Care and Nutrition is Slate’s parenting advice column. In addition to our traditional advice, every Thursday we feature a variety of teachers from all over the country answering your educational questions. Do you have a question for our teachers? email email@example.com or post it in Slate Parenting Facebook Group.
I am a retired teacher (Pre-K to 3rd grade) with 40 years of experience. For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering for a few hours every morning in one second grade class at Title 1 School. This year, one girl is constantly rocking two legs from her chair, and she ends up taking her chair away. I mentioned to the teacher that I thought she would benefit from an active wheelchair; She replied that children “benefit” from these chairs. I’ve used many types of “fidget chairs” with students, and I know they can help. Do you have any advice on how to bring up the topic with the teacher again, so I can include her in this suggestion?
– Vibrate your vibrations away
Dear vibrate your vibrations,
This master doesn’t seem to have a lot of experience or confidence in regards to fittings. For those who may not know, swaying chairs are stool-like seats with a rounded bottom that allows children to swing. Some teachers see these facilities as games and think that they are distracting students. But in reality, the opposite is true: offering students oscillating fidgets like swaying chairs has been considered a best practice to reduce distraction and increase focus for a few years now and is common in many classrooms across the country. The key is to set clear expectations with the student about the purpose of the residence and how it will be used.
First, I will make a direct appeal to the master teacher. A more specialized conversation may give them the opportunity to think about the situation and make a different choice. If that doesn’t work, and you’re still feeling strong, I’ll talk to your school’s resource room or have a school psychologist come in to observe the student’s behavior. If your school does not have a designated psychologist, you can order one from your area. The psychologist will have a better understanding of how accommodations such as an oscillating chair affect a student’s learning. If the psychologist thinks that would be helpful, they can develop a 504 plan that would provide for residency by law.
-Mr. Hersey (Elementary School Teacher, Washington)
Slate needs your support now. Sign up for Slate Plus Keep reading for the tips you crave every week.
My daughter is about to turn seven, and I’ve just started first grade in person. While she was in kindergarten last year, she spent most of the year learning virtually, so this is her first real experience with a public school. She is a very intelligent and extroverted child, but she struggles in terms of self-control and the level of her emotional reactions, with us at home and with her peers. When she is excited, she is really happy, but if she gets angry, she will scream and use unpleasant words/tones.
It’s been weeks since the school year has started and we’ve already received an email from her teacher who wanted us to know that our daughter was having trouble keeping her hands to herself. She doesn’t usually do this aggressively (although she gets hit once or twice, which worries me), but does want to be hugged, touched, tickled, etc.
She’s done this since she was little, and we’ve been working on personal space, borders, etc. I asked to make a call to her teacher so I could get a better idea of what her class/teacher level is like. The problem for me is that I tend to worry to the extreme, classically making mountains out of dirt mounds (which is my own problem and I’m working on separately). While I know my instincts tell me that my daughter needs guidance and support at home and school, I’m not sure what level I should step in. I feel that my intervention here could lead to a whole series of poster charts to an ADHD assessment.
Do you have any advice on how I can keep a flat head as a mother while not ignoring the problem? I plan to work with my child’s teacher and the school to make sure she gets the support she needs. I work hard to separate the behaviors from my child, focus on all the positives, but my brain is overwhelmed, and I tend to get obsessive/want to solve the problem right away! Life doesn’t work that way, but…any help would be appreciated.
—Mountains outside Molehills
In general, when I look at responses to behaviors, I try to get children to start small and progress their way. I think of it the way most people deal with most problems – first you have to try the easy and convenient solutions. If that doesn’t work, you run that, and only move to a more invasive step if the less intense steps don’t work.
With that in mind, I would say the first step is to stop and take stock. One way to think about behavior that I’ve found really helpful is to ask yourself two questions: Is it acceptable? Is it age appropriate? A child cuddling with peers when it’s not allowed in school is really unacceptable, but it’s a much bigger problem at 17 than it would be at 7, due to the different maturity levels at work. For a 7-year-old who hasn’t been physically present with other people at school in 18 months, his overrepresentation isn’t surprising. Remind yourself that it is a relatively small problem, and that you and her mentor can work together to solve it.
Sticker Planner is a great start! You can make one at home, and it doesn’t require specialized setup or management. I would suggest you start with a social story – you can find it online, but you can make one with PowerPoint, explaining that it’s okay to be friends, but we keep our hands to ourselves at school, etc. In the preschool I worked at we used the phrase ‘mothers and dads hugs/kiss’, which never worked for me, but maybe you can find an alternative that explains ‘non-school kisses’.
