How To Choose The Right School

Choosing the right school for any child is a tough decision. But choosing the right school for a child with special needs or learning difficulties is absolutely critical. Which is why I have written this article to hopefully give you some tips on how to choose the right school.

When you have a child with special needs, the RIGHT school can:

Be a fantastic source of support for you and your child.

Help your child reach their full potential.

Minimise the symptoms of your child’s disorder or difficulty.

Make your child feel comfortable and happy.

Allow your child to make friends and eliminate the chance of bullying.

Improve your child’s chances of a bright future full of opportunities and possibilities.

This all sounds fantastic and is what every parent wants for their child.

However, choosing the WRONG school can:

Give you little or no support.

Hold your child back.

Make their symptoms worse.

Cause your child to feel scared, alone and isolated.

Make it difficult for your child to make friends.

Increase the likelihood of bullying.

Limit the chance of your child having a bright future.

YES, this is how important it is to get the right school when your child has special needs. And unfortunately this is the reality of what could (and often does) happen.

I have had a lot of experience in this area with my own son:

When he was due to start school. I spent hours trawling the internet in search of the best local schools, in the best areas, with the highest league table scores and best reports.

This was a HUGE mistake.

If you have a child who does not have special needs or learning difficulties, then yes, do what I did, and look for those high performing schools in ‘good’ areas.

BUT, if your child has special needs, DO NOT DO THAT. I can’t stress that enough.

High performing schools are often high performing because they have very few children with special needs.

This means that:

a) they won’t have such good facilities and procedures in place for them.

b) they won’t have such good knowledge or experience with special needs or learning difficulties.

Also, high performing schools in ‘good’ areas often lack in diversity. This can make your child more likely to be subject to bullying. Where a school has a higher number of children with special needs and a greater level of diversity, children are more open to differences between them and less likely to pick on a child for being different.

The first school I sent my son to, I made this mistake. I sent him to a very high performing school in a typically rich, white christian area. The school had less than 1% special needs. And 0% cultural diversity.

Within a few months, my son was terrified to go to school. He hardly had any friends. He was being bullied. The teacher constantly came up to me at the end of the day to tell me what he’d done wrong that day or how much he’d struggled. He achieved barely any learning progress. And every time I went into a meeting with his teacher or special needs co ordinator, they would say things like, “we don’t know what to do with him”. And, “We think you should consider sending him to a special school”.

For far too long, I left him at that school, not realising the damage it was doing, or that things could be different.

After nearly 2 years I pulled him out. And not to send him to a special school (like they had suggested). I sent him to a school in a nearby town, which was the exact opposite of the school he had just left.

I sent him to a school with low performance rates. The highest percentage of special needs children in the area (12%) and was located in quite a ‘poor’ area with lots of diversity.

Within a few weeks he started to read simple words, write his name and count to 10. Things he had never been able to do. He enjoyed going to school (most days – we still had the occasional day he couldn’t be bothered, but no screaming fits). He made lots of friends. And all the teachers and staff their loved him.

Instead of having a teacher constantly moaning about him, they spoke about him with fondness and affection. It was fantastic.

After just over 4 glorious years at that school. Sadly he had to leave, because we had to emigrate from England to Australia.

But, when we started the search for a school in Australia, I had already learnt my lesson. So I immediately looked for a school that was:

Small (under 400 students) the less the better.

Had high rates of children with special needs and learning difficulties (minimum or 8%).

Had a very diverse mix of students, with children from lots of different economic, ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

A school that focused a lot of attention on social development and happy children.

We visited school after school after school within about a half an hour drive of our house. And eventually we found a school that met all my criteria. Woodville Primary School in Victoria.

My son has been there now for 6 months and he couldn’t be happier. He has lots of friends and the staff adore him. But most importantly he enjoys going to school. And I feel supported and listened to by his teacher and the other staff.

Study Tips – How to Study for High School Finals

Some of the most common questions involving studying concern finals, and rightfully so. For many high school students, their finals determine their success or failure in a class. That one test can be 50% of a student’s grade for an entire semester of work. Here are four steps that will help you make sure that you are getting the most out of your study sessions for high school finals.

1. Make sure you have all of your materials.

Few things are more annoying than having to continually re-gather your school materials. Make sure you have all the books and other materials you need for that class. Frankly, though, your books should simply be a reference by this time. You have been taking good notes and studying all along, so your most important materials aren’t in your books. It’s in your own words on your own paper.

You also want to make sure you have enough materials to stay put for at least 50 minutes. A writing utensil, paper on which to make new review materials, and a focused mind should be enough. If you would rather make a digital resource than a hand-written one, that will work. But before committing to a computer, consider these three benefits of hand-writing your review materials.

