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  1. Article

    Back to school…finally.

    When Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic. We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.
  2. until
    Kids and Teens K-12. Come get taught by a professional author how to write chapter one of your story. This is a repeating event, and will take place every Saturday 12:00pm to 1:30pm. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: onceuponatimepublishing@aol.com
  3. until
    Starting preschool is a big deal for both parents and children. From separation anxiety to making new friends to learning new skills, there is a lot to consider and prepare for. Take this opportunity to learn from experts about how to make this a smooth and happy transition for everyone in your family. In this intimate live discussion, preschool experts will discuss how to prepare for the first day of preschool and beyond, how to handle separation anxiety and some things parents and children can look forward to during these special years You will walk away from this discussion with the following: 1. How to prepare your child for preschool 2. How to handle separation anxiety on the first day and beyond 3. What to expect on the first day Plus our experts will help you prepare yourself for the first day too, and there will be time for Q & A at the end! Our preschool panel consists of: Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Ancona School Lycée Français de Chicago Park West Co-Op Nursery School Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Email Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparents.org with questions.
  4. Event

    Kids & Technology with Smart Love Family

    The challenges of balancing children’s needs and wants when it comes to technology/electronic devices has become all the more intense as so many kids have grown so dependent on using them for everything from everyday schoolwork to keeping connected to friends, in addition to their social media and recreational uses. This session will provide strategies for parents to manage their children’s uses of technology in ways that ensure their safety and wise use while promoting family trust and sustaining healthy relationships. This is a free event. RSVP required. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: amber.guenther@smartlovefamily.org
  5. Video

    Preschool Philosophies

    Thinking about preschool for your toddler but don't know where to start? Watch this informative discussion about the different preschool philosophies featuring expert panelists from preschools across the city. Topics include: Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and other philosophies How to decide if these philosophies or others are a good fit for your child How preschool works during the pandemic Participating schools: Bennett Day School British International School of Chicago, South Loop Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy Mary Meyer School Urban Prairie Waldorf School Thank you to our presenting sponsor British International School of Chicago, South Loop.
  6. As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling. The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this? [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days. Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child. Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal. Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered. Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc. Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store. Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces. Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do! Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.
  7. Parenting during Covid-19 is a new experience for everyone, but what if you’re the parent of a gifted child? There’s often a misconception that teaching gifted kids is easier, but this isn’t necessarily true. When my own gifted children were young, I was faced with the constant misconception that, because they were gifted, they didn’t need extra support. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Gifted children require just as much time, energy, and understanding as anyone--only in their own, unique way. What makes gifted children different? Gifted children, like any children, are complex. The National Association for Gifted Children lists the following as common characteristics of gifted children: Insatiable curiosity with constant questioning Advanced levels of moral judgment and a strong sense of justice Independence in academic work High energy, spontaneity, and enthusiasm Passion about topics and perseverance in learning about those topics High standards for oneself and high levels of frustration when those standards aren’t met Emotional sensitivity, empathy, and awareness of being different How can I support my gifted child during Covid-19? Parents of gifted children encounter unique challenges when it comes to keeping their gifted children engaged, active and curious--challenges amplified by Covid-19. Here are a few ways you can support your gifted child during the pandemic: Provide space for creative projects. Because gifted children are so passionate, they will likely have strong interests. Find time each day, or at least each week, for them to pursue interests outside of the regular school curriculum. This can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for your child to practice guitar, build a model of the solar system, or create an at-home museum. Allow your child to choose the topic and don’t get too involved beyond offering support. Take a step back academically (when appropriate). It may seem counterintuitive, especially if your child is academically focused, but resist the urge to hover. Since many gifted children are independent learners, they likely have school work under control. You may need to occasionally assist with work habits, technology and organization, but hold off on asking teachers for extra assignments or quizzing your child after dinner each night. Allow the extra time in your child’s schedule to be used for creative pursuits that excite them. Also, avoid falling for the misconception that, once a child is labeled as gifted, they’ll never struggle or fail. It’s important to note that “giftedness” isn’t universal. For example, your child could be gifted in math, but struggle with reading comprehension. [Related: Easing your child's anxiety about the upcoming