Tag Archives: confidence

Celebrate the little things, because the little things are BIG

When you have a child for whom learning the ‘traditional’ way is not effective, you really begin to appreciate the little things that many parents of neurotypical kids (myself included) take for granted.  Both of my daughters have had little to no struggle with school, and have thrived in a bilingual program with the added intensity of a second language alongside the three ‘R’s’.  When Berrik was born the girls were already in preschool and kindergarten and were progressing along the typical trajectory developmentally and academically.  I assumed Berrik would be the same.  But as you know, his trajectory has been considerably different, with ups and downs that can likely only be fully understood by others who have a similar journey.  While I would give anything to remove the struggles that Berrik has endured, I am able to see the value in how it has created a resilient, empathetic little boy, and how it has reminded me that success comes in many forms.  For someone as naturally competitive as I am, you can imagine that this is both a necessary and important lesson for me.  One of the many these kids have provided me with over the years.

This week Berrik turned 10.  It’s hard to wrap my head around that number.  And the fact that he will soon be taller than me, which will leave me as the shortest member of our family as the girls have already surpassed me.  It’s been a fantastic week of celebration and success for my boy.  While these are things that many would take for granted in their 10 year old children, for us it’s a week of celebrating the little things, that are in fact so big that I get tears every time I think about them.

Let’s start with the birthday party.  Berrik has struggled with reading.  It has been nothing short of hours, days, months and years of multiple strategies to get this boy reading.  Sound Connections, homeschooling, my mom (I cannot emphasize how instrumental my mom has been on this reading journey), the best teachers in the best school for Berrik, daily reading, flash cards, sight words, phonics, and any trick I can think of to make reading enjoyable rather than a chore (incidentally, we are not there yet but I have hope that one day he will love to read like I do!)  But I digress.  At Berrik’s party as he opened his gifts he (without being told to) read every word on every card.  And he did this with relative ease.  Because he wanted to.  I think it may be the first time outside of reading instructions on video games that Berrik has voluntarily read a significant amount of text with very little help and no prompting.  This is such a huge step for him, and it’s these moments when I know that his potential is unlimited and the future will be bright.  I can say with honesty I had trouble imagining a day where he would do this voluntarily.  img_0413

One of Berrik’s gifts were two ‘lego-ish’ building set of Hello Neighbor – a bizarre nasty neighbor character that exists on youtube and video games.  He was excited to put it together.  For context, these sets have 90ish small pieces that go together in a specific order to create a little scene.  Just like lego, although technically not lego-brand.  Berrik was able to do this on his own by reading the directions and following them.  The dexterity required for this task was the most challenging – developmental coordination disorder means his fine motor skills are a bit delayed – but the following directions was not an issue.  This takes attention, and sequencing, and reading comprehension, and dexterity.  For kids like Berrik, these can all be difficult tasks individually, but having to manage all of that at the same time, and to start and finish the project, is big.  So big.  img_0466

In the moments where I lay awake at night wondering about the future for my kids, and especially for my sweet boy, these are the moments I need to hold on to.  They are the very clear signs that he can do anything and that with the support of this great big team we have, he will do whatever it is he wants to do.  Currently he would like to be an engineer like dad, a policeman/superhero, and also invent time travel.  Can’t wait to see which direction he goes with that! (I’m hoping for time travel).

Thankful for our ‘team’

This past week we met with Berrik’s school and the psychologists to go over the results of his recent psychoeducational assessment.  I want to start by trying to express how incredibly stressful this process is – for me, and for Berrik.  While the psychologists do their best to make Berrik feel comfortable, he knows he’s being tested, and this creates anxiety.  And I’m sure all moms feel this – when your child is experiencing anxiety (or fear, sadness, joy, etc. etc.) it’s pretty tough not to feel it right along with them.  He is afraid of ‘failing.’  His experience in grade one has given him this context – and in spite of a very successful year in his new school last year, the impact of his past experiences live on and surface in these testing situations.

Fast forward to the results.  Thankfully this is a very collaborative process.  The psychologists came to the school and met with me, Berrik’s teacher, and the family-school liaison counselor.  Having the teacher and counselor there is so critical because they know Berrik and they know what he’s capable of and can (and did) speak to it, lending credence to what likely sounds like crazy, biased mom talk when I speak to it.  Not surprisingly, Berrik’s test results are all over the map.  Average in some areas, low in others.  This is not new, and not unexpected for a kid like Berrik.  The tests are really quite limited in what they can tell us about Berrik as there are so many factors that impact the ability to test different areas.  Berrik is a complex kid – one example would be processing speed.  This is a timed test that requires writing with a pencil.  Timed tests produce a huge amount of anxiety for Berrik – so much so that he almost shuts down completely.  He has developmental coordination disorder which impacts fine motor skills which means writing is difficult and an activity he does not enjoy.  So – the test results suggest a very slow processing speed.  But it isn’t reflective of what he’s capable of, so has limited value.  Is his processing speed lower than average?  I would say yes.  But does it have the severe impact that the number would suggest? No.  This is just one example of several that were discussed at the meeting and will show up in the report.

