Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Fresh Start in a New Classroom

Kai attends a small, public therapeutic day school. For as long as he’s been attending, the school has had only one fifth-grade classroom with the same person teaching it, Miss S.

When Kai was in second grade, he went to Miss S’s class for math. Ever since then, he has been assuming that he would return to her class when he became a fifth grader himself.

This school year, the school had to open up a second fifth-grade classroom due to an unusually high number of students at that grade this year. Because this is a therapeutic school, the composition of students fluctuates as new kids get sent there while others return to their home school. This year there happened to be more fifth graders than they’ve ever had before.

Kai was placed in the “other” second grade classroom.

From the very beginning, he was not happy about it.

He complained about the teacher and other staff. He was unhappy that most of the kids he liked were not in his classroom.

I thought that this was a disappointment that he would just have to learn to deal with. In time, I figured, he would get used to the situation and everything would be fine.

His teacher certainly did everything she could to teach him. She was very dedicated and communicated well with us so that we felt a partnership.

Months passed, but Kai never did seem to get over his initial bad feelings. Every time he had a major incident, he lashed out about the staff, or moaned about how he had no friends and that no one liked him. We spoke to him constantly about how he had to accept responsibility for his own actions, that the staff wasn’t to blame, rather they were there to support and teach him. But no matter how much we said, he couldn’t seem to adjust his thinking.

As his incidents piled up, I was wondering if we would just write off the rest of the school year and hope to re-set when he went to middle school.

But with four months still left in his fifth grade year, it seemed too long of a time to just write off.

I wrote to the school principal and asked if she would consider moving Kai to the other fifth grade classroom. We had absolutely no issues with his teacher, but since Kai’s mindset seemed irrevocably negative, perhaps a new environment would give him a fresh start. Of course, I understood that there would be concerns about sending the wrong message that students could switch teachers whenever they wanted, so we would support her to make sure the right message was sent to Kai.

I was very happy when the principal and her staff gave the matter serious consideration. They came back with a plan – Kai could switch classrooms if he could write an essay explaining why he should move.

It wouldn’t be easy for Kai. Writing is his most hated subject.

But he was happy to have an opportunity to state his case.

Over the next day, he outlined his thoughts and then put his ideas down in a letter to the principal. I was pleased that he came up with the thoughts on his own. The crux of his position was that he would stay safer and be more focused on schoolwork because he would have his friends in the new classroom to help support him.

The principal agreed to the classroom switch. Kai was very happy. I think just knowing he would be moving helped him to have four really good days in his last week in his old classroom.

This was Kai’s first week in his new room. Even though the change was something he wanted, we were nervous about how things would go as Kai generally takes time to adjust to new things. In his new classroom, Kai would not only have to get used to a new teacher and new classmates, but different routines, different order of subjects, and other changes.

On his first day, this past Tuesday, he scored a 100% on his school point sheet. He followed that up with a 96% on Wednesday, another 100% on Thursday, and an 89% and Student of the Week honors on Friday.

We have no illusions that this change of classrooms has suddenly eliminated all the issues with anger and frustration. We know that there will be difficult times.

But I do think that a positive mindset makes all the difference. It is great to see that Kai has gotten off to a good start in his new classroom. Hopefully, he will maintain his new positive outlook and continue to stay safe and perform well.

Monday, February 9, 2015

School Assignment

Kai began working on a school assignment. Each student in his class picked an explorer to write about. Kai chose Hernando DeSoto.

The first part of the assignment was to write a timeline of key events in the explorer's life. Kai is still not much for writing, but with the help of Wikipedia, he did his research and created a basic timeline.

The next part of the assignment was to draw a map to show the places that the explorer went to and the direction of his voyage. This part Kai eagerly worked on, as he loves to draw.

The other parts of the assignment are to create a treasure chest, fill it with artifacts that the explorer may have found, and to write a one paragraph journal entry that the explorer may have written about his adventure. That last one will be the most challenging of all. I think we'll have him work on with his tutor.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Snowy Super Bowl Sunday

We got our first blizzard of the season yesterday, which meant it was a happy day for Kai.

He was up early to work on his origami. He has been reading the Origami Yoda books, the funny yet authentic series by Tom Angleberger about a group of middle school kids, and what happens when the loser of the group creates an origami finger puppet of Yoda. In addition to the stories themselves, Kai likes that the books give instructions on creating your own origami Star Wars figures.

Here he is with Origami Yoda and Darth Paper:

And here with Han Foldo and the Fortune Wookie:

I like the books as they are at a reading level that is more appropriate and challenging for him.

After doing some math homework, we went outside.

This was the scene outside our house.

The picture was taken in the morning before the blizzard had officially started.

Of course, Kai wanted to go sledding, so we went out before the storm was supposed to get worse.

Later, he did more math, some step aerobics, and a lot of Pokemon.

