Lessons in Grace

As I sit in my messy office at home, I hear many things: singing, vacuuming, sweeping, some bossy yelling as my kids are tidying the house. They are working hard for the reward of going to a pool this afternoon. However, their task was not simply to tidy the house. They had to GET ALONG while completing the tasks. A tall order for five kids aged 13-4.5. This has been the tone of the summer. Kids (and parents—let’s be real) being bossy, unkind, messy. Apologies. Forgiveness. Grace. Try again. Repeat. Can you relate?

Is this how the cycle of your school year(s) has gone as well? How about as a parent advocate for your child? Have you been too busy putting out fires to prepare for the next one? Did you mean to be more prepared for that meeting and time slipped away? Did you plan to sit down before the beginning of the school year and go through the mountains of paperwork from the school and finally get it organized, but now as summer is nearing it’s close, you’re not sure you have the energy? Have you kicked yourself for not asking for testing for your child yet and are now worried about what this next school year holds and how long the process of getting your child tested or the help s/he needs might take? Are you worried your child might have to fail before receiving the help s/he needs? Are you experiencing anxiety as you read these words? Take a breath. Have grace for yourself.

This morning, I woke up to a calendar alert on my phone. It said “Sub Pilates” at 5:15am. I thought, well, that was last week, not today. I must’ve entered it into my phone wrong. That is, until I received an email checking on me as I was supposed to sub this morning. I felt like garbage. I had totally failed those people who showed up to no instructor. I had failed my colleague for whom I was supposed to sub. I had failed my boss for making sure the class was taught. I emailed my apologies and decided to have grace for myself. Yes, it was a stupid mistake. Yes, I am embarrassed by it. But, as my boss graciously said, I am human and we make mistakes. Now, will I let it hold me back today? Will I choose to become upset and eat my feelings in Spicy Cheeze-It’s and Mountain Dew (just a non-specific example of what *someone* might do)? No. I have a plan in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Grace. Try again. Plan.

Is that what you need to do today for yourself? Can you choose to give yourself grace in those areas in which you feel like you’ve failed your child? In the areas you didn’t know how to do better? In the times you were bossy, messy, unkind? Can you then move forward to come up with a plan to ensure this is the year you are going to advocate better for your child? Have you formulated a plan?

First, you must choose to forgive yourself of all of the “shoulda, woulda, couldas” and move to the “I can and I will” and if I don’t know how, “I will seek help”. Carve out time for a planning session. Put it on your calendar, and stick to it. Invite your spouse/partner/other parent/child if possible. Make your plan. Write it down. Then, break it down into little pieces. You can also write a completion date for each part for which you are responsible.

Here are a few examples, but as I am not sure where you are in the process, yours could be a lot different.

Goal: My child will receive services to help ensure academic and social success (not yet entered into special education services)
Objective: Ask for testing.
Tasks:
1. Gather report cards, work samples, teacher emails
2. Keep track of behaviors/skills that I think are troublesome in order to have data to support my reasoning for asking for testing
3. Write letter to principal explaining why I think testing is necessary
Goal Date: start of school

Goal: My child will receive accommodations for a medical ADD diagnosis
Objective: Ask for a behavioral observation
Tasks:
1. Write teacher and principal to ask for a behavioral observation
2. Request a meeting to discuss challenges and to possibly create a 504
Goal date: September 1

Goal: My child’s teacher will be aware of his challenges associated with dyslexia
Objective: Meet with the teacher
Tasks:
1. Ask for a meeting
2. Provide notes on dyslexia and what does and does not work well for your child
Goal date: September 1

Goal: Be more organized
Objective: Make a complete file binder(s) for your child
Tasks:
1. Gather the papers I have
2. Ask for complete file from the school
3. Organize them chronologically
4. Divide them by year and place in binder
Goal date: Start of school

What is your goal for your student this year? Can Education Champion help to guide you toward that goal? Sometimes, an hour of discussion and direction is all it takes! Call Education Champion today: 309-824-5738.

Teacher Communication for Students With an IEP (free printable!)

