complaining about stomach aches and headaches a fair bit the past few days, which I think is related to his anxiety. His anxiety seems to be linked to friendships and not being about to keep up with the increasing complexity of his schoolwork.

Would you mind just keeping an eye on Johnny as school returns? Would it be possible for you to just make sure he has a friend to go out to morning tea with? Would you mind just checking in with him every now and then to make sure he knows what he is meant to be doing?

Thank you so much for teaching our son this year, we know he has incredible potential, we just want to get his anxiety under control. Please let us know if there is anyway we can encourage Johnny at home.

Thanks so much


Bob and Betty Brown. (fictious parents)

Now a lot of you would think that this kind of email is incredibly bold. However, as a teacher, I really appreciated this kind of email. It gave me insight into how I could best support a child from the moment they walked through my classroom door. It also signals to the teacher that you as a parent want to communicate with them. Now that you have established contact, it will be much easier for the teacher to hit ‘reply’ in the coming days and let you know if there are any concerns that you should know about.

5) Seek help. My final piece of advice is to seek help if your child’s anxiety is spiralling out of control. If their anxiety or their related behaviour is making it almost impossible for them to relax and enjoy their holidays – go and see you GP. They can recommend a course of action that will assist your child in managing their anxiety. There are summer holiday activities, support groups, counsellors and even medication that can help your child face school with a little less fear.


Anxiety related to returning to school is very real and is impacting more and more children every year. Let’s try and make things as easy for our kids as possible.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

2018 class placements - when your child isn't with their friends.....


It finally happened.

We found out that next year my son will be going into a different class to his two best friends. The two friends that have been by his side since he started school.  As a parent, your heart aches when your child comes home and tells you they don’t feel like they have any friends at school. And when your child is separated from their close-knit friendship group during the class placement process, a sense of annoyance and frustration begins to well up inside you.

Do I go to the school and complain to the teacher?

Do I demand that my child be moved to the class with their friends?

Do I email the principal and make them aware of the travesty that has been committed in the name of education?

Do I tell my child to get over it?

Do I regale them with stories about the times we felt we had no friends at school?

Actually no – none of the above responses is ideal.

Let me tell you, from a teacher’s perspective, about why your child may have been placed in a class away from their friendship group.

1) Your child may be a delightful student, but they are easily distracted by their group of friends and are missing out on learning opportunities because they are too busy socialising. They may be moved into a class with a group of children who will be less distracting and allow your child to flourish educationally.

2) Your child may be a gentle, kind child. However, their friendship group is smothering your child and not allowing them to exert their independence and make decisions for themselves. Placing your child in another class will allow your child the freedom to make their own decisions and form new friendships without pressure from their current friends.

3)  The teacher your child has been placed with has a personality and teaching style that will really suit your child, but not their current friendship group. The school staff, in their wisdom, may have decided to place greater importance on who is teaching your child rather than keeping friends together.

4) Your child may be becoming too reliant on just one or two friends and is not developing their ability to work and socialise with a variety of children. By separating your child from their friends at this stage, they will learn valuable skills about making new friends and working with a variety of people. Your child will not learn these skills if they are left with their ‘old friends’ indefinitely.

5) Your child may have specific learning needs that are similar to another child in the year level. By placing children with similar needs together in one class, school resources can be pooled together and allocated to ensure that your child, and the child with similar needs, get the maximum support possible. However, this may mean that there are not enough places in the class to accommodate your child's friends.

6) Your child may have leadership skills, just like their best friend does. However, by keeping the friends together, neither child may have the chance to truly lead their classmates. By separating the friends, both children will have the chance to be leaders in their class without stepping on the toes of the other.

No matter why your child has found themselves in a class away from their friends – it’s gonna hurt. It may be a cloud that will hang over their head for the summer holidays. It will take time to ‘get over it’. So what do we, as parents, do to support our child through this?

1) Acknowledge to your child that being separated from a close friend is really hard.

2) Encourage them to devise ways that they can catch up with their friends at recess and lunch in the new school year.

3) Organise playdates after school and during the holidays with their old friends and remind your child that these playdates can keep happening all through the year even though they are in separate classes.

