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READER QUESTION: My SPD son, 11-yrs-old, is terrible at homework organization and motivation to complete his homework. He forgets things at school, even after meeting with the teacher prior to leaving. He just had a 4-day weekend and chose not finish work that was due prior to the break! How much hand- holding and “spoon feeding” should I do? He’ll be in middle school next year and he must learn to be responsible for his own work! He’s a smart kid. Very distracted. Very slow to complete tasks. A procrastinator to the max. Please help with simple “self-checks” that he can do to help him break homework down into manageable portions. Thank you!
This is a two-part question:
1) How can I help my son remember things at school?
2) How can I create some simple self-checks to help him break down his homework into manageable portions?
Today’s blog post will be focus on Question #1 – Remembering Strategies
Think of executive function skills (the mental processes that help us remember, plan, and organize) as a developing muscle. In fact, this “muscle” develops until most of us are 25 years old. So that means middle school and high school are executive function training periods where we can build and develop this muscle. Since this muscle is still developing, it means kids with executive function challenges will need systems, visual reminders, and lots of practice and despite all this, they will still forget things from time-to-time. A few remembering strategies for getting things to school and back home again.
* WHAT ARE YOU FORGETTING? MAKE A SYSTEM FOR YOU….
One of the most important things you can do is start with your own remembering. We can come to these experiences of helping our kids very frustrated with them after many lost items and forgotten pieces of work. Sit down and write down 3 things that you always forget – it can be anything. For me, it’s coupons for shopping. I’ll sit and remember how frustrated I feel when I get to the store and realize I forgot my coupons. I feel awful for not “remembering” and begin to verbally put myself down. In that moment, I’m just like my child – I forget things and feel awful about it. It’s pretty hard to remember things when you’re feeling awful about yourself. Same is true for our sensory kids. When I start here, owning the places in my life where I’m forgetful, I’m able to support my child’s remembering with compassion and understanding.
* PRIORITIZE WHAT NEEDS TO BE REMEMBERED
One way we can maximize their remembering muscle is to prioritize what needs to be remembered. For most kids, the priority is going to be getting homework home and back to school again and remembering books and papers. That’s what you focus on. You take hats / mittens, lunch boxes, even coats off the table until they master the important stuff. Leave an extra set of hats/ mittens at school, buy paper lunch bags to send lunches into school, and keep last years smallish coat as a back up. By loosening the remembering requirements, we are helping they use their remembering muscle on the important things.
* THE DROP-BIN
A general batching system can be a big support in helping kids get the right things to school. Instead of a detailed mudroom hanging / organizing system, get your child a big bin that holds everything that needs to go back to school – papers, backpack, jacket, hat/mittens, lunch, library books. As things get remembered or completed, they are put in the bin. At the end of the night, your child has one packing session putting in anything that is needed for the next day at school.
* MAKE A “DID YOU REMEMBER” VISUAL
Powerful images trigger remembering. This visual example is one I made for a child I was working with who was struggling with remembering to bring her glasses to school. She loved dogs and loved her milk. So we took a picture of her dog and used the “Got Milk” slogan in the visual. When we support one item with a visual fascination, a catchy slogan, and add in a little outrageous fun, we can help our kids remember. This was placed at eye level on the door she used to leave the house so it “hit her in the eyes” before she left.
* A CONCRETE, PORTABLE VISUAL
Give your child something to see and touch to help them remember a task. Rubber bracelets are a great tangible to use to help kids remember to turn in homework at school or get homework home. Have your child pick a color or two that reminds them of homework and have a bowl of these colored rubber bracelets at the breakfast table to access as they get ready for school. As they put on the bracelet, have the say “Turn in Homework”. When they see they bracelet during the day, they will get a constant visual reminder to complete this task.
* MINI BOOK LIST FOR LOCKER
A lot is going on at the end of the day transition as kids are packing up to go home – socializing, lots of movement and noises, and lots to try to remember in a short block of time. Use a small luggage tag or a small laminated list to hang on backpack or in locker for a quick visual checklist of books that might need to come home. Make sure to use the language they use to describe their books (i.e. Vocab Notebook, Reading Journal etc.).
* FORGOT MY HOMEWORK CARD
If you have a child that forgets their homework, expect that it is going to happen somewhat regularly until their remembering skills get stronger. The key is creating a “Forgot My Homework Plan” before it actually happens when your child is in a calm, regulated place. Have 3-4 options of what can be done if homework is forgotten (call certain classmates, keep an extra set of books at home, access information online etc.).
Think of this time as Executive Function Training Ground. A time of rememerbing ups and downs, a time to explore systems, visuals, and routines that can help trigger your child’s memory and help build habits. As you work to support your child, be open to exploring your own remembering challenges and strategies. Knowing we are all the same is a big piece in easing the tension and stress from these parenting moments. And this helps us all. Simple strategies for more peaceful days ~
A common challenge for many rigid, anxious, and distracted kids is the tendency to be All or Nothing thinkers. This can be experienced in many ways – with their emotions, social experiences, rules, and with tasks. When you constantly live in a place of All or Nothing and Right or Wrong – it can be easy to become hyper-focused on perfectionism and rigid expectations of external experiences become the norm.
