14 Steps to Thriving at an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) Meeting

It is October.  That time of year where days get shorter, nights get longer, and we are all a bit more aware of what goes bump in the night.

October was also the time of year my family would go through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) process.  It was always a stressful, and sometimes scary part of our month.  As we focus on things that are scary this month in the lives of of our kiddos, we are going to tackle how to be successful at this.

IEPs can either be a Godsend or the worse hour(s) of your life that year.   We have been through both.  High Roads School in Maryland is excellent!  California and Florida, we had some significant struggles.  We have had successes and failures. 

Background: IEP’s are designed to make the learning experience beneficial to all students.  After all, we are different children with different needs.  A team of administrators, teachers, specialists, and parents work collaboratively to help the child succeed academically. When it works, it is a phenomenal process.

Problem:  IEP meetings seldom work collaboratively and, for a parent unaware of the bureaucracy of the district can be very overwhelming and frustrating.

How do we survive these necessary yearly meetings, while ensuring our children thrive? Here is what I have learned having done IEPs in three different states across America.

Track Progress in all aspects of life

1.       Track Progress:  If you have been following me, you know I believe in data collection and how it can be beneficial to us in all areas of our lives.  In regards to behavior, this has been essential to us understanding our son’s behavior and what effects it.  We track his progress socially, behaviorally, and academically.  Journaling, goal setting, progress reports, report cards, all help a parent understand the multiple levels of a child a better.  This is essential to know how to help your child in the school system.

2.       Review progress reports:  It is really easy to lose track of progress reports in the chaos of what comes home (or emailed from school).  But progress reports are a great way to see what your child likes, doesn’t like, struggles with, or excels at.  We need to know where we have been to know where we are going. This is a vital tool for preparing for you IEP. This is also a great way to stay in touch with teachers throughout the year.

3.       Research IEP Goals: Typically, a month to three weeks prior to a scheduled IEP, I research IEP goals.  This is easily done using a Google search of “sample IEP reading goals” or “sample IEP math goals.”  Do this for each subject.  I cut/paste the ones I think my kid will enjoy and have success with.

4.        Be realistic: Select realistic goals.  You cannot set realistic goals without the above steps completed.  More importantly, you need to choose goals that can be accomplished in the timeframe provided, while leaving room to grow.  Have faith in the child to meet expectations and goals.  Children are resilient and can do way more than we think they are capable of.

5.       Prep teachers/communicate early: Teachers are a strong voice in the meeting because they spend a lot of time with the child.  Don’t wait for an IEP to communicate your concerns, joys, and goals.  They will be more likely to advocate for the child if they believe the parents are working on the same team and not against them.  The education team will likely meet a week or two prior to your scheduled meeting.  Give the teacher your views and goals.  This will help incorporate your ideas prior to the meeting scheduled (and save you time in the long run).  I usually explain this in person and then do a follow-up email to the teacher.

6.       Include social goals: This is really easy to forget when you are surrounded by teachers and administrators who want to focus on academics only.  But school is more than just academics.  Social goals are essential to classroom management, lunch, recess, PE, games, turn-taking, and so much more. Include social goals in the IEP and see how much your child grows both academically and as an individual.

7.       Get rough draft: Most districts will send a rough draft of their meeting home in order to streamline the meeting with the parents.  Go through this with a fine-tooth comb.  I used a highlighter system to show what I agreed with and what I did not.  I also tabbed the pages I wanted a further discussion on.  Most IEPs are lengthy, so this made it quick to refer to things for discussion and help ensure the meeting focused on the more important issues.  I also make changes.

8.       Return revised draft with your changes/edits: Return the changes you made in writing to both the teacher and school prior to the scheduled meeting.  This will ensure the school has time to make the needed changes, or prepare for why they disagree.   

9.       Bring any medical information that supports your views: If you have a doctor’s evaluation, therapy notes, and recommendations, etc. bring them with you.  Make sure those evaluations address academic recommendations.  Some districts do not look at medical information when determining goals because they are not academic.  However, almost all those specialists, are qualified to address academic goals and likely know how to help your child the most.

