Month: November 2016

The Decoding Hurdle

Young children face many hurdles that they need to overcome.  They come in succession. Getting over one leads to another.  Some hurdles are more important than others and are not all equal in their level of importance.

One particular hurdle I have been consistently focused on with children is what I call the “decoding hurdle.”

By the end of first grade going into second grade, most have gotten over this hurdle.  You read Dr. Seuss, complete some phonics worksheets and it all starts to make sense.wwwshutdownlearner-com

It’s a smooth ride.

Once getting over this hurdle there is a sort of clicking in, an experience of, “aha, so that’s how reading works.”

For these lucky children, learning to read is no big deal.

From that point forward, these kids who are over the hurdle enjoy reading and are eager to start reading easy chapter books.  (As an aside, this eagerness ends for the boys in the upper elementary grades where they shut–off to reading, but that’s another discussion.)

If you don’t get over the decoding hurdle within a reasonable timetable (like by the end of first grade or so), this  challenge creates a bottleneck, frustrating all aspects of academic development, impacting the child’s basic sense of confidence and self-esteem.

What should you do if your child is not getting over the decoding hurdle?

First, have the child tested.  It is important to remember, though, that school testing is not concerned with the “decoding hurdle.”  That is not their job or their purpose.  Their purpose is determine “eligibility” or classification for special education.  Many children who are not yet over the “hurdle” are not viewed as eligible for special education.  So, you may need to seek private testing.

Following that testing, the likely next step is to have your child individually tutored by someone who knows how to teach decoding.  Most good decoding teachers know some version of the “Orton-Gillingham” related methodologies (e.g., Wilson Reading System, Barton Reading Program, SPIRE and others).

Typically, the child needs at least twice a week of the individual instruction over a significant period of time for the skills to start to be internalized and mastered..

Takeaway Point

If your child is not yet over the “decoding hurdle,” all  bets are off.

Don’t waste time worrying about other skills until you’re your child makes progress in this essential developmental task.

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Socializing in the Modern World

Most of us say, say over the age of 40, have in their mind a recollection of things like playing outside with friends for hours on end. Being inside was to be avoided at all costs. Not only that, being inside meant you were in proximity of your parents, and really, who wanted that?

Kids keep “schooling” me on how different it all is now.

Take young Jack, a charming 8th grader. When I chatted with Jack about his playing habits and whether he played outside with his friends, he responded, “now and then.” (Translation: “now and then” = very rarely).

Jack explained that even when the kids in his neighborhood do on occasion go outside it usually breaks up with all of them scampering to go back to their individual homes (remember when we used to all hang at someone’s house when we were not outside), so that each one can be on his individual game system so they can “meet” in some place of virtual reality, like Grand Theft Auto.


Jack also schooled me about how he spends his Saturdays. Since he is limited during the week from having free rein on his video game playing, he figures Saturday is the day to make up for the lost time. So, he gets up bright and early, logs on, and then spends gobs of time interacting in virtual land. When I say “gobs,’ he explains that when he doesn’t have the interference of something like a soccer game, that he may be on his system all through the day into the night. Of course, this sort of behaviour is normal for young people these days. They spend the majority of their time on their gaming consoles or computers, playing so many different games. Apparently, they can even access older games now by using gaming roms. This allows them to play the game on their computer. So, if people wanted to play Paper Mario, they could just learn how to make paper mario rom work and then they could play that game. Maybe they are the sort of games that Jack plays.

Jack’s mom raised my schooling one level when she explained that these kids are so into their screen time interaction that even when Jack had a friend for a sleepover, the kid left early in the morning so he could be back in his own house to log and join Jack from his virtual landing place. This consistent use of electronics can cause problems, such as a reduction in melatonin that can make it harder for kids to sleep. If they are glasses wearers but don’t wear them much, this can cause issues for their eyes too. Looking online at websites such as can help parents find glasses for their child that can help stop blue light from affecting their sleep.

I know. I can hear all of the refrains from Parent Land about, “You need to set limits” or various permutations of moderate limit setting like, “We only allow seven hours a week after he has earned 12 tokens for each night of getting his homework in.”

Modern childhood is a “different ball of wax.” (How’s that for a term from Granny’s lexicon!)

Socializing as you knew it is not what it was and the kids do not view it that way. They think they are hanging with their friends even though they are all in different houses.

They think a sleep overs is probably more fun when it breaks up early so they home and play with each other on their systems.

They think outside has just too many elements that are beyond their control, like temperature.

Takeaway Point

The old norms don’t apply.

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Travels in 3rd Grade Boy Brain: On the Rougher Side of the Road

It’s not easy being a kid.  It’s particularly tough if you’re one of those types that are on the rougher side of the road.

If you’re one of those types you have lots of people getting irritated with you or making fun of you.

Let’s travel in George’s brain for a little bit and get a glimpse of some of his 8 year old boy thoughts while he is in his third grade class.

