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Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

Teaching Self-Advocacy at Home Pt. I

Self-advocacy is an essential skill for children to master, not only for their education, but for basic functioning and socialization throughout life. Parents can help children foster this necessary life skill by providing them with specific tools and practices to ensure that their voices are heard and understood—and the earlier children begin advocating, the better.

Self-advocacy is all about vocalizing one’s needs. However, the key to teaching children how to advocate for themselves starts with helping them to recognize their own needs. It is difficult to ask for help when you don’t know what exactly you need help doing. For the major part of many children’s lives, parents accommodate a child’s every need. Often times, parents are there to swoop in to the rescue before their children even know that they need something. To begin teaching self-advocacy, parents will want to introduce the concept in small steps by encouraging children to first recognize then vocalize their needs.

Ask your child if he or she knows or recognizes the sensation of hunger or thirst. What does it feel like if you are starting to get hungry or thirsty? Do you hear your grumbling tummy? Do you feel agitated or restless? If you’re hungry, but I haven’t offered you a snack, what can you do to make sure that you get what you need? Similarly, ask your child to describe what it feels like when they are too hot, too cold, or need to go to the bathroom. Do you see goosebumps? Do you start to feel clammy or sweaty? Does your skin pigment, fingertips, lips change color? Does your tummy hurt or feel funny? Do you get jumpy or distracted?

These questions may seem overly simplistic; however, the idea behind such basic conversations is that your child begins to actively recognize what his or her body needs and when. These types of questions are especially important for children with autism because of the tendency to struggle to make observations. Children on the spectrum may find it difficult to sense time or communicate frustration or other emotions. They may also experience an inability to perceive unsafe or harmful situations, which makes it difficult for them to distinguish their wants from their needs. Therefore, when children are aware of their needs, they can begin to vocalize them. This is especially important when children head to school and no longer have a parent to accommodate their every need at the drop of a hat.

Parents can then begin to instruct children on how to appropriately ask for what they need. Practice using sentence frames for different scenarios and discuss the difference between “I want” and “I need.”  Talk about how to distinguish between an emergency or an immediate need and something that can be met or accomplished later or eventually. Discuss instances in which your child should politely say “no thank you” versus vehemently saying “no!” Instruct your child about the appropriate occasions and means of getting someone’s attention, interrupting a conversation, or asking a personal question. By role-playing certain scenarios or conversations, parents can begin to prepare their children with positive communication skills and self-advocacy tools.

504 vs. IEP for Parents

Individualized Education Plans (IEP) and 504 Plans, while similar in that they support students’ needs, are also quite different when it comes to how they support students and how they are implemented within the school system. Below is a useful outline to help parents, educators, and children differentiate between the two services.

EXPLANATION 504 IEP
In simple terms, what is each plan? An educational outline designed to help students access their learning in school An educational outline designed to map out a student’s special education experiences throughout their schooling
How does each plan work? For students with disabilities or major health impairments, a 504 provides specific modifications or accommodations so that learning is not impeded or interfered with For students with at least one of the specific learning disabilities listed in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), an IEP guarantees specialized modifications, accommodations, and instructional services so that learning obstacles are removed
Who qualifies according to the law? A child with a disability, health condition, or medical need that substantially limits or interferes with a student’s daily life functioning qualifies for a 504 under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act A child with a specific learning disability listed in IDEA, including attention difficulties, is affected to the point that their learning needs cannot be met in the general education system alone. A student qualifies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
How does the evaluation work in schools? Students must be evaluated and diagnosed by a professional, but parents typically must acquire the diagnosis on their own Students must be evaluated and diagnosed with a documented learning disability that affects their success in a general education classroom. Students can be evaluated by the school’s psychologist or request a private, outside evaluation
Who has a hand in the creation of each plan? The guidelines for the 504 are less restrictive; typically the parents, teachers, any special educators who are familiar with the child, administration create the plan Legally, the creation of an IEP is more specific, and usually includes the parents, one or more of the child’s general education teachers, a school psychologist or private specialist at the request of the parents, the child’s special education case manager, and usually the schools special education department head
What are the key aspects of each plan? Again, a 504 plan is the less restrictive of the two; it will typically include a list of accommodations, classroom or instructional modifications, health care instructions or details, and how teachers and other school personnel will implement and track the student’s progress Since the IEP is a signed, legal document, it is more extensive; it will include past and current academic data points, test scores, evaluation findings, and any other cognitive, behavioral, or social test results. Based on these score reports and teacher reports, the IEP team will draft academic, social, and/or behavioral goals for the student to work towards. The plan will also include how the progress will be measured/assessed, which instructional and testing accommodations will be used, and supplementary aides and services that the school will provide with the help of the special education department. Finally, the IEP plan will include details about the frequency of the accommodations and how the student will participate in standardized testing.