4) Ask your child (or your child’s teacher) about who else is in your child’s new class. If you have access to a school directory, you could invite some of the children in your child’s new class to come over for a playdate. In one situation, I emailed the school admissions officer and asked them to email a new family on my behalf, giving them my email address and phone number so that I could arrange a playdate with our kids so that they could get to know each other before school started.

5) Arrange a birthday party or ‘Back to school’ party very early in the new school year and invite all the boys/girls/kids in the class over to your home or meet at a local playground. This really helps to create a sense of inclusiveness within a class group as no one is excluded from the party.  

6) Tell your child’s new class teacher that your child feels separated from their friends. Ask the teacher to just encourage your child to make sure they head out to recess and lunch with a friend so that they have someone to play with.  


We all know that being separated from good friends is hard and disappointing. The feeling of being left out and isolated is difficult. But persevere with your child, do what you can to support them in nurturing new friendships. And remember, school staff are there to help your child. If your child is really struggling with being away from their friends, let the school know so that they can keep an eye on the situation for you

.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Let's embrace the labels....

A few years ago Robyn*, the daughter of a close friend was diagnosed with a severe allergy to nuts. She was 'anaphylactic'. With this diagnosis, came the implementation of a management plan should Robyn have a reaction to nuts. Epi-pens were purchased, teachers were alerted and classmates were kindly requested to keep their peanut butter sandwiches as an after school treat. Robyn has anaphylaxis, she was now one of 'those' kids. However, for Robyn's family it was peace of mind. They knew exactly what had made their child unwell on previous occasions and they were able to inform their community networks of the diagnosis. Sometimes, I hosted Robyn in my house after school until her mum finished work. I was very careful to check everything I offered Robyn, her brother and my own children as I didn't want to risk making Robyn unwell. Yes, it took a little extra effort. Yes, I occasionally had to change the food I fed my own children on those days. Yes, it was my absolute pleasure to demonstrate my love for Robyn and her family by ensuring I didn't give anyone food containing nuts. Rather than making things harder, Robyn's diagnosis made it easier to know exactly what I could and couldn't feed her. What a relief!

Many years ago, I taught Foundation (Prep). I loved teaching little people how to conduct themselves at school and introduce them to the formal disciplines of literacy and numeracy. However, this was also the time when I had to sit down with some parents and raise the possibility that their child didn't find the experience of school as easy as their peers did. Perhaps their child didn't come back to the classroom when the bell rang, perhaps they were the ones who wouldn't let go of their parents EVERY morning, perhaps they were the one who were so withdrawn they wouldn't speak to me, perhaps they were eating chalk when they thought I wasn't looking, perhaps they were incredible at mathematics but couldn't hold a pencil properly in order to write their name legibly. The list went on and on.

I loved every child I taught, but for some students, I needed more information so that I could truly cater to their needs and ensure that they received the support they needed in order to thrive. I wanted a label! Now before you all get angry at me for wanting to label children, hear me out.....I don't want children to get diagnosed with something just so I can pop them into a box labelled 'different'. I want children to receive a diagnosis so that I can use research-proven, evidence-based methods to teach the child in a way that will work for them. I want to love that child and their family by getting to the heart of what will allow them to thrive.

If you tell me that a child has trouble with expressive language (they find it hard to communicate their ideas), then I won't expect them to sit down and write a two page story in a 1.5 hour lesson. Instead, I will give them time to draw a picture of their story idea. I will allow them to talk with other children about their ideas. I will celebrate the fact that they managed to write the opening paragraph and communicate the setting of the story whilst their peers are being asked to edit their completed two page stories. When I know a child is learning with the added impact of a recognised learning difficulty, I will change the rules and move the goal posts so that my students still experience success.

What about children who are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder? When a parent tells me their child has received this diagnosis, I set out on a little mission to discover what does and doesn't work for that child. I will watch their body language all the more closely to make sure that they are feeling comfortable and safe within my classroom. A child cannot learn if they are always on edge, trying to cope with the constant changes and interruptions that naturally occur in the classroom. If I find the child huddling under my desk after lunch, I won't demand they come out and act 'sensibly', because at that moment, hiding under the desk is the best thing they can do to calm themselves down. However, if one of my other students, who do not live with the added pressure of a learning difficulty, thinks he can go hiding under my desk for a bit of fun......he will be promptly asked to get out from under my desk and get on with what he is meant to be doing.