If you’re like us, the first week of school is nearly complete and you are wondering where the summer went. As the first couple of weeks of adjustment are tricky for students, parents and teachers, I think it is necessary to communicate who your child is to the teacher. The IEP fails in describing much about a student beyond deficits, needs, diagnoses, related services and goals. As a teacher, I tried to look at the IEP/cumulative file as little as possible until I got a chance to get to know my students. As most of my teaching experience was with students struggling with behavior disorders, their files were often full of negative experiences, behaviors and consequences. I had to look at the IEP to know specifics of what I would be held accountable for, but those stories about the student I saved until I had a chance to like them. I offered a fresh start for them without having my ideas of them tainted by someone else’s. Once I got to know the student, I read the file. They were often gut-wrenching and tear inducing.

I had one student who came to my school out of the department of correction and had been in and out of foster homes and residential care facilities. He had a very difficult first day because I did not know he was literally starving. He asked for seconds at lunch and I asked him to wait until the class in the lunch line went through and then he could get more. He then immediately asked my TA if he could get seconds and she said yes. He got his meal and I told him to make sure to go ahead and follow what the first staff says and not ask another when he doesn’t get an answer he likes. I explained calmly that it was disrespectful. He lost his stuff. He was out of control for the entire rest of the afternoon before he got on the bus to go home.

As my students at the alternative day therapy program for students with behavior disorders didn’t often have anyone championing for them from home, I didn’t get a chance to know much positive about them before I became their teacher. I expect that as parents who would read a blog about education, you are willing to advocate and champion for your student.

To that end, I created a worksheet you can print and fill out to give to your teacher. If you have a child with an IEP, this will provide quick highlights into your student’s life/education. It will give a quick peek into who your wonderfully unique child is! If I had known how to handle the student I described above when frustrated, we might have been able to reel him back in after he became upset with the underlying issue of hunger. Of course, it is doubtful that his mother actually knew how to deal with him or would have been able to communicate that there wasn’t enough food at home. You have that chance to potentially diffuse a situation just by communication.

Check out the page here. Let me know if you can think of more information you would like to share and I’ll add it to the sheet. I am developing another for students who do not have an IEP and a third for those with a 504 Plan or building plan. Look for those tomorrow.

In addition, if I have worked with your child and you want me to start to complete the page for you, just email me at kimhillard@educationchampion.com so we can talk about it.

What to Expect at an IEP Meeting (Annual Review)

I have written a few posts about the IEP Meeting process and preparation. Today’s post will cover what to expect when you actually show up. Of course, there will be variations of procedures, expectations and experiences, so these are just generalities.

 

  1. Expect that there will be a “meeting before the meeting.” The key players in your child’s education will have met before the meeting to discuss what they think you as the parents will ask for (especially if you have informed them of such), and what they plan to do. They will have mostly predetermined what will happen at the meeting. This is especially true if you are asking for a Cadillac when you are only entitled to a Chevy.
  2. Expect that you will be outnumbered. When you received the invitation, you saw all of the names of the people invited to the party. It is rare to have pediatricians, outside or non-school psychologists, outside speech and language pathologists (SLP) actually attend a meeting. They often just submit a written report instead. If you can, bring your spouse and a family friend who knows the law and the IEP process (educationchampion.com can fill that role)
  3. Expect that the team will be running short on time. Usually, the annual reviews are scheduled during a teacher’s prep time, before or after school or all in one day back to back so the teacher only needs a substitute for that one day. Usually 40-60 minutes are scheduled (depending on the case) for each IEP. Therefore, do not expect to spend too much time chit-chatting with the group. There may be time at the end while someone is making copies for you to catch up with the teacher or your friends in the group, but be respectful of everyone’s time by bearing the time constraints in mind.
  4. Expect the IEP to be readable and understandable by a stranger. Make sure of this. There should not be any confusing acronyms or school-specific programs or interventions included without a clear explanation. In the event that you switch schools or districts, the IEP is still valid, so therefore should be clear to any educator what the expectations are of the student and school.
  5. Expect to be challenged in keeping your emotions under control our out of the conversations. Your emotions, previous hurts and disappointments should be checked at the door. Be careful in your wording and even careful not to over-share information that is not relevant to the discussion and task at hand. The way you feel does not hold any validity when held up against fact and the law.
  6. Expect to have a lot of questions. Ask for clarifications when they start talking about specific tests, results, acronyms, programs, etc. with which you are unfamiliar. If you don’t hold a degree in special education, it will all seem foreign and perhaps make you feel unintelligent. This is simply not the truth! Your role is a vital one and is not dependent on your understanding and or experience of the process.
  7. Expect to be an equal contributing member to the construction of the IEP. This is the law. Your opinion/information/input is equally valued as the professionals in the room. Count yourself as the expert on your child. Schools, teachers, classrooms are all impermanent. You are the most permanent person/force in your child’s life. You may move, a teacher may quit, or any other unforeseeable event may happen to change the nature of your child’s school day, but God willing, the parents will always be there.
  8. Expect to follow up with the school. Write a letter to the members of your IEP team thanking them for their time and effort for your child’s IEP. State the few things you are excited to see changed and ask how those things are going. This can be in an email so it is easier to get a response, but do print out both your thank-you and each team member’s thank-you note and include it in your child’s binder.

