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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 ~
Sensory Organizing is about organizing and empowering daily life. When it comes to incorporating structure, routines, and visual aids into your home in a seamless fashion, there are some core tools that can support and enhance this process for you. Some of these tools come in handy for planned supports during challenging tasks or times of day and some tools come into play for those unexpected moments of need.
Here are my Top 7 Sensory Organizing Power Tools:
This to me is the #1 secret power tool. Small, portable (even for travel) and easy to whip out at a moment’s notice for a quick schedule, plan of attack, or routine. Added bonus – small magnetic whiteboards allow magnets to come into play to support routines and visual plans. For extra support, grab a plate stand to allow you to prop it up wherever you need it! One I love is the Quartet Dry Erase Board (8.5×11)
The clipboard is the perfect list holder but can slip into a homework bin or hang on a wall (on a 3M Temporary Hook – see below!). These can hold the homework plans or school or extra-curricular schedules for planning sessions.
Perfect for kids who need a more visual, step-by-step schedule for a task or time of day. Love the one from Lakeshore Learning – http://www.lakeshorelearning.com/ Has a bottom pocket to hold extra visual schedule slips. Bonus: Use the one side of visual strip of one routine and use the back side for another routine (for example:The front side is the morning routine and back side is the evening routine)
For me, Sensory Organizing is about bringing supports into life seamlessly and picture frames can help us do that. Anything from a fancier decorative frame to a simple acrylic frame will do the job.
I LOVE using a weekly magnetic whiteboard calendar to help organize time and prepare for upcoming experiences. Two examples that I love: 1) Board Dudes Aluminum Framed Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar (7.5×23) and, 2) Quartet Weekly Magnetic Dry Erase Calendar Combo (7.5×23).
Having the flexibility to hang wherever and whenever is key with Sensory Organizing and temporary hooks let us do that. Love the temporary, damage free, adhesive hooks from 3M Command – all sorts of sizes and styles – http://www.command.com
Nothing makes a visual routine come to life like picture images. A few options to help you have powerful images at your fingertips when you need them:
1)Take your own pictures of your real life items & tasks, pictures from magazines, stock photos, or draw some images with your child.
2) 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/
These Sensory Organizing Power Tools are the building blocks to creating structure, routines, and visual aids for your sensory child. Small changes with a few core Sensory Organizing Power Tools = Big impact for more peaceful days at home ~
The dreaded shower. For many sensory kids, this can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Chilly air, water (too cold / too hot), shampoo (smells / feels weird), so much to remember to do, managing wet, wrinkly fingers. Thankfully, we can even Sensory Organize shower time!
THE 1-2-3 SHOWER
1) TIMING IS EVERYTHING: Think about times of day when you child is most relaxed and has some sensory and regulation tickets in the bank. For example, for some sensory kids, a shower at night is too much. It comes at the end of a long day when a lot has been expected and flexibility muscles have been maxed out. Sometimes first thing in the morning of a new day is the way to go.
2) THE POWER OF CHOICE: When transitioning to an undesired task, the power of choice can often help get our sensory kids over the hump. What color towel today, do you want to use shampoo 1 or shampoo 2? A little choice gives a sense of control which helps to manage transition anxiety.
3) THE THREE STEP VISUAL: Like we do with other Sensory Organizing supports, we want to break the task down into steps, reduce external distractions (or too many choices!), and create a visual guide. Here is an example of a bathroom shower caddy that might work – The Bask Shower Caddy by Umbra from the Container Store ( http://bit.ly/1ycrYeo). I love this design – it has three baskets that are suspended by a chain that hooks over a showerhead, a curtain rod, or a towel bar for easy access. Each bin has holes at the bottom to allow water to drain freely. The bins also have plenty of flat space on the front to hold a visual image. Like our other Sensory Organizing supports, this allows us to slowly remove the visual supports over time. We can provide strong support to begin with (numbers / text / image) and then move to medium support (numbers / text ) and then light support (numbers only).
WHY THIS WORKS:
~ It does the first step (and often hardest step for many sensory kids) of gathering supplies into one area and sequencing the task.
~ We’ve broken down the task into manageable pieces and they visually understand what “take a shower” means.
~ We’ve created a visual checklist of sorts with the 1,2,3 Labels / Picture Images (and this allows for an easy verbal prompt – “Are you on Step 2 yet?”).
– Hanging Shower Caddy – I used the Bask Shower Caddy by Umbra from the Container Store – http://bit.ly/1ycrYeo
– 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/
– Adhesive labels & Markets for the 1,2,3 numbers Laminating Machine or heavy duty packing tape to put over visual images to protect from the water.