The first step towards changing any behavior is becoming aware of current behavior and then examining what other responses exist outside of our usual response map. For our sensory kids, this means exploring the space between All and Nothing – the Middle Space.
THINKING IN THE MIDDLE SPACE
Here’s an example of a simple map to help visualize and work through the new THINKING IN THE MIDDLE SPACE options. Before a known All or Nothing experience, sit down and fill out the 3 different ways that the situation could be handled through the All Lens, the Nothing Lens, and most importantly the MIDDLE Lens. This Middle Space will often have several options to explore, options that might not naturally occur to our sensory kids. Once you explore a few of these All or Nothing experiences through the Middle Thinking lens, you can try to practice them in real life situations. This helps our sensory kids have a visual map of Middle Space responses and also give us parents a map to help guide our sensory kids through a situation with verbal prompts around these new Middle Space alternatives.
* Paper and markers or word processor.
* Pictures or images that represent All, Nothing, and Middle.
* Picture Images Options: Take your own pictures of your real life tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or image software like Boardmaker – http://www.mayer-johnson.com/boardmaker-software/ , Picture Exchange Communication System – http://www.pecsusa.com/ ,Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/ , or Smarty Symbols Image Club (monthly membership) – http://smartysymbols.com/
* Can laminate and use a dry-erase marker for easy re-use.
* Could also make a simple, on-the fly visual using a notepad.
By creating a simple visual to help sensory kids make space between the All and the Nothing, they can begin to experience Thinking in the Middle. By helping them observe current behaviors and identify new ways of moving through an experience, we are helping them building new response habits. This is Sensory Organizing and this is meeting our sensory kids whenre they are today. Simple changes for more peaceful and empowered days ~
Our MOST important job as the parents of sensory children is our job from the sidelines. We are the lead Cheerleaders for Team Nice and it’s a big role. Here are the Top 5 Team Nice Cheers:
* SHOWING UP IS A BIG WIN
We know the world is overwhelming to you. You often manage big feelings that don’t make sense and a body that doesn’t always do what you want it to do so when you show up each and everyday, that’s already a Big Win.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE EFFORT NOT THE OUTCOME
We know that simple things can often be harder for you. We witness how hard you work each and every day to show up and learn despite many external challenges. We are amazed by your effort.
* SMALL VICTORIES = BIG VICTORIES
We have come to learn how important small victories really are! A mastered task, an expression of a big feeling, taking a social risk, or a focused work session are big wins. You are amazing.
* YOUR WAY IS AS GOOD AS MY WAY
We have come to realize that we’re not all that different from you. We have a way of doing things that we think is valuable and important and so do you. We stand on the sidelines with verbal cues and visual guides to support your journey as needed. But our main job is to value your way as much as our own.
* YOU CAN DO IT
When we believe and say “You Can Do It”, it means today and everyday. We know that, just like everyone else, you are doing the best that you can everyday. And somedays it’s a much harder journey than others. We won’t give up – we know you can do it today and everyday.
We also know that we’ll have hard days too and we’re going to need to be our own cheerleaders and say the TEAM NICE Cheers to ourselves. But that just helps us understand that we’re all connected and all in this together. If we can learn these cheers for ourselves, we’ll be even better at cheering for you.
So let’s give three Cheers for TEAM NICE – here’s to Effort, Small Victories, and You ♥ ~
In honor of the new year, I’m going to start a new section on my blog that focuses on organizing for us parents. Nothing keeps us more in touch with the power of a good system then doing it for ourselves now and again. Like Sensory Organizing Systems, we’re going to focus on small changes that make a BIG impact. With Simply Organized Enough, we’ll look at problem areas / challenging tasks and focus on organizing one small section that will impact the whole space or task as a whole. For me, 2015 is all about doing less but achieving more!
CLOTHES MONSTER IN THE CLOSET
Often, when I’m am working with an organizing client on a problem area, it almost always comes down to one main issue. Like other areas in life, the 80/20 rule applies to organizing problem areas – 20% of the area causes 80% of the problems. If you can find that 20% and adjust it, the whole space will work much more efficiently.
My house is no different. Here’s an example of this 80/20 rule in my own house – the master bedroom closet. My husband wears business clothes to work – some that can be machine washed and some that need to be dry cleaned. Knowing his work clothes could not go in with the everyday clothes in the hamper, he kept them separate but with no definitive home, they all end up mixed up on the closet floor. When it came time to try to figure out what was what – the task took longer, was more frustrating, and was often done at the last minute. This one small area was causing 80% of the challenges with this task.
With Simply Organized Enough, I’m just going to focus on this one small area, use items I already own (if possible), and make a simple yet visual system.