Kindness Matters Now More Than Ever


Schools can be seen as microcosms of society—often what we see in our schools mimics or represents what our society and communities are facing as a whole. With school leaders and students gaining a national platform to voice their opinions surrounding school violence, the yearning for kindness and peace among today’s youth has never been stronger. The success of March for Our Lives seems to have lit a fire in everyone, but our work has truly just begun.

Merriam-Webster defines kindness as, “the quality or state of being gentle and considerate.” One way that students can have a direct effect on the safety and security of their own schools is to spread kindness throughout the halls. This is much easier said than done, especially since hormones, egos, and problems at home end up permeating the school environment. However, schools today are putting a serious emphasis how students can take an active role in building a kind environment.

“Throw kindness like confetti” is a popular bulletin board message seen in many classrooms; however, the concept behind the go-to phrase is the real focus. The movement encourages students and teachers to write anonymous messages of praise, encouragement, or recognition to specific students on sticky notes. The goal is that each student finds an anonymous, personalized note that recognizes an important aspect of that student’s life. Notes should refer to a specific achievement, struggle, friendship, accomplishment, growth, difficulty, etc. The key is that children and teens are recognized for how they handle the highs and lows—that they are commended for positive actions large and small, even when they do not think that anyone is noticing their struggles or achievements. Whether you litter the classroom, hallway, or entire school with kind messages, the sentiment remains: it costs nothing to show kindness to others.

Lunch groups or the #wedinetogether movement is a student-created, student-centered action plan designed to ensure that no one has to be “that kid” eating alone in the cafeteria. The project seeks to reach out to children and teens that may feel alone, neglected, or cast aside by their peers. Simply put, an unofficial committee of students approaches peers sitting alone in the cafeteria and invites them to eat at their table. Instead of the outgoing or “popular” kids distinguishing themselves or furthering the divide between peer groups, students use the opportunity to reach out to peers that may need a little more coaxing or a subtle confidence boost to feel comfortable. Again, the idea behind the lunch bunch is to combat the “us versus them” mentality that plagues our schools. Students learn that reaching out to others in need is not only the right thing to do, but it can also land them with a new friend. The once lonely students gain a sense of belonging and appreciation, and no longer are made to feel that they are unseen or undeserving of friendship. A long term goal of the lunch group is to unify schools. It also shows students that putting others down or ignoring certain peers is not the way to lift ourselves up—we gain nothing by putting someone else down.

Discussing Culture at Home

Because cultural diversity is something that all children will be exposed to throughout their schooling, it is important for families to have a handle on the topic as well. Truth be told, an appreciation for diversity and cultural differences begins in the home. Why? Well, children learn from what they see, hear, and experience. Therefore, a parent’s opinion of their own culture or someone else’s is likely to trickle down to the child. Consequently, prejudice or animosity towards another’s culture can also be passed down. Like it or not, children can be predisposed to dislike others based on their beliefs, traditions, or values. This is why it is so important to have conversations about cultural diversity and appreciation early on so that children can have a strong foundation of respect for others.

  • You are your child’s first and best role model. Therefore, it is imperative that you think about how you speak to and about others. Be direct and deliberate about your appreciation for others. Remind your child that beauty is on the inside; it’s not correlated with any particular skin tone, body type, facial structure, etc. If you catch yourself saying something ignorant or insensitive, have an open and honest discussion with your child about how you were wrong in making that remark. Brushing it under the rug or claiming that you were “just kidding” only perpetuates the problem of ignorance. Seeing you correct yourself will demonstrate an important lesson to your child about owning up to and apologizing for one’s own cultural deficits.