These are just a few things to think about before the IEP annual review. Get in touch if you have specific questions. Remember, you can meet virtually with an EC consultant to plan for your IEP, ask questions, decompress after the meeting or for any other reason. Meeting virtually face to face is a viable option for anyone who does not live in the Bloomington-Normal community, or who just doesn’t want to make the time for one more meeting. Do not feel like you have to make this journey on your own! Even an hour spent with Kim can help alleviate fears, empower you with the right questions and help to simplify and clarify your desires for your student. Don’t delay in making an appointment.

Call Kim at 309.824.5738
Email kimhillard@educationchampion.com

 

Preparing for the IEP: Parents Pt. 2

You can never be too prepared for an IEP meeting. The teachers, administrators, experts and case managers have all taken time to prepare for the meeting. It is your responsibility to do at least as much, if not more preparation for the meeting.

After you have prepared your master file, took time to think through the goals you want to see your student accomplish and determined what academic challenges you want him or her to meet, you need to prepare those goals. If you take time to type them out and submit them to your IEP team in advance, there is a higher likelihood that you will see those items addressed at the meeting.

When you plan with Education Champion, as a team, we will think and talk through specific areas and help you get them into writing in the form of a parent agenda. Then, you can get that to your case manager about 1 week before the meeting. As I said, having it all in writing is exponentially helpful to ensure that you are all working toward the goals that you have identified as the most important.

Remember, you as the parents have the most permanency in your student’s life. You may move, switch school districts, switch school buildings, teachers may change, etc. You are the only ones looking at the long term picture for your child. An IEP addresses the here and now and the following year, but should be written as though a stranger could pick it up, read it and implement it. You have the unique ability to think through what you’d like to see your child accomplish as an adult.

In fact, the law places loads of emphasis on this permanent relationship, naming you as equal members on the IEP team. Equal Members. Remember that when you walk through those school doors. You may not have an educational degree, experience teaching or administrating in a school, but you are there with the unique holistic knowledge of your child’s strengths, weaknesses, insecurities, challenges and abilities. Your input is invaluable to the IEP team and when you attend knowing that you are a specialist with that confidence, you will be more willing to ask questions, speak up and advocate for your student.

Another thing to consider is to not give more information than is necessary. If you are a talker, like me, be sure to think through what you say in response to questions as well as what information you volunteer. There are many details of your home life that have no bearing on your student’s IEP but might give teachers and administrators a reason not to do their best. For example, you and your spouse are breaking up. You might think this is important information for the school to have to understand your child’s emotional state. However, it may just give them an excuse for your student not performing their best instead of working hard to motivate and empower your student to do their best. ?

Hiring EC to help you plan for the meeting will allow you to go in to the meeting armed with a plan and information about your student. Facilitating the meeting in this way will nearly guarantee you the best meeting ever and will usually get you most of what you want for your child.

As Benjamin Franklin said, Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you think you just need to show up, give a little statement and let the “experts” decide your child’s fate at school will not ensure the best outcome for your student. To reiterate, you are the only specialist on your whole child who will be in attendance. Prepare the way they are. Take time to get documents in order, think through and write out your parent agenda and submit it to the team beforehand. Show up early. This way, you may be able to see who attended the “meeting before the meeting” as often takes place. Some people may give their information about your student to the pre-meeting and not attend the actual IEP. Being informed on who they are may help you ask more questions.

