By Linda Tamm, Psy.D.
It’s time to go back to school! For parents and children who got out of the last grade by the skin of their teeth this might sound daunting. By planning a little now, next year will go a lot smoother.
- If your child has an IEP (individualized education plan), which comes from a Child Study Team evaluation, review it now. Highlight what is most important in the accommodations. These are the items you want the teacher and school to implement from the beginning. Most teachers have so many demands with increased class sizes and last minute changes in curriculum they have not reviewed each child’s IEP before the school starts. If you can highlight what most important there will be less catch up later.
- If your child had serious academic problems last year, and you do not have clear answers, consider a private learning evaluation. This is usually composed of an IQ test (intelligence test) and academic testing. The latter compares your child’s current knowledge of math concepts, math word problems, language arts, spelling, listening comprehension, writing, and reading comprehension to other children his/her age, from across the nation. This is done individually, instead of in large groups, like standardized testing. This approach gives child specific information about how your son or daughter learns in a way those yearly tests just can’t. If problems are found, the results can be used to activate your school to pay attention to your child. Due to cuts in funding, many children now are not referred to in-school evaluations until they are failing. By that time many children are so far behind and frustrated it is difficult to turn the ship around.
- If your child has an IEP, check when the last time they were evaluated. By law, an evaluation has to happen once every three years, but teams do fall behind. The information is usually most helpful in the beginning of the year. The sooner re-testing begins, the sooner an effective plan is enacted.
- Don’t call the teacher the first week of school. However, don’t wait until the progress report. Give him/her a couple of weeks to form a first impression. Call with the intention of finding out how you can make a solid team for your child. What does the teacher need to be supported and to communicate most effectively with you?
- What can you do to start catching your child doing the right thing? How can you set a rhythm for getting homework done and accountability? The beginning of the school year usually entails some review so it is a good time to get your child’s confidence up by jumping all over success and creating good habits.
- Is concentration and attention a recurrent difficulty? Does your child seem to get depressed as winter draws on? Complex mental health issues that may be helped with medication can best be addressed in the summer. Many medications take 4-6 weeks to reach an effective therapeutic level. Some medications have side effects that require switching to a second type. This could cause some unexpected academic disruption if done in the fall/winter. Therefore, summer is the perfect time to make these choices.
- Ask your child about what they liked about the past year and what their goals are for the next year. Ask them now, without the pressure of bad grades, what they think of your plans to help.
- Over June and July, most children have forgotten some basics. Enrolling in some tutoring or academic classes can do a lot. It can help to refresh them on the practice of reading each day, remind them of basic math rules, and set a pattern of sitting and concentrating, without the pressure of grades.
- If you think therapy might help your child’s relationships with peers, your family relationships when there is school tension, or to cope with an impending family change, starting in the summer is a smart idea. It gives the child a chance to develop a positive connection with the therapist that the professional can lean on before these stressors hit. It also will help your child start the school year with more confidence that s/he will hit old problems with new plans.
- If your child is entering a new school, either due to a move or because they are “moving up” to middle school or high school, contact the school and see if they will let you plan a visit, or participate in a tour before the school year begins. Being able to picture where s/he will be often significantly decreases anxiety for kids. It also helps adults to also plan for the year by being able to envision what their child’s day might look like.