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Musings from the Classroom

  • Opposite Ends of the Spectrum, Commonalities Regardless—Tied Together by Transition

    Posted by VFES Communications at 9/8/2015 7:55:00 AM

    It’s compelling to consider the beginning of the school year and the end of the school year. On one hand, they truly are undeniably different in a number of regards.

    The beginning of the school year holds a wealth of possibilities.

    How can we grow? What can we learn? Where is our path going to lead us? How many hiccups will we navigate along the way?

    Are my teachers going to be nice?

    Am I going to make any new friends?

    On the other side, the end of the year is filled with reflection—opportunities to consider one’s successes and accomplishments as well as the curve balls thrown along the way.

    And in all the ways they are different, they are also the same in a number of respects.
    For in both, there is a eagerness, an energy that cannot be matched. One that makes your body tingle and keeps you alert to take it all in. Smiles undeniably abound just as much on the first day as the last day. And every day in the books is a win in and of itself; for there cannot possibly be a day that goes by where one learns nothing. On the cusp of starting something new, a requisite transition period is full of a lot of gains—no matter how bumpy it is along the way.

    Perhaps the greatest struggles lie in the fear of the unknown and discomfort in trying something new. How can we ease transition and use it to our advantage?

    • Practice a day with school or a day without school. Use a visual schedule to help your son or daughter know what to expect and at what time. Go through the motions of getting ready or filling a lot of perceived down time.
    • Break the transition down into smaller steps. Offer incentives for accomplishing each; e.g., tokens which can add up and be cashed in for a larger payoff, from a toy to an outing to the movies.
    • As difficult as it may be, stay as positive as possible and avoid saying no. Sometimes being negative feeds into an aggravated cycle. Praise your son or daughter for what he or she is doing/has done nicely.
    • Employ a favorite toy or electronic device. Keep it on hand and use it as an impetus for completing a difficult next step in the day.
    • Make time seem more tangible. If your son or daughter knows how long five minutes will be by experiencing it and tracking it on a clock, time-driven blocks of time become more relatable. “You know how quickly that clip from Frozen went? That’s just five minutes. You can do it.”
    • Create a Social Story to help your son or daughter make better use of his or her communication skills when moving from something comfortable to something unfamiliar. Here are some resources: and

    Exploring all the ways in which something novel can be fun and how to harness the energy solicited by the first day of school or the last day of school can be an excellent way to assuage concerns of the unknown and appreciate the day for what it is: the beginning of opportunities versus the ending of something new and unique.

    First Day and Last Day Blog full of Transition  

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  • Benefits That Extend Beyond Five Weeks: How Summer Voyagers Is More Than Summer School

    Posted by at 8/11/2014
    August 11, 2014
    As I sit to write this blog I am reminded we all need a little help with executive function skills. Staying focused certainly is challenging at any age. Phones ringing, e-mails coming in, coworkers popping over to ask a quick question – the deluge of distractions feels never ending.

    Good thing I was listening actively when I recently visited Summer Voyagers, Summer Matters’ academic summer camp for children ages 5-12. For the teachers and therapists imparted some key strategies for sticking to the task at hand.

       Listen carefully. Follow directions. They’ll only be given once.
          Eyes on teacher. Still bodies. Quiet mouths.
             Earn points. Earn reward. Color a picture that definitely will be fridge-worthy.

    Children who attend Summer Voyagers are those who may meet or exceed age-appropriate expectations for cognitive abilities and academic performance in most subject areas. They enjoy success in traditional private and public educational settings and benefit from our five-week summer program.

    They are bright. Motivated. Bundles of energy. Beacons of all things possible.

       They may struggle. In one or more academic areas. With social or communication skills.

          With executive function skills.

       Or have a diagnosed learning difference such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, language processing disorder, non-verbal learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder or sensory processing disorder.

    They have the potential to succeed. At school. In life. With whatever they choose to pursue.

       So Summer Voyagers is there to arm them with the critical tools to help them achieve.

    Summer Voyagers leverages each child’s particular strengths to his or her advantage through differentiated instruction in everything from reading and math to language arts and written expression. Classes are small, allowing elementary and special-education teachers to concentrate on each student’s abilities and needs. Children learn at different paces. Tailored is not a word lost on the staff of Summer Voyagers.

    Because it is unique to academic summer camps, it is worthwhile to highlight the integrated speech-language and occupational therapy.

    Speech-language pathologists push into classes to support listening comprehension, expression and using language for social interactions. One day, a speech-language pathologist from The Vanguard School taught a language-arts class. The topic at hand was emotions. Discerning how others felt. Being able to express how you feel. Understanding the types of actions associated with an emotion on a flashcard. Demonstrating emotions with body language. Taking turns modeling emotions in accordance with the speech-language pathologist’s instructions.

    In addition to the academic component, myriad opportunities exist to develop skills like thinking ahead, flexibility, resilience, minimizing clutter and impulse control. For 20 minutes each morning, there is a class on learning tricks. Children practice utilizing their learning styles to their benefit, sound study habits and organization skills. They learn to self-regulate their behavior. So they can finish homework independently. Or complete a project and meet a deadline.

          Keep track of time. Finish work on time.
          Chart a course.
          Make a checklist.
          Use visuals.
          Ask for help when needed.

    Occupational therapists work with teachers to support students’ attention, regulation, fine motor and organization and planning skills. The morning I visited, an occupational therapist from The Luma Center taught this session and focused on memory. Look at the friend sitting next to you. Now look away. What color was her shirt? What item of clothing did she have on yesterday that she is not wearing today? Was her hair in pigtails or a pony tail? What else did you notice about your friend?

    Strengthening memory is beneficial to improved executive function. Linking past actions with future results helps in planning and managing time spent working on a project. What worked last time? What impeded my progress? How could challenges have been avoided?

    But it’s not just summer school. Mornings focus on academics. Afternoons allow for socialization and recreation. Karate, yoga, pottery, drumming, community outings and swimming are all on the agenda. Activities promote and reinforce social and motor skills development. And it’s a nice option for busy families who may want to have the ability to send their child for a half- or full-day program.

    Not only is Summer Voyagers integral in guarding against summer learning loss, it imparts invaluable learning strategies and builds academic skill sets in a way that perhaps traditional school-year programs do not. And it builds everything into one day.

    In sum, I utilized some of the best practices for staying on task I learned at Summer Voyagers and completed my project despite interruptions. I made a checklist, built in movement breaks, de-cluttered my workspace, outlined what I wanted to discuss, broke a large project into chunks, set a timer and voila – the blog is complete.
    Summer Voyagers  
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