Themed Gift Ideas for Kids for the 2022 Holiday Season!

It is that time of year when parents and grandparents are looking for gifts for their cherubs that will remain of interest long after the last holiday cookie is eaten. For me, those gifts are ones from the heart and usually have a “theme”. This year I would like to propose giving the gift of “exploration” to a child. 

Imagine your child learning about the world beyond their front doors. Where they can learn about different states, countries, or even space! Package books, a globe, a telescope, maps, arts and crafts activities, and even games for a multidimensional gift that will bring enjoyment (and sneak in learning) for years to come!

Maybe take these ideas for a “spin”

Travel to the stars and beyond!

Have you ever spent more than a few seconds looking at the stars? Wondering what happens on other planets? In other solar systems? Here are some ideas for kids to learn more about the world beyond Earth.

A primer book about space for preschool and early readers. Great illustrations to help stimulate learning! Familius Publishing
Montessori System and Planets puzzle/ TouchwoodDesign via Etsy

A little “planetary” humor! This t-shirt can be a conversation piece and a party favorite! via Quality Appearance on Etsy


Pack Your Bags!

Traveling can be a challenge for children and their parents. After all, who loves the chorus of “Are we there yet?”. Not me! So, here is an idea to keep kids busy and parents sane. Wrap up small ‘gifts” to be dolled out during the trip on the half – hour of hour mark. Intersperse what kind of activity is presented. Coloring books, small electronic games, clever puzzles like a Rubric cube, card games, magic activities, and games that are a spin-off of family favorites such as “license plates” – all work! Here are some of my favorites –


Special Places to Visit!

It is no secret that I love, love, love to travel! That is why when I found out about the Familius’ travel series for young readers that teaches interesting facts about states and fundamental skills (such as counting or the ABCs) – I am more than willing to share that information with all of you. (Yes, the publisher sent me copies of the books – all that I will give away!) Each book is different. There is no formula that is repopulated for each version. Instead, the author highlights key places such as ZION National Park for the Utah edition. This is a great gift for kids who are traveling to these states to “prep” before they land. Note that colors are matched with the “state theme”.

This year, Familus Publishing, gifted me with books that had Christmas themes, as well. These are not your ho-hum little kid’s books. Like many titles from Familius, these are written on two levels – with grownups AND kids in mind!

Case in point … The 12 Little Elves series is a hoot! I laughed for quite some time when I saw the Little Elves negotiating freeway traffic inside the California edition. (If you have ever sat in traffic on “the 405” you would be hysterical laughing, too!) For their full state collection click here. I also asked our friends at Familius to consider other holidays with slightly different characters, too!


Under the Sea!


Sneak in learning through technology

Here are some ideas to keep your teens and tweens happy, including while driving. We all know that this age group is glued to their phones – so why not give them constructive tech activities? Consider having your ‘co-riders’ track distances between points along the route, thus sneaking in some math and reading skills. Next, have them snap photos and organize them into folders with the goal of creating a memory album or photo book at the end of your journey (executive functioning skills are the bonus here!). And, to help with these endeavors try CANVA (education tab) and photo companies such as Shutterfly or Snapfish.


Now Your Ideas?

Do you have a great gift idea that maybe has educational and is large on the “fun value”, too?

Special Note: I do not receive payment for any promotions you see on this page. The most I am afforded are a few free games or books from publishers for review. I only add these books, games, etc. if the products are deemed of fun and educational value. If you see them here – they passed “my test”! Amazon is where yu will find the majority of what you see here. Familius Publishing is a company that I have an ambassador relationship with – but in all honesty – their products are TOP NOTCH!!

From Both Sides of the Table – Why is third grade so hard for some students?! (Includes suggestions for parents to help their child with reading and written language.)

I always say that third grade is a very important year in the life of a child. It is the year that so much brain development happens within the classroom, at home, and on the playground. Parent’s may not realize it – but this is a year that a child with subtle learning problems will all of the sudden start to “stick out”.

School Psychologists often receive a great many special education referrals for third graders. Maybe even more than any others. It seems that this is a time when teachers start to advise parents that their child is “not learning as they should be” or perhaps is “dyslexic”. As a School Psychologist I use to dread the week following the first set of parent-teacher conferences. It meant that I would be flooded with referrals.

WHY THIRD GRADE? I have a theory… or two…

Up until the third grade many of our books included loads of photos and pictures. So, a child who had difficulty with reading or comprehending passages could maybe “fake it” by using really good scanning skills or guessing. Plus, a child with good memory may recall a story or bits of passages if they were read to the child prior. But, in ,good ‘ol third grade the pictures greatly reduce compared to early reading books. The vocabulary becomes harder. Common words used in the first primer years now are transformed to bigger words. We sprinkle synonyms, and antonyms all over the text. There may be introductions to unique or new parts of speech or … wait for it… idioms! Plus, the content can be abstract. A child may need to rely on prior knowledge or imagination. Thus, a child who is very literal may really start to become quite frustrated and exhibit learning issues.

