Choosing a school is one of the most difficult decisions facing parents. Because there are so many opportunities in our community, it is a process that takes time and energy. We are fortunate to have tutors, private schools and even an abundance of resources to help us homeschool. Here is a quick guide to assist you in the process of putting the pieces together.
Check the Foundation:
Education builds from a solid foundation of developmental components all working together. Preschool and kindergarten programs should have a developmentally stimulating (and fun) environment where a foundation can be built. Toys, puzzles, sensory-rich learning materials, blocks and finger paint, still create a language-rich environment where the little hands of our children can feed their brains. Computer screens and smart boards should only be additional supports, not a replacement for these vital learning objects. At age 5, many children are not yet ready to sit at a table in a classroom chair for 30 minutes at a time. Yes, they can learn for a longer period of time but they should be moving from the floor to a chair, to activity centers, to a chalkboard, and to the playground.
Be an Investigator:
It is homework time … for mom and dad. This means the usual Google searches, Facebook chats with other parents and family members – but it also means studying your student. Take time to observe and journal how your child learns from you and from others. If they don’t seem to be learning, what seems to be the biggest stumbling block?
When checking out schools, here are a few questions that you might not think about:
How much will your child be in front of a screen? Is physical activity such as PE and recess a high priority or does it get bumped whenever there is an assembly or a testing day? Is the cafeteria monitored? How much homework is expected per day? How are behavior difficulties managed? How can I get a 504 Plan in place? How do I opt out of having my child do testing?
Build a Team:
The most important members of the team are your child, you the parents, other family members, and the classroom teacher. Model the value of healthy relationships with all who are on their team. If you have identified a learning difficulty, you will need to add professionals to your team who can evaluate your child. When there is a learning challenge, the brain’s way of acquiring knowledge and skills through auditory, visual, tactile, vestibular or kinesthetic sensory processing pathways may be interrupted. Depending on the issue, you may want to consider taking your child to a psychologist, neuropsychologist, an educational specialist, tutor, optometrist, audiologist, speech therapist or occupational therapist.
Find your child’s Style:
All our children are individual and learn in their individual ways. Some have learned best by watching you (visual learners), some by listening (auditory learners), some have needed a quick demonstration before they simply try (kinesthetic learners) and some have to “act it out” before trying it in real life. Most families have a variety of learners which make everything from homework time to caring for pets a challenge.
Expose your children to the multi-sensory learning that comes from real-life experiences. Include them in your kitchen, office or woodshop. Take them to festivals and art fairs, craft classes offered at retail stores, library events, concerts and community gardens. Do they do well listening to a story at the library? Do you find them acting out stories, movies or real life situations or creating their own scripts? Do they like to sew or build? Take notes on their responses and you will discover trends that point to specific learning styles. Some of my fondest memories are times spent watching my children design stuff including cheese ball shooters and dollhouses decorations. Those early discoveries grew skills that later took them into careers of industrial design and graphic design.
You will more than likely be engaged in this process of finding the right “fit” during each of your child’s school years. It is a journey. This list of local schools and services is just a sampling of all that is available to parents looking for help with addressing learning needs with their children. If homeschooling is a possibility, I invite you to the annual Midwest Parent Educators Conference and Curriculum Fair to be held April 4-5 at the KCI Expo Center. There you find workshops about building foundations, teaching the struggling learner and how to find support. There will be an exhibit hall packed with tools and organizations for every learning style. Always remember that you are your child’s expert and don’t forget to do your homework!
Jean Wetherilt, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist specializing in the treatment of children of all ages with various challenges. Jean’s advanced training includes areas of sensory processing, fine motor development and handwriting. Her work experiences have been across private and public schools, home-based therapy and outpatient clinics. She is founder and owner of PossAbilities Pediatric Therapy in Merriam, KS. She has had opportunities to speak and write on numerous topics and has authored a book entitled Walks on the Wildside: A Guide to Creatively Promoting Motor Skills in Children.
Jean lives in Prairie Village with her husband of 31 years and has 2 grown children who are homeschool and college graduates. She is currently the special needs coordinator for Midwest Parent Educators and is on the board of directors for Kansas City Pediatric Alliance.