George thinks:

“Wait, did the teacher just say something?  I see kids getting books out.  What did she say?  Oh, right. Open up your journals and start writing something.  I didn’t hear what.  I heard the word Thanksgiving.  I will ask Malik…Jeez….he just told me to shut-up.  What did I do? Maybe Zinnia knows.  She always knows what to do.  She just gives me a dirty look and tells me to stop tapping my pencil and that I’m ‘so annoying.’”

Mrs. Pryor comes over to talk to George. She sounds a little irritated.

“Wow.  I’m in trouble again.  Mrs. Pryor said she might have to send a Class Dojo*** message to my mother telling her I’m not paying attention again.  She said we’re supposed to write something about Thanksgiving.  Like, what’s our favorite part of Thanksgiving.  I have no idea what to write.  What can I say?  I write, “turkey.”  I can’t think of anything else.  Zinnia laughs at me and says I’m so stupid and to stop playing with my pencil because it is getting on her nerves.  I don’t know what’s so annoying.  I was just clicking it.”

Mrs. Pryor tells George that he will either have to finish his Thanksgiving essay during free play or for homework.  Mrs. Pryor puts something on the top of his paper.

“Oh no!!!!! A frowny face on my paper.  I wrote, “turkey.”  What else is there?  Writing during free play!!!  Oh man, she’s getting out class Dojo again….I think I’m in trouble…my mom told me I needed to pay attention more or she was taking me to this doctor…Malik tells me to cut it out…I don’t know what he means.  He says I was picking my nose.  I was not.  He’s lying again.  Oh no, Mrs. Pryor is asking people to start reading their Thanksgiving papers out loud.  I hate Zinnia….she’s all done and she wrote a whole page.  I just wrote “turkey.”  I hate Zinnia.”

Mrs. Pryor says it’s time to line up to go to library.

“Oh, man.  I’m almost at the end of the line again.  I hate being at the end of the line.  I’m never first.  It’s not fair.  Mrs. Pryor said I was pushing somebody.  I was not. I just bumped into Spencer.  Spencer yelled out, ‘He hit me!’  She’s going to Class Dojo again.  I didn’t do anything.  Nobody believes me.  Zinnia is all the way in the front.  I hate Zinnia.”

Takeaway Point

It’s not easy being a kid, especially if you are on the rougher side of the road.

(***Class Dojo is an online tool that keeps track of behavior.)


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504 Plan Musings

Sometimes extra time, one of the common 504 Accommodations for ADHD, isn't useful at all.

“504” plans have been so much on the school landscape for  many years that we forget that the “504” did not originate with schools. 504 is part of the ADA (Americans With Disability Act) federal  legislation.

The guiding principle of 504 is that reasonable accommodations help to “level the playing field” for those with disabilities in the workplace or school.

Above all, the operative word is “reasonable.”

The vast majority of 504 Plans developed in the schools are primarily generated to address the child diagnosed with ADHD.

Extra time is the most common of the 504 accommodation provided. Is extra time really helpful for ADHD style kids? The answer is it may be, but it is case by case, child by child.

Sometimes extra time is one of those meaningless ADHD accommodations, providing no legitimate difference.

Case Study: A Useless 504 Plan for ADHD

For example, take Jenna, an impulsive 8 year old, who rushes through her work, with very little consideration as to the accuracy of what she produces. Rating scales completed on Jenna noted many of the features normally attributed to ADHD. Naturally, the parents wanted to get Jenna help in school. A 504 planning meeting was held and Jenna was offered a boiler plate check list of accommodations. Extended time was the chief one given.

Extended time???

Jenna blitzed through her work. Extended time was the last thing Jenna would take advantage of.

Useful 504 Plan Accommodations List

Ideally, create 504 accommodations in conference with the parents and key school staff members who meet to discuss what specific accommodations would help to level the playing field for the child.

Ask yourself, what reasonable classroom accommodations for ADHD would provide some support for the child?

  • Perhaps sitting the child closer to the teacher would help.
  • Maybe having the teacher preview and explain complex words would make a difference.
  • Maybe the child needs directions clarified.
  • Perhaps reducing the number of problems on the page would matter.
  • Perhaps cut down homework by a certain percentage so as not to overwhelm the child.
  • Maybe don’t penalize the child for spelling.
  • Having someone write down the child’s answers after reading him questions on the sheet might be a good accommodation
  • Extra time could help if the child is particularly slow in getting things done.

There are others that could be helpful. In other words, it all depends on each child and his/her needs.

My advice would be that you simplify things. Come up with two or three (at the most) really helpful things that you think your child’s teacher can do to help your child along. To clarify, “reasonable” accommodations will help to make the road a little smoother for your child. You may feel comforted by the report that you have that generated pages and pages of recommendations, but what teacher will be able to implement all of them?

Anything requested beyond a few accommodations, will likely lead to the school will just be checking off boxes on a 504 template that won’t be followed.

Takeaway Point

In short, when it comes to a 504 Plan, less is more.

(Parents can feel very confused about 504 Plans, especially how they differ from IEPs.  If you want a basic explanation of the difference between them, I would direct you to this link:  What’s the Difference between an IEP and an ADHD 504 Plan?)

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