Blog Archives

Free Audio Book Resources

Individuals with disabilities that affect their access to print have some free options  for obtaining audio and braille books, magazines and pod casts. The local public library is bound to have a collection of popular audio books that can borrowed at no cost, as long as you have a library card and return the books on time. In many libraries, books can be reserved in advance and/or brought in from another branch so you are not limited to what happens to be on the shelves of that branch on a particular day.  Public libraries often raise money by selling donated books and used ones that they have replaced. It’s a low-cost way to build your home library.

The North Carolina Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has a history that goes back to 1958.  With Federal, State and private funding, it eventually became part of a regional network of libraries operated by the the Library of Congress.  Even though the name of the library has not kept up with current preferred disability language, the library itself has continued to change with the times and now offers materials in a wide variety of accessible formats fr people of all ages.  Individuals must complete an application  and provide documentation of a disability that qualifies them to use the library.   Please visit the website to learn more http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/lbph . If you don’t live in North Carolina, ask for the branch that serves your area.

 

Bookshare is another great resource for people who have print disabilities.  Bookshare is free for qualified U.S. students and schools, thanks to funding from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) of the U.S. Department of Education. Organizations  and non-students can apply for paid memberships that will give them access to accessible materials through Bookshare. Check out Bookshare at https://www.bookshare.org  to see if you or someone that you know can benefit from what it offers.

Whether you are reading for school, work or pleasure, it’s good to know that there are some free services available to make sure that people with print disabilities have access to the information, ideas and wonderful imagining that is contained in printed text. Read on!

Let’s Get Physical (Education)!

In most states physical education is part of the standard school-age curriculum.  In North Carolina, all students in kindergarten through 8th grade have physical education at least once per week, with daily opportunity for other outside activity.  Students who have disabilities are also expected to participate in some form of physical education.

Some students have disabilities that require some accommodations in order for them to successfully participate in a typical physical education (PE) class.  Other students require specially designed physical education, based on the unique needs associated with their disability.  If the student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) the goals for special physical education (sometimes called “Adapted PE”) will be determined by the IEP team, just like goals for other academic or functional skills.  Needed accommodations for physical education will also be documented on the IEP or Section 504 Accommodation Plan.

While this seems pretty straight-forward, there are a couple of specific situations that were unclear enough that guidance was sought from the U.S. Department of Education.  In both cases, the children involved were at an age or grade where physical education was not an automatic part of the regular education program for students without disabilities.

Most high school students are only required to take one physical education class in order to meet graduation requirements.  The high school may offer additional PE classes as electives, but those classes are not required.  In most public preschool programs the children will usually have the opportunity for play and outdoor activity, but it is not part of a structured physical education program.

Does this mean that school systems do not have to provide physical education services for students who have disabilities in preschool, or after the PE graduation requirement has been met?  As with most things having to do with students who have disabilities, the short answer to that question is, “it depends.”

The U.S. Department of Education issued two letters in 2013 which clearly made the point that, if a student with a disability has an IEP that calls for specially designed physical education as a way to meet their unique needs, the school system must provide that service, either directly or through another public or private program.  The letters further clarify that, in this situation, the right to a free appropriate public education, in conformity with the IEP, would include special physical education regardless of the location where most of the student’s services are delivered.  Even students who participate in a community-based transition program would be entitled to special physical education services if it is listed on their IEP.

Ultimately, the decision about whether a student with a disability requires specially-designed physical education rests with the IEP team.  The IEP team is also responsible for determining the accommodations that will allow a student with a disability to participate successfully in a PE elective course, whether that course is taken out of interest or as a way to maintain an adequate degree of fitness.  The school district’s responsibility is to implement the IEP.  It’s really not that complicated after all.

 

Preparing kids at home for the Common Core Standards

Many parents have been hearing scary things about the Common Core State Standards that most states are now using as a foundation for their General Education Program or Standard Course of Study.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are intended raise expectations for what high school graduates will know and be able to do so that they will be better prepared for the demands of our 21st-Century Global Economy.  We know that students will still be taught how to read, write and do math, so many parents are wondering what’s so different about the CCSS, and whether they will still be able to help with their child’s education.

This blog will only address some CCSS highlights.  However, detailed information about the specific standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics in kindergarten through 12th grade can be found at http://www.corestandards.org.    Also, the Council of the Great City Schools has created Parent Roadmaps to Common Core Standards, which are available in both English and Spanish.  The parent-friendly roadmaps give parents information about what their child should be learning in English Language Arts and Mathematics at each grade K-8 and during the high school years.  They show how the standards connect from one year to the next and also give parents ideas for how they can support their child’s learning at home. You can find the roadmaps at http://www.cgcs.org/Page/328 .

One of the things that you will find throughout the CCSS is a focus on higher-level thinking skills.  Instead of just asking students to memorize facts and repeat definitions, the CCSS requires students to actually use increasingly complex information to understand situations, solve problems, analyze, create and evaluate arguments, explore possibilities, make decisions, communicate with others, and collaborate to reach a common goal.  Students will also be taught to become independent learners who can find needed information and use technology on their own.

