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Back to School Guide
7/1/2020 1:00:00 PM
Back to School

School begins in Southwest Louisiana next month and at the time of this writing, we can’t say for certain what learning will look like this year. But we do know one thing – our children need an education. School districts across the country as well as here in Southwest Louisiana are making plans and striving to determine the best decisions for our youth. However school might take place this fall, we have some tips to make your year positive, productive, and successful for both children and their parents. Read on.

The Educational Impact of COVID-19: How Classrooms Might Look Different this Year

Ask any teacher, student, administrator, or parent of school-aged kids, and they’ll tell you that school looks a whole lot different than it did prior to March of this year. Millions of students traded classrooms for home-schooling and Zoom chats, and educators at nearly every level have struggled to adapt to a completely new way of educating young people. The impact of COVID-19 on education systems around the world has been stark – and we’re not certain yet what this coming school year might look like.

As the new school year approaches, educators may be wondering what their classroom routines will look like, and about the effectiveness of online education curriculum, tools, and instructional theory before classes resume. 

While we may not know exactly what to expect next month here in Southwest Louisiana, there are predictions that can be made based on trends put into place last spring that may affect our national education system.

Eric Oldfield, an expert in online education trends and a father of two school-age children, has compiled five predictions for the future of learning in a post-COVID world. 

"To say that these are unprecedented times is an understatement,” Oldfield said. "Even as we all grapple with the only constant in this environment being change, there are some very clear trends that have the potential to fundamentally shift the way we educate people of all ages around the world.” 

Online learning is here to stay: 

Already seen as a major trend even before the pandemic, online learning tools and tactics, while not perfectly operationalized yet, have shown to be effective at increasing lesson retention and to provide flexibility for students to learn at a pace more efficient for them on an individual basis. Look to see these practices integrated into traditional in-classroom learning in a bigger way than ever before. 

Self-directed learning: 

A byproduct of remote education, self-directed learning will provide students the ability to guide their own educational journeys, work at their own pace, go back and better absorb previous material, and accelerate beyond material they already understand well.

Gamification of learning will increase: 

The challenges of maintaining a student’s attention grow significantly in a remote education setting. In order to keep students engaged, online lessons will become more interactive or gamified. This has already shown to increase engagement and motivate learning and will become more prevalent as traditional classes move online.

Use of non-classroom resources: 

Embracing a hybrid on-and-offline education program will mean introducing educational resources not available in the classroom. Online tools like Brainly and Coursera, which offer supplemental instruction options will work hand-in-hand with traditional classroom curriculum. 

Digital citizenship will become a priority subject: 

To fully embrace online learning, students must also learn to become good digital citizens. Much in the way we currently teach civics and social studies lessons to inform children how to be engaged citizens in the real world, so too will we have to teach them how to be engaged citizens in the digital world. 

These are just a few of the ways COVID-19 may impact the short and long-term evolution of education online and offline.

Dealing with Bullies

Each school year parents try to figure out who’s in which classroom with all the fervor of a fantasy football draft, hoping their kids haven’t been assigned to a group, team, or classroom with "those” kids—the mean, the cliquey, the ones who dictate the terms of how the year will go. Kids know who they are, and so do parents. We all know but we don’t really stop the problem. We talk around it. 

There are three misconceptions about social cruelty and bullying that Caroline Maguire, a social skills coach and mother, hears from parents time and again. 

"Kids will be kids and all kids can be mean.” This sentiment overlooks the level of cruelty dealt out by some, which is markedly different and hurtful. 

We should wait to talk to the teachers, the school or the parent of a child who treats others this way, hoping time will resolve the problem. 

Parents of a child who bullies, as well as parents of children who are victims or silent bystanders, have little or no influence over their child’s behavior and there is nothing they can do.

Maguire says the idea that kids will just figure it out on their own—that they need to do so—has a long, miserable and misguided history. When we believe "there’s nothing we can do,” we leave children to bear the burden. They need help. Every child needs to believe that change is possible. And they need the social skills to do it.

Bullying, cliques, and exclusive behavior doesn’t come from a few bad apples, and it’s not just a fact of life. It’s the result of kids having been bullied themselves, suffering low self-esteem, lacking empathy, or lacking the emotion regulation skills they need to manage their feelings and impulses. Children aren’t born bullies, victims or uncaring bystanders. Problematic social behavior is a sign that a child needs help, not harsh judgment. Adults can teach kids to develop empathy and ways to manage their feelings in situations that make them feel helpless, scared or defensive. Stronger social skills provide them with healthier coping strategies in social situations and a sense of agency as they choose how to interact with others. The skills to thrive socially and with kindness are teachable if only someone takes the time to teach them.

This year, don’t wait for social snafus to start the conversation with your child, with other parents and at the school. Step in and step up:

If you see something, do something. 