Learning that your child has a diagnosed condition does not limit your child. It actually gives your child the opportunity to be understood and appreciated for who they truly are. It allows educators to tailor their teaching in a way that will actually work for your child. It prevents your child for being punished for not doing things that they are actually not yet able to do and it prevents your child for being disciplined for engaging in behaviours that they need to engage in in order to calm themselves down and feel safe. If a teacher asks you to investigate whether your child has a learning difficulty, embrace the opportunity to explore your child's strengths and weaknesses. Finding a label may actually be the most liberating thing you can do for your child.



*Not her real name

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Overload! Overload! Overload!

Some of you would have seen my photo post last week of my to-do list. It's a bit eclectic. There are uni assignments rubbing shoulders with house cleaning, and curriculum writing competing with locating my plethora of receipts ready for my tax return. Add to that a part-time job, two children and church commitments and I am in cognitive overload.

I don't write this so that you can feel sorry for me.....I know full well (in hindsight) that I shouldn't have taken on the additional curriculum writing job. I didn't enjoy the job when I did it 3 years ago, so why on earth did I think I would like it now????

The overload came up on me so stealthily. One week I am in a routine of work, household duties and church commitments, and the next week I am mentally paralyzed by where to start on my multiple-page task list. I can always tell when I am in the place of cognitive overload. Firstly, I begin to spend a lot more time at the shops and buy lots of 'necessities' that I didn't seem to need last week. Saturday, the kids and I spent 2 hours at the shops looking for the ultimate additions to the childrens' lives. (We bought a small indoor tent, a skipping rope, an outdoor bat tennis kit, a large ball that looks like a watermelon, a small ball that bounces really high, a $1 bag of army men to go in the backyard and $6 worth of fairy paraphernalia for my daughter's garden project.)  Monday, I wandered around one local shopping centre for 2.5 hours after I dropped the kids at school. Yesterday, I spent another 90 minutes at a different shopping centre buying more 'essentials'. (91 Storey Treehouse book, 8 boxes of cereal, two bags of hay and two half price scented candles.) As I walked to my car with three plastic bags stretched tight with breakfast cereal, I thought - yup - something is going on here. I am avoiding something......

Anyway, I drove into my driveway and admired my freshly weeded front garden. I watered the seedlings that I planted last week. Interestingly enough, weeding the garden and purchasing and planting seedlings was not on the to-do list last week either.....but it did get done ahead of EVERYTHING else on my to-do list.

Yup - I am in cognitive overload. I am so overloaded that I don't even want to be home near my laptop because I will see it and be gripped by guilt. At the shops and in the garden, I am totally occupied, but if I sit down on the couch, there it is - just over there.....my laptop and those maths books....whispering my name.....in a really annoying voice.



About now, some of you are saying - 'This blogger has lost her mind. Where on earth is she going with this?' The other half of you are saying 'This blogger is awesome. I do exactly the same thing. In fact, this blogger understands my way of thinking so well that I might just go and read all her blogs and then I will do an internet search on cognitive overload and then I might just check on the garden and.....' I suspect the latter readers will also have some pressing tasks that they should be doing instead.

I am happy for you to laugh with me or even at me, as I reveal the inner workings of my mind. However, I also want you to take a look at your kids.

Do your kids:


  • come home from school and complain about this massive assignment they have to do and then sit on the couch and play on their phone for the rest of the afternoon?
  • have meltdowns because they just don't know where to start on their assignment and when you offer advice they yell at you? 
  • leave stuff all over the house and appear unable or unwilling to complete any household chores? 
  • has your child recently developed an unusual interest in gardening, needlework, bird-watching or something else equally unexpected?
  • does your child appear 'down' or 'moodier' than usual?

If any one of these sound familiar, you may have a child in cognitive overload. They are so overwhelmed by what they are meant to be doing that they end up doing nothing. 