school year] Focus on effort and growth, rather than success and failure. One major roadblock for gifted kids is that they might give up easily. Since some academic concepts come naturally, they may hit a roadblock when faced with learning a difficult skill. Gifted children often don’t do well with failure! Researcher Carol Dweck found that most people either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets think their intelligence is set, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with practice and effort (even if they’ve failed in the past!). They have the perseverance to overcome struggles and look at mistakes as learning opportunities. Take some time to discuss failure with your child, and even cheer them on when their efforts don’t produce the “right” result. Help them reframe success around the effort they put into a task, rather than whether they arrive at the correct answer. Intentionally address social and emotional needs. All children are struggling with some level of social isolation and anxiety during the pandemic, but this can be exacerbated for gifted students who often have a natural awareness of other people’s emotions. During this time, it’s important to address these issues head-on. To combat social isolation, try to set up social activities for your child, whether it’s a Zoom session with grandparents or an interactive computer game. For gifted children who experience increased anxiety due to Covid-19, be sure to validate their fears and feelings rather than telling them everything will be okay. You might say, for example, “It’s normal to be scared. I’m scared, too.” Take care of yourself, too. Try to keep your own feelings in check through exercise, mindfulness and plenty of sleep. The more even-keeled you are, the more your child will pick up on it. These are uncertain times, but understanding your gifted child and working to support them at home goes a long way. We’re all in this together!
  8. The winter is a great time to take a well-deserved break after having done your research, visited schools, and sent in your family’s applications. Enjoy the lull before the next wave of school decisions and second-guessing creeps in! While deep down we know it’s out of our hands until notifications come in the spring, we can’t quite help but think that there must be something more to do as we wait. Fear not: There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy if you desire! January If your child needs to test for CPS Selective Enrollment schools or do their private school playdates and observations, keep things light and stress-free; a nervous parent feeds into a nervous child. You want your children to be as relaxed as possible as they head into their evaluations, so stay calm, Mom and Dad! The same can be said for parent interviews at private schools which can occur this month. Be relaxed and yourselves, but let the schools know what you love about them. [Related: How to apply to a CPS school in 5 easy steps] February While CPS may be winding down its testing for Selective Enrollment seats, some private preschool programs begin notifying families as early as mid-February. For most, it’s a quiet month, which can be a great time to attend any school tours you missed in the fall. March Private elementary schools begin notifying in early March (many simultaneously on March 1), with an opportunity to ask any final questions before signing on the dotted line and submitting your year’s deposit. Unfortunately, most private school enrollment deadlines occur before CPS notifies families, so while one may submit a non-refundable deposit at a private school to “hold a spot,” check your enrollment contract for any penalties if you decide to break your contract. NPN’s popular Discussion Forum heats up this month with parents asking advice of fellow new and veteran parents. April This is the month that CPS families will be stalking their GoCPS accounts to see if any of their lottery-based offers (aka Choice; up to 20) were made, or if one of their Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools options (aka SEES; out of six max) were awarded. The 2020 notification date is April 24. CPS typically has 2 weeks after first round notifications set aside to tour schools to help parents decide which to choose. Some parents may now be deciding between one or more private and public school offers, and the NPN Discussion Forum can be a great place to get experienced advice. Remember that you can’t send your child to multiple schools, but you also aren’t stuck for the next nine years if the school you choose doesn’t work out as expected. [Related: How and when to apply to Chicago preschools and elementary schools] May CPS waitlists begin in earnest. Families can get offers for other CPS Choice schools or, if they didn’t hear from or accept a CPS SEES offer prior, they can hear from those programs throughout the summer as well. Accepting a Choice school will not take you out of the running for any other Choice school, but the SEES process is “single offer,” meaning if you accept one of your Selective Enrollment schools, you will no longer be in the pool for the other SE schools. Only the entry years for magnet and selective enrollment programs use a tier system for awarding seats, with magnet schools devoting a higher priority to incoming siblings. The entry year of a CPS SEES program has 30% of seats set aside for high scorers from any tier, and then each tier has 17.5% of seats set aside for their high scorers, at least through the first three rounds of selection. Attrition year spots do not consider tiers, however, and neither do Open Enrollment or other neighborhood-based programs. Summer through early fall CPS conducts many rounds of waitlist calls, emails and portal updates to let families know that waitlists are moving. Subsequently, private school waitlists may move as families tell their private schools whether they will be staying or making a change. The process continues throughout the summer into the new school year, so don’t be surprised if you get a call even after your child has made new friends early in the school year. While the Chicago public and private school admissions process may seem overwhelming, know that in the end, you really do have many school choices at your disposal. If you haven’t found a great school fit yet, remember that the process begins again in October to apply for the following year (and NPN’s School Fair comes around again in early fall). Good luck to all!
