The Ultimate Goal of Education: Learning how to learn!

In my work with young children, I often get asked by caring parents about what goal/s I’m working on with their children.  For the most part, goals are varied and they depend a great deal on 1) the functioning level of the child, 2) the needs of the family.  When working with very young children (0-3 years old), the family is the principal stakeholder. 

But no matter the individual goals and objectives for each child, the main goal of education is to help children become independent so that they can learn for themselves.  College students, for example, will have forgotten over seventy five percent of what they learned in college a few years after graduation (my observation), but they would have learned HOW TO LEARN.  They would have become smart consumers and will know how to keep themselves abreast of the latest developments in their field.  We don’t want physicians that only remember what they learned in medical school!  We want them to keep themselves up on the latest medical news!

Similarly, children (even young children) need to learn how to learn.  How do they do this?  With some individual variables, we can say that most children learn by 1) being shown how to do tasks (commands or play), 2) being given the opportunity to repeat those tasks, even if they make mistakes, 3) and providing them with free play time.  This last point is important, as it will be used to reveal how much a child can do by him/herself.

Children need modeling, and strategies and techniques in order to learn from those around them, but they also need space to be able to practice on their own.  Two -year old children have a difficult time sitting for any period of time as it is, and it is not natural to have them sit and pay attention for a long period of time.  This would set an unrealistic expectation for the parent and it would only hurt the chances that the child will be able to learn how to learn.   We need to build in time for children to express themselves.

Next time you wonder what’s the best legacy you can leave for your child, think of yourself as the nest, and of your children as birds who are slowly spreading their wings so that they can fly.  What can you do for them to become more independent?  What does your child like?  What is your child good at?  Does he like to do what he/she is good at or does he/she struggle?  Make sure that when you teach your child about “learning,” you make it look more like play. 

Of course, there will be times when you will feel like you need help, and you should ask for help!  If you have a young child, and need help determining whether your child would qualify for the early intervention program, click here.  If your child is 3 to 21 years old, and you need help determining whether you should request help, and want to know more about help in school systems, contact your child’s school psychologist, or drop me a note at ourspecialvillage@gmail.com.  I will get back to you.

All The Best!

Dr. Klimek.

Two young smiling  women in graduation caps and gowns.
Ready to engage with the World!
Advertisements

3 Basic Skills Every Toddler Should Learn

One of the most common questions that parents ask when I start working with their children is “When is my child going to talk?”  Of course, the answer varies.  This concern is one of the most often cited reasons for referrals to the Early Intervention Program and it is understandably a huge concern for families.  It is also quite curious to me that overall, when I first meet children and their families, there is little emphasis placed by teams or other professionals regarding basic skills.  Basic skills are like the building blocks of cognitive development, and toddlers need these in order to be able to grasp everything else, including (but not limited to) the concept of language. Therefore, as a parent or family member, it is important to understand what this entails.

Language is not only a skill, but also a cognitive concept, whereas one person relies on a set of symbols (the language itself) to relay meaning to another person.  You may have observed that when children first learn to speak, they will not speak while another person is talking.  They are grasping the give-and-take of a conversation and understanding the turn-taking that is needed to have a dialogue.

However, this does not happen overnight.  There are certain skills that must be emphasized before children can learn those more complex skills, that include language.  Knowing what skills to work on and emphasize, and how to get toddlers and children to learn them, is a very important first step.

There are 3 skills that I consider essential and I teach every toddler in order to cement an understanding of more complex skills sets.  They are:

  1. Focusing: Focusing is very similar to “paying attention” and refers to a child’s ability to keep attention on the task that he or she has in front of him.  He or she is concentrated and does not want to explore other toys or tasks.  For example, if a child is engaged in putting together a ring stacker, this should be the ONLY activity they are performing. They are not simultaneously building a block tower or completing a puzzle.  Those toys may come next, but for right now, they are only engaged in this one toy.  How do we build on this skill?  Make sure that your child has only a few toys at hand.  Keep toys away if necessary and reduce your child’s need to explore.  Less is more in this case.
  2. Following Directions:  Following directions does not necessarily mean that toddlers should blindly do what they are told.  This is rather a learning tool, a way to get your child to do a simple task, from beginning to end, on request.  It is important that your child be involved in simple, one step tasks such as “close the door,’ “bring your cup,” “throw this in the garbage.”  This is a precursor to language as it reinforces the symbolism of words, and promotes understanding, among other skills.  We already discussed this in part in this prior post.
  3. Completing Tasks:  A task should be performed from beginning to end.  This skill is a reinforcement of the previous two.  Once a child is engaged in a task, it should be carried out to completion.  Otherwise, it is the same as letting your child explore.  Exploring does have a place in learning, but it should be used in moderation and as a precursor to focusing and completing the task at hand.  Promote task completion by re-directing to the task when focusing is lost and by giving your child something he/she likes after a job well done.

