With the beginning of a new school year, we’ve reestablished our systems to stay organized at home, as well as make sure we start the year equipped with everything the kids need. All kids, of course, need support for a successful school year; but for Nella, it’s even more important. Learning and keeping up with school procedures requires more accommodations and support, and we want to set her up for the greatest success this year. Independence is our ultimate goal for her, and we are always thinking of ways we not only can help her learn and achieve success academically but also manage life skills on her own including home routines, getting ready for school, communicating with others and understanding her schedule and what’s required of her. Fortunately, routine is her super power. She loves consistency and embraces tasks and responsibility. There are a few things we’ve found to be helpful in supporting Nella through the school year I thought I’d share–some special needs parenting “hacks,” if you will.
Hire a Tutor
Any extra help Nella receives to practice basic reading, writing and math skills is helpful; and it’s nice to have someone other than family helping her (she’s less likely to whine or ask to go do something else). This year, we hired one of Nella’s favorite high school students to tutor her after school. Nella loves going, and it’s a great way for our high school friend to make some extra money as well as expand her experience as she prepares for college. I put together a tutoring box with resources for them to work on together and reached out to Nella’s teachers to send home any classwork that needed reinforcement.
What’s in our tutoring box?
– Handwriting Without Tears workbook
– Bob books
– Basic Addition & Subtraction workbooks
– Sight word Bingo
– Math manipulatives
– Handwriting white board and white board markers
– flash cards
– ideas for activities
– stickers, treasure box prizes to use as incentives for listening and working hard
The Target Dollar Spot also has some great inexpensive classroom and learning materials that make great tutoring box additions.
I tell any parent of kids who wear glasses about these–they were life changers for us. We slide stay puts on Nella’s glasses to help her keep them from sliding down. Kids with Down syndrome don’t have the same nasal bone structure as other kids which can make keeping glasses on challenging. Stay puts are silicone soft hooks that slide over the bows of the glasses and hook over your child’s ears–keeps them secure on their face and prevents them from sliding down their nose.
Calendar Display with Related Arts Schedule
We are always working towards independence with Nella which includes basic school routines and not relying on us to know where she’s going every day or how she should be prepared. One of the great things about traveling with my friend Liz for Ruby’s Rainbow is getting to see up close what life is like for adults with Down syndrome who are going to college. We’ve tagged along so many different college students, giving us the opportunity to take a closer look at how they are succeeding–don’t think I haven’t taken notes on what we can start doing at home now! Visual displays, calendars, charts–these are all imperative for anyone’s success, but especially for people with Down syndrome. We keep a school calendar display, including a chart of Nella’s related arts schedule, in the central area of our home. Every morning, she asks “What do I have today?” so she knows how to dress, and we never answer for her. We take her to the calendar and make her figure it out. She loves this part of her morning routine now, and has figured out on her own how to find the day of the week, moving her little finger over until she finds the corresponding related arts. “Oh, I have music.”
We laugh that Nella is the most responsible one in our home and that we all rely on her to keep us organized. She loves consistency and knowing where to put things. Last year, we had no “system” for backpacks, so the kids would drop them wherever they fell which made us scramble later when we were pulling homework folders out or looking for the dirty lunchbox to wash. Finally, at the end of the year, I couldn’t take it. We don’t really have a mudroom space, but we did have a laundry room closet we were using to store winter coats (that we only wear when we travel north in the winter) and old Halloween costumes–a total waste of a much needed closet. I removed the door, painted the closet, added a plank of wood with hooks and some basic storage shelving (temporary), and now we have a designated place for backpacks, lunch boxes and water bottles. This has been so great for Nella–she makes sure everyone hangs their backpacks and puts their lunch boxes away, and she heads right to the backpack cubby in the morning to pull everything we need to get ready.
Educating the Classroom about Special Needs
At the beginning of every school year, we ask that Nella’s class be educated about Down syndrome. Knowledge is power, and if we aren’t talking about obvious differences kids notice, they’ll make their own assumptions or think that disability is something to be ashamed of. Inviting the kids to ask questions and giving them specific tools they can use to communicate with and support Nella has created the most beautiful community of friends and cheerleaders for her. We give the staff this script to use as a guide and invite them to make it their own. This list of children’s books about specific disabilities and differences is also helpful when talking to classes.
Next on our list? Helping Nella learn how to tie her own shoes! (any tips?)