10.   Bring and be an advocate: You know your child the best.  You are their best advocate.  Don’t be afraid to be their advocate.  The school is not always right.  Just because they are professionals, does not make them a professional regarding your child. If you disagree with a plan or part of the plan, you have the legal right as the parent to address that.  If the school does not agree with your plan (which happens a lot), it is ok to take it up to the district level.  If you do not feel you can be an advocate, invite an advocate with you who is willing to step out and address your concerns.  

11.   Take notes: During the meeting, it is essential to take your own notes.  Multiple times things discussed to be included in the IEP were conveniently left out and official meeting minutes did not reflect the discussion.  Keep your own written record of minutes.  This will be essential as the school year goes on.  

12.   Know your rights: Contrary to what most parents think, the school is not the final authority on an IEP.  Parents have significant rights. You can request a meeting whenever you wish.  You can join a meeting via phone/zoom.  You can invite anyone you wish to the meeting.  You have the right to agree or decline the school evaluating your child for services. In some areas, you have the right to a private education paid for by the district. You have the right to request an evaluation for services (due this prior to requesting the service and save yourself a headache). You have the right to ensure the goals and assessments are measurable. You have these rights and more.  Know them and be empowered.

13.   Do everything in writing: All requests for IEP’s and evaluations need to be done in writing.  Any time you have questions, do it in writing.  Any time you disagree with how things are being done, do so in writing.  Email is excellent for date and time stamps.  We also time-stamped and date all mailed and a student brought home correspondence.  This has saved us in multiple instances.   Legally and inter-personally this will help in preventing issues, miscommunication, and problems as the school year continue.

14.   Keep copies of everything: This is essential.  We once had a school who was supposed to do speech therapy with our son pull the page out of his folder in order to state they did not have to provide services.  We luckily had a copy of the signed IEP on hand and were able to inform them of both their breach in contract and the following needed changes in order to avoid further issues.  Every email and mail correspondence needs to be maintained. 

IEP’s do not have to be scary.  They do take time, but ultimately, they can lead to some amazing growth in your child and in your community.

For more ideas on how to help with IEPs, take a look at my Facebook page.

5 Easy Steps to Socializing Your Home School Kid

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“I am worried about sending my kids back, but I concerned about socialization if I homeschool.”

“I loved the flexibility of homeschooling this last semester, but I am concerned about socializing.”

“I really want to homeschool, but I am concerned about socializing.”

Sound familiar? 

This is actually the number one “concern” I hear when people learn we homeschool.  It honestly makes me laugh – more so now that I know the changes districts across America are making.

When we chose to pull our kid from public school (for so many reasons), we were “concerned” about socializing as well.  This was particularly concerning for a parent of special needs children who need the stream-lined socialization for more than just play.

The fears of the “weird home school kid” label and, worst, it becoming true, were a serious battle for my family.  I did what any data-loving person would do – I calculated all the time he spent “socializing” at traditional public schools.  There is no talking in class (unless a team activity, which was once a week at best). There is no talking in the hallways (too and from PE, lunch, and recess or assemblies).  There was no talking on the bus to and from school.  So, I was left with the 20-minute lunch, 15-minute recess, and 20-minute PE class on average most days.  I added in another 20 minutes of “team activities” for grace.  All in all, my son was “socializing” 90 minutes a day – at best.

From what teachers are telling me, with new COVID-19 measures, children will not be allowed to socialize with those outside their class, dividers will be put up between students at their desks, team projects are out the window, and oh, PE, recess, and lunch will likely be in the same room with the same kids they are not allowed to go within 6-feet of.

Then I considered WHO he was socializing with.  Daily we were informed of bullying (my son was actually bullied by students, teachers, and aides).  Daily he would come home with stories that would break your heart. 

The kids he could hang out with without being bullied, well, their morals were questionable at best.  Parents allowing elementary kids to watch movies like Saw and other horror movies, or who believed kids should not be held accountable for behavior because they are “kids and need to figure things out on their own.”  The lessons he was learning from his peers were not love, kindness, and mercy, but hate, selfishness, and worry.