Call out meanness or bullying when you see it. Bring your concerns to a teacher, recess monitors, bus drivers, administrator or the parent of a child whose behavior is concerning to discuss how the situation can be addressed. Actively advocate for inclusion.

Focus on calm, kind, constructive communication. 

It’s important to keep your cool (emotion regulation) in conversation with any child, parent, teacher or others. Problem solving calls for a collaborative tone and intention. Don’t gossip about other kids or parents. Engage for change.

Coach your child and their friends in simple kindness, empathy and basic social skills. 

It’s easy to focus on the failings of others—kids and parents alike. Coach yours to treat others fairly and kindly, and to expect the same for themselves. Some simple starters:

Talk to your child about the behavior she sees. Ask her what she thinks is happening and what factors might be contributing to it (personalities, time, place, or other pressures). Problem solve with your child and her friends to help them find how they can navigate the situation.

Ask your child to practice taking another person’s point of view—step into someone else’s shoes—and consider that child’s feelings. How do you think James might feel in this situation? What could be going in May’s life that she would behave this way?

Discuss how social skills don’t come easy to everyone, and practice social smarts that help kids connect or be kinder. What could you do to be helpful in that situation? What would you want someone to say to you if you were feeling that way?

Share from personal experience a time when you weren’t as empathetic as you might have been, why you try harder now and why it matters to you. When your child uses a snarky look or comment that disrespects another child, talk about it. Make inclusion a core value in your family and don’t just say it—teach your kids through your own example.

We’re quick to tell kids to stand up to bullies, to intervene and call others out on the playground or elsewhere when bullying and cliquish behavior occurs. Kids are getting the message: be upstanders, not bystanders. But it’s up to us to show them how to do it. Walk the walk, and remember that we are our children’s first and most powerful teacher and coach for upstander behavior.

Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. She consults with schools and families internationally and has been co-leading social skills groups for over a decade.

Make Backpack Safety a Priority This School Year

For parents, the time is nearing to organize and re-establish daily routines. A major component of this transitional period is the purchase of school supplies and the perfect backpack to carry these items. Unfortunately, all too often children struggle to put on their backpack, or they are bent forward/arching their back while carrying it.

Bearing too much weight in a backpack, or wearing it the wrong way, can cause problems for kids such as backaches, neck and shoulder pain, tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hands? It can also weaken muscles and hurt their posture in the short and long term, according to Ochsner CHRISTUS primary care provider Edward Myers, FNP-C. 

A good rule of thumb is to never load a backpack more than 15% of the student’s total body weight (i.e. for a 100-lb. student, this means the fully loaded pack shouldn’t weigh more than 15 lbs.).

Backpacks come in a variety of sizes for different ages and choosing the right one for your child can be overwhelming. By investing time to find the best pack, you strive toward a healthier outcome for your child. How to wear the backpack correctly and the relationship between proper wearing and injury prevention should be the focus.

Tips to purchase the best backpack:

Look for a lightweight pack that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your child’s load and is appropriate for your child’s size.

The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist.

Select a pack with wide, well-padded shoulder straps and one that has a padded back to protect your child from being poked from objects carried inside the pack.

Multiple compartments help distribute the weight more evenly.

Tips to properly wear a backpack:

Load heaviest items closest to the student’s back (back of pack near shoulder straps) and arrange books and materials so they don’t slide around by using all compartments. 

Distribute weight evenly by wearing both straps. Wearing a pack over one shoulder may seem like a cooler trend, but it can cause a student to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.

Adjust the shoulder straps so that the backpack fits snugly on the back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back.

Encourage your child to pick up their backpack the right way to avoid back injuries; bend at the knees and grab the pack with both hands when lifting the pack to the shoulders.

Determining backpack weight is important and students should learn when the backpack exceeds the 15% rule so they can remove items.

Persuade your child to use their locker frequently throughout the day instead of carrying the entire days’ worth of books in their backpack. Above all, urge your child to tell you if they are in pain.

For more information about primary care services at Ochsner CHRISTUS Health Centers, or to schedule an appointment, call 337-656-7876 or visit oschner.org.

Listen Up, Parents! 

by Haley Taraseiwicz

Back-to-school hearing screenings should be on every parent’s checklist as they prepare for their child’s new school year, according to Dr. Heidi Sorrells, doctor of audiology with Acadian Hearing Services. If hearing problems go undetected, the child loses out on valuable developmental milestones. 

Louisiana law mandates a newborn hearing screening before they leave the hospital. Infants who don’t pass the screening are referred to an audiologist for further testing. If parents neglect the follow up screening, hearing loss in children is often unknown until between the ages of two and four, or sometimes later. "As children grow, ensuring they can hear well is a vital part of their development,” said Dr. Sorrells. "Waiting until it’s discovered later on means valuable time has already been lost.”

