Monday, October 19, 2020

Take N.O.T.E. - A Tool for Parents

Two of our favorite organizations - The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and Understood - have teamed up to create a tool for parents to help them recognize when and how their children may be having learning difficulties and the steps to take to help them.


Take N.O.T.E. breaks learning issues down into four steps:

NOTICE is the first step, with subject by subject guidance on how a parent can be certain there’s something going on with their child that’s out of the ordinary. Areas of concern need not be academic and include:

  • Reading and writing
  • Math
  • Focus and organization
  • Self-control and hyperactivity
  • Frustration, stress, and anxiety
  • Developmental milestones

OBSERVING comes next. Once parents notice a problem, the program guides parents in how they can learn how to find and keep track of patterns in their child’s behavior with downloadable observation tools.

The third step of the process is TALKING. The program includes tips and conversation starters for parents to use when talking with those who know their child best, like teachers, aides, and other caregivers, as well as talking to their child about what they are observing.

The final step is to ENGAGE, helping parents figure out  how and when to connect with experts like pediatricians and school specialists, who can help you figure out if your child might have a learning and thinking difference.

The Understood site includes links to helpful articles and videos designed to illustrate the issues in  each of the steps involved. So far, so good, since Understood is known for its helpful information for parents. But Take N.O.T.E. goes further, and that's where its partnership with the AAP comes in. The AAP urges pediatricians to be familiar with the steps in the Take N.O.T.E. program and shares links to information from Understood. Furthermore, it offers guidance to its members on how to discuss learning and developmental issues with families, including suggestions to start with open-ended questions, asking for details, and getting more information. 

Dr. Yellin serves as one of Understood's "Experts" and is a resource for numerous pediatricians who seek to refer their patients for a better understanding of their learning, behavioral, and related difficulties. Parents and professionals are welcome to contact our office for more information.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Looking at the Election Through the Lens of Time

One of the interesting things about having written this blog for eleven years, starting in August 2009, is that we can sometimes look at a topic through the lens of time, seeing what we thought and wrote about something over the course of a number of years. 

As we thankfully put the first Presidential Debate behind us and as many folks around the country have begun to vote, by mail or through in-person early voting, we took a look back at some of the blogs we have written about past presidential elections. 

In 2012, we wrote about bringing your child with you when you vote, something we took very much for granted at that time. We also directed teachers to the resources about elections on the TeacherVision site, including charts and printables. In 2016, we shared information about iCivics, founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, with the goal of transforming civic education for every student in America with innovative, truly engaging games and resources. In 2020, iCivics has a Guide to the 2020 Election, including a countdown clock to Election Day and a guide to the Presidential Debates, along with games, including Win the White House.

One issue which is new to this tumultuous election is how to vote safely and securely in the midst of a pandemic and political upheaval. All but the youngest children are likely to have heard about the pros and cons of voting by mail and all of us have been urged to make a plan for how we will vote. This can be a good conversation to have with your children. Talk about how voting used to be almost exclusively in person on election day and discuss the options this year for voting in person, on election day or during an early voting period, or voting by mail. Have a conversation with your children about how you plan to vote this year and why. Your blogger remembers entering the voting booth with her parents and, in turn, bringing her own children to vote with her when she was a young parent. While this isn't a safe option this year, we look forward to a time when it is again a routine part of parenting and civic education.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Supporting Your Remote Learner

Labor Day is behind us and schools are opening -- one way or another -- all around the country. Most students are engaged in some form of remote learning, at least part of the time, since being in school full time seems to be the exception in most places.

It was with the continuing challenges of remote learning especially in mind that Dr. Yellin and his colleagues from QED Foundation, Kim Carter and Betsey Bradley, presented a webinar last week focusing on Observations and Opportunities: Supporting Your Child in Remote Learning.

They used Betseys experiences with her own son to frame the challenges and possibilities that learning from home presents for students and parents alike. Betsey had noticed that her son was struggling with writing tasks. She knew that he had a good vocabulary and was a strong reader. But when it came time to create a report or write an essay, his work wasn't up to the level of his conversational skills. So she put on her parental detective hat and used the Neurodevelopmental Framework for Learning (NDFL) that underlies QED's approach, to examine where and why he was having difficulty.

 Betsey knew that writing involved a number of tasks that had to be performed simultaneously -- coming up with ideas, spelling, grammar, vocabulary, organization, punctuation, and actually forming the letters to write. But her son struggled with handwriting (graphomotor function) and attention difficulties made it hard for him to handle all the tasks of writing at the same time. Watching her son work at home gave her insight that she might not have gotten from just looking at a paper he had brought home from class. Once the bottlenecks in his writing became clear, it was possible to put together specific supports to help address the areas that made writing difficult. 

Some of the tools that can help students who struggle with writing can be found on the Resources page  of the Yellin Center website. Graphic organizers can be especially helpful for students who need to put their creative thoughts or academic knowledge into an organized story or essay. 

Parents whose children learn from home this fall -- even part-time -- have a unique opportunity to observe how they learn. Doing this while doing one's own job and managing other kids is not easy. But if circumstances allow, watching your child work through a lesson can provide useful insight into which areas might be challenges for him or her and how to help him or her improve.