Break it down, eliminate distracting stimuli, and create a visual support for shower time. Clean AND somewhat happy would be a big win! Sensory Organizing = Simple Changes for more Peaceful Days ~
So most of us are officially Back-to-School. For some sensory kids, there can be a “honeymoon period” when the excitement of the new school year keeps them engaged, on-task, and connected. For other sensory kids, feeling overwhelmed and / or forgetting things begins immediately. Thankfully, we can make simple but powerful visuals to help them prioritize and remember important items in a fun and memorable way.
MAKE A VISUAL WORTH REMEMBERING:
Identify the top 3 things that your child seems to be forgetting and then pick the one that has the biggest impact on their learning right now. This is where you start. For example, if your child is forgetting their baseball cap or their glasses, you start with helping them remember their glasses.
2) Choose an Image with Impact:
This is where you can tap into a fascination for your child – something they love and naturally connect with that will draw them in. Studies show that the more silly and outrageous we make it, the more memorable it will be!
3) Tap into Slogans:
Once you have an image, doctor it up adding in the item you are looking to help your child remember. Use popular slogans to help make the text powerful and easy to remember.
4) Make it Big and Let It Hit ‘Em in the Eyes
Print out the image / text visual, laminate it or put it in a sheet protector and hang on the door (at eye level) your child uses when they leave for school.
After success with the visual, you can drop the text and just leave the image or vice versa. Sometimes, you can switch to using the verbal prompt only “Got Glasses”. If your child has a hard time bringing their glasses back home from school, you could make a mini-visual of the picture only to hang in their cubby or locker as a prompt when packing up their backpack.
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 wearing glasses and used the “Got Milk” slogan in the visual. When we support one item with a fascination, a catchy slogan, and add in alittle outrageous fun, we can help our kids remember. Keeping it simple but fun makes all the difference. Simple changes for more peaceful days ~
Now that the kids are back in school and getting into the new routine, this can be a great time to experiment with homework spots. When our sensory kids are younger, homework is often done close by parents as a way for us to help them with work but also to help them stay on task and facilitate breaks when frustration is building. As kids get older, many parents often assume that the next logical step is having kids do homework alone in their bedrooms. But for many rigid, anxious, or distracted kids, this is often too big of a step. Bedrooms are filled with distractions and if never used as a work space before, that can be a big cognitive shift for our sensory kids around the use of this space.
This is where the middle space comes in – a space that is not the kitchen and not the bedroom but a new, dedicated work space that provides some separation and independence. Often, this is a process we can make bigger then it is. But alas, you only need a few simple things for a Just-Right Homework Spot:
– An unused corner. Pick a corner in your home that is in a room next to the kitchen area (where most of us parents are while the kids do homework). The less visual distractions in the space, the better (no direct windows, limited wall hangings etc.). The corner we chose was just holding a storage ottoman before and was not adding any functional support to the room – just right for a homework spot.
– A simple desk. Here – less is more. A simple, open writing desk works well in a corner (no drawers, open lines helps minimize distraction and visually lightens the corner). The one here is the LEKSVIK Desk from IKEA – http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80133402/
– A simple chair. Hold off on wheels and spinning chairs until you see how the space works. The chair is always something you can always change or add sensory supports to as time goes on. The chair here is the KAUSTBY Dining Chair from IKEA -http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/10242838/. few examples of simple sensory supports you can add to the chair down the road include:
1) A disk seat for movement – here’s one from Waccess on Amazon.com – http://amzn.to/1AuSX1C
2) A bouncy band for feet movement – Bouncy Bands on Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Bouncy-Bands-students-without-distracting/dp/B00KRTNH0O .
– A Clean, Open Desktop – the key to a productive work space for many sensory kids it keeping the visual desktop space clean. On the desktop, just keep it to writing utensils, a desk light, and a homework plan. Having a supply bin close-by and accessible. Which brings us to….
– A Portable Homework Bin – in order to keep supplies close-by and accessible (but off the desk), get a portable bin to hold all homework supplies. One I like is the Sterilite Large Showoff Storage Container – http://www.sterilite.com/SelectProduct.html?id=25&ProductCategory=248§ion=1
Before your child is knee deep in homework, experiment with finding a simple, distraction free homework spot for your chid. A new, somewhat separate homework spot supports independence and self-reliance. A middle step as you help your sensory child make space for life ~