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Berrik and his two fabulous teachers

This leads me to where I start to get anxious.  In the context of Berrik’s school and his teachers, this information means very little and doesn’t concern me.  His IPP is totally reflective of where he is at, where we are going, and what accommodations are needed to get there.  The school team knows him, knows what to do to get him where he needs to go, and I trust them more than I have ever trusted anyone besides family when it comes to Berrik. But what if that report is in the hands of someone who doesn’t understand the limitations of the tests and therefore the limited value of the results?  The labels and the reports, produced by people who have known Berrik for a total of 2 hours each, but could potentially follow him for the rest of his life scares the bejeezus out of me.

I have written before about labels (Read about it here:  Labels are for Mabel) and I believe they have more of a system value than an individual value, especially for us.  This leads me to why I am feeling so thankful, this weekend and all days.  Berrik’s teachers know him well and spent the past year helping him regain his confidence, gaining his trust (and conversely, gaining my trust) and working on all of the skills that contribute to his ability to find success at school and in life.  They talk about Berrik’s availability for learning, which I just love.  The goals for Berrik (and all the kids) are not just academic.  The goals are to do what needs to be done with and for Berrik to increase his ‘availability for learning’, at which point the academics will follow.  Reminds me of this post Kids will do well…  I love this for so many reasons.  It is why Berrik is doing so well in school. If only this approach could be taken for all kids, everywhere.

I commented in the meeting that I have had times where I felt hopeless and I had such fear for Berrik’s future. But the school, the teachers, the team approach, and the full recognition of Berrik’s potential and the desire to figure out what makes him most available for learning has allowed me to trust, hope and dream once again.  I cried in that meeting.  I am crying again while typing this.  It’s hard to admit I lost hope at times, because that makes me feel like a bad mom.  I know that if we had not found this school, the trajectory of Berrik’s life would have looked very different and the thought of that brings me to tears.  It also leads me to think of all the kids who struggle like Berrik, who haven’t been as fortunate.  It’s heartbreaking.

All this to say that while the tests and reports and labels all serve a purpose, for Berrik they are almost inconsequential in terms of his schooling because he already has the support and resources he needs.  When I left the meeting, I walked out with Berrik’s teacher.  She gave me a hug and said, “We are on your team Chandra.”  I knew it, but it is always good to hear the reminder.

We have a big team.  The school, my friends who work ‘in the business’ who really ‘get it’ and let me vent and ask questions, my sister in law who is also ‘in the business’ and has been a source of so much support and information – all in the context of her love of Berrik, my brothers who just seem to ‘get’ Berrik and know how to make him feel special, my parents who build Berrik up in so many ways and support me as I try to advocate for him, my girls who show Berrik what unconditional love looks like – with all the joy and annoyance that exists in any sibling relationship, my friends who just listen, and all of our extended family.  I remember Kevin’s dad once commenting in the context of a conversation about Berrik and his ‘labels’ that he didn’t care about that.  “He’s my grandson and I just love him.”  Period.  One sentence to get right to the heart of it.

And while this week has been low on sleep and high on stress, I know that everything will be ok.  Because we have the best team.  And for that, I am thankful.

Just a few members of our team:

Early Literacy, Invented Spelling and Confidence – what’s the connection?

Over the weekend I was sent an article about a recent study that suggests a direct correlation between invented spelling and literacy.  You can read more about the study here.

invented spellingTo back it up a step or two, invented spelling is the process by which kids will ‘invent’ spellings for words based on what they know about letters and phonetics.  Over time and with more exposure to phonetic rules, practice, and scaffolded spelling instruction, these invented spellings will become closer and closer to the conventional spelling.

The study suggests that kids who are allowed and encouraged to ‘invent’ spelling will more easily and more successfully develop an ability to retrieve these words for future reading and writing.

“Children who used invented spelling developed stronger reading skills over time, regardless of their existing vocabulary, alphabetic knowledge, or word reading skills.”

