TDSB School Asked My Autistic Student Not to Attend Graduation

14704200941_0002188237_zI woke up this morning to the word ‘freedom’ in my mind. How wonderful I thought this is a day to project freedom. I was asked by Priya’s dad (not her real name) if I could take care of her this morning and drop her to school at 10:30am rather than regular time at 8:40am. Priya my autistic student that attends my after school program and is absolutely beautiful. Hmmm- That’s a strange request I thought. I was happy to care for her however confused about why the school would ask  her to come late. He texted me that the teacher asked the JK students to come at 10:30 because the Senior kindergarten students were having graduation. So this morning I did have to pass by the school at 8:40am and noticed ALL the kids were on their way to school – as usual. The parents, students and teachers were dressed up, handing out gifts and looking excited for a party. I stopped some of the JK parents walking to ask if they knew anything about this late drop off? They all said no. I asked one of ECE helpers and she said: ‘oh Priya has to come at 10:30 today.’ I said: ‘can I ask why?’ She said: ‘wellllll we don’t have an EA for her this morning.’ ‘And you have an EA after 10:30?’ Welllllll you see we’re going to give out treats and Priya will see that and get realllly upset. But please don’t say anything.’ So I guess what you’re saying is you don’t want Priya to ruin your graduation?

I went up to the teacher and asked and she said: ‘you know what? I can’t speak to you, you’re not the parent and SHE is supposed to come at 10:30.’ Wow- I thought. I walked in to the principal and said: ‘I am Priya’s caregiver and I know this is non of my business (I’ve been informed) however I want you to know that what’s happening here this morning is wrong. This Muirhead PS student was asked not to attend this graduation don’t you find that a bit discriminatory? She has the right to be here just as everyone yet you’re asking her not to attend school until 10:30 when it’s over?.’ She looked at me firmly and said: ‘ I call it setting up kids for success. And if your that upset talk to the dad.’ As newcomers to Canada the father was confused about his daughters rights in the public school system. I spoke to him on the phone and he said: ‘I was just doing as they asked.’

I spent the morning with Priya grocery shopping which was wonderful. I looked at her and thought: she has no voice because she is still young. She doesn’t even know what’s going on and I felt sad. What if this was happening to the teacher and this was her child? I am a  teacher and I know what I love most about my profession. It’s to make a positive difference in the lives of young people and to watch them grow. To me, it’s the best profession in the world.

As I walked Priya to class at 10:30am I saw her  teacher in the hallway holding her cupcake. I asked her: ‘is this the right time for you now?’ ‘Yup. 10:30.’ she said. I told her that this was not personal but this act that the school took to not allow this autistic child to attend graduation was a disgrace to my profession. I told her that what happened today was sad because our world is suffering from discrimination and the only difference of what happened today and in South Carolina is that people died as a result. I said I would write about this because really that’s all I can do. All I can do is spread the word so we grow and learn from this. She looked at me as she finished her cupcake and circled her hand in my face: ‘You know what? You do whatcha gotta do.’ ‪#‎shame ‪#‎autism ‪#‎kidsrights ‪#‎freedom #spreadtheworld #muirheadps #discrimination  #tdsb




Life Changing Moment at Summer Camp

It’s almost here. The BEST time of the year. Summer is about PLAY. Any kind and every kind you can imagine. Sports, drama, dance, activities, paint, water and just watching our kids in the midst of  non-stop happiness and fun.

These days us parents are battling technology –getting our kids off the iPod, computer or Xbox and each day that battle grows more difficult with these games getting ‘cooler’ by the millisecond. Camp is the best way to encourage our kids to use their imagination and  create healthy habits in life.

It’s knowing that while we’re at work that our kids are developing their minds, building new friendships and getting their physical activity. It’s through camp that our kids learn outside the classroom setting of  ‘put your hand up and sit down’. It’s life. They  discover more about themselves each day surprising themselves as they  find new limits to what they can do. It’s fantastic watching them.  Whether we choose a professional gymnastics camp or improv camp – it’s all  contributing to their memories which will last a lifetime.

I want to share one of the best memories of camp that actually confirmed to me that kids actually GET IT more than we realize and they have something to teach us all.