You may think that picking up the pile of clothes behind their door is a 'no-brainer', but to a kid who is feeling overloaded, that clothes pile is as challenging as a hike up Mt Koziusko. 

Think of it this way: 
  1. Teenager knows they have a HUGE assignment to do. They feel tired from school and are feeling mildly sick in the stomach with worry about how they are going to complete it.
  2. Mum says 'clean up your room'.  
  3. They walk into their room. There is chaos everywhere.
  4. Teenager thinks 'I don't know where to start!' They pick up the pile of clothes from behind the door. But then they need to decide which items are clean, which items are dirty. Then they need to put away the clean clothes. Augh, but the drawers are stuffed full of items that were hastily put away last week. In order to put away the clothes, the drawers need to be re-organised. 'I don't have time for this, I have a massive assignment to complete,' they think.
  5. Teenager drops clothes back on the floor.
  6. Teenager goes over to their cluttered desk. Mum has dumped some random magazines on the desk that had been left in the lounge room. Teenager knows they need to work on their assignment, but the desk needs to be cleared. Magazines should be looked at before they are put away. 
  7. 90 minutes later, magazines are thrown on top of the clothes pile behind the door, teenager now feels ready to study.
  8. Just as the laptop boots up, Mum asks teenager to come and set the table for dinner. Teenager feels angry because mum doesn't understand that they were just about to get into their assignment. Mum feels angry that teenager has been in their room for almost 2 hours and it is still as messy as it was when she asked them to clean up.
  9. Mum and teenager have argument after dinner about messy room and not helping out around the house
  10. Teenager becomes so upset and angry that they are no longer calm enough to work on their assignment.
  11. Teenager lays on their bed, texting their friends till midnight and thinking about how worried they are about the assignment and how unreasonable their mum is.
  12. Teenager wakes up next morning tired and stressed about their assignment.
  13. Return to step one.

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking, 'kids should just be able to do what they are asked and just get on with their school work.' But if they are feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, it is almost impossible to get started. If they can't get started, how are they going to finish it?

If your kids are struggling to get their schoolwork done- they may just be totally overwhelmed. 

What can you do to help?
 
  • Sit down with your kids and chat about EVERYTHING they feel they need to do. Find out what tasks they don't need to do, what tasks can be delayed and what tasks are a priority. Use task lists, organiser apps or anything else that will help them mange the tasks on their plate.
  • Work out a plan of how they are going to tackle their work. Do they need an hour of down time before they get started? Would it help if you dropped them at the public library for a couple of hours? Do little brothers and sisters need to play outside for an hour or two to keep the house quiet?
  • Try and eliminate any distractions to their work. Help them to keep their room clean during busy assignments times. Don't dump clean washing and random items on their bed and expect them to sort them and put them away the moment they come home.
  • Keep non-essential devices out of their rooms after a certain time. These can distract from work and also keep kids up waaaaayyyyy to late.
  • Work with your child to develop a schedule of working time and down time. It is unreasonable to expect them to work five hours every night until their assignment is done. Encourage them to invest an hour of work and then thirty minutes of downtime where they can play computer games or text friends.
  • 'Chill Out' - This is only a season in your kids lives. Supporting them however you can during busy assignment times and then enforcing house chores etc in the quieter times will make for much happier household dynamics and will actually make it easier for your child to just get on with their work.

I know, I know. Some of you are shaking your head at my naievity about dealing with teenagers. 'We had to keep doing our household chores when we were in school,' you argue. Yes, that is true. But I can tell you straight up - times have changed. The constant stream of information flooding our childrens' head-space and the depth and diversity of information they are exposed to is so much greater than we had to cope with when we were in school. Although our kids lives are physically easier than life was in the past, it is cognitively more difficult. We need to lovingly support and coach our kids through this stage of life. 






 



Sunday, July 2, 2017

Taking a breath in the midst of year 12

I have few memories of year 12 now - it was in 1992. However. one photo sticks in my mind. It was the one of me sitting outside my parents' caravan in Merimbula doing a bit of holiday homework. Fortunately I was looking quite fashionable in my checked pants, green vest over a white skivvy and a bowler hat on. (Let's just say it was a very short-lived fashion trend).