First, you have the added memory aid of kinesthetic learning. This is a primary way people take in information, and, believe it or not, simply writing something down can be tremendously helpful for memorization. Second, there are visual helps that come from hand-writing a new review sheet that are missed on a computer screen. For example, many people have had the experience of remembering where an answer was on a particular page. If you’ve ever thought, “I remember that It was under the picture of the alligator on the top right hand corner of the page… ,” you know what I’m talking about. That benefit is mostly lost on a scrolling computer screen. Third, successful students know the benefits of arrows, diagrams, scribbles, doodles, and every other weird hand-written elements for studying. You miss that on Microsoft Word. There is no way around it with the current state of technology.

If you have all of your materials, you are now ready for step 2, setting the environment for a successful final exam study session.

2. Set up a great environment for studying.

Many college students miss this element entirely. Consider this: how many students have you seen at Starbucks with a laptop open, Facebook in the background, gmail chat in the foreground, twitter feeds buzzing their phones, text messages coming in every three minutes, and a chemistry book in their lap? That type of studying – if it can even be called “studying” – is not particularly helpful for studying for finals. High school students need to understand this element of studying for finals before graduating. Your environment matters. It can make or break your study session.

The problem with a bad environment is that time moves at the same speed whether you are learning or not. Many a disappointed student has spent hours at the coffee shop cramming for exams but failed a test because of a poor environment. Great environments enhance studying exponentially.

Great environments, while being different for each individual, will have certain things in common. Social media will be held at bay. As difficult as that sounds, it must be done. Tell Facebook, “Goodbye,” for an hour. Twitter, texting, Voxer, and HeyTell have no place in a finals study session. More traditional media like television also needs to be shut down for a while. Set an environment where you can concentrate without the constant pull of media all around you. Music can help some students stay focused, but try to make sure it is instrumental and playing quietly in the background if at all. The quieter and more focused your environment is, the more productive your study session will be.

3. Focus your studies on the most important ideas and details.

When studying for finals, you should not be re-reading the chapters. Reading is an important part of the learning process, but it is too comprehensive to be helpful on a final exam. You want just the biggest, most important details. Birthdays, maiden names, pets names, favorite colors, and state flowers are usually not on the final exams. Essays about major thought-movements and the key thinkers involved are on final exams.

Acing your finals is dependent on whether or not you can focus your learning on the most important ideas. If you can, you are sure to score higher in less time studying. If you cannot, you are sure to know a lot of information, have spent a lot of hours in the library, and not understand why so much of what you studied wasn’t on the exam. Learning what to learn is as important as learning how to learn.

4. Study.

Get to work on what you know. Go over the notes you’ve made, make a study guide for yourself, and do the work. I recommend 50 minutes of studying at a time. Break those sections up with a ten-minute break to get the most out of your session.

5. Stop studying, sleep and dominate the final test.

There comes a point in every study session where every student has to sleep. Sometimes students forget about this. They stay up late, drinking a lot of coffee, feeling miserable, and working for a long time. Then when the test comes, they are groggy and end up writing weird things.

Don’t write weird essays. Just go to sleep. It is one of the most important things you can do during the studying process.

One high school friend of mine drew a sailboat on an essay exam because he couldn’t gather his thoughts enough to write a great essay. In case you are curious, sailboats don’t score well on essay tests. And yes, that is a true story. You can’t make that up.

If you’ve done your work, you should be set up for a great performance on your final exams. Relax, know that you’ve done your best, and dominate the test.

Living With Autism and Other Special Needs: Back to School Tips

Most parents look forward to the end of August because it is back to school time.

Back to school time for parents with children who have special needs can be a mixed blessing. Transitions and change are difficult for all children, but particularly children with autism.

Here are some tips for parents to help make back to school time more pleasant for you and your child with autism.

  1. Begin getting into the school routine early. Make a picture schedule of the morning routine and start following it. Start getting up a little bit earlier each day and going to bed earlier at night. This will make thing easier instead of waiting until the night before school starts and saying, “School is tomorrow. You need to go to bed at 8:00” when your child has been staying up until 10:00.
  2. Think twice before purchasing new school clothes. In my experience children with autism do not generally like the feeling of new clothes. To send a child to school with all new scratchy clothes might be a bit of sensory overload. Instead, consider buying used clothes or washing them several times before school starts. Encourage your child to wear his new clothes and shoes at home.
  3. Consider getting a haircut early. Some children with autism don’t like getting haircuts and if they start to associate haircuts with school it will add to their anxiety.
  4. Glasses If your child wears glasses, and he doesn’t wear them during the summer (which I don’t recommend), have him wear them at least a week prior to school starting.
  5. Read books and watch t.v. shows about going back to school.
  6. Make a social story featuring your child and read it to him every day. Social stories are helpful for children with autism because it helps them prepare for things that are going to be different. You can include photos if you wish. Here is an example:
  7. Summertime is almost over.
    Kevin is getting ready to go back to school.
    On August 24 th Kevin will ride Bus 456 to “Canyon Elementary School.”
    “Kevin’s” teachers this year are Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Jones.
    Kevin’s Dad bought him new shoes for school.
    Kevin’s Mom bought him new clothes for school.
    Kevin is getting ready to go back to school.