Weighing the pros and cons, we obviously decided to pull our son.

So, how do we get that 90-minute social activity?  How could we as parents fill the role the state has been doing so mediocrely? Could we do it better? The answer was a resounding YES.

Our son winning the Gold at Florida State Championship

1.       Team Sports: Many parents say they are exhausted between school and the numerous activities they do after soon.  Homeschool actually offered less time “in the books” and more time to have fun.  Our son joined a community team – first flag football and then track and field.  He is held accountable, taught self-discipline, and has so much fun!  He has been a state champion in flag football and in track and field three years running. I addition to some great local teams, check out Special Olympics – for streamlined and special needs kiddos. 

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2.       Play-dates: I don’t know about you, but I love play-dates (even as an adult).  The beauty of homeschool is I get to pick who my child spends his time with.  Gone are the days were every kid in a 30-student classroom has to be invited to every party and play-date.  Now, we got to know who he was spending time with, the values those kids were pouring into each other, and not have to do the obligatory invitations to kids we knew our son did not want to hang out with. Don’t rule out co-ops, small groups, youth groups, and Sunday School.

Community Serve Day making cards for senior citizens

3.       Volunteering: There is so much emphasis in high school to do community service.  A lot of schools now require this to graduate.  But, why do we wait so long to instill that into our children?  Volunteering is so important to the community and developing young hearts into compassionate passionate adults.  Some great places to get involved are your local church, food closets, and community centers.  We love working with senior citizens, writing cards, calling, video chatting!  Our son has now started helping lead the young children at our church in Sunday School activities.  I love it when my son gets to help out our local Rotary club serving meals, helping in supply drives, and more or helping Habitat For Humanity.  See what your community offers, I bet it is more than you think.

Exploring the Florida Cavarns

4.       Field Trips: Our son was lucky enough to go on one to two field trips a year.  Field trips are so important for hands-on learning and socializing.  People are more themselves when not in a traditional classroom.  Since we pulled for home school, my son goes on at least once a month (COVID-19 aside).  There are so many places to go for free and a lot of places have openings for homeschool groups.  For biology and ecology, we took a trip to the Florida Caverns, for history we went to a live re-enactment of the Spanish colonies in Florida.  There are so many possibilities!  Even before homeschool, we would travel somewhere at least once a month just to see the world and new cultures.  These are perfect outings for playdates, other homeschool families to join in on, or just fun for the whole family.

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5.    Extra-curriculars: Just like any kid, homeschool kids need extracurriculars.  Our son has enjoyed learning dance and guitar.  These are great ways to introduce other teachers while also helping encourage friendships to grow in unlikely places.  Many community centers offer these classes for free or cheap. Don’t rule out acting, dance, art. Scouts are a great way to teach volunteerism and socializing.

It is easy to be concerned with socializing your child.  I think we should be concerned about what that looks like regardless of where they go to school.  As the old adage says, bad company corrupts good character.  Homeschool offers an ability to know what is happening in your child’s life, offers more opportunity to grow and learn in a social environment, and allows you the opportunity to invest in the lives of those who hang around your child.  

Whether you homeschool or not, I hope you consider these tips and how they can help your family grow together in love, laughter, and learning.

Starting Home School? Here Are 10 Great Curriculums

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This week I have had a significant amount of requests to discuss homeschool.  Questions like “How do you homeschool while working?  What curriculum do you use? How do you socialize your child?” and so many more have poured int.  I will not answer all of them here (in August I will be focusing on the daily tricks for homeschoolers).  Today I will focus on curriculums.

With changes in education due to COVID-19, a lot of parents are really considering homeschool.    It is not an easy choice (even without the pandemic).  If you are anything like me, you wonder if you will be a good enough teacher?  Will your child fall behind in academics, social skills, and emotional development?

The good news is there is so much good news! 

