Managing Paper Flow and Time

Executive Dysfunction is a set of skills seated in the frontal lobe of the brain.  It includes skills such as sequencing, planning, and organizing.  Many children with ADHD have developmental delays in this area. But ADHD or no ADHD, organization is not an innate skill; it must be taught. Consider yourself your child’s organizational consultant. Your child should be engaged in the process, so include them every step of the way.  Expect them to be inconsistent-organized in some areas or on some days, and chaotic in others. This does not mean they are lazy.  Punishment will not help.  The following are some ideas to assist them with skill-building.

Paper Flow:

  • Ask your child if a backpack with one large main compartment and one smaller compartment works best for them.  Or they might prefer a backpack with multiple zippers to organize their lunch, iPod, pencils, snacks, etc. Be wary of papers getting “lost” in a tiny zippered compartment. The backpack is a personal preference.
  • Some teachers set up the class with binders, dividers, notebooks, folders.  In middle school, each teacher may have a different system.  The teachers are usually flexible about adapting the system to your child’s needs.  If a system isn’t working, intervene sooner rather than later.
  • Keep all vital supplies self-contained in one large 3 ring binder.  Use a binder with a zipper.  Buy a ruler with 3 holes, and pencil case with 3 holes, to keep in binder. Purchase color-coded 3-hole folders for each subject.  Let your child choose what color is associated with what subject.  You might suggest some natural associations, such as green for science.   Buy a daily homework planner with 3 holes so that can stay in the binder too. If your school supplies a planner, keep it in a zippered folder in the binder.  Now your child just has to remember to bring home one binder.
  • Instead of 1 folder per subject, your child might work better with 3 clear plastic folders: “Homework To Do”  “Homework Done” “Communication”.  The latter is for permission slips, notes to parents, newsletters, etc.  Transparent folders help your child see if there’s any done homework to be handed in.
  • Clean out backpacks every Friday with your child.  You’ll find loose clips, change, food, wrappers.  Clean out binders every Friday. Store “done” work in a desktop file, drawer, or crate. Match the colors to the color coded folders.   Artwork can be stored in an under-bed box.  They will eventually “own” the process and do it independently.
  • Create two checklists: A Before School (AM) checklist: coat, hat, gym clothes, shoes, lunch, book bag with homework in it, bus pass, lunch money, etc.  Have your child go through this checklist before bedtime, so everything is waiting and ready to go in the morning.  Have a designated area near the door.  Install hooks or shelves if you can.  The After School or PM checklist:  Before I leave school to get on the bus, do I have my: book bag, coat, hat, instrument, books I need to do my homework. Help your child decide when to look at the checklist (preferably before they walk outside the classroom).  Decide where to tape the checklist, such as inside their planner, or on the back of their bus pass.
  • Request an extra set of textbooks to keep at home.  Some texts are available online or on CD.  If this accommodation is on an IEP, you should not have to pay for the extra texts.
  • For younger children, ask the teacher to check and initial that homework is accurately recorded in the daily planner. If your school posts homework on the internet, use it to double check the accuracy of the planner, but don’t allow your child to rely on the internet exclusively. Older kids may find it easier (and “cooler”) to use a PDA.  You might ask their teachers to fax or email homework.
  • Designate a homework buddy. This should be someone in your child’s class who has a fax machine, who can send homework if your child is sick or has forgotten an item.  If they have a Xerox machine too, they can copy and then fax a page out of a textbook that can’t be ripped out.  For middle schoolers, you may need more than 1 homework buddy to match your child’s schedule.
  • An inexpensive desktop copier/fax is a great investment.  Xerox all signed permission slips you send back with your child.

If your child rejects your organization efforts, let him suffer the natural consequences, but do not use punishment.  If they lose a music CD, don’t run out to replace it.  Don’t deliver homework left in the computer printer to the school office.

Set small achievable goals: e.g. I will accurately write homework in my planner for 3 consecutive days.  Offer a small reward.  When they easily and consistently meet this goal, up the ante, e.g., I will accurately write homework in my planner AND bring home the corresponding books I need to do my homework for 3 consecutive days.

If the goal is consistently not met, your child has not failed, the strategies have failed. Continue to brainstormwith your child.   Adapt strategies to their environment (e.g., due to schedule change, child is not conveniently near his locker last period of the day).

Managing Time

Sequencing, planning, and understanding the passage of time is a learned skill.  Analog clocks, as opposed to digital, show how time “moves.”

  • Use a kitchen timer for countdowns.  This helps visualize the passage of time.  An added benefit is that when “Ten minutes are up” its harder to argue with a timer than with a parent.  Use it to give the 5 or 10-minute warning for departure on hectic school mornings.
  • Post a weekly calendar in a conspicuous place. A monthly calendar may be information overload. A dry erase calendar works well.  Include your child’s after-school activities, sports games, and due date of long-term projects, tests, or quizzes.  You may want to color-code activities. Review the upcoming week on Sunday nights with your child.  Have your child cross off items as they’re completed.  The calendar offers a multi-sensory learning opportunity: it’s a visual record, writing and crossing off is tactile, and talking about upcoming events is auditory.
  • Have your child wear a watch. The alarm can be set for important reminders, like going to the school nurse.
  • Review the homework planner nightly with your child.  Help your child prioritize that night’s assignments, and help him understand that for Friday’s quiz he will have to study on Wed. night if he has a baseball game on Thursday.  Have him write “study” in Wednesday’s time slot. Cross off items as they are completed.

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