Try to focus on the behaviors you want to show! Talk about how to share with friends, use kind words with friends, play games with friends, but we don’t use our hands with friends because we need to keep our distance to stay safe. Once you determine the difference between the target behavior and what she is currently doing, you can show her the graph and explain that she earns the stickers by showing kindness to her friends without her hands. On the positive side, this is a great way to bring up the concept of consent! It’s never too early to teach kids to respect other people’s limits, and instead of seeing this as terrible for your child, you and her teacher can use this lesson following school rules to understand why it’s important to keep her hands to herself unless someone is doing it. Tell her it’s okay to touch.
With this behavior and any behaviors that may appear, you should give the behavior plan a few days to start working before you panic and look for a stronger solution, but you should also remember that not every behavior causes panic. Children go through behaviors – they are all children. The key is to remember that if you can get past it, it’s just a hill. You don’t need to disable your mountaineering gear to try it yet.
-Ms. Sarnell (Early Childhood Special Education Teacher, New York)
After a few months of deliberating, checking test results, and talking to parents, we decided to send our child to kindergarten at a local private school. There is also a nearby school, an equal distance from our house. Frankly, neither school really stood out from the other, and only slight differences led us to record it in the charter. Our child is bright and makes friends relatively easily; She mostly enjoys school and keeps up with work.
We live in a very conservative county and disagree with many in our community about COVID precautions. Our child wears the mask at school every day even though the majority of children do not, and they will be vaccinated once vaccines are approved for her age group. The rest of the district has recently (and reluctantly) put in place mask mandates, and the rule does not cover our charter school but is applied in other primary schools. If not for the district state, I’m sure the other elementary school would be mask-free as well, and I wonder how long they’ll keep the state in place.
Besides worrying so much about sending her to a school that doesn’t seem to care about mitigating COVID, there were many other simple red flags that made me guess if this school was a good fit for our family. These things seem trivial to me but I can’t seem to let them go. For example, the teacher (even after polite reminders) does not seem to remember to dismiss my child on time as per their class policy; I have seen school staff treat a certain child who needs help carelessly; The art teacher told my child that she needed to color with “realistic” colors. School staff ignored a simple recommendation I made to increase safety for children (like Lee) who ride their bikes to school; For example, but not limited. I realize that my response to these incidents is due in part to my dissatisfaction with their overall response to COVID.
I was seriously considering the possibility of transferring her to another school, because at least at that time All The children were wearing masks. I didn’t even broach the subject with my daughter, or asked the other school if there was still a place to enroll. I’m stuck on whether it would do her more harm than good to transfer her to a different school in the middle of a semester, especially since there’s always a chance I’ll be unhappy with the other school.
My husband is also frustrated with the school staff and would be supportive of taking her to the other school, but he’s in the same boat as me – the other might be just as bad, and she might be vaccinated soon so we won’t be worried about the lack of a COVID protocol. We’d like a third party opinion on whether Our concerns were valid enough to transfer to a new school at this point in the school year.
—Should we make the switch?
The good news is that you’re still early enough in your daughter’s education experience that change is much easier than it was in later years. I think you need to put the pandemic aside for a moment and ask yourself this: Do I trust teachers and administrators to keep my daughter safe?
Ultimately, the first and most important job of a school is to keep children safe, so if you don’t think the school is making decisions to keep your daughter safe now, do you think they’ll make better decisions suddenly when the pandemic has subsided or when your daughter is vaccinated?
It’s hard for me to talk remotely, but if my child’s school didn’t put in mask mandates despite what the vast majority of medical experts advise, I think I’d worry about the adult priorities at my child’s school and might be ready to make a difference.
That’s right, the grass always looks greener somewhere else, but you at least have evidence that somewhere else it prioritizes children’s health and safety over anything else, and that, I think, will appeal to me tremendously.
-Mr. Dix (5th grade teacher, Connecticut)
More tips from Slate
My 5 year old daughter gives dance lessons with a teacher who is adored by Miss Emma. The Christmas party was taking place this week, and Emma asked each parent to pay $50 for the party costume. I just picked up the costume, and it still has a $25 price tag attached. Emma is a very nice teacher, but I feel a little upset. She made me think she wasn’t making a profit from the costumes, and if I had known she was going to charge us double the price, I would have gone to the store and bought it myself. Do I have to tell her something?