Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Preparing for Back to School

I want to thank you all for your supportive comments regarding my previous post about autism.  It's great to be able to connect with and uplift each other - Thanks.  Now onto today's post..

My kids go back to school on Monday.  Yikes!  Where has this summer gone?

This year my oldest will be in Middle School.  I'd say I can't believe it, but I can.  He's just as tall as me now, and I'm not short at 5'6".  So yeah, I can totally believe he's going into Middle School.

Before school starts, there are some preparations that need to be made.

1.  Get used to waking up early

Usually the week before school starts, I wake the kids up at the time they'd need to get up to get ready for school.  That means waking my daughter up at 7am and my son up at 6am.  Not this summer.  They've been waking up early on their own.  They've actually gotten into a good routine of waking up, getting dressed and watching TV.  This early in the morning I only let them watch PBS shows like Curious George since my 3 year old is usually up that early too.  Sometimes they even make their own breakfast.  I think this is great because it allows me to sleep in.  By the time I get myself ready it's usually around 7-8am and I come down to get breakfast going and start on the days chores / activities.

2.  Back to school shopping for school supplies and clothes

My kids get lots of hand me downs and clothes from garage sales, so we haven't had to buy a new back to school wardrobe.  We just go through the clothes they have, plus the bin of  'too big' clothes I've saved to see what fits.  I usually have the kids try on a few items so I know what's too small then I use that too small shirt or pants to 'measure' the rest of their clothing.  That way they don't have to try on everything.  This is a great time to sell or donate the unwanted clothing and to reorganize their drawers and closets.

As far as buying school supplies, they get a list from their school or teacher.  We see what we have around the house that's on the list and what we don't have, we buy during one of our regular grocery trips.  We've been lucky to find gently used backpacks at garage sales too so we have a couple on hand to use throughout the year.  My daughter likes to change backpacks about halfway through the year (guess she gets bored of the same one), and my son usually rips through one so we need a spare.  Some goes with lunch boxes.

3.  Meet the Teacher Open House

Because of my son's autism, he has difficulty with crowds and new situations.  We request to meet his teacher one on one before school starts.  This helps him to feel more comfortable and he's able to ask questions he might be too shy to ask with others around.  Our schools also have an open house right before school starts for all the kids to meet their teachers.  We also attend that so we can see which friends will be in his class, but those events are still uncomfortable for him and he tends not to mingle. 

4.  Grocery shopping for school lunches and after school snacks

My kids get bored of having the same thing for lunch and snack everyday, so I like to buy a variety of food and snacks for them to choose from.  I need to make sure I have enough on hand to pack 10 lunches a week plus after school snacks.  I like to have extra since my 3 year old wants to eat what her older siblings eat.  Sometimes I'll even pack her a lunch since she see me packing the other kids' lunches and wants one.

5.  Set up a Homework Area

We typically use the dining room table or kitchen island.  Everyday before the kids come home from school I make sure it's clear and school supplies are nearby such as pencils and erasures.

And speaking of homework, I know it's not always fun.
Here are some tips from a previous post for turning Homework Struggles into Homework Success

Turn Homework Struggles Into Homework Success

What kid really wants to do homework anyway?  By making the homework routine easier for our children, we are also making our life easier, and our homes more peaceful.

The most important thing is to get into a routine.  A routine of when, where and how you expect your kids to do their homework.

WHEN to do homework?  
What time to start, should there be a break before, and when to end?

- Some kids need a break between coming home from school and starting homework.  Decide what that break consists of.  Is it just a snack, or will they get to play with friends, or video games for 30 minutes before starting their homework?  Whatever it is, make sure your child knows what time homework starts.  Try to be consistent with this so they will get in the habit of sitting down to do their homework.

- Some kids have difficulty with transitions. This is true of many kids on the autism spectrum.  So getting some play time and then having to settle into homework mode might not work for these kids.  Try talking to them about their day when they come home, then have them eat a snack at the table while you set out their homework for them.  Then go right into homework.  Since they are already at the table to eat, they don't need to move to do homework (that is assuming your homework spot is at the table)

- Some kids have sat still all day long and need to expend some energy before sitting down to focus on homework.  Activities that involve their whole body such as running, jumping, playing catch or tag will be helpful to settle these children down.  Once all their 'wiggles' are out, they will have an easier time of concentrating on their homework.  We have an small trampoline we keep indoors for anytime the kids need to burn off extra energy.

