Kids are born curious with a thirst for knowledge. My 9 month old and 5 year old are living proof of that every day. Kids want to know how everything works. The answers to life’s great mysteries (“why mommy?” "how come...?”), and they are eager to learn to read. They love when we read them stories, they soak up the information and their crazy imaginations run wild. Then sometime before school they start to want to figure out how letters and sounds work. We as parents get excited, because we know that books will unlock a whole new world for them. We know reading is the gateway to so many other things. We know reading is the foundation for all other learning areas. We are hopeful they will learn this when they start school. We, as parents get excited for them to start school so they can learn to read, make friends, learn about the world around them in ways they can’t learn at home with us. We fantasize that school will be a brand new life experience that will foster their curiosity, challenge their minds, and nurture their spirits. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if their school experience isn’t at all what you expected or hoped for? What if they’re not the type of kid who thrives or responds well to a public school setting? What then? This is a story I hear all the time. All. The. Time. It goes something like this. An amazing kid starts school in kindergarten eager to take on the world. Fresh new sneakers and backpack, and an open mind and heart ready to be filled with learning and love. For some, they have their minds and hearts filled because of a great teacher or a great school. For others, they're not so lucky. There a few things that may happen.
They may not catch on to learning like the others. Letters and words are not coming together for them or numbers don't really make sense. But, the teacher says, don't worry, he'll catch on next year. The next year comes along, and letter and words still aren't making sense and your kid really feels different now, and the others kids start to notice. The other kids are reading at the appropriate level from the bin with all the big kid books with pride. However, maybe for your child they still can't recognize sight words or blend simple letter sounds together, or write a sentence like the others. It's just not clicking. It's at this point their spark can start to fade. The messages they start telling themselves begin, even as early as grade 1. "I'm not good at learning like my friends, I'm stupid, why can't I get this" It's heartbreaking and unfair.
The eagerness they had quickly fades because the bigness of the school, the rules, the routines, the behaviour issues in the classroom, the environment isn't working. This happens less often, but for a select group of kids, it really impacts their learning and starts to effect how they feel about going to school.
The friends they dreamed of making, is not happening for them. They are awkward and lack the skills needed to make friends naturally. You try to coach them at home, but it's not the same. They feel lost and lonely trying to navigate their world at school.
Whatever the scenario, if school isn't going well for your child the big message here is you have to become their superhero and rescue them. They need a champion to speak up, swoop in, and give them hope. This means if it's learning that is challenging, get tutoring. They need it and they need it as early as possible to close the gap. Get them assessed for a potential learning disability. Many people say they don't want to label their child, but what's worse? Knowing they have ADHD or a learning disability that has a name like dyslexia, or having them just left wondering why they can't learn like the others or control their behaviour. I think having a name empowers them with the knowledge it's not their fault, it's simply how their brain is wired! If the environment of school is overwhelming and scary, find a better school environment, a smaller more manageable one. We have this idea that we can't change anything because it's too hard. It's only too hard or too crazy of an idea to do something life-changing because we've convinced ourselves of it. If their social skills are poor, send them to a social skills camp or therapist. Giving them the tools they need to navigate the world as a person who isn't wired like everybody else is the ONLY way they will come out on top. Adversity has shaped some, if not all, of the greatest, most successful people in history. Your child can weather an unexpected storm when it comes to their schooling IF you can be their co-pilot cheering them along, helping them find success and positive learning experiences at all costs, especially if it's not happening the way you thought it would at school.
Riverbend has a full-time day school and after school programs that help students who need to discover their awesomeness and haven't been able to. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org to book at an appointment to visit our school. If Riverbend isn't the avenue you take to find help for your child, just know you need to do whatever it takes to find them the help they need. Good luck, and find the joy and pride in becoming their superhero, they will be forever changed because you did.