Homeschooling is not new to the world.  In fact, for most of human history, parents taught children or tutors came to houses (if you could afford it).  You know your child better than anyone, so you know where they struggle the most and where they can just breeze through.  You can essentially create your own IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for each of your children.  As my mom used to say, we have “different children with different needs.”

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  SOCIALIZATION

The first major concern is socialization.  I get that.  It was a big one for me.  I will talk more about that next month.  For those who have worked with me in editing or social media marketing, you know how much I value data.  I have even used data in helping with behavior challenges with my own kid

As any good data analysis would do, the first thing I did in answering that question was to track how much socialization my child actually got in school (note, this was done when my son was in elementary school).  My son left the house at 7:30 on a bus and came back at 3:00.  When I learned he was not allowed to talk on the bus, I removed any transportation time from the social component.  Lunch was 20 minutes and the recess was 15.  There was no talking allowed in hallways.  And interactive work with children in the classroom had significantly declined – other than 1 class project a week, my son was learning next to and not with his peers.  Taking all that into consideration, as well as really speaking with his teachers, my son was really only allowed to socialized 30 to 45 minutes a day.  With home school, that increases so much with play dates, co-ops, small groups, sports, and so much more. 

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 CURRICULUMS

There are so many curriculums out there.  And the best part of home school, is you do not have to pick and choose.  If your child is a verbal learner, there are curriculums for that.  A visual learner?  There are curriculums for that.  Learns kinesthetically?  There are curriculums for that.  There are so many, we actually mix and match for our son.

As a researcher at heart, I spent six months reviewing and researching curriculums prior to starting homeschool.  Here are some we use, why we use them, and some we don’t but think are pretty great.  Many of the below have Facebook groups, local co-ops, and more for additional help and socialization for the kids.

1.       Time4Learning***: They are relatively inexpensive with a monthly fee of $25.00 and a military discount.  They also use a refer a friend program that helps decrease expenses.  This is a DOD approved national standard-based curriculum.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs.

This is our foundational curriculum.  This is great for military families that move a lot because it is national standards and teaches to that.  They have 4 foundational courses (math, science, social science, and language arts). Their curriculum is interactive, game, and video-based teaching a variety of methods to problem-solving.  They also have built-in Time4Fun (recess of fun games) and the app is mobile so it can be done anywhere.

As I work from home, and reports are due to the school district, I particularly like the freedom this curriculum gives me to work.  It has so many tools for reports (attendance, duration in class, scores, etc.)  It allows me to input the amount of time a week, length of the school year, and pick and choose what I think is appropriate for the mental development of my child.  It then plans the school year for me allowing to change the plan at any time to add in breaks, modify curriculum, and more.

This curriculum also allows my son to have a bit more control of his learning by giving weekly or daily assignments and checklists.

2.       Easy Peasy: This is a completely FREE (yes, FREE) curriculum.  They recommend a once-yearly $15.00 donation, but even without the donation, you can still use the curriculum.  This is a Christian based curriculum. This has all basic subjects as well as Bible, computer, PE, music, Art, Critical Thinking and so much more.  They offer Spanish as a language for middle school.  (Time4Learning does offer Rosetta stone at any level, but it costs a bit more). This is our supplemental program. 

This curriculum also has cash prize contests for writing and science.  For those who want to simulate science fairs and excellent writing, this is a great way to help develop those skills with a great incentive!

3.       Adventure Academy:  This is a fun exploration web-based learning curriculum.  They allow the learner to take some control of their learning process.  I have not used this curriculum, but I like what is offered.  This allows for a more social learning environment by allowing the learner to create their own aviator and work with other online learners.  They are currently having a sale of 49% off the subscription – which drops this curriculum down to approximately $10.00 a month.  It is super fun!  This is interactive and has a lot of visual components. 

4.       Abeka: Based out of Pensacola Christian College, Pensacola, FL, this Christian based curriculum is used throughout the country and states both in homeschool and private schools.  This curriculum has all basic foundation classes, reading, and Bible.  They offer video lessons and standardized testing!  Depending on your state requirements, that can be an essential factor.  This one is more expensive ($100s to over a grand a year and increases with each grade).  HOWEVER, they offer flexible pricing, accredited contents, and for those in high school, a DIPLOMA.  That diploma will essential for those military families using the GI bill for their kids. 