And then it was time for the Super Bowl.

It is the one sporting event I have a reasonably good chance of being able to watch as we make our own little party out of it.

My wife prepared our Super Bowl platter which included Buffalo Wings, nachos with ground beef and wieners, peanuts, tortilla chips, and celery.

I enjoyed the game. Kai enjoyed getting to party. His favorite part, of course, was getting to dance to Katy Perry’s halftime entertainment.

Today, he is home from school due to the weather. I have a feeling my wife will be origami-ed and Pokemon-ed out by the time I get home from work.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hour of Code, and Other Weekend Activities

Kai finished up the school week with no further major incidents at school.

We had a busy weekend, having company on Friday evening and visiting Kai’s aunt and uncle on Saturday evening. We also had all of our usual weekend activities including the weekly trip to the library, his boxing class, fitness group, and movie night.

We also went sledding, though there was only a small sliver of snow left as most of it was melted. Still, it was enough to make several runs down the hill, though we had to wait our turn each time with such limited space to accommodate all of us with sleds.

I also had him do some step aerobics, using a step and tape that Mom recently got to work herself back into shape.

Yesterday, after doing his online math work, I showed him the Hour of Code website. Hour of Code teaches kids how to code through simple and very visual approaches. I got Kai hooked by showing him a tutorial that utilized the Angry Birds game. He eagerly went through all 20 steps, getting the bird to defeat the pig at each step, and in the process learned a lot of basics of computer programming. The steps were very easy for beginners as they can drag and drop blocks of code and do not require any typing of the code itself.

He went on to do another tutorial that put him through the steps to create a Flappy game.

Later, after his fitness group, he wanted to get back on the computer to build an iPhone app that resembled a Pokemon game. This one was a bit more challenging than the other tutorials as it required him to read instructions and then type in the proper code. But with my help, he was able to do it and remained eager to do more as his day ended.

Today he is off of school for the Martin Luther King holiday. It is also the day that he can finally get back on the iPad after his longest punishment of not using it for a week.

Before yesterday’s fitness group, he told me that he was going to ask the mom of one of his schoolmates what the iPad rules were at their house. He seemed to think that they weren’t so strict about iPad usage. I told him that if that boy destroyed his clothing, he would probably lose use of the iPad as well, but regardless, they can make whatever rules for their house and Mom and I would make the rules for our house. He still went ahead and asked the mom and later told me about the rules at their house - no use of the iPad until homework is completed.

Let’s see if he can keep his iPad privileges when he returns to school tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Update, Depression

After the awful day of anger and aggression on Monday, Kai has had two pretty good days. He had no major incidents at school, and has come to terms with losing his iPad privileges for a week.

At home he seems mostly jovial, using the time he would have been on the iPad to read more of the many books he received over the holidays.

Of course, we are always on edge that this good period won’t last long, and the anticipation of when the next dreaded email from school will come keeps us from enjoying the moment too much.

But aside from the worry over when Kai’s next aggressive incident will occur, a growing concern lately is that Kai may be depressed, or at least, have negative feelings that will result in depression.

Over the past several weeks, there has been more than one occasion where Kai has expressed that no one at school likes him, and/or that he wants to kill himself. It is a frightening thing to hear from your child.

At this point, I don’t think that there is an imminent danger that he will carry out his words. He tends to use extreme language to express his anger and frustration, and we don’t take each one literally.

But still, there is concern, obviously.

I wonder what is driving these feelings.

At home, we try to balance toughness with love. I push him to do things he doesn’t want to do, whether it is extra math or reading, or more exercise. And when he has incidents at school, we give him consequences at home, too. The goal is to build good habits and teach him right from wrong so that he will grow up to have a good life. And along with the toughness we try to let him know that he is loved, and spend a great deal of time with him doing the things he loves. Sometimes I feel like we’re not being tough enough; other times I worry that he doesn’t understand that he is loved.

When he talks about school, he doesn’t seem to have very many positive feelings about his classmates. He is definitely an atypical kid, even when compared to other atypical kids at his therapeutic school. I don’t’ think he considers any of his classmates as a friend.

One aspect of that is that he seems to misunderstand others’ actions. Last night he told how the class voted for their favorite recipe among all that each student submitted. It seems no one voted for his recipe of Mom’s chili. The winning recipe was some type of dessert dish. I can see why kids would favor chocolate over anything else, but to Kai that was just further evidence that “no one likes me.” So perhaps he just misunderstands others, but I also think his feelings are at least partially grounded in reality.

I don’t care if he has a lot of friends, but it obviously is bothering him that he doesn’t feel like he has any. And those feelings will likely be even harder for him as he goes to middle school next year.

What to do? What to do?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Anger and Frustration

We received an email from Kai’s teacher mid-day yesterday. At first, I thought it was a pleasant email.