Even if you have had bad IEP meeting experiences in the past, do not start off on the defensive or offensive. Remember that you all are on the same team. The goal is to get everyone to run the same plays instead of their own plays. Having a positive attitude, staying calm and disallowing emotions from hindering your thought process, and being kind without placing blame, accusing or offending will be part of your playbook.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about what to expect at the actual IEP meeting.

Pre-IEP Meeting: Parents Responsibilities

Part one of the IEP meeting series covered the school’s responsibilities before the meeting. In this post, I will address what your things parents should do before the meeting.

Most IEP meetings are scheduled in early spring around April or March, so now is a great time to start thinking about your plan for the IEP meeting before you actually receive the invitation for the meeting in the mail.

First, gather all of your student’s past IEP’s. If you don’t have them all, at least having the current one at hand is a start. Read through it. Write questions on sticky notes on each page so you don’t forget them.

Next, take time to think, reflect and pray. This is the most important step and one we often skip or hurry through. Block off time in your calendar, hire a babysitter for siblings, go out to a special supper together; whatever it takes to get this done. Write a list of your child’s strengths: academic, positive character qualities, physical, talents, etc. Reflect on the blessing your child is to your family and the positive ways in which s/he has impacted you. If you believe in prayer, thank God for those things and ask Him to direct your next steps. I find it is helpful to do this alone, then with your spouse/other parent, and finally with your child. By coming from a place of strength, talents and blessings, you can better determine what goals you have for your child. If your child is old enough, have him or her make the same list. If you hire Education Champion for a file review, a short survey is conducted to direct this part of the process.

After this, write a list of what challenges your child faces. Again, have your spouse and child do the same. See which of those are the same and focus on those. 3-5 things you would like to see your child accomplish is sufficient. These may be goals the school shares, or they may be goals you end up working on at home. Specific academic goals will usually be determined by the school, but this does not mean that you do not have input on such goals. Thinking through these things provides focus, now you will need to come up with a plan to accomplish those things.

Much of this will be done at the school level, but those goals you need to work on at home will be your responsibility. Some may overlap, such as homework accomplishment goals. Write out the ways in which you will work together as a family and with the school to see those goals met. Using the homework as an example, you may decide to hire Education Champion to come in and put everyone through a homework boot camp.

You will then take the academic/school parts of your family’s goals with you to the IEP meeting. There will be a part of the meeting, usually close to the beginning where parents are asked for input and their thoughts are recorded on the computer, so it is always best to be prepared. You may say something like “We would like to see Stanley improve his reading goals, learn to control his aggressive behaviors when frustrated, and participate more in PE class.” This will be typed into the computer and all parts will be addressed throughout the meeting. Any questions you have can be addressed at that time as well, or you can wait until the part of the meeting that discusses your particular question.

One thing to keep in mind when thinking through what you want for your child and what the school can and will provide is that there are often differences between the two. The Free and Appropriate Public Education part of the law does not use the word best as we parents would like it to. We want the best for our student, but realizing that is not what the school is required to provide can help save some head and heartache in the future. The schools usually want what’s best also, but can interpret that differently and there are always constraints (budget mostly) that are out of their control that may make what you want for your child different than what they can provide.

Look for the next post about what you can expect at the IEP meeting.

Working through this process of preparation for an IEP meeting is one for which Education Champion can provide support. I can also attend the meeting to speak with and for you and your student. My expertise and experience of sitting on both sides of the IEP table can help alleviate the emotional stress of the process, especially in those instances in which the school and family do not see eye to eye. Remember to book your services soon! Email Kim at: Kimhillard@educationchampion.com or call 309-824-5738. I am looking forward to working with your family to help your child achieve academic, behavioral and emotional success.

 

 

 

Pre-IEP Meeting: The School

So, you’ve received your Annual IEP Meeting invitation in the mail. Now what? There are a lot of questions to be answered about what the school’s responsibilities, what you should do and what you should expect. I’ll break this down into two parts: the school’s responsibility and the parents’. This post will cover the school’s side.