I remember having one meltdown that year. It was over a maths task that involved computers and x and y coordinates. I had a meltdown and then I got on with it. I finished year 12, went to Uni and then became a waitress. True story!!!!

So much has changed in 25 years. I don't know whether the term 'meltdown' was even used in relation to year 12 back then. Nowadays, if your upper high school student hasn't had a meltdown, then you are in the minority.

So here we are in the July school holidays. Your year 12 offspring may not be physically attending school for two weeks - but where is their head at? Can I ask that this school holidays you take some time out to 'hang out' with your high school students. Go to THEIR favourite cafe, let them order whatever they want (without making any remark about the health benefits of their choices) and ask them how they are feeling. Give your teenager time to debrief. Don't correct their misconceptions, don't argue with them. JUST LISTEN. 

Allow them to tell you about how annoying it is when their sister plays the Ukulele after dinner when they are trying to study. Let them vent about the frustration of Dad mowing the lawn under their window at 10 a.m. on a Saturday. JUST LISTEN. 

Ask them how they are feeling about school. How are they feeling about their work? Is there anything they are worried about at the moment? What are they scared of? Excited about? 

Having let your teenager 'download', ask them how you can best support them, Their requests may seem unreasonable or over the top, but just listen and see what small steps you can take to help them. Maybe it is enforcing an hour of quiet time every afternoon in the household to give them quiet study space. Maybe it is taking the younger siblings out to a park on Saturday mornings for a time.

Understand that although you didn't find year 12 stressful when you went through it, the landscape has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. Your kids are facing stressors they we may not have faced until our mid-20's - if at all.
Also be aware of your teenager's mental health. As one who was diagnosed with depression shortly after year 12, I am well aware of the impact sustained stress can have upon a young person. If you have any concerns, take your teenager along to the GP and have a chat.

Although everyone around them gives the impression that year 12 is the decider for their ENTIRE future....it actually isn't! There are so many options out there for future study and work that do not rely upon an incredible ATAR to pursue. It is also important to remember that your teenager will more than likely retrain and pursue a number of career options throughout their lifetime. Year 12 is not their 'only shot' at a great future. Remind them of this as often as you need to.

Finally - parents RELAX. You getting all upset and stressed on your child's behalf is not going to help them. You need to be there with the hot chocolate and marshmallows, the Friday night pizza, the family trip to Mini Golf. You need to be the calm in the storm. Will you do that for your teenager?

Louise
xxx

Friday, June 23, 2017

What if there are too many options?

One of my treasured blog readers contacted me a couple of days ago and asked if we could have a chat. I was so excited that someone who reads my blog actually wanted to talk to me about education!

My reader was wanting to hear my thoughts on the best way forward for their child. Their child has a learning disability. It's one of those 'tricky' situations whereby their child's needs do not qualify for government funding for support in their school. However, the child would benefit enormously from the provision of classroom aide support and speech therapy, the cost of which would need to be covered by the family.

Let's face it, we would do anything we can to help our children get through school successfully, yet at the same time, we don't have thousands of dollars at out disposal to invest in therapies, classroom aides, and parent training courses. We also can't afford to dedicate our every waking hour to the needs of just one of our children when we also need to go to work, provide meals for our family and look after our other children. The challenge is to choose the best option for our child that will give them the support they need without sending us broke.

This article sets out some of the options for children with a mild learning disability that does not qualify for government funding yet would benefit from additional educational support.


Here are some of the options before you: 


Do not pay for any additional intervention:

Many students travel through our mainstream school system with an unidentified learning disorder. Sometimes these are the children who work so hard everyday in order to 'just grasp' the material being presented to them. In other cases, it's the children who 'appear' to be misbehaving but really are just trying to avoid revealing that they are struggling to understand what is being taught.

Then there are the children who have a diagnosed, mild learning disability. These children make their way through school at their own pace without any additional support beyond the classroom teacher. It's hard going, but many make it through okay. The flip side is that some young people become overwhelmed with the pressure of school when they find learning difficult. These students end up leaving school prematurely when they could have stayed had they have been provided with some additional support.