  9. Video
    Childhood bullying a serious issue. According to the CDC's 2017 report Preventing Youth Violence, 1 out of 5 kids reported being bullied. NPN has teamed with Dr. Kortney Peagram, Bulldog Solutions to tackle the topic of childhood bullying and identify strategies for working with schools. Watch the video. Is your child experiencing bullying, or do you suspect bullying is happening? In this 48-minute video, you’ll learn the difference between bullying and drama, how to open a conversation with your child, and strategies to address and prevent bullying. Visit Dr. Kortney Peagram's Parent Hub via GoogleDocs for additional resources and handouts on this topic.
  10. While nighttime control often occurs years later, mastering daytime bladder and bowel control is a process which takes, on average, six months for a child to complete. Urine and stool accidents are common during those months and should be expected. Toilet training regression, however, is defined as loss of these daytime skills long after the process is complete. It is understandably frustrating and concerning for parents when their child, several months diaper-free, suddenly refuses to use the toilet, begins having frequent accidents during the day, or develops some other unusual elimination behaviors. [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] If these daytime skills were truly mastered before the onset of regression, the first step is to rule out medical causes by meeting with your pediatrician. If the doctor determines there is no physical cause for the regression, emotionally stressful changes in your child’s life should be considered. Some common examples include: Fears (monsters, loud flushing noise, falling into the toilet, being sucked down the toilet) Illness of the child or a family member Pregnancy or birth of a new sibling Change in childcare environment Moving to a new home Parents’ marriage ending In such situations, it is important to remember that rather than lashing out physically with violence or tantrums, your child has found a relatively healthy way to cope with this stress. Using the following approach, however, you can help your child find even better ways to manage. Tell them you’ve noticed the change Do this with as much ambivalence in your voice as possible. Shame and guilt will likely be your child’s first reaction to learning their behavior has not gone unnoticed. It is therefore important you remove any hint of judgement from your tone and choice of words. Talk to them First, explain you aren’t mad at them, and it isn’t their fault. Next, ask if they know why this is happening. Depending on the verbal skills of your child, you may not be in the habit of asking their opinion yet. Even if they don’t have the words to explain what they are feeling, hearing you are interested in what they think is empowering. If they do offer any type of meaningful response, listen carefully to what they say, thank them for telling you, and sympathize with them as much as possible. Tell them you are proud of the good work they have done up to this point and that you know they will do better next time. [Related: How to make potty training your toddler fun. Yes, fun.] Brainstorm creative solutions alone as parents and also with your child Any practical steps to solving the problem are worth trying. Removing fear by making the toileting fun with songs or games. Spend special time together with your child separately from the new baby. Explore the childcare facility bathroom with your child and separately discuss the issues you’re having with their childcare or caregivers. Surround the potty with familiar objects or toys. Positively reinforce successes with sticker charts or other reward systems. If your child contributes any ideas, be certain to try them as well. Consider taking a break If your creative solutions don’t seem to be working (or, worse: creating stress and anxiety surrounding toileting), consider taking a break and returning to pullups for a few weeks. Sometimes taking a backseat for a bit allows your child to recognize they are responsible for learning this important skill. Encouraging this independence can be liberating for your child and lead to lasting success.