I am writing specifically about the annual meeting in which a new IEP is created. This usually takes place in the spring and is not to be confused with an initial evaluation to create the first IEP. I’ll try to cover that in the future, but feel free to contact me with any questions you have about the initial evaluation and eligibility requirements for special education placement.

The law mandates that the IEP must be reviewed annually, but it can be reviewed more than once during the year at any time per a parent’s or the school’s request. Reasons for an extra IEP Meeting might include new information after independent (non-school) evaluations, to add a behavioral plan, etc.

The process usually starts with a formal written invitation to come to the school for the annual meeting. The case manager (special education teacher) schedules the meetings and sends out the invitations to everyone who is relevant to the child’s educational development. They will then contact you 2 more times to ensure that you are aware of the meeting date, time and location. This might be another note sent home with the child, an email or a phone call.

Next, the special education teacher begins to collect and compile data on the current goals. The case manager will gather information from every teacher whose input is pertinent toward the current or proposed goals (PE, art, music, etc) either in person, email or a short list of questions they ask them to answer and return. These questions depend on the goals and help to monitor progress towards those goals. So, sometimes you will not hear from the PE teacher because that class is not determining progress toward a reading goal. However, you would receive information from that class if your child had a behavioral plan with behavioral goals that is inclusive of all school situations. The teachers often meet together to discuss the student’s progress toward current goals and go over ideas for new goals and interventions.

After the teachers have met and gathered information to discuss the child’s current levels of performance, progress toward prior goals, and new goals, they then plan for the meeting. The new (by new I mean over 10 years old) computer program makes writing and editing the IEP so much easier than the hand-writing in triplicate method I initially used years ago (makes me feel old!). The teacher/case manager will complete as much of the new IEP as possible before the meeting which will expedite the process. There is some debate about how much should be completed before the meeting as the goal of the meeting is to create the IEP, but with the computer software, any changes can easily be made during the meeting when goals are rejected and changed.

After the case manager has contacted you three times, gathered information, collaborated and filled out the IEP, s/he has to make their sub plans to enable them to spend the day(s) in meetings. It is important to keep in mind that the teachers/staff are sacrificing time with their students to meet with you, so please help to keep the meeting brief by keeping unnecessary conversations to a minimum. Of course pleasantries can be exchanged, just be aware of being overly chatty about things that do not pertain to the specific task at hand.

There are other school personnel that will be in attendance or at least give information to the teacher to bring to the meeting. The special education director and/or the building principal will always be invited and are often in attendance. Anyone who provides one-on-one or small group instruction will either give an oral or written present levels of performance report. They will also be asked to voice any concerns that need to be discussed and problem-solved at the meeting.

As you can see, there are a lot of people who contribute to the IEP construction and there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. The teachers often put in a lot more (extra) hours around IEP time to ensure that each child on their case load has a proper IEP that addresses the child’s individual needs, strengths, and challenges. It is so important for parents to understand how large their role is in the process as well! My next blog will cover the parent’s role.

As always, please call Education Champion if you have any questions or are interested in any services. IEP Reviews need to be scheduled at least 1 month before the IEP to ensure that it is done properly and not hastily.

309-824-5738 or kimhillard@educationchampion.com

 

 

IEP Review

As IEP season is quickly approaching, I wanted to take a few posts to go over the annual IEP process. I am starting with a service Education Champion offers called an IEP Review. This service is one that takes some time to accomplish before the IEP meeting and would be very beneficial to get scheduled as soon as possible. It does not include a face-to-face meeting, so it is accessible for families who are outside of Bloomington-Normal area.

The process starts by you gathering all of your child’s paperwork. The papers you want to include in your child’s file are:

  • IEP‘s (initial evaluation, annual reviews and any supplementary meetings)
  • Evaluations and results both private and from the school
  • Speech Evaluations and therapy notes
  • Academic report cards
  • Teacher notes and emails (printed)
  • Work samples (specifically in areas in which the child struggles)
  • Any correspondence from the school (letters, referrals, printed emails)
  • Current levels of academic performance (reading levels, grades, etc.)

If there are gaps in your child’s file, you can easily gather the information by requesting the documents from your child’s school or special education office. This usually takes a week or so to receive the documents, but some districts will email you the documents to expedite the process.