Classroom teachers are trained to cater to the wide range of abilities in their classroom and will do everything they can to support children for whom learning is difficult. Many schools will also run numeracy and literacy groups to give free additional support to children who are struggling in the classroom. Before you dive into paying for tutors and therapists, check what support the school offers as a part of their services and ask that your child be considered for any additional learning support opportunities offered. 

Pay for an integration aide to support your child:

Most schools will have a number of staff, known as integration aides, who work alongside students to assist them in the completion of their classroom work. Their hourly pay is mainly covered by the government funding provided for students with significant learning needs. The integrations aides, also known as classroom aides, are caring people who have been employed because they have the ability to patiently support children at school. Many will have completed a short-course to become an integration aide, others are qualified school teachers who have chosen to work as an aide for the sake of the shorter hours and reduced stress and responsibility. There are also many aides who are parents of children who have additional needs and understand from firsthand experience how to support children with learning difficulties.

Some schools ensure their integration aides give first priority to the students who have been given government funding on account of their disability. Other schools use their funding to place integration aides into many of their classrooms so that all children benefit from the support of an additional adult in the classroom. Schools are welcome to use their funding as they please and there are arguments for and against each model. However, what it means for children with mild learning needs is that they may already be receiving the support of a government funded integration aide without you having to pay another cent. Some teachers 'piggy-back' a struggling student with a student with an identified learning need and get the integration aide to work with both students. 

It is worth asking the classroom teacher if your child needs and /or receives additional support whilst in the classroom. 

In many cases, schools will allow you to pay for an integration aide to support your child for a set number of hours per week. An experienced integration aide will be paid around $26 per hour and so that is the rate you should be required to pay for the benefit of an aide for your child. This sounds like inexpensive tutoring, but you do need to keep these factors in mind:

  • Integration aides will generally only come to your child's classroom at the same pre-arranged time each week. This means that some weeks they will turn up and be able to help your child through a difficult task. Other weeks they might turn up whilst the teacher is going into an extended rant about the benefits of 'commas' and the integration aide will sit there unable to assist your child until a task is actually set. Some weeks you'll get value for money, other weeks you won't. 
  • An integration aide is a 'helper'. They are not paid to prepare an alternative program for your child (although some may kindly do that for you). Their main task is do whatever they can do help your child progress through the work they have been given by the classroom teacher.
  • There may be a number of children in the classroom using the same integration aide. Your child may need to 'wait their turn' to receive help when they really need it. In other cases, your child may not request the help of the integration aide at all during a lesson.

All that being said, as a teacher, I loved having integration aides in my classroom and I attempted to make the most of their time in providing tasks that they could help their allocated students with. I saw some of my students make amazing strides in their learning with the support of their integration aide. Was that money well spent? Absolutely 

When I worked as an integration aide myself, I also tried to give parents 'value for money'. Some students loved having me around and would willingly let me support them. Others were embarrassed by my presence, so even if they needed help, they wouldn't let me help them.

If your child is in upper-primary or high school, it would be wise to ask them how they feel about having an integration aide support them in the classroom. That conversation alone may help you to decide whether to pay for the classroom support or not.

Pay for a private tutor:

This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the understanding of the subject. You can pay anywhere from $30 for half an hour to $100 for an hour depending upon the skills and experience of the tutor.  Some tutors will focus on helping your child with their homework in the given subject whilst others will identify your child's area of weakness and provide them with tutoring specifically designed to teach them new skills and build up their confidence in the subject. Some tutoring schools will have a set curriculum that the tutor will systematically work through with your child regardless of their areas of weakness in the subject.

It's up to you which tutoring style you choose but here are some tips for making private tutoring work:
  • Tell the classroom teacher that your child is receiving tutoring and work out a way by which the classroom teacher can communicate any specific learning needs that they have noticed to the tutor. 
  • Be specific with the tutor about the concerns you have and let them know what you want them to work on in as much detail as possible. If you only give the tutor vague instructions, they may end up working on areas that don't require attention.
  • If you don't feel comfortable with the tutor or your child doesn't seem to be enjoying their time with them - cut your losses early and find someone that does work for you. 
This is a good option if your child is just struggling with one subject in particular and needs a bit of a 'leg up' to fill in the gaps in the learning so that they can keep up with the rest of the class at school.