At CampZone we teach our kids about being flexible in life. Our curriculum is about building the future visionary leaders by allowing them to take part in sports, dance, drama and art. Emotional Intelligence is also part of our day with the campers. Each day, we guide our campers to set goals and work to help them reach their success.  It’s thrilling watching our young campers self-confidence grow in different areas including: patience, perseverance and friendship. Last year one of our subjects was ‘courage’. We talked to the campers about courage and told them the different avenues where they could discover their courage. We mentioned that courage could be trying a new sport, taking on the lead in a play and even discovering new food. As each camper went around the circle they all declared their goal around courage for the week.    One of our campers, an 8-year-old girl, I noticed was particularly shy. She was sweet, participated in all the activities, but wasn’t’ one of those campers who was always running to be first in line.  Her name was Salma (not her real name).

As Salma’s turn came she said: ‘my goal is to get to know every camper here.’ Wow, I thought. That was an ambitious goal for this little girl. I was proud of her courage already as we had about 35 campers at the time.

After 3 days, we checked in on each camper to see how they were doing with their goals of courage. We went around and campers were excited to share their achievements in serving over the net in volleyball, memorizing their lines for our theatre production and taking their time to create their favourite oil pastel art piece. When it came to Salma I asked: “Salma, how are you doing getting to know everyone in the camp?” She looked pleased and said: ‘good, I’m almost done.’ A rambunctious little boy immediately shouted out: ‘No! You didn’t get to know me yet!” She smiled, looked at him and said: ‘Yes I have.” ‘NO! he said, you haven’t asked me anything!” Everyone went quiet.  “But that’s not how I do it.” All eyes and hears were now on Salma. So I had to ask: ‘How do you do it Salma? How did you get to know Conner?” You could feel the anticipation in the room from the campers and counsellors, just waiting to hear the answer! What was the answer? Was she a mind reader? Did she perhaps follow the boy home? How can you possibly get to know someone without ASKING THEM QUESTIONS? I was so curious. Salma smiled peacefully, looked at Conner with such confidence and said: ‘When you speak, I LISTEN to what you have to say.’

I carry this story with me always – a powerful  life lesson from a beautiful 8-year-old camper who taught us through her actions that you don’t always need to speak to know someone. Listening, REALLY listening, is just as powerful. Words of wisdom from a child expressing tolerance, courage, acceptance and imagination all in one.  Aren’t kids just remarkable? I can’t wait to experience what lies ahead this summer with our campers, and I’ll be sure to share it here.


Written by Dana Ben Halim
Heart Learning Centre & CampZone Founder/Director
B.A. Economics; B.Ed (Hons.)


Learn more about CampZone here:




6 Steps To Strengthen That Family Bond



Connecting with your child or teen is of great benefit to you and them. Younger people need and want that sense of security and as much as they may not show it: they crave the love. What do we want as parents? Well, the popular answer is: “the best for my kids”, but if you look further you’ll see what we really want is a friendship so our kids will always feeling comfortable sharing the good times and their struggles. It’s in that closeness that our guidance will have a positive and lasting impact.

I know, it’s not on the calendar (if it is, your ahead of the game) because with a window of only 12 hours, parents are just trying to keep their health after working 9-5 only to get home to: homework, ‘what’s for dinner?’, race to swimming lessons, and remembering to get the car in for service already!

So I’m here to tell you that family bonding is not necessary but essential in our lives. Thinking about my own childhood and the beautiful moments, what comes to mind: the family trips, fishing for 7 hours straight with my dad and feeling that relief after my mom patiently explained math.

So as you read on, know that by the end of this blog, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your daily schedule to include: FAMILY BONDING.

Here’s why:

  • It’s your best investment. We get to re-create all our childhood memories all over again and this time, we get paint the memories as we like. By simply playing a card game with the kids, we plant happy thoughts that will keep us laughing and talking for a life-time. With quality family-time, even on shoestring budget, your kids will feel better and in turn, do better.
  • Family bonding not only builds wonderful family memories, it shapes self-confidence (even in us as parents!) and keeps the communication open. Learning about our kids’ struggles and experiences outside the home is needed for proper guidance and allows them to learn from us, helping them make wise decisions in the future.