Sometimes, simply asking questions or asking for documents can demonstrate to the school that you are taking your child’s meeting/IEP/situation seriously. This is not to say that if you do not request the documents, have them organized and bring them with you to each meeting means that you do not take the meeting seriously, it just proves that point tangibly.

When I had my 5th child, I wanted two things to be done a bit differently than hospital policy. Nothing too crazy, just a little different. I made my wishes known to my husband, the nurses, and my doctor. The two things were honored, and then every single other thing they routinely do to/for an infant, they asked me about first. With my first 4 births, they just did everything without asking. In this case, they concluded that if I wanted those two things to be different, I might want more control, more information, more choices for my tiny new child. The same is applicable here. If you show the school that you are willing to invest time and money into preparation for your child’s IEP meeting, then you will surely come to the meeting as an informed member of the team ready and willing to contribute to the plan and educational process. On the other hand, often parents are simply informed of the plan the school has instead of contributing to the plan.

When I was at an IEP meeting for my daughter, I brought in the previous IEP’s in a file folder (I hadn’t yet discovered the binder method). The principal remarked how great it was that I just kept the documents in a file indicating that it is a rarity for parents to keep such things. As a teacher, we were usually thrilled if a parent would just show up for the IEP meeting. I do not remember any parent bringing in any type of file or folder containing past documents.

After the documents have been gathered, I take those documents and organize them into a binder. The binder is organized chronologically. I take all of the information from each of the child’s providers and create a list that is inserted into the front of the binder. This allows you to quickly find who you may need to contact in the future.

In addition, I create a master document list that is in the front as well. This is a chronological list of each and every document, who wrote it and why it is significant to your child’s education. This one resource alone is worth its weight in gold when you are sitting in an IEP meeting and remembering what one professional said about your child at some point. Who was it? Which agency? What was the date? Do I have the document? All of those questions are quickly answered at the front of the binder and allow you to easily locate that document.

I also email you the word and excel files of the documents so you can add to them and add documents to the binder as you go.

After the binder has been organized and the master document and master provider lists created, I review the entire file. I find and summarize the child’s past history briefly and then write recommendations for further evaluations, interventions, IEP goals, etc. You can then take those recommendations to your child’s meeting and share those with the team. It is basically a second opinion and where all of the school districts with which I have worked in the past took the recommendations seriously and implemented some of the recommendations, the school district is not obligated to adopt any of the recommendations.

Another component is a short survey I ask the parents and the student (when applicable) to fill out for me. This helps me in creating recommendations for the child at school so I know what challenges are most important to the families. In addition, it provides insight into the child’s strengths and accomplishments. I always like to come from a place of strength and positivity when thinking through interventions and goals for each student.

The information is all confidential, as is the binder itself (the binder cover has the word CONFIDENTIAL written in giant letters on the front). In addition, the fact that you and your family is even working with Education Champion is confidential and only you can share that information. I will not, and I go to great lengths to keep that information private.

The positive feedback I have received for providing this service has been overwhelming. The schools were impressed, the parents were empowered and prepared to advocate for their child and had positive outcomes with the school as a result. I was even able to save a family a lot of money when they did not have to repeat a speech evaluation because all of the past information had already been gathered and organized eliminating the need for a subsequent evaluation.

If you have a child with an IEP, why not invest in this service? You will not regret having an organized file with all of your child’s information at your fingertips. Call or email
Education Champion today: 309.824.5738.

 

 

Recommendation Letter

The following is the first recommendation letter I have received.

“Dear Education Champion:

Education Champion has been extremely beneficial to our family. Mrs. Hillard has provided the following services: file review, homework boot camp, and tutoring. She has been a wealth of knowledge for us. She has helped our family better understand the needs of our almost 9 year child who was diagnosed with ADHD and slow processing due to prematurity. He has had an IEP since he was 4 years old and recently was evaluated by an outside psychologist that diagnosed him with slow processing. Mrs. Hillard provided sound recommendations that have helped our son with his academics and behavior.

Mrs. Hillard is very well organized. She is trustworthy, knowledgeable, flexible, and dedicated. She has gone above and beyond not only assisting my child with tutoring but assisting us as parents. I value the service she provides to our family. We have seen improvements in his reading and writing as a result of his weekly tutoring. As parents, we feel more confident in requesting services from the school for his IEP and more aware of how to handle our son’s impairment. She truly has embraced our family to help us navigate this public school system.