And as with reading – the expectations of written language also increase. No longer do we accept the three-sentence paragraph. We now need to write and write and write… a little at a time or maybe a whole entire page. There may be some prompts or “story starters” – but, by the middle to the end of third grade, our little authors need to be pretty fluid with basic sentence structure. The reversals of letters are no longer acceptable and in fact, a red flag for possible dyslexia.

That brings me to my next point – what is DYSLEXIA? Some people think it simply means reversing letters or numbers. Nope. That is not all true. It is perhaps one of the characteristics of dyslexia- but this disorder is a bit more complicated. Here is a snapshot of what dyslexia “may look like” and please keep in mind that professionals can help you – but please don’t “self diagnose”.

A person with dyslexia may demonstrate a few of the following challenging learning behaviors:

  1. Reads without fluency. Often will mispronounce words, omit words, substitute words or hesitate and need to start over.
  2. Has a hard time knowing what letters make which sounds. This is called phonemic awareness. Some children with read letters wrong and thus identify their sounds incorrectly. A child who reads pal instead of gal because they read the p for g and then identified the wrong sound, is one example. It also shows some letter confusion visually. Also, a child who hears the “p” sounds instead of “b” sound may think they heard pad instead of bad.
  3. Reversals of letters or words. In younger children, we consider reversing letters a developmental stage. After all TOYS R US made it clear that this was a “kid thing” by flipping the R between TOYS and US… But by the THIRD GRADE, this is something we don’t expect students to do.
Free share logo.

So, what can parents do?

Here are some strategies that I recommend to parents to help spurn a love of reading, writing, and even math in their child who struggles. Let’s face it- a child who hates to read or cannot write may miss out – especially as they grow older. So let’s try to prevent this from happening by incorporating reading and writing into our everyday lives!

TIP 1: READ ANYTHING…

My parents use to say I could read anything I wanted to read. If I wanted to read a magazine instead of a storybook before bedtime -that was OK. In high school, I would find all the scary novels on the library shelves and take them home devouring them as fast as I could turn the pages. So my philosophy is to allow your child to read just about anything.

TIP 2: LIVE BY EXAMPLE

Parents who demonstrate their appreciation for the written word pass on that behavior to their children more times than not. Perhaps setting a time each week as “family read time” would be a great way to have a shared family experience that will transcend beyond your home and into the classroom.

TIP 3: MAKE READING AND WRITING FUN!

Did you know that many board games involve reading and often writing? Games that are trademarked and have withstood the test of time are often current family favorites. They also have invaluable lessons. So grab Monopoly, Scrabble, Boggle, Risk, Scatterfories, Code Names, Trivia Pursuit (and the “junior” edition) and the countless other games available and play, play, play!

Here is a list I have posted before of common games and what skills they teach. This is by no means an exhaustive list and you may note that many of these games are for 8 and up. So they start around the second or third-grade level.

Trivia Pursuit – helps with turn-taking and general knowledge

Monopoly teaches reading, about money, strategy building, and for many – disappointment!

CLUE is a game that teaches reading, memory and deductive reasoning skills. The same is true for GUESS WHO.

YAHTZEE teaches great math skills – from addition to multiplication. Also a visual discrimination exercise.

MEMORY – well it teaches just that!

CONNECT 4 helps with visual memory and perception.

SCRABBLE is all about word building.

SCATTEGORIES is hones in on language skills like categorization and associations.

CODE NAMES is a fairly new game in comparison to some of these others and it too teaches about memory and word usage.

TIP 4: REGULAR PAPER CAN BE BORING! SHAKE IT UP!

If the opportunity for creativity arises – shake up learning by using unique online programs, different color paper, or templates for cartoons! A diary or journal can spark writing in many kids.

I recently discovered CANVA’s EDUCATIONAL WEBSITE. Here are some examples of what you can make using this dynamic site. There are many pricing options you can pick- some are free.


AND… a few more tips

*Play classical music in the background as your child is working or reading.

*Have your child read a recipe to you and cook that meal!

*Go to museums, art galleries, national parks, or any place that is culturally rich and reading is needed to enhance the experience

*Ask a relative or friend to be your child’s pen pal!

*Invest, if you can, in art materials. Yard sales are great to purchase used items that can be turned into artistic masterpieces!

*Have your child read in a different place than where they do homework. Like on a porch chair or in a special reading nook – just for them!

*Have your child read to you or teach you new words. Playing teacher is a very instrumental way for your child to actually LEARN!


In closing, I love third-graders. In fact, I love watching children of all ages learn. But, I recognize as a psychologist and a parent that third grade was one of those “tough years”. So, if you feel that your child really is having difficulties with learning or your child’s teachers are continually concerned – then consider asking for a referral to see if support could be offered. Know that usually there are many steps before a special education referral is made. Such as RTI- tiered intervention to help a child struggling with academic attainment. Also you may be told about a 504 plan – something discussed earlier in this series.