6 steps you can take which can help build a stronger family bond:

  1. Family dinner (at home). As simple as this seems, it’s not that easy! It’s a process to cook, set the table and clean up. It takes patience to get the kids involved because they are going to show you horrific table manners (where did he learn that??), forget the napkins and drop food on the floor (opps, sorry!). Yes, it’s all part of the process of connecting with them. As time goes by with more and more dinners together, soon they will be cooking for you and you’ll miss their silly old habits and it will be the start of a fun conversation. Family meals also promote great eating habits, are great opportunities to coach etiquette and gets everyone talking about their day. Make sure you ask questions and share your growing up stories.
  2. Reading books. Reading a book aloud to your kids before bed (yes, even if they are teens) is a soothing way to encourage our kids to go beyond the digital world and allow yourselves to spark conversation, build imagination and enjoy the story adventure together. You don’t need to always choose fiction! Go for a great biography, even a business or finance book like Rich Dad Poor Dad, anything that inspires you, read it to them – your kids will be inspired.
  3. Teach your kids the power of spirituality/meditation. This is a wonderful way for everyone to connect and surrender to a higher power, appreciate what we have, learn to listen to our breath and become skilled at dealing with life’s challenges. Being together in silence has just as much benefit as bonding through talk.
  4. Involve yourself in your kids’ activities. Here’s the trick: Don’t just drop them off, or sit through practice while checking facebook. Make it a point to go to the game and WATCH them play, swim, draw , act or skate. Wave to them as you watch to share their success as it happens. They will feel the support and you may even see them try a little harder to overcome an obstacle. Your presence or participation in their extracurricular activities and hobbies does wonders for kids’ happiness and self-confidence. Without even saying a word, your child will learn the significance of commitment and integrity through YOUR ACTIONS. Praising children allows them to become more self-motivated and inclined to deal with challenges.
  5. Help your kids with their homework. Don’t be embarrassed to help them solve a problem even if you don’t know how! YouTube is your best teaching tool, even for teachers. Watch a video on ‘how to write an essay’ together and have a conversation about it. One of the best online teaching tools for math is Khan Academy and it is all videos teaching the steps of how to solve math equations. Homework time allows you to see how they are doing academically and learn more about their problem-solving skills, even if you spend only 20 minutes per day. It’s a great way to bond and will allow you to teach them a method from your experience on the subject.
  6. Exercise together, REGULARLY (even if its raining!). Schedule at least one day in the week where you can go for a bike ride, walk or jog which will foster healthy lifestyle habits and is a creative way to releasing ‘the happy chemical’ endorphin together! Set a goal to give you something to strive for like a charity run or certain speed within a certain time-frame. This is not only help you stay young (to keep up with your kids!) but build a very special bond while contributing to our most valuable asset: our health.

There really is no place like home. Kids just really want to play with the biggest kid on the block: YOU! Enjoying life together is what it’s all about. It’s a wonderful escape for us as parents from the day-to-day grind of work to just BE a kid again, with our kids. In the process, we create joyful memories for ourselves and our kids to be remembered and passed on.

Happy family bonding, don’t forget to share this post and spread the  love!


Written by Dana Ben Halim
Heart Learning Centre & CampZone Founder/Director
B.A. Economics; B.Ed (Hons.)


CampZone Summer Open for Registration NOW! Get Extended Care FREE here:

Themes – 2 Week Blocks – 5 Day Drop In -Camp Counselour Academy (ages 10+) -Lunch Program -Trips – Beach Volleyball -Variety Sports-Dance


Talk about Family Bonding? Let start this Saturday! Join Us this Saturday, May 10th for a Wonderful Mother’s Day Event at North Beach Volleyball, 74 Railside Rd. Fun for the Whole Family – Rock Climbing, Sand Play, Mom Beach Volleyball Clinic, Face Painting, Henna Artist, Mom vs. Dad Match, Great Food and More!

$10/adult with up to 3 Kids FREE! Click here to register and win an iPad mini, over $1000 of wonderful prizes for Mom!



My Child Won’t Let Me Teach Them!

