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Heather Forman: As a mom of six, I know how important it is for everyone to feel included

It’s human nature to want to feel included. As we’re still near the beginning of the school year, it’s even more clear how much kids want to fit in. Even at an early age, this desire begins to kick in. As a mother of six, I can wholeheartedly say I understand how badly kids want to be seen and how important it is for all to be included.

Of my six children, one of my sons has high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and a few others have some kind of special needs. If you know anything about autism, you probably know that this diagnosis can present itself in a variety of behavioral ways. Autism Speaks identifies ASD as a broad range of conditions that are characterized by challenges with social skills, speech, nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. But at the end of the day, a person with autism wants to feel included just like everyone else. They’re still a person with a vast array of feelings. As a mom of children with special needs, I work hard to ensure that my kids and their peers, of all learning abilities, feel included.

Heather Forman

One way that I help with inclusion for students is by volunteering to help create Classical Conversations’ yearbook. This is our third year as part of the Petersburg Classical Conversations community near Florence. As a yearbook volunteer, I use TreeRing’s app to upload photos I’ve taken into designated folders that the yearbook lead has put together. For example, if we go on a field trip, I’m able to immediately add photos of both my kids and other Classical Conversations families that are on the field trip.

For my son with autism, I’ve been able to create customizable pages that highlight school moments that are unique to him and that are only a part of his book. While he’s still working on being flexible in certain situations and knowing how to read social cues, he’s grown a lot in the past few years at Classical Conversations. It’s been a joy as his mom to be able to capture these moments in the yearbook. This past year, he made it clear that he loves being able to just sit and look through the yearbook – pointing out all of his friends and remembering the different activities, field trips, art projects, etc., they did throughout the year. He truly enjoys that.

It’s important for me that I give my kids the full school experience at home. This will be my fourth year being a full-time mom and homeschool teacher to all of my kids, besides my oldest who does go to public school. I moved toward homeschooling most of my kids to ensure they were being taught at their level and pace. Sometimes kids with special needs of any kind need extra attention when it comes to certain lessons and I wanted to be able to give that to my kids. I have experience being a public school teacher so when I began homeschooling, one of my biggest fears was that my kids would miss out in some way – including the typical school photos and yearbooks that are a key part of most public schools.

This fear went away when we joined the Classical Conversations community, which is a Christian homeschool group that happened to have its own yearbook. Through this journey, my kids have gotten to connect with other homeschool kids and be a part of a yearbook keepsake that so many of us as adults have grown to treasure.

My primary goal with being involved with the yearbook is making sure that all of my kids, their friends and everyone in our homeschool community know they belong. I think that’s a goal for many parents. With TreeRing, I fortunately have an easy way to capture memories for a book that they’ll hopefully keep for years to come. And for the time being, my kids love being able to have a customized book so they can scan through and see their own pictures. Knowing that they’re a part of it is so special for them. I’ve come to realize that any kid is excited when their pictures are included! While a yearbook may seem like a small thing, the feeling of inclusivity is something that means the world to these kids.

So as we continue on throughout this school year, I want to urge school leaders and parents to continue to focus on inclusivity. We live in a world that can be difficult enough on its own – so it’s our job to create a learning environment for our kids that reminds them that they belong and that they matter. And if you can do this in the form of a fun yearbook, then that’s great.

Heather Forman is a mom of six, a homeschool teacher, and TreeRing contributor.

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