Monday, August 3, 2020

College Readiness and Success in NYC

We have just had the opportunity to review a new report from Graduate NYC (GNYC), a citywide initiative dedicated to increasing college readiness and completion rates throughout the City, which shares information on some exciting progress and initiatives, especially those focused on students who are from low income families, who are the first in their families to attend college, and/or who are students of color.

This report was of particular interest because your blogger has spent time with graduating NYC high school students at the Hillside Arts and Letters Academy at an annual program where students are "interviewed" by adults in a profession they are considering, as if they were applying for their first job. Many of these students are from families recently arrived in this country and are the first in their families who will be attending college. Thanks, in part, to the programs discussed in the GNYC report, almost all of the students I have had the privilege of speaking with over the past several years planned to enroll in college; others planned to join the military or attend trade schools. And almost half of last year's graduating class were accepted to CUNY two or four year schools.

City-wide, the GNYC report notes that 57% of NYC high school graduates who plan to go to college enroll in a CUNY school -- 30% in a two-year program and 27% in a four-year program. Students who are headed to a CUNY school have opportunities to get a head start, with programs like the Early College Initiative and the College Now program that facilitate academic momentum and allow students to accumulate college credits even before they start college.

Still another barrier to college success that is being dismantled and which is discussed in the GNYC report is the cycle that students with learning disabilities often encounter when they are caught up in a loop of remedial coursework which they need to pass before moving on to fully matriculate. The Math Start program is a highly supportive, flexible program that allows students to gain the knowledge they need at a minimal cost so that they can move ahead to start regular coursework.

Any student and their parents considering enrollment at a two or four year CUNY program should definitely review the GNYC report for a deep understanding of the supports and programs that have been put in place to foster student achievement and help students enrich their education, graduate on time, and move on to a successful future.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Getting Young Children to Wear Masks

Although wearing -- or not wearing -- a face mask may be a political statement in some parts of the country, here in the New York City area there seems to be a general consensus that masks are the best way to keep ourselves and others safe and most people seem to be wearing them when they can't be socially distanced from others.

In fact, families visiting our offices since we re-opened have been required to wear masks, not just in our offices, but even to enter the lobby of our building. It makes us all safer.

Children from older elementary age and up seem to "get it" and most that we have encountered are pretty good about keeping their mask on where necessary.

But what about getting young children to wear masks? This question takes on particular importance now that day care centers are starting to reopen and there is the possibility of at least some in-person school and preschool in the fall. Our colleagues at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) note that children under age two should not wear face masks, since they can pose dangers of choking. But it is possible to help children older than two to use face masks appropriately and, as importantly, to understand why they are wearing a mask.

Young children can understand simple explanations that lots of people have been getting sick and that wearing a mask is a helpful way to keep everyone healthy. Little kids love to be helpers and this kind of language should appeal to them. Slightly older children may understand the idea of germs and that masks help keep germs away from them and from other people too.

It is not just young children who may need extra support and guidance around mask wearing. Children who have sensory sensitivities may be unable to tolerate mask wearing, especially for  an extended time. Trying different kinds of masks, using clear face shields that provide some barrier while not closely covering the mouth and nose, and practicing mask wearing to build up additional tolerance may all help.

Other ways parents can help children become comfortable with wearing a mask, as suggested by the AAP, include:
  • Look in the mirror with the face coverings on and talk about it.
  • Put a cloth face covering on a favorite stuffed animal.
  • Decorate them so they're more personalized and fun.
  • Show your child pictures of other children wearing them.
  • Draw one on their favorite book character.

  In addition to the ideas noted above, the most effective way to teach your child the importance of mask wearing, as it is with most things, is to model the behavior yourself. If parents are matter of fact about the need to wear a mask outside the house where social distancing isn't guaranteed, their children, even preschoolers, will be more likely to accept mask wearing as something they need to do, like wearing shoes or a jacket. There may be some resistance, but compliance will be far easier.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Educational Resources for Summer

The school year has finally ended in New York City and almost everyone has given a sigh of relief. The abrupt transition to online learning, with parents thrust into unfamiliar roles of teacher and monitor of their children’s schooling, the stress of the pandemic – which hit New York City early and with deadly force -- and the social and political upheaval following the murder of George Floyd and others made this a spring like no other.

Right now, no one knows what school will look like in the fall. A high school administrator has told us that his team has been instructed to come up with plans for every eventuality, including all learning to happen in school (with social distancing and masks) and all learning to continue online. The most likely scenarios are some combination of in person and online instruction, with students reporting to their school buildings for part of the day or for some days. The only thing that is certain as June winds to a close is that nothing is certain. One of the ideas for easing students' way back into school and helping to make up for lost learning is "looping", where students, especially in elementary school, move up to the next grade along with their teachers. This allows a third grade teacher, for example, to move to fourth grade with his students. The benefits to this system include knowing each student, and being aware of what the students learned -- and did not learn -- while their schooling was online. What it does not address is the fact that teachers may have taught a specific grade for a number of years and extensive preparation is needed for them to step into the curriculum of a different grade. Another possibility could be to have teachers from two grades consult together, at least early in the year, to figure out where students stand in September and what may have been lost in the months of remote learning.