- Rebecca Halliday
Right now we are teaching our students about their brains. Empowering them with the knowledge to understand their brain gives them the ability to understand that they can change and develop their brain to become a powerful tool to help them, not hinder them. I'm excited to see how the kids take on this topic and challenge themselves to get their brain working for them!
Check out this cool rap two of our students made to demonstrate their new understandings today!
During the last 5 weeks I have been lucky enough to be featured as a columnist on CBC Information Morning with Jona Brewer. They created a series called "Learning Outside The Box" and asked me to come in to the studio and discuss important topics in the world of learning disabilities. I felt very honoured and proud to be asked to contribute my opinions and knowledge on this huge and overwhelming topic. As I prepare each week for the segment, I draw most of what I need to say from within the walls of my school. Getting ready for these segments has caused me to reflect so much on the last 2 years. Not a day goes by that I'm not in awe that I'm running my own school. I feel so grateful that this group of parents took a leap of faith, saw the benefit of the type of education we wanted to offer and signed up. I get to teach kids in a way that works for them. I can stop and teach something 10 different ways until it clicks. We can change the pace of our morning, extend a class if we need more time - do whatever works for these kids to really "get it." It's beautiful and I get to witness it everyday. I get to see these kids who were sinking, who didn't fit in and who most importantly didn't think they were smart - make UNBELIEVABLE progress and come to life as students right in front of me. How incredible is that? Jordan and I were two young teachers passionate about helping the underdog, but we never dreamed that we'd be running our own school this soon and that it would be flourishing the way it is, but we are and we're in teaching heaven.
Although the last 2 years have been unbelievably exciting and incredibly rewarding, it's probably been the most challenging and exhausting 2 years of our lives as well. The 9 students that attend full time school here, represent a huge majority of kids on the learning disability spectrum. I see all of them struggling to be successful in such a variety of ways. I have students in grade 3,4,5,6 and 8 all in one class - together. It's like a one room school house. Meeting their needs as individuals each day involves an unbelievable amount of planning and creativity, but what motivates me is that they deserve it. They really do. As I speak each week on CBC, I'm reminded of how much these kids are really facing in order to be successful. That's why I feel so obligated to them and their families to help them succeed. Because once they learn how to make learning work for them and master the skills they need academically, there will be no stopping them. Without the foundational skills they need and an opportunity to rebuild their confidence here in the safe, small space of our school - I fear they would be lost.
This week's topic on CBC is about Attention Deficit Disorder. Almost all of my students with learning disabilities have it and so do I. Which makes for a lot of distracted "squirrel" moments in our classroom and lost pencils, ipads, coffee cups (mine) and overall distractibility. I've had to work really hard as an adult to find strategies that work for me to keep me organized and on track. Many of these strategies are only things I discovered as I got into my THIRTIES! So I really feel for these kids who are struggling to handle their wandering minds every day. However, I will come right out and say it - it's one of the most frustrating parts of teaching. Trying to navigate 9 different learners who really, genuinely can't follow your directions is exhausting. But, no matter what, it's my job to find ways to help them remember or use strategies to know what to do each minute of every day. There's a ton of re-explaining, drawing pictures, writing instructions, giving video explanations, one direction at a time. And still, many students still aren't sure what to do and have to ask again. I completely get they aren't doing it on purpose or not "listening" - their brains just can't take it in. It doesn't mean I don't want to say, "Seriously?? I just told you - 25 seconds ago" (which I have been guilty of). What I have to do is find ways to make sure they can take the information I've given them - and help them with a strategy for remembering that will work for them. One student I have will take a homework sheet or piece of writing that needs to go home and but in his HAIRY binder (their homework binder) and I make him say "HAIRY,HAIRY HAIRY,HAIRY,HAIRY" until the sheet is safely in his binder. It's crazy,but it works for him. That's what's so incredible about this journey is that the kids and I are on it TOGETHER. I know there will be days that they way I taught something didn't work - but we'll talk about it and figure out a new way to try it. I'm learning from them just as much as they're learning from me and it's awesome.
Riverbend Community School