Pay for your child to see a Speech Pathologist:

If your child is having trouble keeping up with their work across a number of subjects, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Speech Pathologists are trained to do more than just correct mispronunciations of words. They can actually assess, diagnose and treat a variety of learning, speech and language problems that a teacher is not trained to identify. Having recognised your child's needs, they are able to design a specific, targeted intervention program to assist your child in managing their learning challenges. They work with the long-term goal of equipping your child with skills that will enable them to understand and communicate ideas far more proficiently in the future. 

It is an expensive option, with reputable speech pathologists charging between $80-$130 for a 30 minute session. However, you need to approach speech therapy sessions with a long term perspective. It won't fix your child's immediate problems, but over time, you will see a development in their overall skills as they are able to understand, process and communicate their knowledge to educators.



Deciding what is best for your child is a heart-wrenching decision, and everyone is going to give you slightly different advice. My best advice is always to start with the teacher. Make an appointment time and let the teacher know that you want to talk to them about how your child is progressing overall. This will give the teacher an opportunity to go through all their notes and records so that they can give you an accurate idea of what is going on. Your teacher may also be able to advise you on whether your child would benefit from additional help either in school or by outside tutors or therapists.

I am always very happy to hear from my blog readers too. We all want to do the best for our children, and sometimes we just need to hear unbiased advice from someone who can see everyone's perspective.  Feel free to drop me an email on louise.c.griffiths@icloud.com if I can be of assistance.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Time to take a day off school?

I woke up feeling 'off' this morning. It had been one of those weird nights of sleep where I am pretty sure I was asleep most of the night, but my dreams were strange and vivid. Firstly, I dreamed that we had opened up an animal refuge in our garage and were struggling to care for the rabbits, chickens, puppies and baby alligator that we had acquired. Fortunately, in my dream, the rabbits and the baby alligator were able to share an enclosure - go figure? The second half of the night I dreamed I was a Marvel superhero and my superhero friends and I were trying to take over various continents of the world whilst avoiding the enemies advances. Weird right?

So I woke with my face feeling all dry and stretched out, possibly because I was too lazy to wash my face last night, and I had this horrid taste in my mouth. I got up to have breakfast and ate it alright, but as I sat on the couch my tummy felt weird and it was far more comfortable to lay on my bed than continue on with my morning routine. Fortunately, at 42 years of age, I get the right to declare when I feel sick and should just go back to bed. When my husband asked me what was wrong - my only explanation was 'I just feel yuck'.

There was no cough, no sniffly nose, I wasn't threatening to vomit everywhere and I wasn't covered in a strange spotty rash. To the average observer, you would think I am totally fine to get on with my day and complete whatever work I needed to. However, if I had decided to go ahead with the coffee date I had planned with a lovely friend, went shopping and started cleaning the house, it would not have been pretty. I would have felt a whole lot worse at the end of the day.

The same thing has been happening with my own children for the past 3 weeks. Some days my son complains of a headache, other days its a tummy ache, other days he is just tired and irritable. My daughter complains of a sore tummy most nights and often a sore throat. She gets anxious if she looks at the clock and sees that it is past 8 p.m. She worries that if she doesn't get enough sleep, school will be a difficult experience in the morning. As I tuck my children into bed at night, they ask me if they'll be allowed to stay home if they feel sick in the morning. I reply with "we'll wait and see".

Of course, the poor children wake up the next day with the same vague symptoms that don't really seem to warrant staying home, and so they obediently get themselves ready for school and ultimately survive the day. They report feeling unwell at various points of the day, but not enough to warrant going to the nurse, and if they do, they are sent back to the teacher. There's no cough, wheeze, vomit, temperature or spots.....

