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Central Message AreaWhat if you could create one small area in your home that would support transitions, help build time management, planning, and executive function skills, help with routines, and basically support every single member of the family? Sounds pretty good huh?! Well, you can have all this with the one thing every sensory family should have – The Central Message Area. Forget back-to-school, this will support you and your family each and every week all year long.

Since this is not back-to-school specific, this is a great system to get into place now so you have time to adjust / tweak before the school year is in full gear.

THE CENTRAL MESSAGE AREA

KEY POINTS

– LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: This needs to be a central location in the house. For most of us, it will be the mudroom, the kitchen, or a family room that is close to the kitchen.
– FUNCTION COMES FIRST: Here we need let go of keeping things tucked away and hidden. This needs to be out in the open, visual, and have pieces that you can touch and move around. Life is messy – totally ok if this is alittle messy too.
– IT NEEDS A NAME: Call it whatever works for your family – Family Planning Center, Central Message Area or whatever works for you.
– HAVE PIECES FOR EVERYONE: Include planning tools for everyone – a monthly planner for parents, a weekly calendar for the family, activity schedules, chore cards, morning / evening routines are a few examples of what you might have here.
– SET A REGULAR PLANNING TIME: This is the key to teaching planning skills to our kids. Depending on age of kids, we need to set a daily / weekly planning time where calendars get mapped out and plan is reviewed. Our kids will have a much better understanding of how to plan their week in high school when they have participated in a weekly planning session in their younger years.

***BREAK IT DOWN – So not to overwhelm your sensory child (or yourself with a big project) – break this project into smaller pieces. 1) Monthly / Weekly Calendar; 2) Activity / Blank Board Section; 3) Chore / Routines Section.

GENERAL LAYOUT

The central message area will look different for every family but can have a few core components. Here’s an example of a general layout:

– TOP SECTION: Parent Planner – a monthly planner for parents to pencil in important dates / work commitments / travel etc. This also allows kids to see us take the big (a month) and break it into smaller pieces when we fill out the weekly whiteboard calendar (see below).
– MIDDLE SECTION: A Weekly Whiteboard Calendar – I LOVE the time frame of a week. It’s not too much time but not too little, works off a school schedule that is intuitive to most kids, and for younger kids, we can work off of yesterday, today, tomorrow schedule.
– LOWER SECTION: Activity Calendars for after-school planning.
– LOWEST SECTION: A plain magnetic white board to hang misc. items, clip clear folders to for school papers, or just as a doodle board for younger kids.
– LEFT WALL SECTION: This section can hold Evening / Morning Routines, Chore charts / checklists – laminate or put in sheet protectors or on clipboards.

SUPPLIES

– A monthly calendar – I used the At-A-Glance Calendar. http://www.staples.com/2014-2015-AT-A-GLANCE-Academic-Madrid-Desk-Pad-15-inch-x/product_297827
– A weekly magnetic whiteboard calendar – Here’s a great one from Board Dudes that includes a cork strip at bottom. http://boarddudes.com/product/aluminum-framed-magnetic-dry-erase-combo-board-3/
– A cork board / magnetic board to hold activity schedules. The one used here was a Board Dudes board from Target. http://www.target.com/p/the-board-dudes-framed-corkboard-17in-x-23in/-/
– Clipboards – to make routines / chore lists portable. Example of one from Walmart – http://www.walmart.com/ip/CLIPBOARD-PLAS-9X12-CR/32531960
– 3M Command Temporary Hooks – for temporary hanging that won’t damage walls. Great for hanging routines, chores etc. http://www.command.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/NACommand/Command/Products/Catalog/~/Command-Medium-Hooks?N=3294529207+3294773690+5924736&rt=rud
– Laminating machine or page protectors to keep routines / checklists looking new. Page protectors from Staples (you could hang these using the hole punch tabs on left margin of page protector). http://www.staples.com/Staples-Secure-Top-Sheet-Protectors/product_392759
– Labels for each section so everyone knows where to go / how to use it.
– Make space for fun! Be sure to hang a few funny pictures, quotes your family likes, or other fun things that are meaningful to your family.

Start now with the simple but super powerful Central Message Area. This will most definitely give your family a place to go to see what’s coming, to help manage daily expectations, and to see what fun things you have to look forward to. It will also help you, master family planner, in more ways than you know! Small Changes for more Peaceful Days ~

Labels CMALabels CMA
CMA Routines

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Morning RoutineA big part of supporting the Back-to-School transition has nothing to do with school — it happens in the many transitions at home around preparing for school. It happens in the morning as our kids get ready for the day at school and/or in the afternoon / eventing as our kids prepare for the next day at school. These many transitions and tasks at home are also where small changes and simple supports can be a powerful tool for our sensory kids.

The morning transition can be one of the more challenging transitions as many of our rigid, anxious, or distracted kids have a hard time waking up in the morning, have anxiety about school in general, and/or know they will be working hard to pay attention and hold in together for the next 6 hours. Our goal is to make their mornings easier so they have more energy and willpower for the experiences where they will need it at school.

Supporting Morning Bathroom Routines

Knowing that our kids are working through a challenging transition, let’s use our core Sensory Organizing tools and break it down, eliminate distractions, and create a visual guide.

The Bathroom Caddy
Supplies
– A Simplified bathroom routine – only include what has to be done in the morning.
– A Caddy (that can get wet!). This one is from Lakeshore Learning but they can be found at any home store.
– 3 Plastic Cups to help separate and categorize the tasks. These came in a package of 3 from Walmart. Just make sure they fit snugly in the caddy
– Labels to number the tasks in order and to spell out task in simple terms. I found mine at Staples from Martha Stewart Home Office with Avery.
– Clear packing tape to put over labels to protect from water.
– For extra support, you could add a laminated Morning Routine Checklist and hang it on the wall or mirror in the bathroom.
***Put in the order that make sense for your child not what makes sense to you. If they like to wash their face before they brush their teeth, so be it.