Father and son arguing

Today I had an interesting conversation with a dad as I watched my daughter’s volleyball game. It’s a conversation I have with so many moms and dads: that when it comes to us parents teaching our own kids (especially academics), they don’t seem to want to take the information from us. Hire someone to teach them the exact same task and they will be all ears and ready to learn!

Another parent once told me that even though his profession (and business) is teaching kids with special needs how to ski,  when it came to teaching his own kids how to ski, they didn’t want to learn from him. He had to hire a ski instructor to do it!

So why the resistance from our kids?

From many years of teaching experience  and working with families, here are a few of my thoughts on the subject:

1. Parents are Life Coaches.  If you think about it, as parents, our days are really made up mainly of  life- coaching our kids. Whether  it’s about healthy eating or the proper tooth-brushing technique, our kids are continuously listening to our advice, guidance and counseling all day/ everyday. This need for direction never goes away, no matter how old they are and no matter how much resistance they put up. This parental guidance gives our kids reassurance,  a sense of security and makes  them feel  loved and cared for. It doesn’t take away from the fact that our kids also see us more as their ‘life coaches’ rather than ‘academic’ or ‘professional sports’ instructors.

2. Kids are Protective Of Their Learning. Although they know you have been through school, they still may feel they want their teacher/coach to teach them how to do math, soccer or drawing. If you attempt to teach them ‘your way’ you may hear : ‘that’s not how Ms. Talent showed us!’ They get worried that you’re going to confuse them because your way is the ‘old way’ and you haven’t been in the class with them to know what is going on.

3. Sense of Achievement. Just as we adults love to feel that sense of success and achievement, so do our kids! They want to feel that they didn’t need anyone (meaning YOU MOM & DAD) to figure it out on their own.

4. Judgment and Opinion . This may be true especially if you have a perfectionist child or an  over-achiever.  Such children may feel that if you are explaining something to them, that they are ‘not good enough’ in your eyes. You will hear words like ” I know that already!”  or perhaps as soon as you start to explain a concept: frustration tears appear or even a temper tantrum erupts.  Perfectionist kids are embarrassed to let you ‘down’ because they attach how much you love them, to their high performance.

So what do we do now?

Parenting is a continuous learning curve, because we are ALL unique. You can only do your best, but know that by you reading this far, you are a wonderful parent and your not alone!

Here are a few ideas that may let you in as your kid’s TEACHER:

1. ASK THEM. Before you teach your child ask them a simple question: Could you choose me as your teacher/coach  today?  I would love to help you. I want to share where I think you’re doing great and how I think you can improve on a few things. Is that okay? (if it’s a no, say: Okay, walk away and keep reading.)

2. TELL THEM a life story about how you struggled in math/soccer/drawing/French when you were a kid. Kids LOVE life stories and your connection will be more human once they figure out that you’re actually  NOT a Super Hero! Tell them a story about how your mom/dad/grandparent once helped you get ahead. Give them that reassurance that they are still a winner in your eyes and always will be, even when they ask for help.

3. It’s One and the Same. This part may be a bit time-consuming however, we do need to invest some time for our kids to trust our teaching methods for them to slowly accept us in their ‘teacher’ category. If  you find your child resisting ‘your way’ of solving a math problem, reassure them that you’re not taking away their learning in school but showing them a new route. Encourage them by giving the following example of getting to school each morning: “Hey Jack, how do we get to school every day? Is there only one route to school or many? (wait for the answer). Your right, there are many roads that lead to school, and all the roads will get you to the same destination. Some  roads may be a shorter route, while  others more scenic and pretty. It all depends on what your comfortable with. The more roads you know of, the more choices you have to reach your destination. That’s what I would like to show you here with long-division, that there is more than one way to find the answer.” Then see if they will accept you showing them a ‘new route’ to the math problem.

4. No Matter What. Some children have very high expectations of themselves and will associate ‘not knowing’ with being ‘dumb’ so they will resist asking for help or they will tell you “I know it already!’. The best method for this is to keep repeating what Henry Ford said:  ‘mistakes are opportunities to try again.’ Help your child understand that just as we wouldn’t know what happiness is without sadness, we can’t know what success is without having bumps along the way and that you will always love them; no matter what.