Continue practicing these skills and higher, more complex cognitive skills will make their appearance, including talking!

Child laughing.
Learning in a happy environment!

The Special Education Continuum Explained: How to Determine the Best Placement for your Child-Part 2

(Please read background post here)

What is the best class for my child?

This is the most common question that I hear from parents who are getting ready to have a Turning 3* or a Turning 5** IEP meeting.  It is also a common concern for parents whose children have been recently diagnosed and will be in a similar situation.  The truth is, the right placement depends on your child’s needs, and your child’s needs should be at the heart of every IEP meeting that will result in a recommendation for placement for any student.

“But, wait”!  You may say.  “My child has just been diagnosed with Williams Syndrome.  Doesn’t that mean that he will need a much more restrictive environment, like perhaps a 12.1.4 self-contained class”?  Not necessarily.  Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that the student will AUTOMATICALLY be placed in a certain type of setting.  The diagnosis, or educational label, may inform the team and the providers as to what methods, strategies, and techniques may be useful for your child to learn optimally, but labels do not determine specific needs for every child. Neither can a diagnosis determine how much contact your child will have with his/her typically developing peers. 

Ideally, the IEP team at your child’s school (or at the regional Committee of Special Education) will have conducted an evaluation that covers every area of your child’s development.  This evaluation will help determine specific needs in the different domains, such as the cognitive, social, affective, and language domains.  You should make sure that the team that evaluated your child explains what was observed and what this would mean for assessing your child’s recommendation.  Please remember that you are also an integral part of the IEP team, and your feedback will provide invaluable input and will help the team determine what is best in your child’s case.

What happens if members of the team disagree on what recommendation to make?  Of course, in an unrealistic world all members of all teams agree on everything.  Of course, this is not a good way to grow.  We do well when we reveal our ideas and share them.  We may come up with better scenarios.  As a parent, do not be hesitant to share what you think and feel!  It is important! 

What happens if no matter what is said, the team does not agree with the parent?  There are certain resources to pursue in this case.  We will explore these and more in Part 3.  Stay tuned!

As always, if you have questions, drop me a note.

Best Placement Options
We all benefit when our special loved ones experience the best educational placement!
  • Turning 3 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of the Early Intervention Program and is ready to join preschoolers.
  • Turning 5 refers to an IEP meeting carried out when the child ages out of preschool and is ready to join elementary school peers.

The Greatest IDEA

Parents of children with disabilities are fighters. Children with disabilities didn’t have access to educational systems, or at least not to the extent that they do now. In November of 2015, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the federal law that guaranteed educational access for students with disabilities: The Education for All Handicapped Children Act, signed by President Ford in 1975, and later renamed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, when reauthorized by President Clinton in 1997.
There was a movement that led to legislation, and that in turn, led to the passage of PL 94-142 (IDEA). Thanks to continued parental involvement, there was more legislation that was passed after that. Parents fought to have the rights of their children recognized as well as their own. Before the passage of IDEA, there was a substantial number of students with special needs who did not have adequate access to education. IDEA guaranteed this access and created a scaffold, a backbone so that new legislation can build upon it and protect our children.
If you are a parent, a family member of a child with special needs, never hesitate to pursue what’s best for your child. You have a lot of power within you, and being a family member puts you in a very special position. You can see things in a very unique way.
I know that when your child gets diagnosed, you may be shocked, in denial. If you are confused, are ambivalent, or are not sure how to start, what to say, please do not hesitate to contact me for guidance. You are not alone!
Love,
Dr. Klimek.