I wish you all a happy school year –

~Louise

The FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE SERIES STARTS HERE

Dear Rookie School Psychologist – This is some “Stuff” They Didn’t Teach You in Graduate School

Dear Rookie School Psychologist,

Congratulations! You made it through graduate school and now it is time for you to use all your knowledge to help children, school staff, and families. Bravo! However, despite all your new found professional skills, you still have so much more to learn! In fact, here is a secret – there is “stuff” that they didn’t teach you in graduate school that I like to call the “inside scoop” of this profession. Curious? Well, keep on reading…

I am a seasoned School Psychologist. I graduated way back with the dinosaurs in 1984 from Penn State. The program was arduous and the competition to get in and stay in was fierce. But, I managed and here I am nearly 40 years later still working with students, teachers, administrators, and families.

My journey hasn’t been a direct path – in fact, I have jumped off and on this trail many times. But, I truly wish there was a course offered among all the other requisites that provided insight and advice that could have made my rookie journey a bit smoother.

So, with that in mind, I offer to you my pearls of wisdom – the good, the bad, and hopefully the funny.

  1. In the digital age don’t forget about good old-fashioned paper. I know many of my colleagues keep their records all digitally. They also use record forms (protocols) that are electronic. I was toying with this idea and then I lost a bunch of emails due to a “glitch” with my Gmail. That convinced me – I am sticking to paper and pen! This means I have both a digital calendar and a real daytime book for appointments. We call it “organizers” in educational terms.
  2. Communicate not once, not twice, but three times with parents and staff. When I make appointments I am super diligent with setting and keeping appointments. I also expect my students and their families to do the same. So, I write notes and send emails up to three times for each meeting. And of course, my online calendars will pester me with reminders. That makes me happy.
  3. Create a ton of different templates for reports. Yes, I am a big fan of the template for writing those very long, boring, and often tedious psychoeducational reports. I found a few I liked from the Teachers Paying Teachers website, but mainly I create my own. Canva helps with graphics (who doesn’t appreciate a well-constructed bell curve graph or chart!?)
  4. Check those numbers! I use a system for tabulating the number of correct ( or incorrect) responses on my record forms. It is the THREE✓ check system. Check one means I added all the numbers of correct/incorrect responses for the first time. The second pass – through for recalculating the numbers to make sure the first and second times match will result in a second check. A third check is placed on the cover of the record booklet which means I checked one last time when I input the numbers into an online scoring system or obtained the results from a scoring manual myself. Regardless of how I score three checks mean I reviewed the results and added them THREE times! Why so redundant? I live in fear of making math errors and even more in fear of having to rescind or explain something I did wrong. Three checks = reduce stress. See the image I mocked up below.
Example of the three check system

5. This is important. Perhaps the most important thing I will share with you today. Know that your results are being received on many levels by the parent / guardian receiving the news. There is a level of understanding about intervention, assessment, and/ or therapy that you have that they don’t. No one handed this parent(s) who may be new to special education a booklet that told them about how they will feel.

Sure, these fine folks received a ton of documents about their rights, but nothing prepped them for the feeling of a dagger slicing their heart to shreds. As a School Psychologist, you need to learn how to deliver the news – whatever it is – with grace, compassion, and professionalism. Period. Remember that your roles could easily be reversed with you as the recipient of the information. I know. I have sat at ‘both sides of the table’.

Don’t make promises. You don’t have a crystal ball. After you deliver “the news” be sure to wait. Give the parents/ guardians a minute to process. Ask them if they have questions. Offer to review parts again or to meet again after they had a day or two to let “the news” sink in. Remember – the people across from you at this table are trying to listen while possibly their simultaneously experiencing a broken heart. They may have just experienced their dreams for this child bursting.

Feel free to read more here.

6. When I attended Penn State’s School Psych graduate program I had a great professor who mentored me, Dr. Jim Murphy. Gosh he was amazing and so wise! During my second year of graduate school he was my “clinical supervisor”. That’s the guy who watches you “learn” and then critiques you. One day he gave me great advice when he saw that I was struggling with talking to parents about the results of the evaluation I recently had completed. He said, “Louise – you don’t need to have all the answers. When you talk to parents or staff, it is OK to say- “I don’t know”. But, then follow-up and let them know that you will try your best to get some information to answer their questions. But, never make promises as some questions never can get answered.” Let me tell you – that was solid advice that has stuck with me for decades. Simply know – you are not a walking Google search engine. You don’t and can’t know all the answers. And that is OK.

7. I easily could add much more than seven entries on this list. But, I will close with these last three that are “related”. Keep learning, keep healthy, and keep safe.

Sure you need continuing education credits and you will fulfill this obligation every few years – but in reality, you need to keep learning beyond the world of special education and psychology. Learn about the world beyond your community. Travel. Paint. Go learn to salsa dance. Watch cartoons so you can relate to the first graders in your school. Just keep learning.

