Two Words To Remember This School Year

I find myself talking to The Big Kids quite a bit these days. At 10 and 8 years old, they’re in my favorite stage so far–willing to ask me anything about anything. Topics range from Why Hair Grows There to How Systemic Racism Began & Continues.

Strange body odors? Check.

American politics? Check.

Atomic wedgies? Check.

Adoption and different abilities? Check. Check.

Jesus and healing and death? Check. Check. Check.

I’ve looked into their innocent brown eyes and assured them that no question is off-limits, even when I have to contort my face to keep from laughing at times.

I’m a big fan of this stage of parenting my pre-tween and tween. Their endless wonder leads to so many interesting conversations and I’m grateful to be present in the dialogue, to help them find the answers, or to simply say, “I don’t know” when they ask me things like, “Will Sam have Down syndrome in heaven?”

Sometimes I worry that my answers are too detailed, that I’m offering too many words, overloading their growing minds in my earnest attempts to educate or inform or encourage.

But they seem undeterred, eager for more.

My hope is that they absorb all the good words that I endeavor to use: the red letters of Jesus, the truths of Scripture, the reality of history, the meaningful song lyrics, the beautiful stories, and profound poems written by countless men and women all over the world. I want their tender hearts and minds to be so full of the truth that lies can’t find any space to burrow inside. I want to protect their impressionable ears from the hateful and divisive words that seem to greet each of us more frequently in our polarized society.

While I believe that the words my kids are absorbing here at home are good and meaningful and true, I don’t want these humans entrusted to me to be tight-fisted consumers. I want them to take what they’re learning here and share it with their neighbors and classmates and teachers and yes, even (perhaps, especially those most difficult to love.)

I want them to tell the truth and treat others with respect.

I want them to stand with the bullied and include the ones who wonder if they matter.

I want them to encourage others and make at least one true friend.

I want them to work hard and listen well and make the most of their educational opportunities.  

With all of the possibilities, I found it a bit challenging to choose just one phrase for them to consider and apply this year. But I finally did and it’s this:

BE KIND.

Photo cred: reneebigelow at Pixabay

That’s it. Nothing new or deeply profound.

When you meet a new classmate: Be kind.

When you see a kid quietly upset: Be kind.

When a student appears left out on the playground: Be kind.

When a student forgets her lunch: Be kind.

When a teacher seems in a bad mood: Be kind.

When a kid on the bus is being teased: Be kind.

When a kid seems different from the cultural norm: Be kind.

When you disagree with a classmate: Be kind.

When another student is rude: Be kind.

There are countless scenarios both in and out of the classroom where my kiddos can apply these two simple words with potentially powerful implications. Choosing to be kind will require different responses, depending on the need of the moment and the people present. Of course, I want them to learn and excel in school but I also want them to be aware of how they can include and encourage others, even when the easier choice would be to ignore, retreat, or retaliate.

And sometimes, these two kiddos are the ones who most need a good dose of their own kindness.

The Big Kids have a strong tendency to be self-critical. When they don’t meet their own expectations in some way, they tend to think negatively about themselves and once they move in that direction, they struggle to find their way back to the truth. I’m learning to give them ample time to process life, while offering heaps of encouragement and grace and love notes under their pillows to help chase away the dark thoughts. So, in their efforts to be kind to others, I also want them to remember to be kind to themselves–to extend grace to themselves, to rest in the love of God.

There’s a song by Andrew Peterson that speaks to this–one that I’ve played for them on the really rough days when music and lyrics offer more than I can. You can click here to listen.

Be kind, Kids. To others. To yourselves. That’s it.  

 

How about you? What is one idea/phrase/truth you want your kid(s) to hold on to for this school year?

 

  

3 Helpful Ways for Parents To Approach IEP Meetings

Remember that time you skipped and twirled your way into your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting, stopping only to sign in at the office? You didn’t even realize you were humming “Happy” by Pharrell Williams as you took your seat at the table, where your child’s team of educators waited, the glow of halos above their precious heads.