She told us that he would be joining the other fifth grade class just for math as that classroom had a group that was working at a faster pace and we had thought that Kai was ready for more challenging work in the subject.

We also thought that Kai would be happy with the news as he has long considered the other class the “real” fifth grade classroom and he was extremely disappointed when he was not placed in that room at the beginning of the school year, a feeling he has maintained even all these many months later.

The teacher then went on to tell us that because Kai had written a very persuasive letter to her, she agreed to get two pet hamsters for the classroom.

So far, so good.

But then she went on to tell us the bad news.

This was the first day of the hamsters and the kids were very excited. The teacher asked them to talk quietly so as to not scare the new pets. Apparently another student did something to upset Kai and he started to complain in a loud voice. He did not quiet down as asked, and was asked to take a break away from the pets, where his anger continued.

Later, he was the last one called to line up for PE. He does not like being last, and no matter how often we tell him to shrug off things like that, he too often gets upset. In this case, he slammed the classroom door, spoke of harming the hamsters, and then got violent with the staff when they asked him to take a timeout. As before, he ended up destroying another shirt, plus his new fleece jacket as well as his new eyeglass strap.

When I got home from work, he was still mopey, hiding out under the covers in his bed. After calling him to come down to dinner several times, he finally came to the kitchen where he knew he would have to talk about the unpleasant events at school.

If he had said how sorry he was for destroying his clothing and hurting the staff, and if he had expressed any regret at all, we would have been somewhat sympathetic. But, as is usually the case, he started to rage about how terrible the staff was and how he would never go back to that classroom again.

“And that’s all I’m going to say about it!” he yelled.

I told him that he had lost his iPad privileges for a full week, his longest such punishment yet. “And that’s all I’m going to say about it,” I said.

Though I didn’t actually stop there. As Kai raged about the punishment, my wife and I explained, yet again, how he needed to accept responsibility for his actions. And to not blame others. And to not react so angrily when he is frustrated.

Of course, he only got angrier when we spoke. We told him to go to his room and to calm himself down.

We could hear his shouting for a good long time before he quieted down. When he finally came back down to the kitchen, he said he was sorry for getting so angry and behaving inappropriately.

He said in his anger he had pulled out one of his teeth, and he was holding a tissue full of his blood, as well as his tooth.

He said he wanted to put the tooth under his pillow for the Tooth Fairy. We told him that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t come when you pull out your own tooth like that.

This morning, he got out of bed very slowly, but he finally did get up. It appears that he will go to school without too much of a struggle.

And so we will await to see if we get another dreaded email today.

But we question what to do now.

Kai’s anger and frustration is very evident. But ours is growing along with it. Well, that along with a growing feeling of despair.

We are considering stopping our Point Store incentive as the motivation to earn points does not seem to affect Kai when it matters most, which is when he is frustrated and angry. His failures to achieve goals seem to only get him depressed.

My wife wants to cancel all birthday presents for him as he has to pay back all for all the property he has destroyed. I can appreciate the sentiments but am guessing that she will relax her views just a bit as his birthday nears.

So what will we do? What adjustments can we make?

As frustrating as this is as parents, I think it is important to maintain hope that Kai can find a way to control his emotions better. Right now, he doesn’t believe he can. And so, he will need us to believe for him until he learns how.

That won’t be easy.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Winter Break Activities

Kai returns to school this morning.

He made the most of winter break.

He worked on the various kits and sets that he received for Christmas and Hanukkah.

We made our annual visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden where we saw Wonderland Express, the exhibit of famous Chicago buildings made from plant materials, with model railroads running through them.

We tried going ice skating, though the ice in the outdoor rink wasn't quite thick enough yet.

We went sledding.

He also started reading from among the many books he received, did online math through the Khan Academy website, and we played a new board game as well.

It will not be easy for him to get back into the school routine. But it is time. I think my wife is looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

Best wishes for a happy and healthy year in 2015!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Our Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and the creatures were all stirring.

But Santa came to our house anyway.

And Christmas morning brought excitement.

Kai was really good. He didn’t get up too early (unlike some dogs), and helped come up with plans to alternate between opening presents and taking the dogs for a walk, half at a time.

When it came to opening presents, he chose the ones for everyone to open. Some of his he ripped open.

And some he took peek first as if to confirm that it was what he was hoping it would be.

But he enjoyed all of it, as all of his Santas were very generous.

And then it came time to play with his new presents.

He took time our for dinner.

And by the end of the evening, all of the creatures were worn out, not stirring at all.

Hope your holiday was just as delightful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Fun

It has been a busy few weeks with numerous holiday activities.

We had two family get-togethers for Hanukkah so Kai has already enjoyed opening and playing with several presents.

We went to get our Christmas tree.

We baked and decorated gingerbread cookies.

And several of our holiday houseguests have arrived (with more yet to come).

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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