And remember to take time to take care of YOU. Turn off the digital world and go enjoy the outdoors. Practice self-care on a daily basis while you are practicing as a psychologist. Reduce your stress in a healthy way that makes sense to you.

Lastly, be personally safe. Learn the layout of each of the schools you visit. Be vigilant with your own safety. Take a self-defense class to protect yourself.

Here are two links to safety tips that we all can use (and I am sure there are many more!)

SAFETY TIPS BY UCLA

Adapt this list to your local and personal needs

The Big Island of Hawaii – a Photo Essay

The Big Island of Hawaii is known for volcanos, lush land of the east bordering the desert of the western side. Small towns and villages with coffee that is AMAZING! But, to really enjoy this island one must either experience it in person or take a view through the lens of another.

Below you will find a few different groupings of photos and a video. The first is a slideshow of the Kona area, including the coffee farms and “shacks” that make it extra special.

Next you will see a carousel from the Volcano National Park- yes there are ACTIVE volcanos on the Big Island.

Historical sites are throughout the island, but many are in the upper west and north quadrant. Don’t miss them. Enjoy this carousel feature, too.

Charming is how I would describe Hilo! Small town vibe with excellent beaches, shops, and restaurants. Don’t miss this part of the island or the photos in the last carousel.

The Rainbow Falls are highlighted in a serene video below. All photos and video are property of moi- Louise Sattler and not for duplication or “snatching”. Thanks!

KONA, The Big Island’s home to tourists and coffee!

THE BIG ISLAND – VOLCANO TIME!


Historic Sites (north and west shore)



The Rainbow Falls are serene and lovely – stop when visiting Hilo.

Grief? Anger? Relief? Bewilderment? Welcome to the special-education emotional roller-coaster. (Part 4 of the From Both Sides of the Table series)

Determination of Special Education Eligibility: From the School Psychologist’s perspective:

There is no band-aid big enough to cover the broken heart of parents when they find out that their child has a serious learning or developmental disorder. As a school psychologist, I would rehearse the words that needed to be delivered to the parents waiting for me – across “the table”.

I knew that “Bad” or unexpected news needs to be carefully and eloquently given versus blurted out like guesses for Jeopardy.  You owe them that much.  They trusted you with their child.  

I gave hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents “the news”.  Usually starting my “spiel” with some glowing remarks about their child – “Such a great worker”, “Really motivated and tried so hard”, or “Fabulous ability to stay on task”. Then came the description of what transpired over hours of one-on-one evaluations, observations, interviews, and discussions with staff.   Finally, arrives the moment that many await – the results.

“As you know “your child” and I worked together for many hours over a course of several days. He was alert, responded to my requests without any problems, and seemed to enjoy most of our activities. He was very good at ___ (fill in the blank) and a joy to get to know. With that said… based on the findings from this comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation your seven-year-old child currently has the developmental level of a child younger than himself. That means that his cognitive (intellectual) ability to complete tasks combined with his academic skills, and skills for his daily living – appear also to be delayed for his age and grade. (This is where I pull out a chart that shows visually what I mean – such as the one below

I stop. I look the parents in the eye. And then ask if it is OK to continue with the meeting or if they have any questions about the evaluation process.

I then continue as if I am doing a “big reveal” – but without the cheering and happy faces … “I need you to know that these results allow for our team to discuss options for eligibility and possible programming within special education as I am recommending that your son meets the eligibility qualifications as a child with Intellectual Disabilities. “

This is where a few parents will ask me to repeat – EXACTLY – what I just said. They need to hear it twice as to help with the understanding. It is not uncommon for people to ask questions that seem “basic” but are very important. One parent asked a question that would seem very politically incorrect by today’s standards – “Is my son retarded?”

I respond, “Yes, that is a much older term but the definition probably is the same.  However, I need you to know that he is young and we use strategies and programs that have not been introduced to him yet.  So, please know that these results may change by the next time we re-evaluate him.  We need to keep an eye on your son’s educational programming – monthly – school year by year. We do not have a crystal ball – but I am very hopeful that consistent intervention and programming can only help him to developmentally and academically grow”  

THEN I WAIT. With this news or any other “heavy news” I wait. I need to press pause right here and now as I just dropped a potential “heart bomb” and I owe it to the parent(s) to have a moment to process it. I ask if there are any questions. And, if they need a moment to privately discuss or regroup?

By the way… This is where some psychologists fail parents. They simply drop “the news” and then move on because they are thinking of their next appointment, meeting, or even lunch. They fail because they don’t know what it is like to sit at the other side of the table and the immense need for that moment of allowing the messaging they just received to sink in.

“Are you surprised by what I just said?”, I will ask. 

Sometimes the response is “not really”.  Other times the parents go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief at record speed with ANGER being where they stop.  “NO WAY, he is just like me and I learned just fine!”, announced one very demonstrative father to me.  (How do I respond to THAT?) 