The rationale for this (which makes COMPLETE sense to me, based on my experiences with Berrik and what I have learned about neuroplasticity) is as follows:

“When inventing a spelling, the child is engaged in mental reflection and practice with words, not just memorizing. This strategy strengthens neuronal pathways so as the reader/writer becomes more sophisticated with invented spelling, she or he is developing a repertoire of more and more correctly spelled words at the same time. These words are stored in the word form area of the brain where the child can retrieve them automatically as sight words for reading and eventually as correctly spelled words for writing.”

school photoAlso interesting to note is an 18 month study published in 2010 by the Harvard School of Education comparing child development to Gesell’s “Developmental Schedules” from 1925, 1949, 1964, and 1979, which suggests that kids today are not meeting cognitive milestones any earlier than they were in the 1920s.  Yet in kindergarten the expectations have grown considerably from play-based, to high expectations with regard to reading, writing and math.  We are pushing many kids to do things for which they are not developmentally ready.   There are numerous studies that suggest that pushing kids to do too much too soon might actually cause more harm than good over the longer term, from academic, social and emotional development perspectives.  Here is a review of several of those studies.

So, you might ask….  why did I jump from a discussion of invented spelling and literacy to studies about pushing kids academically before they are ready?  Because for us (and I suspect many, many others) they are directly related.  Berrik was not ready for school when I put him in school.  This was my error.  I made the wrong call.  Hindsight is 20/20. Whatever.  Live and learn.  I put Berrik in a second year of kindergarten.  That was a better call as opposed to pushing him on to Grade 1 when he wasn’t ready.  But really, it was pretty much too late by then.  I didn’t know it at the time.  Hindsight -so hopelessly unhelpful, except when we can share our experiences in hopes that others will learn from them…and because I have learned from it and am doing everything I can to reverse the damage I caused through well-intentioned, but still incorrect decision making.

Here’s why I think entering school before a kid is ready is problematic.  Regardless of age, Berrik was not ready developmentally.  This resulted in an extreme lack of confidence. As he got older he became more and more aware of how others perceived him.  He began to think he was stupid.  He was treated differently by the adults, and therefore the kids treated him differently too.  What does this have to do with invented spelling? school photo1 Let me tell you.  If you feel as though everything you do is wrong, it’s pretty tough to have enough confidence to take a risk and attempt to write a word.  If you have weekly spelling tests that you are not developmentally ready for and understand that you are only getting 3/10 which means you are a failure and you must be stupid because your classmates are getting 9/10, even though you actually know how to spell the words, but you just don’t have enough time to write them down, then you are not going to take risks on ‘inventing’ spelling.  This time last year, my sweet boy was beaten down.  He had zero confidence.  He wouldn’t even attempt to write.  We didn’t even try to make him write for several months.  But let me tell you, his confidence has been growing and growing.  He invents spelling and we don’t correct it as long as he has all the phonetic sounds.  We do sightwords and we learn the rules of phonetics and he has the confidence to attempt to apply those rules when he’s writing.  Over time his invented spelling has become closer and closer to conventional spelling most of the time.  His reading has improved tremendously as a result.  His speech has exploded – words he used to pronounce incorrectly have resolved because he knows the spelling of them, so he knows its a ‘th’ sound not an ‘f’ sound (for example).

I recently overheard someone talking about people who ‘hold their kids back’ for kindergarten (with reference to kids with fall birthdays) and he thought it was possibly to give those kids an advantage in future school sports.  I was a bit floored by that rationale.  I think it’s much more likely that those parents know their own children and felt they just weren’t ready for the academic rigors of kindergarten in these times. Perhaps there are parents who would be thinking about their child’s future advantage in school sports, but I’m guessing the majority are making these decisions from a developmental perspective and wanting to give their children more time to play and develop before they begin their structured academic career.

My point is that age is just a number.  Kids develop at different paces.  I know kids who are 13 months younger than my daughters in the same class, or kids the same age a full grade ahead.  They are doing fine.  Some are excelling.  I also have a friend who decided her son with a fall birthday wasn’t ready for kindergarten when he was 4 years and 10 months, so she let him have one more year at home.  He is in grade 4 and just published his first book.  Seriously.  She knew her kid.  She made a good call.  Let your kids’ development guide your decision making.  It can make such a difference.

Homeschooling has allowed us to back up the train, as it were, and allow Berrik’s literacy to develop naturally.  Sound Connections continues to give us the tools to do this and it’s working.  His confidence is high and that is translating to all school subjects.  He’s willing to take risks and that is exactly what a strong learner does.  But oh, if I could turn back the clock and remake some decisions – I surely would.  We have had much heartbreak and struggles, and I often wonder if those experiences will impact Berrik for life.  This parenting gig is a tough one.  Trust your gut people.  And if it doesn’t work out the way you expect it to, then do what you need to do to get the train back on the track.  None of it is easy, but it’s all worth it.