Even mild hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to speak and understand language. Hearing loss is not a common birth defect, but does affect one out of every 1,000 babies in the United States. 

Dr. Sorrells said it’s important to have regular screenings throughout their childhood. According to the Center for Disease Control, hearing loss affects five per 1,000 children ages three to 17.  "Hearing loss can be caused by infections, trauma, and excessively high noise levels. Getting routine hearing evaluations is a good idea to ensure there are no damages to the child’s hearing” she explained. 

Parents and grandparents are usually the first to notice hearing loss in children. "Even if your baby passed the infant hearing screening, you should continue to have them screened and look for signs that indicate he or she is able to hear well.” 

Signs of hearing loss in children include:

Limited or poor speech

Frequent inattention when being spoken to

Difficulty learning 

Increased volume of electronic devices

Failure to respond during conversations

Easily frustrated when there is a lot of noise

During a hearing evaluation, audiologists use several types of screenings depending on the age and maturity level of the child. Behavioral tests are a common way to evaluate hearing. "In babies, I watch their eye movements in relation to sound. Toddlers will turn their heads toward sound and preschoolers will follow spoken directions for games and toys. School-aged children can follow audio instructions. If there are problems in any of these screening methods, we have more in-depth tools to get a more detailed diagnosis,” Dr. Sorrells explained. 

Hearing loss in children can be temporary or permanent. Sometimes, medical problems can cause temporary hearing loss, whether it’s an ear infection or even excessive earwax. If the hearing loss is permanent, many children benefit from hearing aids. They are individually fitted for comfort and durability. 

Research shows the earlier children with hearing loss start getting services, the more likely they are to reach their full potential. "Hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop communication, language, and social skills,” said Dr. Sorrells. If you suspect your child has hearing loss, trust your instincts and speak with their doctor.”

For more information or to schedule a hearing evaluation, call Acadian Hearing Services at (337) 436-3277, or visit their website www.acadianhearingservices.com. 

Back to School Transition Tips

Southwest Louisiana students will head back to school next month. For many kids starting school for the first time or attending a new school, the transition isn’t always an easy one. How can you make it easier for your children?

Child psychiatrist Dr. Vinay Saranga offers these tips:

Ask your young kids how they are feeling: For children going to school for the first time or those starting at a new school, the transition can be difficult and filled with anxiety. Sometimes kids won’t express their emotions. Parents need to ask them what they are feeling. Help them feel reassured and know that having mixed emotions of happiness, fear and even confusion are all normal and that many other kids feel the same way. 

Help your kids get excited about school: Kids will model the behavior of their parents. When you talk about school, be upbeat and excited about it. Share some of the better memories you have from your school days or funny stories that portray school as a positive experience. Be real with your kids and let them know you were nervous in the beginning, but talk about all the good things like making new friends, learning to read and more. 

If possible, take your child to the school for a tour and to meet their new teacher prior to school starting: 

This helps eliminate the unknown for your children. When they see the classroom, meet their teacher, and see where they will spend their days, the familiarity will help reduce anxiety on the first day. 

Start learning before school starts: Encourage your children to get back into reading, writing and math studies before the first day. Pull out some of their work from last year and review it or download learning apps to make it more fun for your kids. This helps ready the mind for learning and begins the transition from summer play mode to learning mode so it’s not a big shock on day one. 

Start adjusting schedules early: Chances are, your kids probably stayed up a little later and slept in over the summer. Don’t wait until the first day of school to wake them up earlier. Start having them go to bed a little earlier and waking up a little earlier in the morning a couple weeks prior to school beginning so it’s not so difficult on the first day of school. Most kids do better with structure, so plan before and after school schedules so your kids know what to expect.   

Get school shopping done early: Rushing around at the last minute to get all those school supplies adds to your children’s stress and anxiety. Start back-to-school shopping early. Involve your kids and let them pick out their own backpacks, lunchboxes and notebooks in their favorite colors and patterns. Let them pick a new outfit for the first day of school that makes them feel confident and comfortable. 

Find the right balance of goals for the new school year: Work with your kids to set realistic goals for the new school year. Straight A’s, for example, is a great goal to have, but it might be unrealistic for some kids. If the goal is too far out of reach, your child will feel overwhelmed and defeated. If it’s too easy, he or she will become bored.

Teach your kids age appropriate realities: As your children get a little older and further along in school, they’re going to have to learn some lessons about life. As parents, you can help make the transition easier for your children by sharing advice around some of these topics such as bullying and being teased, life not always being fair, the importance of sharing, saying no to drugs, learning from their failures, helping others, inclusion and equality, how to get along with difficult people, letting their voice be heard and more.  

Vinay Saranga M.D. is a child psychiatrist and founder of Saranga Comprehensive Psychiatry. www.sarangapsychiatry.com

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