Or the sobbing begins.  This is so hard.  I almost rather have the anger.  Sobbing means that the dreams they had for their son are now being reformulated as we sit in this too formal setting. News like this should happen on comfy chairs over tea and with boxes of tissues.  Not in a room of strangers who just altered your world in a blink. 

So, begins most parents’ initial journey into special education. 

Please keep in mind that I am using this scenario as one of my scenarios that could happened – just as an example. But, as I have mentioned in prior blogs – special education encompasses a large number of eligibility categories – from needing speech therapy to those with multiple impairments who may need intensive services. The process is almost the same with each category – meetings, reviews, possible evaluations, and/or eligibility meetings and perhaps writing of an IEP.


The Parent Perspective:

It hurts. Hearing any words of concern and describing the most precious and beloved person in my life as less than perfect – hurts so much! But, I recognize that our son needs support with his learning – his talking – his muscles – etc. He is perfect to us- but in the “eyes” of the special education process – he is another “qualifier”. This means special classes and therapies as a child under the age of 3. He will have home visits and I will need to bring him to special centers for infants and toddlers. I will meet other parents and we will share our ‘war stories”. This is helpful to some degree. To others it is not. We decide to supplement his structured learning by placing our little fella also in “regular” daycare. He doesn’t do well the first go-around. He cries too much. Seems a bit lost until recess. Doesn’t want to sit or follow-directions. He is a “handful”. But, in time – with both special and regular preschool – he “graduates” from all of the services except for speech. He can’t pronounce correctly a few sounds and speaks very fast. That seems “do-able”. But, our time in special education isn’t over – we are just “on hiatus”.


When Dreams are Altered.

Dr. Ken Moses is quoted in an article saying these wise words which helped me as a parent:

Parents attach to children through core-level dreams, fantasies, illusions, and projections into the future. Disability dashes these cherished dreams. The impairment, not the child, irreversibly spoils a parent’s fundamental. heart-felt yearning. Disability shatters the dreams, fantasies, illusions, and projections into the future that parents generate as pan of their struggle to accomplish basic life missions. Parents of impaired children grieve for the loss of dreams that are key to the meaning of their existence, to their sense of being. Recovering from such a loss depends on one’s ability to separate from the lost dream, and to generate new. more attainable, dreams.

Dr. Ken Moses, Childhood Disability: A Parent’s Struggle (read more)

I recall going to a conference when our son was young with Dr. Ken Moses as the key presenter. Gosh, it was great! But, I was emotionally drained by the first break. He started the session by having us do an exercise that brought us all to tears. We were to envision our child – before they were born. And then we were to think of our hopes for this child. What we dreamed for their future. These thoughts were to be mentally placed in “thought bubbles”. Then Dr. Moses asked us to reflect on our reality of the challenges this child has endured. Which bubbles are now burst? Which remained? He then went on to discuss how we can make new and attainable dreams with our child – and that hope is a good emotion.

Break out the tissues. This life lesson was extremely powerful.

But, it taught me a huge lesson as a parent. And a psychologist. Dreams are only dreams that sometimes can become reality – or just need adjustments. Regardless, you can DO this!


Being a parent in the digital age

I have learned as a parent and professional to be careful of what information I read and absorb on the internet. And yes, I am keenly aware that my website is chocked full of “suggested resources”. But, please note that when I offer an article or video I do with this caveat – please use your due diligence to be sure to check the content for accuracy and application to your life. With that said, here is a resource that I found helpful on this topic:

PARENT COMPANION

From Both Sides of the Table: Special Education and the Psychoeducational Process – Parent Perspective (Part 3, continued)

From Both Sides of the Table is my chronicle of what special education may look like through the lens of the School Psychologist and the parents of the child referred. I have been in both roles. So, please feel free to refer to the last few blogs if you missed them.

So we continue…

The process of psychoeducational evaluation is very overwhelming. Shorthand seems to be the norm and for many parents – this is just too much. As a parent, you may feel like you need a translator for all the terms. Then there is the time spent on the part of the parents – mostly completing forms and attending meetings. The forms seem quite personal, too.


questions answers signage
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

ASK QUESTIONS!

You also may be wondering about these questions/topics, too!...

Why do they need to know about my pregnancy on the survey I received? And any health and mental health issues with MY parents or siblings. Isn’t it enough to get information about hubby and me?

Why do they need to know about what we eat at home? If we have a consistent work history? If there are “stressors” within our home – doesn’t every family have their own share of stress?

Why am I asked to complete questionnaires that seem redundant? The speech and language evaluator is asking me the same or similar questions as the psychologist – don’t they share documents?

My child seems worried about this testing- but no one seems to give me any advice on how to prepare her for the evaluation. I would like to have some clue as to what to expect to help her feel better about “what is to come”.

How come it takes FOREVER to get the results? I am feeling anxious and would like my child to start getting help pronto! But, it appears that we are in a holding pattern for at least another MONTH or MORE!