While this may all sound a little intimidating, there are some basic things that parents can do to help their child develop these skills.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Expose your child to as many different kind of experiences and people as possible.  Even if resources are limited, you can expose your child to other parts of the world, art, music, theatre, nature, history and science by choosing the right shows to watch on television.  Visit zoos, museums, historical landmarks as well as state and national parks.  These experiences give your child something to connect to when different topics come up at school.
  • Build your child’s vocabulary by occasionally using words that they don’t already know or discussing an unfamiliar expression that they may hear in a story, movie or from someone else.  Look for opportunities to take things to the next level.  For example, go from “dinosaur” to talking about specific species of dinosaurs and what makes a herbivore different from a carnivore.
  • Ask lots of “why” questions.  Why do certain plants or animals only live in certain places? Why do some animals hibernate during the winter? Why is it a bad idea to start a fire outside on a windy day? Why are there more seashells on the beach first thing in the morning? Why do cars cost more than bicycles? Why did you pick that jacket to wear today? Why do they put food coloring in beverages?  The point isn’t to see if they know the answer already, it’s to make them think and communicate their ideas.
  • When reading, hearing or watching a story, ask “what if?” something had happened differently at a particular point in the story.  How would that have impacted what happened later? Would that have been better or worse? Why?
  • Actually talk about why a person shouldn’t believe everything that they hear and under which circumstances some people should be trusted as reliable sources of information.  For example, you should be able to trust your doctors to give medical advice within their field of expertise, but is there any reason to take their word on which car to buy?
  • Look for ways to use math skills in natural situations like shopping, cooking, working on a project to build something, or deciding how many cans of paint to buy to do a job.

The point is that if parents challenge their kids to think more at home and help find different ways to express those thoughts, it will go a long toward preparing them for the challenges of the common core.  Start early and don’t assume that anything is over your child’s head.  Children can usually understand, at least the basics of any topic, if its broken down and explained the right way.

Learning in the garden

I have loved to watch plants grow, going back at least to age 7 when I laid on the ground to look up, with pure appreciation, at a spindly young tree in front of my family’s apartment in Baltimore. Beginning with bulbs and flower seeds there, I have grown houseplants and/or vegetables in just about every place that I’ve lived since that time. While I personally find gardening very therapeutic, it is also a natural laboratory and a place where children can learn all sorts of valuable skills and life lessons.

Here are just a few of the things that children can learn in a garden:

  • The life cycle of plants and insects how they are able to transform over time without changing their identity. (Biology)
  • How energy is neither created or destroyed; it just changes form. (Physics)
  • That all soils are not the same. They have a history. (Geology)
  • That fertilizer and Ph make a difference. (Chemistry)
  • Fine motor skills: crumbling soil, seed handling, tying plants to a support, using hand tools, etc.
  • Gross motor skills: digging, reaching, balancing, pushing, pulling, lifting, squatting, etc.
  • Math: measurement (space, distance, volume, height, weight, time), counting, geometry (e.g. how shadows will be cast), estimation, etc.
  • Veggies always taste better when you grow them yourself. (Nutrition; Self-confidence)
  • Plants do best when they are put in location where their needs for sun, water and space can best be met. (Analysis; Organization)
  • There is a very close relationship between the effort that you put in and the success of the garden. (Cause/Effect; Work Ethic)
  • Things will happen in their own time. (Patience; Delayed gratification)
  • Sometimes your plants are damaged by forces you have no control over, like weather, disease and pests. (Resilience; Humility)
  • Next year things will be even better! (Planning; Optimism; Self-determination)

There must also be studies out there showing that gardening has mental health benefits, even though they may be more difficult to measure.  It’s never too early or too late to introduce children to gardening, whether at home, school or in a community garden.  If you are a gardener, share your love and experience with some young people.  It’s education, nature style!

Summer camp search

It happens every year.  Just before and just after the school year ends parents start calling ECAC as part of their search for summer camps or summer programs for their children.  After silently saying to ourselves, “Why did they wait so long?!”, we Parent Educators dutifully attempt to provide what limited assistance we can.

We refer parents to the Summer Camp Directory that is assembled by the Family Support Program which operates out of the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill.  This listing includes day and overnight camps for children with a variety of special needs and can be accessed at http://fsp.unc.edu   Most of these camps fill up months in advance, but parents can still learn about the programs, and find out how and when to apply for next year.

Many local Departments of Parks and Recreation offer  summer day camps, and some have therapeutic recreational programs designed specifically for children and youth with disabilities.  As recipients of public funding, however, the regular camp programs have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations that would make it possible for children with disabilities to participate in their program.  Some of the Y’s are also making a deliberate effort to be more accommodating of children with special needs.

Call around, talk to friends and acquaintances, check out local “Parent” magazines, public libraries, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skate rinks, churches, public and private schools, tourist attractions, scouts, 4-H clubs, etc. for summer offerings that might be of interest to your child.  Parents often have to create a patchwork quilt of activities in order to keep the children constructively occupied throughout the summer.  At home, consider accessing educational websites, software and activity/workbooks to keep the young minds active and skills from being lost.  There are more summer tips on many of the disability-related related websites.

The key message is to start planning early… really early! That’s when you’ll have the most options and a chance at getting financial assistance, if needed.  With planning, your child can go from having a ho-hum summer to a truly great one!