When it’s back-to-school time one of the most exciting things for school children to find out is, “Who is my teacher going to be?” The learn from older brothers and sisters and friends what the personalities of the teachers of the higher grades are and they know who they want to have. And they hope their friends get in the same class! But for RAD kiddos, the importance of the teacher match is even greater.
When August was in 3rd grade, he had a teacher (whose name I’ve blocked out) that was a disaster. Not just for him, but there were so many things that I didn’t agree with. Making reading scores public on the board among other things that were demeaning to all the children. August had just gotten his IEP the year prior and I wasn’t good at advocating for him yet.
So when she started having problems with him I didn’t quite know what to do. She put a presentation board around his desk to block him from other students. They were in a mobile classroom and she lost him once when he ran away. After Christmas break we were meeting with her and she asked if we’d ever thought about homeschooling. When we said we were looking at lots of options for the next year she replied, “You don’t have to wait until next year.” That’s when we decided to move schools…
I had gotten enough of an education from that experience to be on it when it came to knowing what would work for August for 4th grade. He got a male teacher who was cool and athletic. When we had his IEP meeting in October, the team was astonished reading his file from the previous school because of how well he was doing. The importance of the teacher match.
The next example showed up in middle school. August had always done best in science and math. He seemed to have a block when it came to anything language-based. Nothing we could identify by testing but reading was very tough for him. We show up in middle school and the system is to team teach with a pair of teachers: one does math and science and one does history and English. All of the sudden August is doing great in history and English and awful in math and science. He raves about his English teacher and he can’t stand his math teacher. What do you know? The importance of the teacher match.
What I learned from these and from conversations about this with August’s psychiatrist is that this is RAD in all it’s glory. RAD kiddos do not trust. And very quickly they size people up and label them as good or bad. And once they get into one of those categories, it is hard if not impossible to get out. August did not trust the teachers he had problems with because they did not choose to understand him. In spite of my efforts to let them know what would work, they chose to try and make him conform and the result was disastrous. The teachers that listened and learned and were willing to give just a little had a great year with a great kid.
I had conversations with the principal about August’s teacher choices. Do not be afraid to start at the top. Everyone will benefit from your child having a good year. Bring your resources; I even had August’s psychiatrist in a meeting to explain the “good person/bad person” concept so they didn’t think I was making it up. And if the teacher match isn’t working, get the IEP teacher and principal involved and make a change as soon as possible. I was trying to be nice and assume it was always August’s fault. When I recognized the pattern and saw that it wasn’t always and took charge, it made a world of difference!
Classes start here where I live on August 6th! And back in North Carolina the year round schools started the new year this week! Seems like we were just talking about how to survive the summer and it’s over. But it’s back to school already. And for many RAD kiddos it’s a cluster of anxiety-producing thoughts. It represents change and the unknown and new stressors which can all be triggers.
What can we as parents do to try and minimize the potential problems and make the new school year start as low stress as possible for both our RAD kiddos AND us? Here are some ideas based on my past experience with getting August back to school. I’ve also done some research to find some best practices out there to draw on which I think might help as well.
Meeting the Teacher – This isn’t the regular “meet the teacher/back to school night” that the whole school goes to. I will be talking about this in depth next week. But we figured out by third grade that for August, the right teacher personality made a HUGE difference in his success. So that by the move from fourth to fifth grade I was sitting down with the principal to discuss who August’s teacher would be and creating an avatar for his transition to middle school of the type of teacher that would be ideal for him. Not every teacher will “get” your child. It’s worth the extra effort to put in some pre-work to make sure the teacher is the right fit.
Start the Conversation Early – If you live here in the Midwest it’s already too late to be early! but if you’re an area that starts school after Labor Day, make that transition as slow and steady as possible. Let them get their heads around the idea that school is coming. They already know it and it may seem like the best move is not to invite the anxiety until it’s necessary. You know your child best; maybe it is. But the sooner they can start taking control of those feelings the better in my opinion.