 

 

Throughout the meeting, you threw your head back in laughter, your hands clasped together in joy as the team shared countless stories of the wonder that is your child. The only shock you felt was when you learned of the new and improved resources available for your child with different abilities.

Another hour of OT each week?” you cry, “Be still my beating heart!”

“Two extra hours of speech therapy? Surely, you jest!”

“A new aid to help with classroom engagement? STOP IT!” 

What’s that? Your IEP meetings don’t fit this scenario? Hmmm. Was it the halos? Were they too much? Was it the song choice? Not a Pharrell fan? I’ll get on that.

Oh, Parents. I see you. You’ve got additional considerations when it comes to educating your kiddo(s) with not-so-typical needs.

In reality, you probably sit at a table with a handful of *usually* well-intentioned, exhausted school professionals, who are *often* limited by district regulations, time, and funding. (Or they’re refusing to use the funding for its mandated purposes–a common complaint I’ve heard.) You work through each goal, swallowing lumps in your throat as the heat creeps up your neck and into your cheeks. You force yourself to maintain composure, while trying to determine whether the recommendations from these *mostly* dedicated professionals are realistic for your child.

 

Seriously, those nails are perfectly manicured. Where do I get some like that?

 

You wonder why The Team can’t provide the appropriate (number of) resources.

You wonder how that particular team member ever got hired. (Do they even like my kid?) 

You wonder if The Team will actually do the work as specifically outlined in the IEP.

You wonder what might happen if you advocate too little–will he get the services he needs? Or if you advocate too much–will she be ‘punished’ for your ferocity?

You wonder if the goals for your child are realistic.

And ultimately, you wonder whether any of these standards even matter, especially when you consider our great big world beyond the classroom–a world in which your child has more to offer than what’s contained in a meeting. A world in which all you really want to know is whether she will ever really belong, regardless of any IEP goal.

I’ve heard from many of you regarding the dreaded IEP meeting(s). Your negative, often maddening experiences have inspired me to think about what has helped me to prepare for and process these meetings in a way that feels empowering and hopeful. While I know there are many factors to consider within our specific IEP spheres, I’ve discovered–

3 Helpful Ways for Parents to Approach IEP Meetings:

  1. Determine your expectations. What are you hoping to gain from this time with The Team? Are you planning to work with them to explore appropriate goals for your child? Or are you already guarded and angry? Does it feel more like a battle to fight for basic services that he’s legally entitled to receive? Are you new to this whole piece of education, confused by your own role? Do you find yourself wondering if this meeting even matters when nothing seems to change anyway? When the system already feels stacked against your kid? 

When I take an honest look at my expectations, I am better able to address Sam’s current needs. Taking the time to work through my own anxiety (about his development, school, future, etc.) feels empowering and allows me to better collaborate with his team in a productive way. I am no longer a helpless victim at the mercy of my own frustrations or intimidated by a group of educators gathered around a cramped table. Rather I’m an informed, engaged, and thoughtful parent, willing to be honest and kind, and ready to be a strong voice on behalf of my son.

2. Keep the day open. Whenever the IEP meeting happens (usually mornings here), I try to keep the rest of the day ‘free’ of planned stressors. For instance, I wouldn’t schedule an IEP meeting on the same day as, say, a mammogram. Or a follow-up to a recent mole scan. Or a meeting at work in which some folks will be ‘let go.’ I know life is full and you’ve got responsibilities to consider but try to keep some space in that calendar square. This will allow time for you to process the meeting, record any concerns or questions that emerged later, and even create a follow-up plan, if necessary. Leaving margin also gives you a chance to decompress emotionally, physically, and mentally. You will likely need it.