LAUNDRY BAG SYSTEM
Here’s Why It Works:
UTILIZES CURRENT SYSTEM & TAKES ADVANTAGE OF UNUSED SPACE
Working off where the clothes were already piling up (working off the habit that is already in place for my husband), I’m going to use the floor space under his hanging rod. Shoes that were in this space were put on a shoe rack that runs along the back wall of the closet. The front floor and low hanging space here was free game for me to use.
USING WHAT WE HAD & INEXPENSIVE PRODUCTS
Looking at what I already had around that I could use, I found a great Contain Yourself reusable shopping bag from The Container Store (http://www.containerstore.com/shop?productId=10026217&N=&Ntt=reusable+shopping+bag ). It’s significantly bigger than most reusable shopping bags (17-3/4″ x 7″ x 18-1/2″ h), holds up to 30lbs, and it features two sets of handles; two long shoulder straps and two shorter carrying handles. Knowing I needed 2 bags for this systems, it was easy and inexpensive ($1.99 per bag!) to pick-up one more.
VISUAL & SIMPLE SYSTEM
The system was completed with: Two Large Binder Clips for labeling the bag (which I already had). I used large binder clips from Staples ($4.59 for a 12 pack) – http://www.staples.com/Staples-Large-Satin-Silver-Metal-Binder-Clips-2-Size-with-1-Capacity/product_329502 Two laminated labels – one for each bag (using my laminating machine). In my house, labels need to be big and in your face : ) The labels could have also been make with simple luggage tags or paper gift tags that could be attached on one of the carrying handles on the bag. Example of JAM Paper Gift Tags ($8.50 for 6 pack) – http://www.staples.com/product_38422?externalize=certona
The key to this system is the study, portable bags with carrying handles. Once each bag is full, it can be carried either to the car for the dry cleaner or to the washing machine. Visual and portable makes this system a win. Here is a system that is inexpensive (even if you had to purchase the 2 bags and the sturdy paper gift tag labels, the total cost is $12.50), took about 10 minutes to create and install, and reduced 80% of the problem task. A visual, portable system + keeping with up dry cleaning / laundry = BIG Impact to daily life. Here’s to Simply Organized Enough and to small changes for more peaceful days ~
It’s a New Year and I know that everyone’s rearing to go – time to make BIG changes, time to get organized, and time to really make this year different. Well guess what? I don’t really buy into BIG changes, I buy into small but powerful ones. Being a professional organizer, I get many questions at Holiday Parties about organizing in the New Year and what big changes to do first. And I always tell people the same thing – start with your junk drawer.
The junk drawer is a microcosm of our bigger organizational challenges. It is also one of the last places people tend to think they need to organize. I believe the opposite is true – I think it’s the first thing you need to do.
The Power of the Organized Junk Drawer
We See How Simple Organizing Can Be:
Organizing comes down to 3 main things :
1) A simple plan of attack
2) 3 Step Process – Get Started, Sort, and Re-Organize
3) Stand Back and Admire your Talent.
The junk drawer organizing process involves all of these steps.
We See the Reality of the Situation (and it’s never as bad as we thought):
We all like drama. This means we can make all sorts of organizing projects bigger than they really are. The junk drawer gives us a miniature way to see that things are never as bad as we think they are.
We Get Feel What Organized Feels Like:
As much as organizing is about being more efficient, it’s also about feeling calmer from the inside out as we meet each experience. Look at that organized drawer and feel It – can be pretty motivating and that can move us on to the next project.
We Challenge the Belief that “We’re Not Organized”:
Guess what? When you can organized your junk drawer, you can organize anything. All organizing projects are the same – our mind likes to tell us that this one is “too big” but now you know the truth – if you can do one project, you can do them all. The secret is to start small, gain some confidence and success under your belt. And when you have a thought that says “You’re not organized”, you can laugh because you can remember your junk drawer and know it’s not true.
So I am taking my own advice and starting with my own junk drawer (which has been very ignored!). Here was my simple 6 step process that took about 15 minutes:
1) Pull out the junk
2) Put out and sort items into groups (and I noticed that the project was not as bad as I thought it would be!)
3) Do a soap / warm water wash of the drawer.
4) Add some Structure – For big drawers, just adding alittle structure with drawer trays will be a big support in keeping the drawer organized. Knowing I had bigger items – duct tape and tools that would work better outside of trays along the side and back of drawer, I just purchased 2 drawer trays for the smaller items. I found 2 clear plastic organizing trays from Walmart ( Mainstays 3 section drawer organizing tray – $2.24 and a 6 section drawer organizing tray – $3.97) – http://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-3-Section-Drawer-Organizer-Clear/25998058 and http://www.walmart.com/ip/Mainstays-6-Section-Drawer-Organizer-Clear/26691058
5) Re-organize: Keep like things together and if you find things that really don’t belong or will get used there, move ‘em out.
6) Stand back and admire your talent!
The organized junk drawer highlights the power of small changes. If it can be done there successfully, it can be done anywhere. So do me a favor and start 2015 out not in your garage or your basement but with a small but powerful success. And then see where that takes you ~