  11. When you ask your kids the question, “How was school today?”, count yourself lucky if you get an “OK” or “fine.” As parents, we all want to know: Are they having fun? Are they playing nicely with others? Are they nurturing healthy relationships with their friends and peers? And the one that worries us the most, Are they eating lunch? Every day, tons of us suffer from not being able to communicate effectively with our children. As a mother of three and a parent educator, I’ve had to learn how to communicate with young children, especially after school. Here are some tips and examples to get the communication between you and your child started. Be mindful. Know that they have been sitting for most of the day (at least six hours!), and some days they may be frustrated about the day and not ready to talk. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to wear your FBI hat. Do not interrogate them. You may want to wait until dinner or bedtime to ask. In the meantime, concentrate on making the time fun and relaxing by asking easy questions, e.g., example “What would you like to eat for dinner?” Ask open-ended questions and be specific: “Tell me about something new you learned in Math today.” “Where is the coolest place in the school? Why?” “Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?” Share something about your day and ask about theirs: “I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. What about you?” “I am getting ready for a meeting tomorrow and need to create an agenda. When is your next exam and what is it going to include?” Use their artwork as a conversation starter: “Which technique did you use here?” “What were you feeling when you drew this?” Ask silly/fun questions: “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” “If you could be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach and how would you teach it?” Know the school schedule: “Today is Thursday: Tell me about the new song you are learning in music class today.” Don’t forget the not-so-nice questions: “Tell me about something that made you sad today.” “Is there someone in your class that needs a time-out? Why?” “What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated in school?” Finally, listen. As soon as your child gets in the car, stop whatever you are doing and be present in the moment. Let them be the first to say anything and do not come up with conclusions before you hear the entire story. Children gain confidence as they relate their day and you affirm them. Be aware of signs. Your child may be showing off more than just having a bad day. Remember to stay in constant communication with the teacher. Teaming with the teacher helps the child be successful because after all, it takes a village! Nilmari Donate is the founder of HKC Parenting and School Consulting Services. She holds a BA in Public Health and an MA in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is the mother of three young bilingual and multicultural children.
  12. Ever wonder what a “typical” day is like for a mom with two school-aged kids attending two different schools in two vastly different neighborhoods? We are a family in the South Loop, with a first-grader and preschooler. When our son received an offer to attend a highly-regarded CPS Selective Enrollment Elementary School on the far South Side last year, we were ecstatic about his opportunity but also had to give much consideration to how accepting that spot would turn our daily routine upside down. It meant swapping our 4-block walk to our neighborhood school for a 17-mile drive (34 miles round trip). The morning school bus, with a 6:25am pickup time, was not a viable option for us (much too early for a 6-year-old), but it was doable for getting home after school. There were many other trade-offs to consider, but the new school’s promise of an appropriately challenging curriculum, smaller class sizes, and intimate yet diverse community made the other sacrifices acceptable. We were also fortunate that my part-time job allowed us the flexibility to manage all of the necessary driving ourselves. Here’s a peek into our crazy weekday lives, from September to June: 5:30am Wake up, shower, make coffee, pack breakfasts (to be eaten on the drive to school) and lunches. Check my calendar for the day, breathe, and enjoy the silence. 