And you can make it fun! Get out the calendar and start crossing off the dates! Plan special days for back-to-school shopping and make a bucket list of things to do before the big day! It will help with easing the tension and make back to school something to be excited about and not to dread.
Put as many decisions in your child’s hands as you can – Remember that our RAD kiddos are control freaks. And not much in their young lives are going to feel as out-of-control as the first day of school. So let them make decisions. What’s for lunch the first day? What to wear? What notebook colors to buy? What’s for dinner the night before? Bus or carpool? Anything that will make them feel they are in control of their environment will go a long way toward lessening the anxiety.
Here are some more tips from the American Association of Pediatrics which may freak you out but will help you think through all possible scenarios. Take a deep break; it’s a long list. Remember it’s designed to help!
I know with a lot of us, we don’t know how the day is going to go until the day gets here. One of the fun parts of reactive attachment disorder…the surprises! But hopefully these tips might help keep the surprises to a minimum.
Here’s to a fabulous start to the school year for you and your RAD kiddos!
This may be one of the hardest subjects to find a summer “work around”. I know for August, he’d rather pull out his own teeth than write. In fact, it was something we ended up getting an accommodation for on his IEP. That he could do everything on the computer rather than have to hand write any papers. He hated it so much and his fine motor skills were so delayed. But being able to write a coherent sentence is a critical skill for so many aspects of life. So let’s learn some tricks for doing some writing this summer!
First, a DO NOT do. DO NOT drop your child at the kitchen table with a pencil and a journal and make them write something every day with a fixed length and a subject prompt. You are sealing the casket of their never wanting to write again as long as they live. I mean it, don’t do it. For one, it’s summer and that sounds boring even to me and I’m a grown-up. For two, no one, especially a child is going to want to write or write well about a topic not of their choosing.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s try some good ideas:
Get outside and find something fun to write about. Get cheap clipboards and paper and head out to the park and sit in the grass. Let them find a bird or a tree or a flower that looks interesting and describe it. Or go for a nature walk and find a bench to sit on a see what’s around you to write about. Maybe a frog hops by and you can make up a story about where it came from and where it’s going.
Write a story together. August loved Goosebumps books when he was younger and a few of them were written so that the reader could decide how the story went. You get to a page and then it gives you a choice of which page to turn to next. Your choice decides how the story proceeds. He loved those. Taking turns adding a sentence to a story you create together allows you to connect and engage with your child. Neither can see the sentence the other writes until you are finished so you don’t know where the other is taking the plot. At the end you can read your creation for the rest of the family!
Write to distant relatives. I talked about this in a previous blog but it really is such a special idea. I now live in my grandmother’s house and as I’ve gone through her things (she was quite the pack rat) I have found letters she saved. Some from me and other grandchildren, great nieces and nephews, and other children in her life. All these sweet letters in their big chunky little child handwriting that she obviously treasured can’t be replaced by an e-mail or a facetime video. Even a postcard would make grandma’s day!
Get a pen-pal. When I was in middle school I had a pen-pal in Australia. I don’t know how I found her but we wrote for several years before we lost touch. I remember learning that our seasons were opposite. That blew my mind. I loved getting those letters. In the days of technology I know it is super simple to just find someone on the internet but the point of this is to make the connection. If your child is adopted maybe find someone from their home country. There are a few ways to find one here. Another option is www.globalpenfriends.com. I’ll put both of these on my Resources page so you won’t have to remember which blog post you saw them in!
If you are the parent of a RAD kiddo, I’d like to suggest a writing opportunity for you. As I was researching this post, I came across a place called Blue Monarch. It is a facility for Moms and their children to stay when the moms are trying to recover from addition and abuse. Many of the children staying at the facility have not had a stable grown-up in their life and the facility seeks pen-pals for the children. If you are interested in being a pen-pal to a child there, check out the program here.
