Optimism fills the aisles of Target. Brightly colored folders whisper tales of shiny classrooms and friendly teachers. Last year’s mistakes, the new Trapper Keeper says, are a thing of the past; this is the start of something new. And I dream yet again about a perfect (heck, I’ll take better) school year for my child. Here is what it looks like.
New pencils, new backpacks, new teachers. I am excited for my child to make new friends and learn new things at school. I am, as always, also apprehensive: Will his classmates accept him, even though he is different? Will the lessons be interesting enough to hold his attention? Excitement and fear keep me awake at night, but under all the emotion I hold tight to these hopes for my son as the new school year begins. So many parents might take these things for granted; for us, they are a dream always worth dreaming. Here are my biggest dreams for the coming year.
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1. A Gentle Rhythm to Our Days
School brings its own reliable, but not-always-simpatico pacing to the days. School schedules are set by the clock, rather than a child's body rhythms. My son wakes up early and stretches his executive functions to their limit even before catching the school bus. In the afternoon, we squeeze in snacks, homework, play, and dinner. Bedtime is strict; we know the importance of sleep. These demands can make home life feel rushed and stressful. My dream is that my family eases into this rhythm and the days run smoothly.
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2. Nag-Free Mornings
Mornings are daily torture for many families, and even more so when a child has ADHD. External motivation goes a long way for my son; I fantasize that the right formula emerges on the first day of school and works all year long to keep him motivated. I imagine my son following a visual schedule to help him prepare for school. He will get up, eat breakfast, and finish his chores in time to catch the bus every day. I will never have to rush out the door to chase after a missed school bus again. Ah, what a sweet dream.
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3. An Efficient Homework Routine
In my dream world, my child will tackle homework quickly and without prodding. Pencils are sharp and do not break. Before he gets home, the table is cleared of all paperwork and clutter. He is saddled with no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade, which leaves him lots of time to play, learn practical skills, and process what he learned all day. Homework is no longer his (or my) nemesis.
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4. The Teachers Will Understand
Executive function deficits make it hard for my son to create his own structure, so it’s critical that the adults in his life model for and guide him. His teachers will recognize this and set up structured, supportive classrooms. I have a strong relationship with his teacher, who listens to my concerns and adjusts her teaching accordingly. I imagine having ample time to volunteer in his classroom so that I can really get to know his teacher and curriculum.
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5. Academics Will Engage Him
I imagine my child is an attentive learner who masters the goals of his curriculum. My child asks questions in class that are on-topic and enhance his understanding of the subject. The teacher provides differentiated instruction so that a large classroom of children can learn together. The teacher recognizes my child's specific strengths and challenges, and incorporates these considerations into her teaching style. In this world, of course, my son is a straight-A student!
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6. The IEP Supports Him
I dream that all of my son's teachers are familiar with his IEP before the school year starts, and they all follow his IEP throughout the year. He is open to instruction and makes progress toward his goals. When he masters his goals, the teachers create new goals for him while continuing his supports. His IEP team works cohesively, and I am included as an equal member of the team.
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7. He Makes Good Friends
In my school fantasy world, my son makes friends in his new class. He invites them home for playdates. He is invited to birthday parties (but not too many) and has fun at them. He is included in recess games. Other children play with him even though he is different, and he doesn't endure any teasing or bullying. Other parents are friendly and we discuss our children's progress, not their faults.
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8. School Discipline Is Sympathetic
I dream of a year free from discipline incidents in school. My son follows the rules consistently and stays out of trouble. But let's be real: My son has impulse control issues and doesn't always use his words. In my fantasy, he is not punished for misbehaviors that he does because of his disabilities. His teachers are gentle when they correct his behavior. Most importantly, they do not tie his value to his behavior.
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9. I Get Me Time
I dream of enjoying time to myself after a busy summer — time to exercise, read, and pursue hobbies. In my dream world, the housework takes care of itself — but in the real world, I am determined to keep up with housework while my children are in school so that I can be present when they are home. Finally, I imagine myself refreshed by the end of the day so that I can tackle difficult parenting challenges. And, yes, by that I mean homework.