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Got glasses?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:

1) Prioritize:
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 ~

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Middle Space Homework SpotNow 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&section=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 ~

Waccess Disk Seat
Bouncy Bands
Sterilite Large Showoff Storage Container

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

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

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