As always, being a good role model is one of the best ways to get your children involved in writing. Writing down five things you are grateful for at the end of each evening as a family, maybe after dinner, would be a nice way to connect and show your dedication to writing. There are lots of ways to incorporate writing into your summer!
We’ve talked about Reading and Math so what’s left? Science! And we figured out we could find ways to do reading and math everywhere all summer. Can we do the same with science? You bet! Let’s find some ways to have Summer School Science with our RAD kiddos in fun and creative ways.
OK, so is the hair standing up on the back of your neck the way it was last week with math? Does any word ending in “-ology” make you break out? And were you the one they still tell stories about that start with, “Remember that girl that blew up the Chem Lab…”? Don’t worry, you don’t have to be able to build a DNA molecule to have fun with science. And you don’t have to be afraid to jump in and try to some fun ideas that will get you and your kiddos laughing and learning together!
Nature Walk Here’s one of the first and easiest ways to experience science with your kiddos. Go on a nature walk. But don’t make it about the destination; make it about the journey. A scavenger hunt of things you find on a walk at your local nature trail could include (depending on your location):
You see the idea. Check the internet for many printable scavenger hunts which are designed based on the age of your children. And don’t be afraid to get dirty! Because that’s the fun part! And remember, when you’re walking, take only pictures; leave only footprints.
Science Experiments This can be another fun event for a rainy day. Luckily, many science experiments use regular household items and don’t require a lot of special equipment. And the best part is they get all of you together to do something interesting and the learning is kind of secret! Shhhh!
Here’s one I used to do when I was a kid. I don’t have an explanation for how it works, but it has fascinated me to this day. Maybe there’s a scientist among you that could chime in and give us the why.
Fill a shallow pan halfway with water. Doesn’t have to be a particular temperature.
Sprinkle regular black pepper over the top.
Put bar soap in at the edge of the pan.
Give it a second and watch what happens!
There are a lot of these kind of quick and easy home science experiments you can try here.
Board Games Another way to learn and have fun together is science board games. And there are several that can help learn general science and specific disciplines. Here are a few that jumped out at me:
Totally Gross: The Game of Science – Kids and parents will enjoy plenty of laughs answering silly science questions and acting out the Gross Out challenges
The Magic School Bus Science Explosion Board Game – Use science knowledge and strategy skills to be the first to explode a volcano!
Dr. Dreadful Scabs and Guts Game – Learn fun facts while exploring your anatomy!
For a very comprehensive list of science board games, check out this site.
Science can be dirty and gross and fun and a great way to connect with your RAD kiddo. They will love the chance to explore and won’t even know they’re learning! And that’s the best part.
I love math. But I continually find I am in the minority. When I was working in advertising I remember a young Account Coordinator crying in my office saying, “I got into advertising because I thought there’d be no math!” And believe me, advertising was nothing but math. And you might be getting the same from your children during the school year! So how do you get them interested in math over the summer when it’s already been a battle? Of course, you have to make it fun!
Since August is adopted, I can brag about him without sounding egotistical. He’s insanely good at math. He can do calculations in his head freakishly fast. The biggest problem he had in school was having to show his work. He could always get the right answer in his head; he just didn’t know how he got it and he couldn’t show you how. His fascination with money was the root of this math wizardry I think, so it’s not that he came by it with good intentions but hey, however it worked, right?
The great part about math is that it is everywhere and there are opportunities to work on math and be very sneaky about it! Depending on the age of the child you can find ways to build math knowledge and they may never even know they were learning. For some great ideas, check out this article from Great Schools. Things like cooking, estimating how many beans are in a package of jelly beans, adding up prices in the grocery store and more all engage children and allow for great connections and conversation around the topic of math.
But for the child who just can’t get away from the screen…maybe on the long car trip or in the doctor’s waiting room, there’s an app for that. Some children just do better on their own and that’s OK. Common Sense media has this list of the best math apps to help boost math skills over the summer. Sometimes we all need the quiet that some screen time gives. If it includes some learning, all the better!