  • Utilize the abundant options of children’s books available to introduce different cultures, religions, and lifestyles. Titles such as Where Does God Live?, Over the Moon, Don’t Call Me Special, and The Skin You Live In are great resources to begin conversations around identity, diversity, and respect. Introduce movies, music, and television shows that depict an array of different cultures, traditions, or family units. The more we expose our children to different cultures, the more they will begin to value their diverse classrooms, neighborhoods, and communities.

  • Show your children that learning about how others live can be fun—and tasty! Incorporate a few new menu options to give your child a taste of another culture. Make it a family event and get the kids cooking in the kitchen. Talk about how certain foods or meals are used for specific celebrations in other parts of the world. Then, mark the calendar and prepare to celebrate holidays and events like Cinco de Mayo, the Chinese New Year, Fat Tuesday, or the Special Olympics. You can also help to make connections to other cultures by equating your own traditions with others’ traditions. For instance, if your child is having a sweet 16, discuss how that party might be similar to a bar mitzvah or Quinceañera.  

Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents Part II

In the first part of this “gritty” topic, we explored how a lack of grit may have significant consequences for children and teens. We left off with a powerful quote from one of today’s most gritty inspirations—J.K. Rowling. In a commencement speech at Harvard, Rowling explained,

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Rowling’s message reminds young people to embrace struggle for what it teaches us. Moreover, parents can provide guidance in fostering grit by encouraging more than just learning from our missteps.

How can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

Practice

Practice is rooted in the concept of growth mindset—this idea that, with strategic effort and drive, anyone can improve. Since grit involves the desire and drive to persevere through obstacles or setbacks, practice is a key component for developing that drive, or grit. The purpose behind practice is two-fold—students need to learn to expect that tasks, skills, and talents require practice. Children and teens should also expect to continue that level of effort by practicing, even after experiencing failure. A student with grit knows that reaching one’s goals requires much more than one lucky attempt. Look at any success story and you’ll find that the person’s success was likely built on a foundation of trial and error. To encourage grit, provide teens with examples of successful risk-takers, or those who have achieved great success after years—sometimes decades—of practice and failed attempts.

Motive

Parents can also help children build grit by discussing motives or reasons for working through challenges. Having conversations about future goals with children and teens is a solid starting point for introducing grit. Pose topics for discussion like, “What if everyone gave up on their dreams after one attempt? How many inventors, creators, performers, and athletes would our world be lacking?” Or, “If failure was not possible, what dream or goal would you strive to reach?” Parents can also provide their children with examples of their own motivation. Talk about how you have experienced your own failures or obstacles—discuss what you learned from those tough moments and how motivation outshined exasperation or defeat. In discussing the reasons for sticking with a goal, no matter the difficulty, children learn to see struggle as a necessary step in learning or growing.

Small steps  

Children and teens also need to be reminded of the fact that nothing worth achieving will come easily; success is not accomplished overnight. A common trait of people lacking grit is that they will expect to succeed on the first attempt. Moreover, a level of impatience ensues when success is not met instantaneously. Remind children that even small achievements are bringing them that much closer to their goal. Victories, no matter what they be, take time. Children should remember that even the smallest wins contribute to their larger goal—so they can absolutely celebrate the baby steps along the way. Practices such as positive self-talk and checking off small accomplishments can revitalize a discouraged learner. Parents can model this positivity by tackling their own challenges, or by stepping out of the box and participating in a new activity. We must continue to not only challenge ourselves, but welcome and embrace the challenge for what it gives us—grit.    

 

Self-Sufficiency: For the Elementary School Age Group

Raising a self-sufficient child is essential for emotional development, as independence boosts confidence, promotes responsibility and problem-solving skills, and rewards determination. Independence and self-sufficiency are life skills that should be taught earlier, rather than later. If not learned during childhood, acquiring independence can be like putting toothpaste back in the tube.

