When Back to School is a Struggle
Not every Vancouver kid is excited and happy when school opens again in the fall. For children who are struggling in class, getting through the school day can be a challenge. For parents who see their child struggling, finding the right solution can also be a challenge. We recently connected with Rob and Kimberley Wahl of Symbols Multisensory Learning Centers to find out about one innovative option for getting help with school. They’ve been open in Kitsilano since late 2006, and they’re in the process of opening a second location in Coquitlam right now.
“The majority of our students are elementary school aged, and they’re struggling in school,” says Rob. “Most of the time it’s the struggling in school that tips the parent off. A lot of our students have a diagnosed disability such as dyslexia, but many don’t. They’re simply struggling with reading or writing or math.” Each student receives a detailed assessment, and from that assessment an individual plan is created. Rob says this is what makes their approach different. “We don’t work out of textbooks or workbooks. Every single one of our lessons is individualized to what the student needs.”
Help with School and Self-Esteem
Kimberley says that the amount of time a student spends at Symbols varies. “Sometimes we’ll have a student that comes with a very specific goal in mind, and if their profile’s not complicated we might have them here for six months. We have other students that have been with us for over five years because they may have a profile that is just more severe in nature. Everything we do is one-on-one. They may have originally started with us for help with school – say they’re not reading at all. Once that goal stabilizes they’re able to participate in the classroom in that area, and the parent may want to expand what they’re doing and focus on another area.” Some kids need help with school in a number of different subject areas.
Rob adds that they do require a minimum of two one-hour lessons each week. “Especially with the younger students, a week between lessons is too long. Then you spend the next week doing a lot of review in your lesson. It’s also detrimental to their self-esteem if they’re not seeing fast improvement. Self-esteem is another thing we work on. A lot of times these kids are struggling in school, and that can impact their self-esteem. We want to boost that, not hinder it.” Getting help with school isn’t only about getting better grades.
Making a Real Difference
Still, for a lot of Vancouver parents the idea of signing their kids up for two hours of weekly tutoring on top of school sounds like a bit much. Kimberley says, “If your child is not succeeding in the classroom, and every day feels like a failure for them, it’s necessary.” She also says that it’s a lot different from school. “It’s active, it’s involved, and that’s what multisensory tutoring done right is. They get up out of the chairs. They do ball tosses and manipulate those sequences instead of doing worksheets with a pen and paper. We try to bring all of our sessions and tutoring to a 3D medium.”
For parents, the biggest thing is seeing a change in their own child as they get help with school. Kimberley shares the kinds of differences parents notice. “Their kids are doing things like sitting and trying to read, or sitting down and writing a card to grandma. When they start to see that in their own child is really when they start to realize what an impact it’s made. For a child who has a learning disability or a learning difference – diagnosed or not – the school day is a series of activities set up to make them fail. The parents often feel the brunt of that. When that changes it’s a huge burden off the parents’ shoulders.”