October 2, 2012

Stay on Track by Keeping Track

In last week’s blog, we touched on the idea that for all students – and particularly those with executive functioning issues – creating order and organization can go a long way towards helping make school and homework more manageable. In other words, calming the chaos is crucial. This week we are going to focus on calendaring, one of the most useful tools for doing just that.

Good calendaring is like an onion in that it has many layers. As an adult, you probably embrace this concept without even knowing it every time you sync your phone or tablet’s calendar with your computer or input an event into your calendar program and then designate it as work, family or personal. Your student can also make use of this kind of multi-tiered approach to keeping track of his/her multiple responsibilities and deadlines, and there are many means by which to do it. But it is important to note that this is a challenging task for most students and particularly for those with executive functioning and attention issues. Like many tasks, breaking this down into pieces and taking small, successful steps will work better than overwhelming your child (or yourself!) by trying to do it all at once.

Starting with the most global environment, keeping a “public” home calendar is a terrific way of not only keeping your own sanity but also making all members of the family aware of what everyone is doing and when rides and homework help may or may not be available. On this calendar, which works best in a central location in your home and should be erasable (white board calendars are terrific for this), input everything from every child’s afterschool sports to religious school classes to tutoring sessions at Engaging Minds! Also put in doctor and dentist appointments, and PTA and afterhours work meetings. Don’t forget to include social commitments, for both the kids (play dates and birthday parties) and the grown-ups (parties and visits from out-of-town family, for example).

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Then, there is the homework or assignment notebook. Particularly at the middle and high school levels, schools often provide this valuable tool or at least give parents guidelines for what sort of homework notebook they mandate their students have. But even if your child is in the upper elementary grades or attends a school that does not insist on a homework notebook, we highly recommend that your student make use of one; they are readily available at any school supply store and your EM tutor can even help your child make one of his/her own from a plain, lined notebook or on the computer. This planner provides students with a portable, single location to record all homework– be it a one-off math worksheet or the months-long research project on Medicine in the Middle Ages. The usually frenetic pace of a student’s school day might not allow for a full recording of every landmark due date throughout a longer term project, so it is important to help your child remember to take information on hand-outs about a given project and transfer that to the homework notebook and a room calendar.

The next level of calendaring for your student can be a personal and school calendar kept in his/her room, either on the wall (with gravity-defying-ink pen nearby) or of the desk-blotter variety. This approach tends to work better with older students (middle school and above), and it works best in conjunction with the successful use of the homework or assignment notebook. You can help even your older child transfer from the central, family calendar any salient events as a first step. Then add in due dates for long-term projects and any landmark due dates along the way. Seeing these two sets of responsibilities/commitments juxtaposed will be a great jumping off point for planning when your student can make time to do things like go to the library for research, stay after school for extra help or even make more time to see his/her friends.

Finally, there is calendaring for a single assignment. As students rise through the grade levels, research and longer-term projects often become more complex and require not only multiple facets but numerous due dates and landmarks as well. Often teachers don’t have time to check with each and every student to make sure s/he has reached these by a date that reasonably allows for the successful completion of the project, so a single assignment calendar can prove invaluable for keeping track of when things should be completed.

It is noteworthy that many of our students at Engaging Minds (and some of the tutors!) make use of electronic calendars and organization programs for their phones, tablets and computers. This website provides a fairly comprehensive list of the programs that are currently available, in a variety of platforms: (See an iProcrastinate screenshot below.)

This is yet another means of staying organized and on top of the many aspects of a busy student’s life. While calendaring may prove challenging for your student (especially at the beginning), the rewards of greater organization and more control of his/her schedule will help make the ongoing process – and the addition of more layers of calendaring throughout – worthwhile.

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iProcrastinate screenshot