6:30am Wake kids, get them washed up, dressed and ready for school. 7:00am Corral everyone into the car. Quick scan for backpacks, lunch bags, breakfast bags and anything else that needs to go to school because there will be no time to come back for anything forgotten. Must pull out of garage by 7:05am. 7:05–7:35am Southbound commute on the Dan Ryan. Thank goodness for a reverse, typically traffic-free commute on the first leg of our morning drive. KidzBop on the radio. Some mornings, I embrace it and sing along happily with the kids. Other mornings, I want to put earplugs in. 7:35am First drop-off at my son’s school (Keller RGC) in Mount Greenwood. School starts at 7:45am. If we’re running late, we do curbside drop-off. Otherwise, he insists that I walk him in. 7:45am Back on the road for the slow commute back downtown on the Dan Ryan. Disney tunes on the radio. 8:30–8:40am Second drop-off at my daughter’s preschool (Daystar School) in the South Loop, after she has been sitting in the car for 90 minutes. School starts at 8:30am; we are often last to arrive or late, depending on traffic. 8:45am As I’m driving back home (by now, I’ve been in car for 1hr 40min), receive phone call from my son’s school, alerting me that he is having a mild allergic reaction to something he ate in the school breakfast (this would be breakfast #2 for him; I have already reviewed the breakfast options to ensure there is nothing on the menu he is allergic to). I give permission for school staff to administer his allergy medicine, but he gets on the phone and asks me to come. 8:50am Stop at Starbucks for venti coffee before getting back on the road to Mount Greenwood. 9:20am Arrive at my son’s school, his allergy medication has kicked in and now he is fine. Ask him what he ate; nothing he mentions falls into his food allergy categories. Give him a hug and kiss, thank his teacher for calling me, get back in car. 9:35am Back on the road again for Dan Ryan commute into downtown. Listen to news radio, podcasts — anything but KidzBop and Disney Radio. 10:15am Arrive back home, 3 hours after I first left. Now, finally, my day can begin. 10:15am–2:00pm Work from home. Work breaks consist of whatever is at top of home to-do list for the day (throw load of laundry into washer/dryer, quick trip to grocery store, etc.). 2:00pm Go for a run or take a yoga class. Or, more typically, use the time to run an errand I didn’t have time for earlier. 3:20–3:30pm Pick up my daughter from preschool; drive to my son’s school bus stop at our neighborhood public school. 3:55–4:05pm Meet school bus for my son’s afternoon drop-off. We are the last stop, and my son has been on the bus for at least 1 hour. Thankfully, he uses some of that time to do his homework, which leaves more time for playing before dinner and bedtime. Of course, our day doesn’t end at 4:00pm. There are still afterschool activities and team sports that both children are involved in, depending on the day of the week. Dinner happens anywhere between 6:30-7:30pm, bedtime between 8:00-9:00pm. After catching up with my husband after work, tidying up around the house, and finishing up any work tasks from the day, I finally go to bed somewhere around midnight (maybe 11pm on a good night). And then we start over again. If you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s crazy!” yes, indeed, it sort of is. But the key for us has been keeping focused on our family’s priorities and remembering the old adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Didi Lewis, NPN's Program Manager, is leading the CPS 101 workshop at the NPN Preschool & Elementary School Fair on Sept. 24. Free admission for members—RSVP today!