I've been to the doctors twice in the last two weeks, hoping that they can provide the Latin name for what they are suffering from,  however, there is no medical term that succinctly identifies 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'.  I have no medical experience except for First Aid and anaphylaxis training, but I wish to patent the phrase 'mid-term two, start of winter exhaustion'. It's a real illness I tell you. We've had it for three weeks now and it's not going away.

It got to the point last week where my husband and I agreed that the children are just miserable and going to school day after day when they are feeling off was not doing anyone any favours. Imagine sitting on the floor with your legs neatly crossed, listening to the teacher whilst your tummy feels just a little achy. Going to the music room with a vague headache that just comes and goes as it pleases. How can you learn when you are struggling to feel 'yourself' - it's pretty tough isn't it?

As adults, we have the authority to declare ourselves unwell and stay home from work, but our children can't. Perhaps if they possessed the vocabulary to clearly explain their symptons, they may be able to better convey to us why they should stay home. But they don't and in the absense of observable symptons, we send them along anyway.

I wonder what the long term impact is of sending children to school when they are not quite 100%? How do they feel about their learning when they are experiencing physical discomfort at the same time? Do they begin to fear certain subjects, because the physically activities or noise involved make them feel unwell? Do they stop asking to go to the nurse because they know they will just be sent back to the classroom anyway?

I have lot of friends who tell me that they would have to be practically dead before their parents would let them stay home from school. I think the same is still true, especially as keeping your children home from school may also mean that a parent has to stay home from work to look after them. However, school is far more intense and rigorous than it was 20 plus years ago. The amount of activities children switch between in a day and the high level of attention they need to maintain through the day is exhausting at the best of times. Trying to keep up when they are feeling even a little off must be near impossible.

So in our household, we are lowering the standards for what qualifies for a day of school. We are recognizing that no matter how non-descript the symptoms may seem to us, the feelings are very real, and possibly very scary, for our child. We are keeping in mind that our children need adequate time to recover from an illness before being sent back to school. We are learning to appreciate that regular emotional meltdowns and other signs of tiredness also qualify for a day off school.

I know, I know, I can hear the rebuttals now.....

1) Who is going to look after our children when we have to work and get on with other tasks?

I don't know the answer to that as each family is different.

A few things to think about though:

  • If your child comes home from school feeling 'off', maybe organise a family member or friend to look after your child the next day to give them a rest day.
  • If your child is struggling with tiredness and illness, you are also at risk of catching any illness they may have. It is better for you and your child to both take the day off and engage in some self-care rather than pushing yourselves until you both fall in a heap.
  • Speak to your employer about working from home or flexi-day options for when your child is sick.
A couple of years ago, I was working full-time whilst my children were in Prep and Year One. My daughter developed persistent tummy aches, but because I was so committed to doing my job to the best of my abilities, I rarely took a day of to attend to my daughter. In hindsight, I realized that my daughter was simply exhausted and some regular mummy days would have got her through the tiring phase of her prep year.

2) Won't my child miss out on important work if I give them a day off?

  •  Even if your child is at school, they aren't going to be getting much benefit out of the work anyway, Most teachers are very happy to keep a copy of all activities and material they cover whilst your child is away, Generally, a day of primary school missed can be caught up on with 45-60 mins work at home with an adult
  • Secondary school students can email teachers and ask them to send through any work they can complete whilst they are home
  • Concepts are taught and re-taught throughout a child's education.  A concept that is missed through a few days of absense will be retaught in the coming months or years anyway.
3) Won't my child start 'faking' their illness just to get time off school?

  • Most parents can tell if their child is in genuine discomfort or if their child is 'having them on'.
  • If a child is too sick to go to school, it is wise for a parent to enforce a genuine rest day. This means no trips to the shops, no sitting in front of the tv for hours. It is a time of sitting in bed and reading or quietly playing. A child who is not genuinely unwell will quickly return to school if they find that home is not an amusement centre during school hours.
  • If a parent takes the time to get their child to stay up to date with their school work when they are at home, the child will learn that staying home does not make them exempt from completing their schoolwork.
During these cold winter months, let's cut our children a bit of slack. A few days off here and there isn't going to jeopardize their future. However, it will give them time to rest and recover to that they can truly enjoy school when they are there.