I know some of you march into those meetings in full armor, ready to do battle, feeling like you’re the only one fighting for the needs of your child. When you walk out, your chainmail is mangled, your helmet smashed, and you’ve lost your sword. You’re worn out and angry from advocating, from having to handle the same abrasive team member, from proving to the school–the system–that your child is worth more than what’s printed on paper and that he is entitled, by law, to certain services and resources.

Maybe you tiptoe in, doubting yourself, slinking into the chair, bowing to the suggestions of professionals who don’t know your child like you do. But you’re new to all of ‘this’ and ‘they’re the professionals, after all’ so you smile and nod your head like a spineless puppet.

No matter how you enter and leave that IEP meeting, be sure to carve out time afterward so your mind and heart can take a collective slow breath. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

3.) Remember the Truth: IEPs are used to measure and track individual milestones and skills, within the context of standardized charts created by various educators and researchers. IEPs are helpful in creating and assessing *reasonable* educational benchmarks. They give us a baseline for each student, while providing specific goals for kids to work toward, which can be helpful tools. But they are just tools.

 

 

IEPs and their meetings do not measure Sam’s value as a person.

They do not reveal his hilarious side-eye or how he runs to our neighbor’s door to greet him.

They do not indicate his ability to apologize, sign ‘sorry’, and hug the one he has hurt.

They do not record his laugh or dance moves or the delight he brings to our home. (Click here for proof.)

They do not show his interest in books or the tender way he bottle feeds his stuffed bunny.

When I’m tempted toward discouragement and frustration that his scores are consistently below *average* (whatever that means), I remember that IEPs aren’t designed to measure the whole value of Sam.

He is more than the sum of his (non) achievements.

He is more than the sobering black print on white paper.

He is more than some educators might *silently* believe him to be.

He may never jump with both feet in the air at the same time or stack the ‘right’ number of blocks the ‘right’ way. 

But maybe that’s okay. Maybe what should be measured can’t be found in those meetings. Or on paper.

While I’m so grateful for Sam’s team and their hard work in helping us to identify and implement appropriate goals for him, I’m learning that IEPs and their meetings don’t provide the whole picture of Sam—or who he’s becoming as a person.

So, to all of you parents and caregivers embarking on another school year and navigating those IEP meetings, I’m thinking especially of you these days. May you clarify your own expectations, make time to process, and remember the Truth that your child’s worth is not based on any meeting, professional opinion, or some predetermined measuring stick.

And if you forget, as we all do sometimes, send me an email. I’ll be here–ready to listen and help you remember.

 

 

***I realize that the IEP process [in public schools] varies widely, depending on state regulations, school districts, specific needs of individuals, personnel issues, finances, etc. There are so many factors to consider. As Sam grows and his team changes, my writing on this topic may shift. I am simply sharing what has worked for us–for Sam–in this season.

On Choosing Public School…Again

When kids began to sprout up in our home, I just assumed that Glendon & I would be the kind of parents who drafted an educational plan for them and THAT WOULD BE IT. I viewed our decision sort of like a tragically arranged marriage. We would determine their future education before their first words and sign a legally binding contract to seal the deal. No matter how terribly incompatible said choice might be, there would be no turning back. We would simply endure the horrors of our decision.

How foolish of me for being so staunch, so strangely committed to one way of educating. I’ve become the parent I didn’t expect: open to whatever schooling best meets the current needs of our family.

Last year, we made the decision to move from homeschool to public school. And we’ve hit the repeat button for this year.

There are lessons The Big Kids can learn in school that we cannot orchestrate at home.

There are opportunities for them to grow as students that we cannot provide right now.

And The Little Kids at home need me more engaged and ready to meet their demanding stages without the added time and pressure that it takes for me to plan lessons and teach. I recognize the privilege of this choice, especially when I consider the many families who feel stuck and discouraged with their only option.

Could the public (and private) school curriculum be stronger? Sure.

Are there things I’d change about the system? Yaaaassss.

Am I concerned about bullying (especially toward my kiddo with developmental delays)? Yep.