  13. As a kid, I loved buying supplies for the new school year, picking out my outfit for the first day and wondering what my new teacher would be like. Not all children feel the same way as I did (including my own) and many start feeling worried about the transition. Whether your child is starting school for the first time or is just one of those kids who struggles with new routines, here are some suggestions for how to make the back-to-school transition go a little more smoothly. Talk about it. Bring up a conversation about starting school and hear their concerns. As parents, we often want to fix the problem for them so we can make them feel better (and ourselves, too). But kids sometimes just want to know someone is listening to what they have to say. If they are having a hard time opening up, remark about an observation you have made to get them to talk (“I noticed that you keep changing the subject when we mention school. Is there anything you want to talk about?”). Or, ask them a question that might get to the cause of what is bothering them, such as worries about who they will sit with at lunch, or concerns as to what their teacher might be like. Lastly, let them know it is OK to feel a mixture of feelings such as being excited, nervous, curious, scared, etc., about starting school. It’s a way to validate that what they are going through is normal. Plan a visit. For my son, we did a lot of drive-bys of the school so the building became a familiar sight. Depending on the grade level, this could also mean going to the school playground to become acquainted (or reacquainted) and learn what door they will be entering the building. For students entering middle or high school, most schools have a new student orientation. If they don’t, considering asking the principal/counselor to see if you can get a tour of the building beforehand. Read about it. If your child is going to preschool or kindergarten, reading a book about school anxiety is a great way to help manage their fears. Some of our family’s favorites are The Kissing Hand, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School, and It’s Hard to Be Five. For older elementary school kids, other books about general anxiety such as Wilma Jean the Worry Machine or What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety could be helpful. Plan for it. For younger kids going full-day for the first time, having a photo in their backpack of your family could ease the transition (just knowing it was there was helpful for my son). For older kids, help them find ways to get together with those friends they didn’t get to see over summer break, so they are excited about starting the new school year together. If you know your child has a difficult time with transitions, send the teacher an email a few days before school starts to let her know. Despite its challenges, I love this stressful, fun, playful age. I hope these techniques will help bring you a little more joy through the meltdown phase. They do say it’s a phase, right? Julie Safranski, MSW, LCSW has a background as a school social worker and is a licensed therapist who enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families. She lives in Albany Park with her husband and son. This article previously appeared in the NPN member newsletter, Parent to Parent. Learn about other member benefits.
  14. If you are the parent of a child who is struggling with learning and/or attention and you are not getting support, answers or a plan of action from the school, you are not alone. Approximately 20% of school-aged children face some learning challenge during their academic careers. That’s 10 million children in the U.S. alone! Many children, especially those without a diagnosis or clear-cut, identified challenge, are often not given the necessary support for their learning needs in the school setting. They fall through the cracks. Even good schools are often underfunded and understaffed, making it difficult to address the needs of all children. Parents face frustration and anxiety as they look to the school for guidance, often receiving vague feedback, conflicting advice and discouraging remarks such as “Just wait it out” or “Your child just isn’t trying.” We live in an age where parents need to take the wheel, armed with an understanding of the nuances around their child’s learning needs. How can parents do this? First, it helps for parents to understand… Input (how children are taught) Output (how children are assessed) Cognitive processing (how memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning and executive functioning play a role in learning) How does this information help? Because looking into what is tricky for our kids—and what types of mistakes they tend to make—is the game changer. When children are struggling to learn, it is often because they misunderstand the concept or use inefficient strategies. To course-correct their learning, we need to first undo the ill-suited understanding or strategy and then teach (or reteach) a better approach. This can be a big task, and many parents feel apprehension when asked to dissect their child’s learning. But it really is up to us if we want the best for our child’s education. Plus, decoding how your child learns does not have to be overwhelming; on the contrary, it can actually be an insightful and interesting process. With 25–30 kids in a class, teachers often do not have the opportunity to catch—and analyze—every mistake made by each child. When we parents sit down to do homework with our kids, we readily catch the mistakes! In her new book, The Strength Switch, How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen To Flourish, Dr. Lea Waters states that parents are hardwired to see a child’s flaws. So if we are programmed to quibble, let’s at least use this tendency to our advantage! By no means am I suggesting that we nitpick our children over their schoolwork. Rather, we should take notes on what types of mistakes our children make, then request a meeting at the school to discuss what would help our struggling learner. Armed with specific information as to our child’s struggles, we are much more likely to get our school to intervene quickly and use the most effective methods for our child’s precise area of difficulty. Like my parents, we moved into an area because of the quality of the local school. Underlying our decision on where to live was the assumption that if we lined up a quality school for our child, his education would be on auto-pilot. But many of us find out the hard way that our involvement is crucial, and that no one can help our child like we can.

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