There are many great articles circulating on the internet right now on topics related to kids heading back to school. So I asked myself, what would be meaningful to readers of this site? What topic might be universal enough? Shared experiences are often valuable on some level. And, given that, what memorable back-to-school moment could I possibly share that might be relevant for another parent, student or teacher?
A few years ago, when my son was in the third grade, his teacher suggested that I come in to talk with his classmates at the beginning of the school year. She felt that it would be a nice opportunity to get to know them and to answer questions they might have regarding my son and the nature of his disability. I remember her telling me beforehand how important it is to be honest with kids, and to use language that is age-appropriate. She went on to explain that an absence of information can result in children filling in the blanks for themselves, sometimes making what really is a minor difference into something much bigger and more difficult to understand and navigate than is necessary. I'd never done anything like this before, but I decided to give it a try.
I entered the classroom on the big day, acknowledged politely by the teacher. “Boys and girls, this is Mrs. Melkers, Mike’s mom, and she is here to talk with you for a little while. Gather around in a circle, boys and girls. That’s good.”
And so, we all sat together in a circle on the carpeted floor. No posters, no videos, no puppet shows. Just me and twenty-and-some kids with no agenda except the ones they themselves brought forward. It was casual and calm. Their comments and questions were honest, uncensored, insightful. They conveyed compassion, deep empathy, inquisitiveness, and problem-solving. Some of the comments were surprising and some were incredibly moving.
My point here is to convey that coming together to share information and learn is extremely powerful. Children have such important insights and ideas and, for the most part, want to help include their peers who have disabilities. They are chock-full of fantastic ideas on how to make useful accommodations and modify activities. Perhaps, this free-flow of ideas happens because children still believe so completely in the possibility of “what if we just...?”
As the expert regarding your child, you are uniquely qualified to use whatever style of communication that works best for you and your child’s classmates to facilitate this natural curiosity and desire to make inclusion work. Whether you choose to use posterboards, smartboards, videos, puppets, or just the togetherness created by a simple circle with no pre-set agenda, your leadership and attitude can set the tone for the days and weeks to come. Work with your child’s teacher to ensure that meaningful learning and friendship are what ultimately define your child’s 2011-2012 school year.