And don’t even get me started on the funding issues, particularly as it relates to race and poverty and life skill programs. That’s another post for another time.

There are plenty of things I’d change about the homeschool culture, too. It’s not all waking up when the Spirit leads and adventurous field trips on the daily.

With our decision–and the decision that many of you face each year–I have grown weary of the negative stereotypes that accompany our varied educational paths.

If your children are homeschooled, you must be sheltered and culturally ignorant and hate public schools.

If your children attend a public school, you must be godless and lazy and surrendered to the state’s ideals.

If your children attend a private/Christian school, you must be rich and exclusive and elitist.

I’ve lived each stereotype, where wrong assumptions were made about me, my family, and now my own kids.

I spent 11 years as a student in a private Christian school. Certain public school kids used the term “preppy snobs” to label me and others who attended. Their words stung, especially since my dad was a teacher at that school. I knew how deeply committed he was to the students and faculty, the tiny paycheck he brought home, and how hard he and my mom worked to keep the five of us enrolled.

We lived simply, without the latest styles or gadgets. Unlike most homes at the time, ours didn’t have cable TV—we had a pair of rabbit ears with foil, though. (All the praise hands!)

We wore hand-me-downs and on a rare occasion went to the dollar theater to see movies that most teens had seen months before at the regular price.

We didn’t take fancy vacations to exotic beaches or snow-covered ski resorts.

We were the slowest people in the checkout line at the grocery store–not only because we had 2 full carts but also because my mom had a wheelbarrow of *double* coupons to present. And this was before couponing was a ‘thing.’

In a school parking lot where new Mustangs, Volvos, and Jeeps rolled in, my siblings and I drove some seriously used cars, like our 1983 station wagon, whose hood flew off en route to school one morning. By the time I was a high school junior, I was lucky enough to drive our 1994 Ford Aerostar minivan to prom. Although, we didn’t call it ‘prom.’ We called it the ‘Jr./Sr. Banquet.’ (Because if Christian school kids danced, they may as well dance themselves right outside those pearly gates and straight to hell.)

Gotta love the internet! Found a picture of her. Isn’t she a beaut?

When we homeschooled, I noticed the furrowed brows and heard these comments, “Homeschool is terrible because you never make any friends. It’s not really school, is it? Are they getting enough socialization?” Thank you for your concern about our kids’ socialization–is that your kid there picking his scab and wiping it on the person behind him?

Now that our kids attend public school, I see the pursed lips and hear the pompous remarks, “The quality of education isn’t great…As a Christian parent, you are called to homeschool and Christian education…I’ve seen the village and I don’t want it raising my child.” Well, goshdangit. You’re just a boatload of good news, aren’t you? Thank you for reminding me that our job as followers of Jesus is to create Christian subcultures in order to avoid a dark world in need of our Light.

I think we can all agree that no educational system is perfect. Right?  

Can we also agree to speak with kindness toward one another?

Can we refuse to burden each other with guilt and shame over the choices we’ve made for our families?

Can we find ways to encourage each other in our educational endeavors?

Instead of [silently] criticizing, let’s support one another. Instead of deeming our choice best, let’s connect with those who educate differently and discover what works for them. Instead of making assumptions, let’s ask questions and learn from each other. And let’s remember that many families around our country and in our world do not have the luxury of choice.

So, here we are—bidding good-bye to homeschool. Again. At least for now.

In a couple of weeks, the Big Kids will walk out the front door, away from me and into a setting where their wonderful teachers will instruct them. They will be welcomed into a more formal classroom rather than scooching their chairs up to our weathered dining room table.

This transition still tastes bittersweet. I’ll miss The Big Kids each day but we are at peace with how God has led us. As a family, we’re learning how to walk by faith, to let go of our need for control, while trusting God to use this season—as He has every season—for His glory and our good.

What educational path has worked well for your kiddos? And how did you decide what was best for them? I’d love to hear from you!