I would highly recommend utilizing the services of Education Champion. I am sure you will find the benefit of them just as our family has.”

 

I am proud of my work and humbled by the kind words above. I have enjoyed serving this family immensely and look forward to supporting them as they continue to navigate the educational system. They are a testament of Education Champion’s philosophy of teamwork, education, advocacy and empowerment. I count myself blessed to work with them.

Holiday Break Quiz

What is your approach to the winter break and schooling?

Do you
A. Let it all go, hey it’s only 2 weeks?
B. Purchase a holiday break bridge book for your child to complete each day?
C. Ask the teacher for extra homework?
D. Make intricate lesson plans for each day, after all, you always wondered if you could be a homeschooler and what better time to try it out?

E. I try to create a flexible plan for each child’s learning to continue and then try to work in opportunities for learning on the fly when possible as well. It may even be best described as a list of goals, not necessarily a plan. I am not a huge “planner” and tend to be more fly by the seat of my pants, BUT, I do find that when I think through things in advance I come closer to meeting those goals. And, my friends, perhaps this post will Pretty specific right?

As it is simply a list of goals, I have talked to my kiddos about what they think are achievable goals for the break. We also have long-term goals to accomplish by the end of the quarter, next semester and by the end of the school year. I don’t usually write those out, but I will for at least the winter break for your benefit. Perhaps you’d like to come up with a flexible plan for your learners. The following is my list of goals for each one of my little learners:

6th grader: Read at least 2 books, continue to work on math computer program from school (at least 5 assignments) and any other school assignments.
5th grader: Read at least 2 books, work daily on multiplication and division math facts. Write one letter to a friend.
3d grader: He already has three books he wants to read over break (a giant miracle for my reluctant reader!!!!). He will work daily on his multiplication facts and write 1 letter to a friend.
Kindergartener: Read 1 book a day, and do at least 5 pages of handwriting practice.
3 year old: color a few times, practice Latin translation, quadratic equations and listen to as many books as possible.

We have about 4 Christmases, New Years, plenty of downtime, family time, sleeping in, a library visit and playing with new stuff to fit in there as well. I realize not all of this will be accomplished, and I won’t feel bad as long as all of the stuff in the previous sentence is good.

I seek to encourage life-long learners and not compartmentalize learning into just the “school” category. My husband and I seek to help our kids think through their personal goals, plan ways to meet those, encourage them to work hard, and teach them how to pick themselves up and try again when they don’t. I encourage you to think first through short-term winter break goals for and with your kids. I’ll post about making long-term goals over the next couple of weeks.

Enjoy the break!

Homework

What do you think homework is for? Here are some general guidelines our family tries to follow.

  1. Time allotted. The general rule of homework is that it should take about 10 minutes/grade in school. So, my Kindergartener should have about 10 minutes/night of homework (if any). My third grader, 40 minutes, my fifth grader, 60 minutes and my sixth grader, 70 minutes.

     

  2. Teacher’s philosophy. Find out your child’s teacher’s homework philosophy. Is it an extension of the classroom work? An enrichment? Intended as a re-teaching at home? Simply trying to inform parents of what their child is learning in the classroom? Is it graded? If so, how? What percentage of the grade is based off of homework? The answers to these questions may change the way you approach homework.

    My kids’ teachers all have different philosophies:
    My 6th grader’s math teacher believes he should only focus on math for 45 minutes/night. If that means he gets one problem done, so be it. She believes homework to be an exercise in time management and not much more. His other teachers assign so little that he accomplishes it in the 20 minute “enrich and reteach” session at the end of the day. He usually doesn’t have much homework besides math, but that is all on the computer and there’s a box to press for help, so he doesn’t have to ask dear old mom or dad for help. Which is probably a good thing because pre-algebra (or algebra of any sort) isn’t exactly my strong suit.

