Well Fall is here and those school doors have officially opened! I know my girls couldn’t wait to get started with a brand new year. I have a preschooler and a First grader this year and they were off and running the minute those doors opened, hardly glancing back at me.
Now I am not naive to think this is how most children feel and behave about school. Nor am I naive to think my own girls will always be this excited about school. I’m sure there will be many challenges along the way. Of course there will be! That is to be expected with every child. Unfortunately though there are plenty of children out there who have negative feelings about school, even from the very start. I have seen many of my clients (current and past) go through their own personal struggles with school. I have seen the faces of anxiety and desperation staring back at me during back-to- school time. School does not come easy for all and to the struggling child lost in the crowd, it can be a pretty intimidating place. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, part of my responsibility is to think of strategies to help these children succeed in the classroom, to share them with teachers, and make school a more rewarding experience; a place where all children can learn and grow.
Now that school is in full swing, I wanted to share some of the most effective strategies I have seen work in the classroom, just in case any of your own kids or students experience those Back to School Blues this year.
- Class rules and routines. It is always helpful when teachers lay the ground rules and routines right from the very start. Rules should be simple and straightforward so all children clearly understand them. Routines should be orderly and provide a natural framework to the day. Both should be posted and remain visible throughout the year so children see them on a regular basis, eventually ingraining them to memory.
- Straight talk. Many young children have problems following directions and making inferences. They benefit from simple and concise speech. We should be direct when talking to these children, clearly stating what we mean. We need to make sure our speaking rate is appropriate (often too fast) and be prepared to repeat key points often.
- Break down multiple instructions. For children who have trouble processing language, we often tell teachers to keep directions to 2 or 3 steps before moving on. Whenever possible, write directions down in a bold marker on the board or use pictures to accompany directions so these students have a chance to look back at the directions as many times as needed.
- Be specific. Some students need help making connections. Telling them at dismissal to put their library books and homework folders in their backpacks is better than saying, “Pack everything you need.” You may just get an entire desk crammed in a backpack OR nothing at all.
- Put those wiggles to work. For the child who has a lot of energy and really struggles sitting for long periods, allow for frequent movement breaks. Let them be a helper in the classroom, putting them to work often. Allow them to run errands, sharpen pencils, etc. to keep them moving in a positive way. Recess is also critical for these children, so if they need to be disciplined, think of another way rather than “taking away recess.” That particular discipline strategy will backfire with our wiggle worms, guaranteed.
- Secret Sign. If a child is working on a specific behavior try and come up with a secret sign to help, such as the teacher tugging on an earlobe to remind the student to listen carefully or a child putting a finger to the forehead when they are confused and don’t understand. Whatever the secret sign is, it should be something shared only between that specific student and teacher. Children quickly catch onto this and it allows them to work on their skill without constant verbal correction.
- Public praise. This is the most important. Children who struggle in school often have low self-esteem. When we loose their self-esteem, we can expect them to give up altogether and then we are battling a much larger beast. That means for ALL of us working with children, it is our responsibility to do all we can to keep that self-esteem intact. We need to always be on the look out for “catching” students doing something positive, and offer praise in front of others. Always be specific with your praise “Your attention to detail is remarkable Johnny. You notice all the teeny tiny things I fail to notice in that picture.” as this emphasizes a particular strength of theirs, something they do NOT struggle with.
Now these are all very common, general strategies that prove helpful for some children struggling in the classroom. If you have a child who is having trouble this year and you have tried a lot of these and are still at a loss, please don’t hesitate to contact your school special educator or even shoot me a quick email if you have nowhere else to turn. These basic strategies are just the icing on the cake. As special educators we have tons of “tricks in our bags”….it may take trouble shooting a few to find the right one for your child.
Remember too, the greatest learning disability of all is FEAR so whatever we do, we cannot give up trying new things for fear of failing. These children are depending on us and we need to do all we can to empower them in the classroom.
Here’s to making sure this school year is a success for EVERY child!
**Disclaimer: All communication tips offered in the blog are not meant to substitute for professional speech and language services if your child qualifies for them. They are meant for educational purposes only, to provide simple examples of ways to promote speech and language development in children.