Take a step back

A more hands-off approach to certain tasks when attempting to teach self-sufficiency shows children that you believe in their capabilities. When you take a step back and let them try on their own, children gain a sense of confidence. You are demonstrating to them that you believe in their abilities to accomplish something on their own.

Furthermore, taking a step back helps children to develop problem-solving skills. Of course, they feel reassured by the fact that you are there if they need you, but trying something on their own teaches them how to assess, approach, and tackle a problem. With every trial and error, a new skill or lesson emerges. Children who take on a task independently will also be more willing to take risks. The confidence that they are finding allows them to step outside of their comfort zone a little further. They are comforted by the fact that their parents are there to support them if necessary, so taking a risk is less intimidating.

Give them responsibilities

Another way to teach self-sufficiency and show children that you have every confidence in them is to provide them with responsibilities. You should tailor these responsibilities based on age and capability, of course, but even preschool-aged children can begin to gain independence by accomplishing small tasks on their own. Provide young children with a visual or checklist to begin the new responsibility. This will serve as a guide and visual reminder that they are responsible for completing that task. For instance, if you want your kindergartener to complete her bedtime routine on her own, provide her with a to-do list until she gets the hang of it. This acts as a scaffold or support until she has mastered the responsibility.

Perhaps you may want to use a token reward system when introducing a new responsibility. You can assign tokens for certain jobs, and dock tokens if necessary. If your child neglects her responsibilities, have a conversation about the importance of task completion and accountability. Show her that you know that she is capable of completing her responsibilities—this vote of confidence reminds her that she can do it on her own.

Allow children to make mistakes

A major part of self-sufficiency involves the ability to pick ourselves back up after a misstep. If parents constantly intervene to amend a situation, how will children ever learn resilience, determination, or culpability? Making mistakes also teaches children about how consequences work. They will be less likely to make that mistake again if they realize the consequences the first time.

Of course, it is difficult for parents to sit back and allow the mistake to be made. However, so long as the error is not a major stumble, the ends justify the means. Self-sufficiency blossoms when children take responsibility. For example, if your child did not do his homework, set the expectation that he will have to tell his teacher and make up the assignment. He will realize that his actions matter when he has to face a consequence.

Tantrums, Tears and Tempers: Behavior is Communication

As any educator will tell you, the behavioral component of teaching young people is one of the main aspects of the career that keeps us on our toes. From one day to the next, the behaviors and emotions that emerge can be as fleeting as a passing thunderstorm. Perhaps the ultimate display of student behaviors rears its head in middle school, when students’ hormones, egos, peer groups, and emotions oscillate on a new level. On days in the classroom where it feels as though I am extinguishing fires all day long, the one saving grace is this reminder: these unkind behaviors come from somewhere specific.

Anger is a secondary emotion. For preteens and teenagers, an emotional explosion or reaction can be like a screaming teapotsuddenly, we notice the steam and hear the shrieking, but what we perhaps did not see moments before was the bubbling that quickly became a rolling boil. A child’s temperament is very much the same in that, seemingly out of nowhere, an emotion can shift. Anger, especially, is an emotion that likely began as something else. Perhaps it grew from frustration, regret, disappointment, etc. Either way, anger is more of the reaction to the initial emotion or incident. Therefore, it is important for teachers to remember that this unfavorable attitude, behavior, or demeanor is coming from somewhere specific. The student himself may not even be cognitively aware of the origin of his frustration; however, a few quick observations can help educators mediate when emotions reach a boiling point.

What was happening right before the emotional outburst? If a teacher can recall the mood of the room or situation prior to a student’s tantrum, they are more likely to pinpoint how the situation escalated. Perhaps the student had just received a low grade on a quiz for which they had thought they’d thoroughly studied. Or maybe a peer took his or her pencil without asking. Even a slight tiff can be the cause of a major meltdown in the classroom. Furthermore, ask yourself if you have noticed anything that may have triggered the student’s response. Has this student been especially moody, withdrawn, or combative lately? Have you noticed a change in her peer group or level of interaction with peers? Have you spoken to parents or noticed a change in grades or motivation? Sometimes a bad day or bad week is just simply that—but other times, the behaviors can be prolonged or escalated.