There are no easy answers for families in this situation, but we can suggest some tools to use over the summer to help students get ready for whatever lies ahead in the fall. Our website has an extensive collection of resources for students of all ages, most of them free, which can help address areas of challenge, offer enrichment in an area of current interest, or let your child explore a new subject or activity to engage their imagination and build skills.

Summer is an especially good time for kids to play educational games or to learn how to keyboard. For kids who follow current events, Project Vote Smart offers age appropriate information on how our government works, what roles different elected officials play, and things to consider as the November election approaches. For the kid in all of us, the Schoolhouse Rock series on YouTube offers several entertaining videos about how the government works.

Whatever your summer plans, we hope you and your family remain safe and healthy, and wish you a Happy 4th of July!

Monday, June 22, 2020

Dealing with Burnout

Do you find yourself feeling completely exhausted no matter how much sleep you get? Do you feel trapped, helpless, and unappreciated? Have you noticed that your self-esteem has lowered, and that you feel pessimistic all the time, especially when you watch the news or read social media? These symptoms might sound vague, but if you feel that they are familiar, you may want to do some research on burnout. As described by the website, burnout is:

“a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”

Most often, burnout is caused by work, but the word “role” in this definition can mean anything you align yourself with, such as housework, schoolwork, or even participation in a cause. More recently, the extensive use of social media and the 24 hour news cycle can also bring on symptoms of burnout. It can occur in a situation where a person loses their sense of self. They feel that their responsibilities make it impossible to practice any kind of self-care, and they close themselves off to opportunities to break away from the source of their stress. Symptoms of burnout can include:
  • Physical signs such as exhaustion, trouble sleeping, frequent colds/illnesses, head and body aches, and change in eating patterns
  • Emotional signs such as feelings of failure and self-doubt, feelings of defeat and helplessness, negative and cynical outlooks when before there were positive outlooks, and loss of motivation
  • Behavioral signs such as withdrawing from responsibility, using food, alcohol, or drugs as a coping mechanism, increased isolation, and procrastination
People who experience burnout are more vulnerable to illness, and burnout can also negatively affect friendships and relationships, which in turn can make symptoms worse. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to recognize, much less break out of.

Recently, the confluence of the COVID19 pandemic and the intense anti-racism protests taking place across the country may make people more susceptible to burnout. In a 2015 study it was shown that human rights activists were particularly vulnerable to burnout. That same study found that activists who didn’t keep their symptoms in check were far more likely to leave the movement about which they once felt so passionate. But activists who did manage their burnout symptoms were able to stay in the movement longer, working to end the inequalities that originally motivated their activism.

Burnout is difficult to overcome, but there are steps you can take if you begin to feel or have already have symptoms. One of the most important ways to prevent burnout is to take the time to find value in your work. Even the most mundane office job, the most boring school assignment, or the most grating chore has meaning and value in life. We all live interconnected lives--people rely on us in our roles, and our jobs matter to them. Take the time to remember the people whom you are helping in your own role. That being said, also take the time to grow a life outside of the role that is the source of your stress. The first step of true self-care is participating in activities that get you away from the stressful centers of your life, engaging parts of your brain that would otherwise go unused. Find a hobby that you love and dedicate time every week to it. Some simple starting points can be:
  • Reading, any genre, any level of difficulty, any topic that makes you happy. Try to pick books that have nothing to do with your job. Find genres that help you temporarily escape the stress centers of your life. Your brain is a muscle and you need to exercise it just like any other muscle. If you struggle with reading, don’t be afraid to start with shorter, simpler stories, or listening to audio books as you read along. The important thing isn’t the type of book, but rather just that you are taking a break from the stressful parts of your life.
  • Reach out to others. Family, friends, and coworkers--you have people in your life who care about you and want to speak to you. Having burnout can sometimes make you feel too exhausted to be with others, but if you plan a relaxing activity--dinner, watching a movie, or a walk together are all good starting points--you’ll begin to feel more energized and happy.
  • Get off your phone. This is so important--being on social media, reading the news all the time, and getting constant notifications can cause burnout. Turn off your phone, leave it in another room, and do an activity that has nothing to do with technology.
  • Take breaks. Changes from daily routines are the key to keeping symptoms of burnout in check. Whether you take a week off from work, or an afternoon out of the house, a change of scenery can help bring fresh perspectives to your work, and they allow you to recharge and relax.

The COVID19 pandemic is an incredible source of stress on our lives. To turn on the television and witness the latest in a series of long standing racial injustices and conflicts that have come to a head at the same time can exacerbate this stress. Many people may have thrown themselves into their work in order to distract themselves from the pandemic. Others are compelled to march -- often in challenging situations -- to express their deep feelings about racial injustice.  These actions may open people up to symptoms of burnout. Taking care of yourself is the first step to managing stress during one of the most stressful times in recent history.