Written by Dana Ben Halim
CampZone Founder/Director
B.A. Economics; B.Ed (Hons.)

CampZone Summer Open for Registration NOW! Get Extended Care FREE here:

Themes – 2 Week Blocks – 5 Day Drop In -Camp Counselour Academy (ages 10+) -Lunch Program -Trips – Beach Volleyball -Variety Sports-Dance


We need Negative and Positive for Life to Flow

It’s amazing when things don’t go our way as humans. We immediately  define such occurrences as our ‘failures’ and ‘negative’ experiences. It has always fascinated me how we have created such negative words to describe happenings that are actually necessary  for our growth. Once things don’t go according to our plan: we shut down, we give up, lose confidence and stop pursuing our dreams. What we don’t seem to realize is that life is a journey, and every experience is essential for it to flow.
Let’s take a look at how life flows through maple trees in the early spring. Let’s observe nature’s way and learn from it. How does maple syrup flow?

“Early in the spring, when the maple trees are still dormant, temperatures rise above freezing during the day but drop back below freezing at night. This fluctuation in air temperature is vital to the flow of sap in sugar maple trees. What causes the sap of maple trees to flow in the spring? During warm periods when temperatures rise above freezing, pressure (also called positive pressure) develops in the tree. This pressure causes the sap to flow out of the tree through a wound or tap hole. During cooler periods when temperatures fall below freezing, suction (also called negative pressure) develops, drawing water into the tree through the roots. This replenishes the sap in the tree, allowing it to flow again during the next warm period. Although sap generally flows during the day when temperatures are warm, it has been known to flow at night if temperatures remain above freezing.”

So you see that without above freezing and below freezing temperatures, maple syrup couldn’t flow. Nutrients essential for the tree’s life wouldn’t be possible. Nature’s trees don’t see below freezing as ‘negative’ and above freezing as ‘positive’. It’s all good. It’s all a part of life.

Pluck your eyebrows at 11 yrs?


I remember when I was 11 and let me give you this visual: stop reading this for a minute and look at two fingers locked together. That’s how thick my eyebrows were (with uni-brow thing in the middle too, yeah). I remember begging my mother every day until beyond 14 years old to pluck my eyebrows and it was always the same answer: NO. She tried to convince me that I was beautiful, that I was too young, that they were fashionable and showed me countless pictures of Brooke Shields. That worked for a while but honestly school was just a nightmare. They were like a repellent (especially with the boys). I mean who would think ‘the unibrow girl’ was cute? Ewwww. I don’t blame my mom. I mean she did her best to keep things simple (and me as far away from the boys as possible). I know now as a mom myself, she was also probably trying to hold onto that innocence in her little girl. My daughter is now 11 and her hugs are just become way too ‘tall’ for me. Sometimes when I hug I whisper to myself ‘I’m going to miss this age’. I’ve also asked my friends what they think and most of them were in agreement with my mom: 11 years old is too young to pluck.

The first time I finally did pluck my eyebrows I was 18 (yes, that’s right). I continued to live with the story: that it was going to take my natural beauty away if I plucked them- but when you go to the hair salon and the owner tells you ‘honey,its time to let that thought go’: you really can’t argue. Talk about PAIN but in the end: BAM! I felt like a super-model! I mean I even saw my skin as a tone lighter because my eyes were just so much more visible! My life had been transformed.

Yesterday as I came to bed I found a note from my daughter reading:

Dear Mom,
I haven’t told you this but I need to talk to you. Its about my eyebrows. I hate them. I tried to look on the bright side but there is none. I know its going to hurt so if you know a reason for me not to pluck them please write it on the back of the page and leave it in my room. At school when people are rude they know it hurts because its my face. I never look at anyone talking to me because all they look at is my eyebrows. Could I bleach them or something maybe? If you have any ideas could we talk?
I love you.

So today I went to talk to her. I told her it takes a lot of courage to love oneself. To feel a sense of belonging in your own skin, is the same feeling as being home. To feel confident with who you are, regardless of what others think or say is not easy, but its the only way people will stop the comments. We talked about her feelings and about what she wanted to do. I told her I would wax the hair between her eyes (that’s what was bothering her most ..whew) for HER, not for her friends. She agreed that this was for her because she just didn’t like it.