-Along with setting a time to start homework, it might be helpful to set a time to end homework.  This is especially helpful if you have a child that day dreams or fools around instead of doing their work.  Let them know that they have 1 hour (or whatever time) to complete their work.  After that homework time is over and they get the grade they get.  Your child should learn responsibility for their work or lack there of.  Most teachers agree that homework should take 10 minutes per grade.  So my 5th grader's homework should take him 50 minutes.  If it takes longer it's usually because they are throwing a fit about doing it, or they don't understand the work.   If they don't understand the work, consult the teacher.  If they are avoiding the work (day dreaming, throwing temper tantrums, endless whining and complaining....) keep your sanity and just end the homework.  It's a horrible day for everyone if your child is throwing a fit about doing homework and you're hounding them to get it done.  It can go on for hours and hours.  Restore peace in the home by closing the books and saying you're done.  I even tell my kids that I'll write a note explaining to the teacher that they weren't able to get it done.  I've even had to put the ripped up homework in a baggie and send it back to school with a note saying how frustrated this assignment made my child.

- I understand things can be hectic in the evenings with after school activities, but try to be as consistent as possible so your child knows what is expected.  If you can't have the same routine each day, have the same routine each week (for example Mon, Wed, homework starts at 4:30, but Tues, and Thurs, it starts at 6:30 because of sports)

WHERE to do homework?
Limit distractions, use non traditional homework settings if needed.

-Just like you should be consistent with when you start homework, you should be consistent with where you child does their homework.  That being said, if a certain spot isn't working, you may need to move around till you find a spot that does.

-Ideally the place where a child does homework should be quite and free of distractions.  Do you have one of these spots in your home, because I don't.  A quite place would be in my kid's bedroom, but there are plenty of toys there to distract them from doing homework.  So if you're like me and don't have an empty sound proof room, you'll have to make your house work for you.   Designate a spot for doing homework such as the dining room table or kitchen island.  Make sure all needed supplies are handy and other siblings leave them alone.  Turn off the tv or any other distracting noises.  I usually have my kids do their homework at the kitchen island and my youngest watches a movie in the office with the doors closed.  That way I am with my school age kids to answer questions, and help keep them on task with their homework.  And since I'm in the kitchen getting dinner started that spot works for us.  Yes, there are noises and distractions, but we try to make it work.  Sometimes that means the kids take shifts doing homework if they can't work in the same room together (you know who sibling rivalry can be).

-If you child is easily distracted by what's around them, they could wear ear plugs or listen to music (as long as that's not distracting)

-If your child is fidgety have them sit on a ball instead of a chair, or on an air cushion such as the fit disc.

-Other non traditional homework settings include standing and working at an easel, laying on the floor, laying on one of those big exercise balls, or laying on their back writing on the underside of a desk.

HOW to do homework?
Break it down, work alone or with help, keep focused.

-Some kids (like my son) need lots of motivation to get their homework done.  So after every subject, he gets a break.  Even though he has trouble with transitions, this break between subjects has worked well.  He doesn't feel overwhelmed by having to do it all at once.  He usually has 3 subjects a night to do (plus reading which he does at bedtime).  So after the first subject he plays a video game for 10 minute, pauses it and then comes back to do the second subject.  It's amazing how fast he can get some subjects done because he really wants to go back to his video game.  Once you find the motivator for your child, a reward system like this works great.  Other reward systems could be stickers, or tokens, or just getting play time once all their homework is complete for the day.

- Younger kids will need more help which will require you to be there with them to explain what needs to be done.  Make sure you give your kids the time and attention they need from you if they need your help in getting their homework done.  Be prepared to stay off the computer and don't take phone calls so you child knows school work is important.

-While some kids need to have someone there to help them, others don't need help, it's not that they can't do it on their own, they just want some company or reassurance.  So sitting next to them (reading a magazine or something, not hovering) or just being in the same room can help.  I have my kids do their work in the kitchen while I'm making dinner so I'm available for questions but also not looking over their shoulder the whole time.

-Some kids need some form of stimulus to keep one part of their brain occupied so they focus on homework.  Chewing gum or eating something crunchy might fill this need.   Fidgets for hands or mouths can also be used.    This type of sensory stimulation could also be used as a break in between subjects.

-Some kids will throw a fit to get attention and avoid doing the work.  If this is the case, walking away and ignoring the situation may be the best thing.  With no audience to whine to, they just might stop and start their homework.  We've learned to use this approach with my son.  As long as he understands the assignment, is capable of doing the work, and has a reward for its completion, this works well for us.  For now anyway.

-Kids change and what works one school year, or month, may not work the next.  You have to be flexible and willing to try something different if what has worked in the past is no longer working.  Talking with the school and seeing what works in the classroom is another resource.  That way you can be consistent with home and school work.

Every child is different and what works for one child may not work for another.  I hope with all of these suggestions, you are able to find something helpful so you can keep your sanity while helping your child do their homework.   The most important thing is to do what works for you and make a routine out of it.

For additional resources and to see where I got some of my ideas, you can check out:

How do you prepare for going back to school?


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