And now I am in a meeting getting the results and it sounds like a foreign language is being spoken. The professionals are talking so fast and even though I am asked if I have questions it seems like we are too rushed to really get answers. Plus, I would like to make some clarification of what I wrote or said during a survey- can they amend the reports?

I am not sure I like the results – don’t I get a say as to what happens in, the meeting?

Will my child get better? Improve? Be “normal”? Ever have friends? Stop biting? Start talking? and the list goes on and on…


In reality, as a parent, I found the need to and did ask questions along the whole process. When there were terms or tests being offered that I didn’t know (or hubby didn’t know) we asked. I understood the reason for all the surveys and personal questions, but other parents may be interested in knowing that many times contractors are used who are from independent companies and they don’t talk. Not usually.

I also made sure that I requested a time during the day that I knew my child would be “at his best”. I also made sure that I had the reports prior to any meeting so I could review, and take notes. And, when possible I talked to the evaluators before any meetings. I didn’t like surprises when it came to the welfare and education of my child.

As for the meetings I made sure hubby and I both attended. (Suggestion: bring along another trusted adult during the formal meetings to help you recall information or take notes.)

And yes, there were times I disagreed with the conclusions. But, in lieu of due process, we decided to work WITH the team to come together to create a plan. Being on opposite sides of the table doesn’t mean you are on opposite sides with the approach. Working together – respectfully- is something I strive for as a parent and a professional.

Terms that may be useful to know:

LRE: Least Restrictive Environment

FAPE: Offer of free and appropriate publicly provided education.

Due Process: When you disagree there is a system to have your grievances heard via a third party.

IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation – requesting another “do-over” evaluation in the event that a party on the IEP team (usually the parent) does not agree with the outcome or feels something was overlooked.

Related Services: These are services that are outside the usual- such as occupational or physical therapy. Counseling also can be a related service.

ERMHS – a California term (usually) for Educationally Related Mental Health Services. Some states refer to this as a related or adjunct service. The student must have an IEP to obtain these services and go through a process.

Educational Advocate: Someone who works with the parent to explain the IEP process and also to advocate for eligibility or services for the child via the IEP or 504 process.

See WrightsLaw.com for more terminology and about Due Process, etc.


I couldn’t do this alone…

Many parents feel very isolated when their child starts special education. it could be because their child is not included in the neighborhood or school events like the other children? That hurts – big time! Perhaps, that is when it may be a good time to seek support groups of like-minded people. Schools often have such groups as do local community centers. I remember joining the local and national chapters of CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder). Through these groups, I learned that I wasn’t the only parent not sleeping due to a child who only required four hours a night. I also felt comfort and validation. Sometimes my son’s actions were misunderstood and I was glad to see that he was “accepted” among this “group”.

I also felt the need to advocate for my child, actually children, in their classrooms. You see I have been discussing my son and his traumatic birth and infancy. But, little did I know that lurking in my home was the dyslexia gene and it was about to come for a visit in my daughter’s classroom!

So now I am the parent of two children who need special programming due to a variety of unique challenges. So, I start to recite a mantra that has stuck with me til this day…

A parent is a child’s number one advocate and resource for unconditional love, support, and guidance. Be that parent.


More from the series BOTH SIDES OF THE TABLE:

PART 1 – intro

PART 2– let us start the process

PART 3, psychologist’s perspective

Coming soon – Part 4.

Please share your experiences in the comment section below – respectfully, of course.

Thank you for reading this series and any other articles on this blog.

From Both Sides of the Table: The Psychoeducational Evaluation Process – From the Lens of the School Psychologist (Part 3 in the series)

Your third-grade son is not reading the way your nephew who is in the first grade is reading. He seems to be “stuck” and his frustration with learning is starting to result in behavioral issues- such as making excuses to not go to school and acting out when he is there. You talk to his teacher and she recommends that you submit a written letter (or email) to the school administrator to request a meeting to express your concerns. This starts a formal “timeline” of the special education process. Typically the meeting happens and there are fifteen days to develop and submit an assessment plan if one is determined to be needed.

The assessment plan is like a roadmap as to what comes next. First, the concerns are spelled out and what is the reason for the referral? Statements may be as follows:

Jane has been demonstrating challenges with her reading on grade level – the second grade general education curriculum. Her teacher and parent have noticed her struggling and have the most difficulties with letter- sound relationships (phonics) and writing her letters correctly. She also has been interrupting other students during group instruction. Lastly, she seems easily distracted and often needs redirection to stay on task. The SST meeting members recommend that your child have a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation to gather information about his present abilities in the areas of ____ (fill in the blank) and to see if he/she meets eligibility for services in special education. “

Then there is a whole bunch of “legal stuff” to explain the process and what laws are involved. A case manager is usually assigned to be the parents’ “point person” and will ask for signatures.


