Preparing for a Good School Year

The first days of school are often daunting for children with learning differences. They have been out of a school routine all summer — no getting up early, no having homework to do, and maybe no AD/HD medicine. Unlike where I grew up, much of the country’s students are starting school in mid-August, so now is the time to start re-establishing the school routine, even the medicine.

Vampires beware…

Getting back into a good sleep routine is very tough on kids, especially teenagers. Their body chemistry tells these adolescent bundles of energy that their best hours are late night hours. Being up late and sleeping in is a natural part of their development, but it is not a natural part of how the world around them works. It will take a few weeks for these kids to establish any routine, so get them pulling their clock back now.

Start giving them morning tasks — reading, writing to friends/family, doing housework, practicing math — so that they have a reason to be up. Setting up a written schedule and posting it will help, and, yes, there should be consequences for not following through. My kids have summer reading to do, so we made a calendar in order for them to be able to finish on time. Otherwise we would be up all night the day before school started.

A few years ago, Frontline did a whole story on this. Check it out here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/teenbrain/from/ or watch the video here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/film/inside-the-teenage-brain/

Stress-free new routines

“[I]f students are stressed out, the information cannot get in. This is a matter of science” — Judy Willis, MD

Now is also the time to try and add something new to your child becoming more independent. If you wait until all of the stress of the school year has started, it will be very difficult to achieve. For instance, now is a good time to teach your child to be more in charge of his or her medicine. Now is also a good time to work on things like planning snacks and lunches or prepping clothes or belongings the night before. Maybe start those 1 hour meetings to talk about what they are reading or what they are hoping to do when they grow up, or perhaps you can do puzzles or play music together. Once school starts, this becomes time to help support them with homework — it will already be part of everyone’s routine.

Organizational tools

School supplies are on sale, so head on over to Target or Walmart and get things organized! I strongly recommend for both Middle and High schoolers a simple two notebook system, no matter what the school says. One notebook should be for morning and one for afternoon. Each class should have its own set of dividers — notes/handouts, homework, test/quizzes, other — and your student will need help practicing how to use them. Also, having that TO DO/DONE pocket at the front of each notebook is super handy. My son used a separate homework folder, but then kept losing the folder. My theory here is that fewer pieces = greater success at not losing items. Being able to get this to work may entail speaking to a teacher who thinks their class needs a separate binder with different labels. Hopefully the teacher can help here by being less particular.

And, in the end…

Remember, any disruption to your child’s current way of being is going to create lash-back. Hang in there and insist on the new routine as best you can. Get your child’s input from the get-go in order to get more buy in. Being encouraging and supportive while still insisting on a plan is the way to make progress.

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