  8. Use a calendar to mark down the days until school starts. Put a picture of a school bus on the date of the first day of school.
  9. Make plans to meet the teacher ahead of time. For tips on meeting the teacher, read my article Meeting the New Teacher.

8 Tips To Navigating The Private School Admissions Process

The Private school admissions process starts the day after Labor Day. To get a head start, you need to begin preparing for your child’s admission much before this date. Here are a few tips to help you prepare for the process.

1. Have an open and honest talk with your partner

Both partners need to be fully involved in the admission process of their child. Sometimes, one of them might be fully excited about getting their child admitted in a private school, while the other may not be as enthusiastic or well-informed about the process. In such families, the whole admission process can be a stressful experience since there is no agreement between the partners in the first place. So you first need to ensure that you and your partner both have the same level of commitment, expectations and enthusiasm towards securing an admission for your child in a private school. Sit together and honestly share your goals and aspirations as well as your apprehensions and fears until both of you agree on the route that you wish to take.

2. Make a Commitment of your Time

You would have to commit your time towards achieving the goal that you have set for your child’s education. Be prepared to spend a lot of time writing personal essays and completing the application forms of schools that you wish to apply to. Once the admission process begins, you would have to attend open houses, parent interviews, child interviews and school tours. You need to allocate time for all these activities. Learn more about each school through their website and other literature to have a better understanding about the admission process. Knowing about the school’s philosophy and their values will help you decide which school will be the most appropriate institution for your child’s academic and personal growth.

3. Make a Financial Commitment

Money is a factor when applying to private schools. You need to properly plan your finances to accommodate this expense. There is a standardized testing procedure that the independent schools require for admissions. This assessment is administered by the educational records bureau. There is a fee associated with this assessment. Some schools may reduce or waive the application fee and you may also apply for a fee reduction for the child assessment if the cost poses a financial burden on the family. Financial documentation will be required for this procedure. If your family is applying for financial aid, you may be required to pay a fee to process your child’s financial aid application.

4. Get Your Documents in Order

If you are requesting financial aid for your child’s education, then both partners need to provide at least three years of tax forms and W2 that shows your income. If you are divorced, separated or another partner is actively involved in raising your child or financially contributing to your child, then their tax information is also required. Schools want to be able to assess the total contribution that a family can make towards their child’s education. So having all the relevant documentation readily available will make it easier for you to provide this information when it is requested of you.

5. Communicate with Your Child’s current Pre-school

During the admission process, a private school might need to communicate with your child’s current Pre-school to get clarifications on your child’s application. If they are not aware that you are currently seeking admission in private schools, it could be awkward for you and for them if they are hearing about this for the first time. So it is good to inform the Director of your child’s current preschool that you are seeking admission in other private schools.

6. Provide Correct and Complete Contact Information

Make sure that you provide correct and complete contact information on each application form. Your home phone number, as well as work place and cell phone numbers should be specified accurately. Clear all previous messages from your answering machine so that schools can leave a message for you when you are not at home. Create a new and separate email address exclusively for school admissions so that important emails from each school do not get mixed or lost among personal and casual mails. Enter the email address correctly in the application forms and check your email regularly. If you are on social networks, enable your privacy settings to hide your profile. You don’t want your admissions Director looking through or reviewing your profile.

7. Promptly call the day after Labor Day

Thousands of parents will be calling in on the day after Labor Day to get applications from schools. Many schools start taking in calls as early as 8 am. Phones line can become quite busy on that day. Be persistent and keep trying until you get through. You would have to repeat this process for each school and therefore be mentally prepared for this. Have a pen, notepad, a few sheets of paper and a calendar handy. Having these at your disposal can make your conversations effective, short and to the point. You can also note down all the important information during your calls.

Provide the right information to each school during your calls. To avoid confusion, write down your full name, your spouse’s full name, your complete address, your regular phone number and an alternate number. Also write down your child’s full name, your child’s gender, date of birth, and the name, address and phone number of your child’s current school. These are some of the particulars that you would have to provide during each call. Having these particulars written down will help you provide the correct information every time.

8. Use Technology to Your Advantage

Many schools are going green and offer you the option of filling your applications online. They also provide parents with inquiry forms which they can use to request information from the school. Staying in touch with the school online, well before the admission process starts can give you an advantage over other parents who rely only on traditional methods for contacting the school. Most private schools have a comprehensive website that provides detailed information about their admission processes. Go through each school’s website and gather as much information as possible.

Following these powerful steps can help you get organized and approach the admission process in a more methodical and systematic manner. This will go a long way in giving your child a head start in the admission process.