5.       Classical Conversations: The basis of this Christian based curriculum based out of Southern Pines, NC is trifold: Classical, Christian, Community.  The community that comes along with this curriculum is great for those worried about socialization. As you move to high school, the success on the SAT and ACT for those who use this curriculum is high.  For middle school and high school, they offer trained tutors once a week.  This is a great curriculum for kids with special needs! This curriculum grows both the social community and the independent investment for kids.  If you are a working parent, the requirement for in-person get-togethers may be a challenge, but definitely worth looking at.  If you cannot due the community part, you can still access their bookstore with great resources!

6.       Liberty University Online Academy: This Christian based curriculum is fantastic.  This one is pricey, but offers family discounts, military discounts, and payment plans.  They offer structured and customizable learning plans, around the clock access to the curriculum and certified teachers.  This curriculum does offer dual enrollment for up to 60 college credits.  This is something to consider if your state does not offer this.  Dual enrollment has the ability to let your child graduate high school with an associate degree as well!  This curriculum also allows your student to graduate with a diploma recognized nationwide!

7.       Duoling: This is not a curriculum, but a FREE learning resource.  This teaches almost any language with an interactive online environment.  Learning a language at a young age can help with communication, critical thinking, and socialization.  This free program sends weekly progress reports and daily reminders to practice.  With built in incentives of rewards and trophies (much like a video game), this allows your child to move at their own pace.  We do use this, but we do not grade our son on this.   

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8.       Supplemental Learning: I am an avid reader and believe, like Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln, that learning is done through reading. For those of you who follow my son’s amazing history, you know reading taught him to speak.  In addition to the above, we incorporate state level reading into our year.  This is approximately ten books a year.  The book is read, a paper is written and a project is done.  Projects have included everything from building Lego diagrams and book reports to writing a play.  This is usually a month-long process, so my son learns how to executive plan at the same time.  

9.       Unschooling: This is a relatively new idea.  This allows teaching children based on their interests and not following a curriculum.  This is often termed “natural learning” or “independent learning.”  This is not a curriculum, not a method, but a way of looking at children and life.  A great example of this is the movie Captain Fantastic about a family that homeschooled their children in the wood.  (Do not watch this with your young kids; this is rated R and has adult themes).  This type of “curriculum” is an opportunity for you as a parent to educate your child in the way you think is best. 

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10.   Tutors: Yes, tutors still exist. They are also great resources throughout the education of your child. A quick google search will generate thousands of results for tutors near you.  A lot of homeschool curriculums offer tutors, but if you choose one without that and need one for your child, this is a great resource to consider.  Prices will range with each depending on course work, grade level, frequency and more. This is a great resource to have in your back pocket as your children get older as well.

The best part about homeschooling is that it is fluid.  What works for one child might not work for another.  What worked one year might not work the next.  There are so many options out there.  You do not need to feel stuck in one curriculum ever.  Do what works for your family.

Know too, that this is a change for your family.  Anticipate growing pains for everyone.  Give yourself GRACE.  No one expects you to be perfect.  We don’t expect teachers who go to school for years of getting trained to do this to be perfect.  Teaching your kids will be hard (teaching anyone is).  I have a teacher friend who once told me, “I love teaching, but there is NO WAY I could teach my own kids.”  That is a teacher.  Teaching your children is not without challenges.  But, picking a curriculum should not be one of them.

 Go forth in decision knowing you are not alone.  There are tons of communities out there to help.  Reach out to me anytime.  I would love to know how I can be of better service.

*****As a member of Time4Learning, I have been given the opportunity to review their program and share my experiences. While I was compensated, this review was not written or edited by Time4Learning and my opinion is entirely my own. For more information, check out their standards-based curriculum or learn how to write your own curriculum review.