EVALUATION TIME

A psychoeducational evaluation can take an hour to many hours or days. There are several factors. 1) The age of a child. Younger children take less time. 2) The reason for referral. This drives the number of evaluators and the depth of the evaluation. 3) The cooperation and behavior of the child – some kids are easier to test than others. Some need more breaks or shorter sessions. That is fine. I let the students drive the schedule. 4) Availability – sometimes a school can only release a child from class for short spurts of time or parents are only available for a chunk of time. Psychologist often needs to be flexible. 5) The child’s health and ability to sustain attention 6) Availability of a helper- such a personal assistant if the child is in a wheelchair or an interpreter 7) Schedule of the psychologist… to name just a few.

The testing usually starts with rapport building. A game. A fun discussion about random topics that is relaxed. Drawing. An interview comes next for me (other psychologists may have a different order to their assessments). Then comes the “meat and potatoes” – tests for ability, academics, memory, motor skills, social -emotional functioning – etc. To list the number of tests psychhologists are trained to use for assessment would be a very long list – and boring! Thus, publishing them here would not be wise. However, here is an excellent link to the evaluation process (from referral to feedback) and a list of common psychoeducational measures used.

Another article written just for parents from an association for school psychologists (NASP) NASPonline: Psychoeducational guide for parents to understand


Feedback from the testing can be very emotionally draining for the parent(s)

There is no band-aid big enough to cover the broken heart of parents when they find out that their child has a serious medical or developmental disorder. As a school psychologist, I would rehearse the words that needed to be delivered to the parent waiting for me. “Bad” or unexpected news needs to be carefully and eloquently given versus blurted out like guesses for Jeopardy.  You owe them that much.  They trusted you with their child.  

I gave hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents “the news”.  Usually starting my “spiel” with some glowing remark about their child – “Such a great worker”, “Really motivated and tried so hard”, or “Fabulous ability to stay on task”. Then came the description of what transpired over hours of one-on-one evaluations, observations, interviews, and discussions with staff.   Finally, arrives the moment that many await – the results.

“Based on the findings from this comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation your seven-year-old child currently has the developmental level of a child much younger. That means that his cognitive (intellectual) ability to complete tasks, known as adaptive behavior, around the house, in school, on the playground, and in other places is more like a three-year-old than a boy of seven.  The results of the physical therapist, speech, and language therapist, etc. are very similar to my results.” 

 This is where I stop.  Look directly at the parent and wait. Some will start to cry. Some will look confused.  Regardless, I need to drop the next “official statement” in their lap.  

Then I continue… “I need you to know that these results allow for our team to discuss options for special education as I am recommending that your son meets the eligibility qualifications as a child with Intellectual Disabilities. “

This is where the parent usually asks EXACTLY what this means.  Some parents have not heard this terminology and then ask if I mean that their child is “retarded”.   

I usually respond, “Yes, that is a much older term.  However, I need you to know that he is young and we use strategies and programs that have not been introduced to him yet.  So, please know that these results may change the next time we re-evaluate him.   We will be reviewing your son’s progress on a regular basis.”

Now it becomes tricky.  A lot has transpired in so few sentences.  Their world is now upside down. It is awkward.  Often sad.  I continue…

“Are you surprised by what I just said?”, I will ask. 

Sometimes the response is “not really”.  Other times the parents go through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief at record speed with ANGER being where they stop.  “NO WAY, he is just like me and learns just fine!”, announced one very demonstrative father to me.  (How do I respond to THAT?) 

Or the sobbing begins.  This is so hard.  I almost rather have the anger.  Sobbing means that the dreams they had for their son are now being reformulated as we sit in this too formal setting. News like this should happen on comfy chairs over tea and with boxes of tissues.  Not in a room of strangers who just altered your world in a blink. 

So begins most parents’ initial journey into special education.  (An upcoming blog in this series will cover the special education “emotional roller coaster.”


Psychologists’ “toolbox” of resources:

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A List of Frequently Asked Questions that Psychologists Ask Parents New to the Special Education Process during their Initial Meeting

  • Birth History (and if the child was adopted or placed in foster care – any known history of the parent and child)
  • Medical History
  • Developmental Milestones (see addendum)
  • History of medical difficulties or learning disorders in the immediate family or with close relatives
  • The child’s current sleeping, eating, and toileting behaviors. 
  • Language acquisition – how does this child communicate with the parents?  Has there been a steady growth in language development or any decline?
  • Ability to be flexible with changes to food?  Environment?  Temperature? Sound?  Lights?
  • Emotional responses from the child daily basis.   Overall happy?  Responds appropriately or seems to have challenges with emotional regulation?
  • For older children, questions will center around play, sharing, and educational skills (reading, math, and written language.)

EXAMPLES:

This is an example of a bell curve with ranges reflected from a student’s evaluation. This chart helps to visually demonstrate the child’s abilities for a range of expected skills. The average is considered within the 85-115 range.