Seek to understand. Once you have provided a moment for the student to cool off, either in the hall, at the desk, or in a quiet corner of the room, approach the student from the lens of seeking to understand. Too often “What’s wrong?” is met with a non-response or further frustration on the student’s part. Instead, ask the student: “What do you need from me?” or “What can I do to help you get through this tough situation?” A question like this works two-fold—you are showing students that you recognize their emotions/feelings, while also approaching the conversation by expressing your desire to help or fix the situation. When teachers ask students how they can help the situation, it also reminds students that they are not alone in whatever it is that they’re reacting to. This simple gesture can deescalate the tears and tempers quite quickly.  

Whatever you do, do not react. It’ll sound silly, but I occasionally have to remind myself that I am the adult in the room, which means that my students are looking to me for guidance. My tone, attitude, and behavior should be the constant in the room—the one that sets the mood and expectations of the classroom environment. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a room with 35 teenagers knows that this is much easier said than done. Remember that these are children with child-like emotions and reactions. Also consider the likelihood that the tantrum has nothing to do with you or your class—instead, it could be related to any number of stressors in that child’s life that you know nothing about. However, when tempers flare, take a moment to breathe before your approach the situation—never has gasoline been known to smother a blaze.

Equity

Equity, as far as the Oxford English Dictionary is concerned, is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial.” Simple enough, right? Yet, at home with children and teens, the concept will probably require further conversation to teach kids not only what equity means, but what it looks like.

One way to begin teaching children about what it means to be equitable is by teaching them what is not equitable. Contrary to what many children believe, equity and equality are not synonymous. By this, we mean that equity does not signify that everyone receives the same thing, whether that be treatment, assistance, gifts, awards, allowance, etc. Instead, equity means that everyone receives the same level of what they need. Again, this concept could be difficult for children to grasp, especially when fairness becomes a point of contention.

When parents need to put the focus on equity, not equality, they can begin by explaining the reason behind certain parental decisions. For example, Alex is 6 years old and Abe is 16 years old. Both boys perform chores around the house for an allowance. However, because the stark age difference significantly distinguishes each child’s ability to perform certain chores, tasks and allowances will not be equal—but they will be equitable. Let’s look at the details: Alex, the 6-year-old, feeds the fish, sorts his laundry, and helps put groceries away. For these age-appropriate tasks, Alex receives $5 a week as his allowance. This amount is enough for Alex to buy a book at the school book fair, which he desperately wants.

Now Abe, the 16-year-old, completes chores for the family, as well. Since Abe is older, he is trusted with the responsibility of walking the dog every evening, mowing the lawn, and helping clean up after dinner. For these tasks Abe receives $30 per week, which he puts towards gas money. While this example is hypothetical, a scenario like this makes sense for explaining equity. Abe and Alex are both contributing to household chores. However, the level of work, and therefore the level of pay, differs to suit each boy’s needs.

Another way to explain equity to children is to use an example that they have likely encountered in every parking lot—the handicapped parking spot. Much like the school accommodations for students with special needs, handicap parking is an accommodation to ensure equity for drivers with disabilities. Obviously, handicap parking spaces are not equal to all of the other spots—they are much closer, more convenient, and sometimes larger. However, equality among parking spaces would mean that the parking lot is inequitable for drivers with special needs. Remember, children need to realize that equity involves everyone getting what they need. An able-bodied person does not need to park closest to the entryway of a building, but a handicapped person does. The designated spaces ensure that they receive what they need, which in this case is an unobstructed parking space that is close in proximity to where they are going.

Key takeaways for children and teens is that fairness, equality, and equity are not synonymous terms. Equity revolves around each person’s individual needs and circumstances. Remind your children that we may not be aware of a person’s individual needs. Therefore, if it appears that someone else is getting “special treatment,” consider the obstacles, limitations, or other factors that may be at play. What appears to be unequal is often equity at work.