Last week we talked about what to do on a rainy day. It could be educational! There are a lot of board games that use money not to mention having to count how many spaces to move your little guy around. Depending on the age, try Monopoly, Life, Pay Day, The Allowance Game and Money Bags. All involve a variety of math skills and allow for the whole family to connect and play!
The biggest part of helping with math skills over the summer is getting out of your own way with disliking math. If you don’t like it, they won’t either. So work it out for yourself, play a game, and “add” math to your fun-filled summer!
Ahh summer break. Brings joy to the hearts of school children everywhere and terror to the already weary parents who’ve endured a school year of homework supervision, lunch packing, carpooling, classroom parenting, reading prompting, field trip volunteering, awards ceremony attendance and now have their precious littles all day every day for 10 weeks and counting…
But the reality is that students lose 20-50% of what they learn in the previous school year over the summer. Isn’t that incredible? And when you add on that in this day and age that the last 3-4 months of most school year’s anymore are teaching to standardized tests I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t more than that. So maybe we want the summer to be more productive? Maybe we want to keep some momentum through to the next school year? But maybe we don’t want to go crazy in the process?
The idea of “teaching” your own children is probably daunting for most parents. The idea of “teaching” your own children over the summer probably doesn’t sound like much fun. If you’re a parent of a RAD child, the idea of combining those two probably sounds like the worst idea imaginable! I don’t blame you. When my boys were little, and before some of the ideas I will share in this post, I got workbooks and all sorts of tools to keep them learning through the summer. And getting August to do a few workbook pages and spend half an hour reading every day was like asking him to pull out his own fingernails. He would do almost anything rather than schoolwork. He would do chores, that’s how much he hated it!
So the key is to find ways to make learning happen while “hiding” it in plain sight. Luckily, the technology world is here to the rescue! The following is a list of some of the best ways to get your kids, RAD or not, to do some learning over the summer and head back to school without missing a beat!
Freerice.com If you only find one place to go this summer, this is it. This site has question to answer on language, geography, humanities, science and math. You can select the difficulty. But here’s the best part: for every correct question, the sponsors donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme. You can watch the bowl fill up and see your progress. You can work as a team! My boys loved this one!
playkidsgames.com This site was developed by parents for children in grades 1-8 to enhance learning in math and reading. The games are fun and interactive. You can set up an account and your children can pick the games they want to play.
While websites are certainly easy and most children would love to spend the day on a computer or a phone, that’s of course not the best way to spend the summer! Here are some other creative ways to get your children to learn without them even knowing!
Let your children pay for groceries or other items during shopping trips. Give them a few dollars and a small list and let them figure out if they have enough money.
When driving, let your children practice reading by asking them to look for street signs to help navigate.
Do multiplication with spaghetti or sticks in the yard. Go pick 3×5 sticks; show me 3×2 pieces of macaroni.
Have your child write a dinner menu
Open ended questions are great for building vocabulary. I am happiest when… My favorite TV show is…because… When I feel angry I… A trip I’d like to take is… This is especially helpful with RAD children to get them talking!
Have your child retell a movie you go to see from beginning to end over dinner
There are lots of ways to incorporate learning into the summer that won’t drive you OR your child crazy! I will share more tips and tricks over the next few weeks every Tuesday so stay tuned for more fun ideas!
Homework isn’t necessary in elementary school. Denise Pope, Ph.D. says there really isn’t a correlation between homework and achievement at this age. Kids at this age need free time for play and collaboration and READING. Over-scheduling a child in these years with homework and activities will turn them off to learning but letting them free select will increase their ability to innovate and use their brain.
So what is the point of homework? It does teach students to learn independently and quite honestly it’s what’s expected by parents. It is an important link between parents and the school to see what their children are working on. But that is contingent on the parents actually looking at the work. Again, being involved is the key!
