Keeping Up

Sometimes we get exasperated with our students and our children because they don’t innately understand organization and time. There are brain differences, both in structure and in neurochemistry, that contribute to these deficits. These are part of our executive skills, our ability to understand and determine our priorities and to set out plans of action for achieving these goals–and the ability to marshall the motivation to complete the plan so we achieve what we set out to do. Time and organization are two nebulous concepts for those who face executive skill challenges.

Children who don’t know how to achieve within time frames need help. Just plopping an organizer on the desk is not enough help. What are they supposed to put in it? How are they or we to know that what they put in it is accurate? How is this child going to follow what is in the organizer? I can tell you that even though I am an adult (WAAAAAY past youth), I still forget to check the organizer for meetings, events, notes, etc. It is NOT an automatic given that possession of an organizer means one is organized and efficient in time management. That is a learned skill for most of us, and if we have an IEP for academic learning, we need to remember that the conditions requiring an IEP mean we should deal with other learning in much the same way.

So, how to teach time management? A minute at a time. (And there are 60 of those in an hour, so don’t resent the required repetition here). Go over the organizer with the student. Explain why we use them. Explain that it’s not a weakness to need one–it’s the fact that all our lives we are busy and when we become the child’s age and older, there are too many details to expect to remember everything without prompts or reminders. All people with significant jobs use organizers/planners. The presidents and rulers of the world use them. It’s only democratic that we can, too.

Don’t let the student grind on and on about “weakness” or “nerdy-ness” on this point. It’s a life skill to know what must be done and when. Period. End of discussion. “Here’s how you can make this most useful for yourself.” Or, “Let’s look at this and see how it will help you do everything you want to do without missing anything.”

How many times will prompts and reminders to check the organizer be required? As many as it takes. I always tied this activity with something else my children would NEVER forget to do–like eating. Come home from school, grab the snack, go over the organizer quickly and put it back in the backpack for use when doing homework later. Just that small peek is significantly important toward developing the habit of using an organizer.

IEP/504 it if that’s required. Get school staff to actively support your child’s efforts to learn to use an organizer effectively. Some schools issue their own organizers to their students; others act like its an intrusion to ask someone to verify that your child actually got the assignment written down somewhere, never mind if it’s accurately copied. Support at school and home gives your child consistency and stability.

Organization–everybody has a different idea of what that is. Here’s mine: We understand our world in chunks–a set of activities that pertain to preparing a meal, activities for homework, activities for cleaning a room, etc. Organization is going through our days knowing what we will be doing and being prepared with materials and time to do everything efficiently and as needed. Newbies need help to do this–and not just an organizer. Some people need to have life explained. Chunk–get out of bed, bathe, comb hair, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, grab bookbag, go out the door–this is getting ready for school. Chunk–preparing lunch the night before and putting it in the right places until it goes into bookbag. Chunk–homework, including getting all papers and books back into bookbag. Wise parents will talk about these chunks and make them visual with charts for those learning the chunks. Older students need that talk about how much time each chunk really takes–and how to put that time into the organizer for good time management.

Children with learning deficits often feel overwhelmed by the demands of homework, after school activities, family activities. Watch your child, talk with your child. Setting up the child’s organizer is a good time to talk about how to be only busy enough that one is tired in the evening–not exhausted–and how to plan in some time for just being a kid who has time to watch a bug climb a blade of grass, chase a butterfly, or try to cook an egg on a hot sidewalk. The time-stressed child learns less effectively than the one who is relaxed. There is time enough in life to be a busy person, but there are only a few precious years when acting like a child will be tolerated. We must allow at least some of that time to be used that way rather than generating complicated schedules where no minute is free for anything except going from one planned activity to another. In this conversation about use of time, listen to the child. Like us, he can only live each minute once–let it be good! Then when it’s time for school work, he’s refreshed and able to focus better.

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