Psychoeducational Report Components – sample




From Both Sides of the Table

Part 1- intro

Part 2- starting the process

ALLEGRO! An enchanting interactive book about classical maestros and their musical masterpieces! (Includes video, Beginner readers)

I can’t say enough positives about this enchanting juvenile literary work – ALLEGRO! Mostly because it introduces classical music to youngsters in the most engaging manner! David Miles (author) and Anita Barghigiani (illustrator) mesh to form the perfect duo to produce quite simply – a masterpiece!

Your early reader can learn about classical music through the story of a child discovering his passion for the arts through the great masters. This book is CLEVER with necessary repetition that is not at all tedious. For example, the first time a composer (such as Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, etc.) is introduced is via a short biography on the inside cover then once more as an illustration that appears embedded in the story itself. The same composers are seen again on the back pages with explanations about each maestro . This additional content is a very unique instructional extension that allows a child to go more in-depth with learning and vocabulary building. Lastly, on the sidebar, a child can press samples of musical compositions over and over again. There are many to choose from and each one has a very soft melodic sound vs. the cheap “tin” noise often hear in audio books for kids.

as an interactive musical piece

I could go on and on about this book. But, I won’t. Why? Because it is INTERACTIVE and I believe it best to describe ALLEGRO not with words but with a video. Please watch and consider this the perfect gift to inspire the children in your life about the beauty of music. And for our children who are Deaf or have hearing loss, the illustrations are magnificent and the accompanying stories are very much worth having the book, sans the audio. Also, there is some vibration through the speaker.

(Side note: Classical music has been proven to help learning and concentration in young and older students!.)

To learn more the about the authors and how to obtain a copy of this fantastic book: ALLEGRO: A Magical Journey Through Musical Masterpieces go here.

The official description by the publisher:

Classical music comes to life like never before in this magical journey through 11 timeless compositions. Meet Allegro, an ordinary boy who can’t stand practicing the piano. Those black dots on the page drive him crazy—until the music itself whisks him away on a breathtaking journey. Each beautifully illustrated scene on Allegro’s journey is accompanied by a famous classical theme that can be played with the press of a button. Hear Grieg’s “Morning Mood” while meandering through a misty meadow, Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” while exploring uncharted lands, Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” while pondering a shimmering night sky, and 7 more! Beautiful gold foil, lavish illustrations, and high-quality sound make this a musical masterpiece to treasure forever. 

Suggested retail price$24.95

Amazon link


Legal:

I received a copy from the publisher FAMILIUS. However, the opinions are my own and absolutely no monetary compensation was received. #Ambassador

You May Want to Gift These Books with a Suitcase!

I love it when a preschool – early reader series can teach basic skills, such as counting or the alphabet by using an engaging method – thanks to colorful illustrations and interactive storytelling! Add the bonus of an early geography lesson or two and I declare this series a winner! Yes – the ABC PRIMER and LET’S COUNT compilations of books offered by FAMILIUS publishing indeed were winners!


I received a number of books from Familius’ catalog – focusing on the Southwest and Pacific Northwest of the United States. The first thing I noticed was the quality of the books. They were very sturdy and the bright colors really caught my eye. Inside the authors used clever associations of letters and alphabets to highlight fascinating places within the states of Utah, Arizona, California, and Oregon. Readers can learn about prickly pears that adorn Arizona, the avocados and redwoods of California, the arches and other land formations such as Zion, in Utah, and the Portland Rose Festival and seashores of Oregon. Yes indeed – fundamental skills are taught within the pages of these primer readers.

For the slightly older reader, the publisher offers 10 Little Monsters series with many state titles available. I asked to review the California book and they obliged. The author, Jess Smart Smiley must love to travel the Golden State as she picked many locations that are my California favorites, too! From the Redwood Forest to the San Diego Zoo- this book includes many interesting facts that families’ can read and learn – TOGETHER! Plus, maybe it meets the California curriculum requirements for learning about state history and geography at the elementary level?!

As an educator, I truly enjoy these books and I bet many teachers will immediately love them, as well! The authors and illustrators have taken great care to present the materials. I predict that many educators will use them as resources to create interactive learning opportunities within their classroom and virtual setting!

For example, I can imagine a teacher assigning each student a different state book to read. Then they are given an opportunity to share by playing the role of “teacher”. Or extend student learning with videos from National Geographic or state-promoted websites such as VisitUtah.com. I would love to see the artwork that students create after learning about the Grand Canyon or other natural wonders in the United States!

(See below for more educational websites that would be great supplements to learning for younger children about the United States).


Are you a roving home educator who uses the highways as their classroom – “RV Style”? These books are worth the room in the vehicle and super for sharing and trading with new friends you meet on the road!

And, for all parents and educators who love to travel – consider these books as a perfect gift (just add a suitcase!)

Happy Reading!

Supplemental information:

VisitTheUsa.com

National Geographic Interactive Learning kit: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/united-states-mapmaker-kit

NPS.gov – The National Parks system in the United States

I received complimentary copies of the books that will be shared with others. I was not given any monetary compensation. The views expressed within this blog are my own.