I feel like I’m on top of the world now, without a doubt. We laughed as I ripped the wax strip off and I admired her beautiful face as she looked straight in the mirror with a HUGE smile. ‘Wow, I didn’t think I was going to look like this mom- I feel like a super model!’ She took a few silly-girl poses in the mirror. I was so blessed that she could come to me with her fears, her struggles and her pain and I could just take that all away with a simple action tonight. So the story about plucking eyebrows at 11 years old is just ‘too young’ is really just that: it’s a story. I think the most important lesson I learned here is to keep that conversation going with my kids. Even if I have grown up with ideas inherited from my parents: I should have the courage to talk to them and hear their point of view and listen to what they really going through to get the full picture. I truly think that is the best way we can ensure our kids live their best life and ultimately our own in the process 🙂

What to look for in a March Break Camp


From the Director

March Break Camp is the number one complaint I get from working parents when it comes to school holidays. One of our parents recently told me: ‘Just like PA Days, it creeps up on me and then just like that, I have to scramble to find full day care for the kids because I don’t get the time off!” Many parents don’t know what to look for when choosing the right camp or after school program. The advantage of being a parent while running an after-school facility and seasonal camp site is that I get to see both sides. I get to see what I would want as a parent in an after school facility as well as  camps  and carry out those standard right here. Each year I give evaluations to our  parents because  its those suggestions that keep us improved.

With March Break Camp just around the corner I thought I would share 3 major things to consider when registering for a March Break Camp based on what our parents have mentioned, and what I look for in while while hiring staff. 

1. Safety is always number one. It really is. With over 15 years experience working with kids and youth, what I look for in staff primarily are there credentials and CPR/First Aid has to be present (or we provide that training). Staff need to be cautious and be able to predict situations. In our staff training we use real life examples and our rule is to take action before a situation gets out of control: for example if  little Johnny is walking towards the outside door, a staff member needs to predict that he will be OUT the door very soon so they need to stop him.  As a parent its wise to ask if counselors are CPR/First Aid trained as well as the staff:camper ratio.  You also want to make sure there are senior staff present (adults) rather than just teens watching the kids. If there is a Co-Director onsite, even better to maintain safety procedures and to give a hand in case of an emergency. If your child has an allergy or requires special care, be sure to mention that information and ask if staff is trained to handle the care.


2. Programming is key. It’s so important for kids to learn through different means. It allows them to use their creative mind, take risks and build confidence in different areas. As a parent I would ask about the schedule, the physical aspect of the camp as well as creative. Many parents tell me that their kids usually find other camps they’ve been to ‘boring’ and that CampZone is the first camp they love.  As a teacher for over 15 years and a mom of 3, I feel the only reason kids would get bored at camp is because there is not enough in the programming to keep them excited (they are really easy to please). It’s so important for the kids to have a fun-filled day and that programming provides a variety of skills. At CampZone we build future visionary leaders and therefore part of our programming includes learning different skills including sports, art, drama and dance. We invite our parents to see the results and host a Show Case and Sports Banquet at the end of each session. One of our parents last year at camp told me that her son was a hard-core hockey player and he wouldn’t be interested in  acting  (and wished me good luck getting him on the stage).  Turned out, he was not only a hockey star as he was cast  the lead of  our ‘Andrews Loose Tooth’ skit and proved himself a star on the stage as well! His parents were thrilled at his performance (they invited the whole family!) and he now can say he’s good at both.  


3. Do your kids want to leave? This is a great indicator and it happens at CampZone all the time! Our kids don’t want to leave and its a HUGE compliment to us. As a parent when I take my kids to any kind of facility or programming I observe the energy. Don’t overlook friendliness, how considerate staff are with you and your kids, cleanliness and work ethic. It’s so important that my kids feel safe, secure and encouraged to take part. Kids need to be excited about camp and learn new things through having FUN! As a parent, if the camp is right, you will see immediate results  – the kids will be so happy they won’t want to leave at the end of the day and be excited to wake up in the morning.


I hope this helped you  think about the right camp for your child(ren). For more information on CampZone please visit: