Running on Highways

 

This past weekend I joined a group of moms from Southern California to run a 205-mile relay from San Francisco to Napa, California. The promise of wine-tasting and 48 hours of family-free time was enough to get me to agree to something so crazy.  Our team name was R.I.O.T. Moms, with the acronym for “Running Is Our Therapy” a fitting description for how exercise and outdoor time can rejuvenate even the weariest of parents.

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The past couple of months have reaffirmed my own parenting journey. My husband and I sold our house in the Pacific Northwest, closed up shop on our jobs, and headed south with kids and dog in tow to relocate to the San Francisco Bay Area.  The promise of good weather and time to focus on family was all we needed to make the jump to a new adventure. Throughout this transition, which included my oldest starting kindergarten, my kids have been relying on each other and my husband and I in new ways.  Amidst the uncertainty they often look to mom and dad for stability, and that trust can be both reassuring and draining.  I’ve been practicing some meditation techniques, channeling my inner calm, so when the chaos threatens to take over – one child is crying, another is telling a loud story, the dog is barking, the dinner on the stove boiling over – I can take a deep breath and keep my core calm and regulated.

 

Children feed off our nerves. A child who easily becomes dysregulated is looking for outside sources of strength to bump up against.  Sometimes, this is figurative – needing a calm presence to reflect back to them the way to cope with a situation.  And sometimes they actually ARE bumping into things – crashing into you, into their sibling, hitting walls, or tripping over their own feet – to seek some sort of barrier or boundary to the chaos coursing through them.  How we react – kneeling down, modeling deep breaths and quiet words, giving hugs and pressure squeezes when needed, reflecting their emotions with words and simple phrases – can mean continued shouting and tears, or a de-escalation of the situation.

 

Running a relay takes you on beautiful trails through the woods, winding streets coursing through quaint little towns, and hot, gravely highways with semi-trucks roaring past. I have a hard time on those highways, thinking I have little shoulder to run on, my footing irregular and my temperature rising.  The sound from the trucks can be overwhelming, moving me to frustrated tears if I let it. A dysregulated child feels the same.  Senses on overload, fear of the unknown driving action, uncertainty of how to proceed. For many of our children, being unable to get the train pieces to fit together, or an incessantly itchy tag bothering their neck, is all that is needed to get on that chaotic highway.

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I worked on my meditation techniques during those miles. The face of calm on the inside.  Ironic, since I probably looked a hot mess on the outside.  Breathing, keeping my blood pressure at a steady state.  Visualizing my end goal and the steps to get there.  Using my thoughts and words to channel chaotic emotions.  These all mirror many of the strategies we use with children to help them regulate their bodies. Self-soothing strategies are lifelong lessons we can teach, to deal with frustration, chaos, and situations outside of our control.  Check out more links below to strategies you can use at home…

Avoiding Meltdowns

Self-Soothing Strategies

Behavior Strategies

Anxiety Management

And a big “thank you” to my fellow RIOT Moms, who persevered with me!  205 miles ain’t got nothing on us!

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Homework Tips and Tricks

*Let me just say this.  I am not a big fan of lots of homework.  I think it is redundant and unnecessary for many students, and for others can completely strangle their love of learning.  I think there is a time and place for completing an assignment that couldn’t be completed during the day, or working extra on a long-term project.  But I think our education system in general has gone the wrong way with homework.  Struggling students can spend three hours a day in early elementary school tackling their homework, and their systems are already fatigued from a full day of school.  It is not unusual for the middle school students I work with to spend five hours in the evening completing homework.

That being said, I encourage parents to help their children find a balance. Encourage  quality over quantity, and keep in close communication with teachers to determine what is necessary for your child.  Good teachers understand this balance, and while they can’t change what’s required on state testing, they are usually very willing to work with a student on a bit of balance.

 

After a long school day, it can be difficult for children to sit down and tackle their homework.  Make sure they have eaten a snack and exercised outside, and then use an analogue clock or a Time Timer to allow for short bursts of homework activity.  For early elementary students, try 10-20 minute work sessions; for older students, try 20-30 minute work sessions.  (I always recommend analogue clocks rather than digital clocks to help your student understand the passing of time, rather than just a single moment in time.) The Time Timer is helpful because it shows a countdown of time in bold red, so even preschool students are aware of time passing.

time timer

 

Is your child having trouble sitting in one place for homework?  Make sure they have exercised after coming home.  Then, try a wiggle cushion on their seat, let them stand at the kitchen counter, or sit on an exercise ball.  After holding it together all day at school, their little systems may be fatigued, and sitting still in one place too challenging. 

 

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Decide what the goal of the assignment is.  Posture and core strength are necessary for good handwriting.  If the focus of the assignment is good handwriting, make sure both feet are solidly on the floor, they are sitting upright, and using their non-dominant hand to hold their paper in place.