    My fifth grader’s teachers do not send any work home. Almost ever. I don’t know what she is doing in class and only vaguely how she is performing based off of the reading folder that communicates her goals in reading. She is to focus on practicing math facts for 30 minutes per night and spend the other 30 minutes reading. She independently does her work and the most I have to get on her is to ask her to stop reading to help around the house. However, she did have 3 big writing assignments due in one day and didn’t get them all accomplished due to procrastination. I made her go to bed at the usual time and told her she could work some more in the morning before school, but there is no reason for me to allow her to stay up later than usual or to really help her out. They were her assignments. She had missed a couple of days of school the week prior due to strep, but I told her that she could ask her teachers for an extension based on missing, but I wasn’t going to do that for her. She didn’t ask, turned in 2 great assignments and 1 rough draft that should have been a final draft. She obviously didn’t do as well on that, but she did learn to manage her time better in the future.

    My third grader’s teacher sends home what isn’t accomplished during the day as homework with spelling work (a whole other topic), reading work and math work on different nights. If the student does not earn at least a 75% on any assignment the previous week, it is all sent home for correction on Monday night and due back that Friday. The child can only earn that 75%, even if all of the work is perfect. I think this is a good opportunity for the students to prove mastery of the subject. However, for my child, some weeks it has been a TON of work on top of the regular homework. He was choosing to rush through papers and not put forth his best effort the first time. We are working on this at home and he is really improving the amount of effort he puts in at school so he doesn’t have to do as much at home. I will admit that because of the low grades, I have made him work longer than his allotted 40 minutes. I usually just write a note in the assignment notebook that he worked his 40 minutes, had a particularly hard time with the math and needs help and didn’t get it all done. She is usually receptive to that as long as I communicate.

    My kindergartener’s teacher sends homework home that she does not expect to be returned. We are to spend out 10 minutes reading with/to our child and if we want to do the math page for fun, it is our choice. We do the homework on the nights our schedule allows and that she wants to do it. I think this is just an introduction to homework and keeping the parents informed on what they are learning.

     

  3. Environment. I do not believe that I need to provide a quiet environment for them. How many adults do you know that work in a perfectly quiet environment? There is often someone on the phone in another cubicle, friends chatting by the water cooler about last night’s episode, and people mumbling about cake and staplers. Classrooms usually aren’t the quietest either. Maybe for testing they are quiet, but not often. So, the three year old is usually cooking something up in her kitchen while I’m cooking, some kids are telling me about their day, people are coming and going to practices and so on. It’s kind of (un)controlled chaos, but lends itself better toward real life environments for future situations. I have made kids complete their homework at their siblings’ practices and games, in the car, at grandma’s and at church. You just do what you gotta do.
  4. Throw in the towel. I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to teach my child, and mine to support the teacher and my child in that learning. If they cannot complete the homework independently, the responsibility lies with my student to ask their teacher for help the following day. It does not lie with my husband and me to (re)teach the material. Homework is usually intended to be an extension of what is being taught at school. An opportunity for students to practice with the intent to master the material/application taught at school. It is not supposed to be a time in which we as parents are stressed out because our kid didn’t get it and we aren’t sure how to teach them (common core math, anyone?). If my child is struggling with a specific topic, I usually ask the teacher how I can support her at home and if she has any time before/after school for my child to ask questions to ensure comprehension of the topic. I have hired tutors and now tutor one of my children with a friend.
  5. Give it up. Power struggles can be a nightly thing when it comes to homework. “You are NOT getting up from this table until that work is completed!” “I have to go to the bathroom…” “You will go to bed when this is finished!” “But I’m tired!” “You’ve sat there for 2 hours twiddling your thumbs and not working, I bet you are tired.” It is NOT YOUR RESPONISIBILITY TO COMPLETE THE HOMEWORK! You child goes to school. You are probably done with homework (if not, you might have your own homework to work on). If your child refuses to complete their homework, send them to bed. “Goodnight. Maybe you’ll want to try again in the morning before school when you have a better attitude.” Be supportive. Provide help and guidance when they ask, but do not enable them out of their responsibility. Sleep is more important for the following day most of the time. Encourage better time management skills and allow your child to face the natural consequences of their actions.

If homework is a nightly struggle, Education Champion provides a Homework Boot Camp in which I come to observe a typical homework night, then write a report on observations and a new plan. The following week, I meet with you and your family to present and demonstrate the plan. It can be incredibly empowering.