Why This Works
– It does the first step (and often hardest step for many sensory kids) of sequencing the task so they know where and how to start.
– We’ve broken down the task into 3 manageable pieces.
– We’ve batched the supplies needed in the order which will help our sensory kids stay on task.
– We’ve created a visual checklist of sorts with the 1,2,3 Labels.
– We’ve made it portable. If our child if having a more challenging morning and we need to change locations or need to give them a choice in what sink they use to do their bathroom routine, this allows us to do that.

Start now with simple this morning support. Practice and adjust as needed so you know what works best for your sensory child. Small Changes for more Peaceful School Mornings ~

Back to School The Sensory WayFor me, Back-to-School has a slightly different time line. It’s not a full court press for the month August running from store to store and having everything labeled, stocked and ready to go. Why? Because that’s not how most sensory kids (or overwhelmed adults) successfully manage a transition. Here, we need to apply the same strategies to Back-to-School as we do other sensory supports: Break it down, eliminate distractions, and create a visual guide or system (for us and for our sensory kids!). Three key ideas to remember: Focus on immediate needs only, only introduce a few things a week, and involve your child in the process.

From my experience of living with and working with sensory kids, Back-to-School is the three month, not a two-week, process. Our sensory kids are often tangible, concrete learners so preparing ahead of time for something that is not here yet often feels too abstract for them and leaves them feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Do you know any child that really wants to make a homework station before school starts and before they actually have homework? Part of Sensory Organizing is understanding that we have to see what’s not working before we can set-up the best system to support it. So let’s simplify this Back-to-School Process for our sensory kids (and us) with a slightly different time line.

August:
Central Message Area
Morning Routines / Systems
Getting Ready for New People and Places
Simplifying Supplies

September:
Portable Homework Bin
Systems for Getting Things Home and Back-to-School Again
Weeknight Meal Planning

October:
Homework Strategies
Remembering Techniques
Visual Planning Tools

So for the next 3 Months, I’ll be working off this time line and sharing strategies, visual systems, and colorful examples that support these goals. Here’s to a little more summer and a slow but steady approach to what will be a new, messy, forgetful, frustrating school year chock-full of small victories ~
#sensoryorganzing #sensorychild #backtoschoolthesensoryway

Connecting FeelingsFeelings can be such an abstract concept for many of our kids. Our sensory kids are full of passion but sensory feelings can come on strong and change quickly often leaving our rigid, anxious, or distracted kids feeling overwhelmed and struggling to make connections between cause and effect. Just like we can provide external, visual supports with organizing their environment, we can provide external, visual supports to help them identify and organize their feelings.

Like many other Sensory Organizing supports, the first step is often the most important and needs to be visual. Since feelings can seem all-encompassing without a clean beginning and end, we need a visual to help them make some space to notice and observe when a new feeling might have come in. By helping them notice, without judgement, we can often help them begin the process of making connections. Then we can provide some options to help them work through the feelings with a tangible plan that can include identifying feeling triggers and talking through different strategies for the next experience.

Here’s an example of a Connecting Feelings Visual:

SUPPLIES:
* Compassion and Understanding
* Paper
* Markers
* Picture Images (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/ , or Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/. The images used here are from Boardmaker.

Strong feelings are one of the main ways sensory kids communicate with us. By creating a simple visual to help them make space between themselves and their feelings, we can teach them to observe, identify, and ultimately advocate for their feelings and needs. This is Sensory Organizing and true empowerment. Simple changes for more peaceful days ~

Fireworks One of the highlights of Summer is travel – trips to see family, check out new places, and try new things. Often, these are also things that can be challenging for many sensory kids. Thankfully, by bringing a few extra supports on the road, we can often soften the new or overwhelming experiences. One easy way to support sensory kids on the road is to bring along a easy-to-make, easy-to-adjust Travel Schedule.

Here’s a simple and portable Travel Schedule:

SUPPLIES:
* Identify the experiences / times of day you think might need some extra support – challenging routines or new experiences and focus on those top 2-3 few times to support with visual schedule. For a child that needs less support, this can be used for a broader, full day schedule. Be sure to mix in some fun pictures that highlight favorite people you might see on the trip and/or fascinations.
* A Small 4×6 Photo Book – you can find these at Home Stores (Target, Walmart, Home Goods), Craft Stores, or on Amazon.com
* 4×6 Index Cards – come in white or colored.
* Picture Images (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/ , or Do 2 Learn (can sign-up for an annual membership on Do 2 Learn!) – http://www.do2learn.com/ . You can also get pamphlets or brochures of places you will be visiting and put pieces of those into the visual schedule.
* Black marker to label index cards
* Tape to attach images to index cards.
* Create one image index card that represents a “New or Special” Activity. This can be your universal sign that something new / unexpected is coming. A visual prompt can give sensory kids time to internally prepare.

Take a few moments each morning to set-up the photo book to support key experiences in the upcoming day. The index cards can be moved in / out of plastic photo protectors very easily and allow you to set a chronological / ordered schedule and adjust as needed. By supporting a few challenging times, you give your sensory child (and your family) the opportunity to have more moments of real connection and joy. And connection and joy is what vacation is really all about.
Simple changes for more peaceful summer days ~

SUPPLY IMAGES:
photo
Photo Book
Index Cards
Picture Images
Special Activity Image

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