After a long hiatus, for which I offer my apologies, I would like to address a very important but sometimes overlooked topic in the educational realm – basic preparations for learning. A child’s readiness to learn relies on some primary physical, emotional, and environmental needs being met. In most educational settings, children are asked to sit still and attend to the information being presented or directions given. For our children with special needs, this is especially difficult. One simple way we can help them with their attention, enthusiasm, and participation is by being aware and proactive about what can do to help them get the most out of their school day. Many factors can contribute to a child’s ability to learn, but there are some that seem to stand out among the rest.
This can be a sensitive topic, and thus seldom addressed. Specifically if a child’s hygiene is not properly tended to, it can negatively affect their ability to focus their attention and learn. If we think about ourselves in our own lives, we are well aware that if we have not taken the time to care for our own hygienic needs we feel uncomfortable, self-conscious, unmotivated, perhaps even scattered and disorganized. The same premise applies to our children. It is definitely understandable that children can be difficult when it comes to bathing, nail cutting, hair brushing, etc… however good hygiene is a must if a child is to be properly engaged in their education. Plus it is a good opportunity to begin teaching daily living skills!
This is another sensitive topic, especially considering the downturn of our economy and limited resources that many of us now contend with. Nevertheless it is important to dress a child in climate appropriate, properly fitting, and clean clothing. In addition to having a clean and well cared for body, it is also integral for a child to have on clothing that is conducive to learning. With consideration for varying cultures and personal styles, the clothing must be well fitting: Overly tight or overly baggy clothing is a distraction. Especially for our children with special needs and sensory issues, putting restrictive or over-sized clothing will irritate them, and in some cases will cause them harm. Children must also be dressed for the weather. It is hugely distressing for a child to spend their school day either too hot or too cold. This should especially be a concern in the winter when children are most prone to illness. For children with special needs, please also consider their sensory needs in terms of the texture, size, and patterns of clothing. Most children who have sensitive skin prefer soft textures and loose fitting (but not too loose!) clothing. Some children become easily distracted by cartoon characters or patterns on clothes. In this case, solid colored shirts and pants are recommended until they build up their ability to concentrate.
Another thing that we can relate to is that if we have not eaten, or eaten well, then we do not desire to do much of anything. For a student who is required to give their all in school, it is necessary to provide them with meals that keep them satisfied, fortify their immune system, and promote bone and muscle development. Our children’s bodies are constantly growing. It is so very important that they take in as many nutrients as possible. Every family has their own cultural and dietary preferences, however children still need a balanced diet in order to be physically and mentally prepared for their day. For children who have sensory issues while feeding, take note of and continue to offer healthy foods which are preferred, and with the help of your Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist, work on introducing new ones. Speaking personally, after almost a full school year of introducing novel foods to our children they are much more open-minded to a variety of fruits, some vegetables, yogurts, and various proteins.
There are many times as educators that we notice that a child is observably sick and is still sent in to school. As time passes, we observe that either their condition is deteriorating, or it is not improving. Under these circumstances, it is unethical to require them to sit, focus, and work as the other kids do in the classroom. For the sick child, this hinders them from gaining the most out of their school day. They are also uncomfortable and unhappy and most times, very feverish. Taking into account that some parents have a larger support system than others, it is still necessary to take care of ailments quickly and effectively. The common ones that pop up most frequently are: Lice, ringworm, pink eye, upper respiratory/sinus infections, stomach viruses, and skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Many times it is necessary for the child to remain home and receive medical care. It is always advisable to get a doctor’s note to give in to the classroom team that explains the illness and course of action taken, especially after an extended period of absence. If a child has eczema or a similar condition, inform the teachers of how you would prefer them to care for it. Many times the team will be very careful and sympathetic, as many adults suffer from those same skin issues as well. Open communication regarding the health and wellness of our children means a better learning experience.
Everyone experiences times when things feel difficult, and we are frustrated or sad. This causes us spend a good deal of our energy trying to still go to work, and deal with other obligations. If as adults we find it difficult to function after a distressing event, then we must consider how much harder it is for our children when they are experiencing frustration or sadness. The home is a very important factor in a child’s affect. For this reason, it is necessary to maintain a home environment that is safe and loving. It should go without saying that children need a solid home foundation and to be loved by the people that matter most to them. With work schedules, money concerns, family issues etc… it can be easy to lose sight of that fact. Having a soft place to land at home serves 2 purposes:
- In the event that school is particularly challenging for them, they know that they are coming home to a consistent and loving refuge where they can recover and get ready for the next day.
- Maintaining a supportive home environment decreases the issues of emotional insecurity, depression, or anger that can hinder growth and participation in their educational and social situations.
Overall, it seems obvious that we need to take care of a child’s basic needs in order for them to thrive in school. However, many things can get lost or forgotten in the midst of life situations. It is important to be aware of these issues so that children have the highest chance for academic success.
-If a babysitter is needed and a friend or family member is not available, consider looking into Care.com. They promote quality caregivers, and offer ones that are experienced with children who have special needs.
-There are a number of discount clothing stores in the area. A more extensive search may be required, but often times some good clothes can be found at a great price. Try out these stores:
Bobby’s – 1601 Church Ave. Bklyn NY 11226
Conway (there are many locations, these are a few) – 427 Fulton St. Bklyn NY 11201 / 245 West 34thSt. New York, NY 10001 / 450 7th Ave. New York, NY 10001 / 66-26 Metropolitan Ave. Middle Village, NY 11379
National Wholesale Liquidators – 2201 59th St. Bklyn, NY 11204 / 4806 New Utrecht Ave. Bklyn, NY 11219 / 3500 48th St. Long Island City, NY 11101