Decide what’s appropriate. None is the answer for kindergarten. After that 10 minutes per grade level is generally the rule. But it doesn’t meaning filling out yet another worksheet. It can be reading a book with you or drawing a picture. It teaches focus and independent study and by the time they do have actual homework in middle and high school they are used to sitting for a longer period of time.
Because middle and high school are more challenging. There is a correlation here between homework and achievement but it fades after 90 minutes for middle school and two hours for high school. After 3 1/2 hours there are negative effects. It can lead to anxiety, depression and stress. Add to the problem of classrooms that spend too much time on testing instead of instruction and over-scheduled kids and it’s all bad.
What’s the resolution? Maybe little. Here are some ideas:
Look at the 24-hour day and set the priorities for sleep and school and other activities. If there isn’t enough time for homework, a conversation needs to happen.
Make a contract that determines when homework happens (right after school, right after dinner, etc.) and sign it. When everyone agrees, the arguing tends to stop.
Brainstorm with the teachers; explain your child’s unique situation and see if there’s a solution that works better with your child’s learning style. Maybe a packet once a month will work better than every day or week. It will allow you to be flexible when your child may have better days or back off when it’s not such a good time.
Don’t help! As much as you may want to bail your child out, as they get older, they do need to learn how to learn. If they can’t finish, write a note and explain, don’t finish the work. Let the teacher know there’s an issue.
I spent a lot of time when August was in school doing battle over homework. We would arrive at home after school and he would bolt out of the car before I would get it in park because he didn’t want to do homework. He would run away for hours. He knew what was coming. It was an almost daily battle. Sometimes I could get him to work but when the anxiety would grow he’d say, “Mom, I need to run around the house.” And he would quite literally, RUN AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE. He’d come in and be a different child. And we’d get the work done. The key is being flexible. And communicate with the teachers so they know you-and your child-are doing the best you can. And give yourself a break!
Till next time,
A substitute teacher was a problem because it got all the students keyed up and that teacher didn’t know about August’s special needs. We created an outlet for August to be able to go to the office on days when there was a sub and the class was being loud and he felt he couldn’t keep it together.
Being able to run and expend energy was a stress reliever for August. In 4th grade he was in a trailer due to the school being over-crowded. This allowed for a gift of his being able to “go to the bathroom” while getting outside and running round for a bit in sight of the teacher when he was feeling overwhelmed because of the logistics of being in the trailer.
I discussed with the principal about the importance of the teacher match with August and how wonderful 4th grade had been for him and the entire 4th grade staff looped up to 5th grade which gave August the same teacher two years in a row!
In middle school he was given a “hot pass” which was a red laminated card which he could put on his desk any time he was feeling overwhelmed. As soon as the teacher saw that August was excused from the room to the office no questions asked.
These are just a few of the ideas we worked out to manage August’s behaviors while trying to keep the classroom structure and help the teacher stay sane!
For some other tips, I found this very helpful article here.
Please share your stories and ideas on what has worked (or not!) with your child in school. As a community we all benefit from everyone’s successes and challenges.
Till next time,
Wouldn’t this be wonderful?
For RAD kids, school can be a series of landmines. And teachers can set those mines without even realizing it and certainly without intending to. When August started in school I couldn’t get him and IEP for RAD; I had to get him one for ADHD under the “other health impaired” category. His learning issues didn’t show up on any tests. Yet his behaviors were classic RAD behaviors. It wasn’t until second grade that we found a therapist who gave us a proper diagnosis and fourth grade that we found a school who heard me and I started to find my voice for my son.
Below is a letter developed by Nancy Thomas who is one of the most widely recognized therapists in the field of attachment disorder. I purposely do not advocate for any particular treatment on this site as I believe it is up to the parents and the family to decide what is going to be the best for their child and their needs. But this letter does lay out exactly what a teacher can expect from a child and how to respond and how to interact with a child and their family to hopefully get the best outcomes.
Going forward, we will talk about more specific issues. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, share your stories and sign up by email if you’d like to receive these posts directly to your inbox!
Till next time,