 Learning Letters Chart

 

If the focus of the assignment is language, ideas, creativity, allow for some body wiggling and poorer handwriting.  Many of my students stand, rock back and forth, and use a wiggle cushion for tactile and vestibular feedback.  I can tell they are focused and attentive when their body is moving and they are helping to regulate their engagement. As we analyze the task, brainstorm and organize ideas, and get a preliminary essay completed, the focus is on their language and the ideas they are generating.  We can go back later and clean up the handwriting during the editing phase of the writing process.

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Homework taps into the executive function skills your child is developing.  For a child who has worked hard holding it together all day at school, this can be a very challenging process.  Focus on completing a few tasks well and enjoy the time you spend with your child.  Allow them to share their work with pride, and encourage them as they progress.

What are some homework tips that have worked with your child? Please share.

Front-Loading and Carousel Brainstorming

Helpful Homework Tips for Writing

During the writing process, there are many obstacles in a child’s way. Handwriting skills may affect how easy it is to jot down ideas. Spelling and syntax difficulties may make sentences confusing.

I have many students who are unable to read their own work because it’s too sloppy, words are misspelled, or sentences don’t make sense.

Add to that the kids who are just unable to get started and get the words out, and the writing process becomes formidable, if not impossible.

Students can often get stuck going in the wrong direction. What can we do at home to support them?

 

The first step to writing is for your child to figure out what they are supposed to do. It’s not as easy as it sounds. What is the teacher asking? What kind of answers are they looking for?

With homework, helping your child get started on the right track can make all the difference. I call this “front-loading” the help.

For many children, especially those with weaker executive functioning skills, this can mean the difference of spending 30 minutes doing the right assignment or 30 minutes working hard to create an incorrect finished assignment.

Many children who struggle with homework need to talk it out or draw it out first. Then, with a little help from parents, they can circle the ideas that apply to the problem, scratch out those that don’t, and create a framework to connect their thoughts.

As you create a brainstorm map, be your child’s recorder (or “computer”, as I like to call it). Write for them, and later your child can use this map to refer to when creating an essay. At school, many teachers use “carousel brainstorming”, where the students are moving around the room talking to other students. This is great for our kids who can use movement to activate learning! To replicate at home, have your child stand up and move one step around the kitchen table or counter for every idea generated.

A word of advice to those parents worried about too much “helicopter” parenting or helping with homework: Pose open-ended questions to your child.

“Why do you think this idea works well with you topic?” while still guiding them in the right direction. Let the learning process occur, but front-load the experience so they head down the right path.

Once you see they are working in the right direction, step back and let them own the process. Walk away from the table, and check back in after 5 or 10 minutes. If they are continuing to answer the question, step back. If not, give them guidance back to the assignment and the question posed by the teacher.

Remember, the goal is the learning process that occurs in creating a finished product, not necessarily the product itself. When the homework is finished, briefly talk about the steps that had to occur to get to the end result, then give a hug and a break.

 

 

 

 

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Making a plan for writing

For a child to learn to express themselves with written language, they have to master several complex skills to transfer their thoughts and ideas to grammatically correct, cohesive sentences.  Along with synthesizing the motor aspect of writing, expressing language in written form is one of the most complex tasks your child will master.

In order to write, and write well, a child must :

  1. Make a plan for what they want to write
  2. Organize their thoughts in a logical manner
  3. Transfer those ideas to connected text
  4. Re-evaluate what they have written
  5. Make any changes
  6. Re-write for a  final product

Whew!  Sounds like a pretty complicated process, right?  And kids begin doing this in kindergarten and first grade?  And by fourth grade are required to have a level of mastery making them capable of interpreting school text and applying their analysis to written form? 

Continue reading

Homework Helpers

I am a big fan of analogue clocks because they show the passage of time, rather than a single point in time like a digital clock.  I encourage my students to wear analogue watches, and I utilize analogue clocks and timers during therapy sessions.  Even my toddler has responded well to a timer to understand how many minutes are left to play before dinner, like the Time Timer shown above (http://www.timetimer.com/).  I just found out there’s an app for the iPhone with a Time Timer on it!  I’ll have to check it out…

For kids struggling with transitions, like finishing playtime before bathtime, completing piano practice, or working on homework assignments, the clock can give them a visual countdown of how much time is left.

*One more note, the homework chart above has a “To Do” side and a “Done!” side.  The pictures help a child who needs visual reinforcement to stay on task.  The pictures have velcro on the back, so the child can manipulate their own list.  Once they complete their homework tasks (or chores, etc.) they can have free time or toy time.  I usually let the kids decide the order of tasks and create their own “To Do” list.  Here’s another example: