Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Getting organized for the new school year

The new school year approaches: I begin workshops this Thursday, and the boys start school the Tuesday after Labor day. It's a big year for them because they both start Middle School, Dominic in 6th grade and Rowan in 7th. Our district reconfigured grades from K-6/7-9/10-12 to K-5/6-8/9-12, which is why both boys are entering middle school at the same time, even though they are a year apart.

This may just be my boys, but homework has been a struggle. When they get home, they want to play, but the play never stops without a struggle. They learned that it's best for them to do their homework first, even though they might not want to. I wanted to share a couple ideas I have that I'll try out this year, both of which I've used with some success in cultivating good habits with the boys.

First is breaking down big tasks into smaller chunks. This is really important for my boys because they both have ADHD, and they don't know where to begin when faced with a big task. As a result, they tend to quit early, frustrated. Here's something I did with my oldest son a few years back to help him clean his room:

(Sorry for the poor resolution; I got this from my Instagram feed.) My oldest son resists my helping him, for he wants to do it himself, so I broke the room cleaning into smaller tasks on sticky notes. I put them inside his room, and once he finishes the task, he puts the sticky note on the OUTSIDE of his door. He does not have a perfectly clean room, but in the years since we started this routine, he's been able to manage doing this on his own and has kept his room in a much better condition.

How will this help him in school? When he gets home from school, we'll talk about his homework and discuss short term assignments--what he needs to finish tomorrow--and long term assignments--what is due later. With long term assignments, we'll break it down into "mental sticky notes"--smaller tasks to complete the assignment--and we'll use his planner to map out when he'll complete them. With luck, he will develop this as a habit much like he did with his room cleaning so that when he gets to high school, he will be better able to manage the bigger, long-term assignments.

Next, to help manage the daily tasks we will have a to-do list to complete before playing, which for the boys generally involves some sort of limited screen time (we have a computer and use the parental controls to limit the amount of time  the boys can spend on it, and we have a wii, although until the boys can demonstrate that they can manage their homework during the week, they'll only get the wii on weekends.) This summer I started making lists for my younger son to complete before he could have screen time (my eldest was away at summer camp at the time):

(ETA: Sorry for the notepaper. A local restaurant gives out notepads; I used it for his list.) Here I made a list of what my son needed to do before he got screen time--the list was mine, the illustrations his (heh). 1-5 were daily tasks, ones we'd like to be automatic with him; 6 and 7 tended to change depending on which chore needed to be done that day. By making an actual list my son could actually cross off as he accomplished things, he felt successful and saw when the end was near. Since my younger boy has autism, creating a list gives him particular focus for what he needs to do first. I can see doing this during the school year, maybe with a while board with the daily tasks in permanent ink and the shifting ones in erasable ink. But writing it down so he can cross things off seems to be important.

How will this help him in school? I know the schools use planners. I hope the teachers help students write down their tasks at some point during the class (I know I do that at the high school; it helps all students, not just the ones on the spectrum). When he comes home, we can check his list of assignments and we can make a game plan for completing them before he runs off to play.

Thank you for letting me share some ideas I have that have worked with my boys in helping them manage themselves and their time and their space a little better. We have done other things too--the website habitrpg helps you set goals and rewards you, sort of like you are playing an rpg (role playing game). The experience points you gain really are good habits. In the website, though, you get rewards for doing your daily habits and avoiding bad ones (playing on games for longer than an hour, e.g.). The boys liked using it this summer, and it helped them develop some good habits, or at least to understand that helping out around the house is their role as well as mom and dad's. Making a list--either one that physically gets moved when completed or one that simply gets crossed off--has been the real key. I hope it works as well with schoolwork when the year gets going!

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