COUNTDOWN TO SCHOOL KICKOFF

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Retail & wholesale advertising suggests the new school year kickoff is just days away with limited time remaining to make those last minute purchases of backpacks, binders, pens, pencils and all the various fresh new supplies. I know as child I loved the look and smell of those neatly arranged colorful crayons in my very own Crayola box. A new first day of school outfit always got my children excited for their first day on which they woke early and dressed without nagging, slipped their well stocked heavy backpacks on without complaint and traipsed happily off to the school bus in their spanking new sneakers.

By the end of the first week, enthusiasm began to diminish exponentially in the weeks that followed. The alarm rang too early, the backpacks were too heavy, the lunches “sucked” and the bus ride made them nauseous.

I believe one root to the declining attitude is routine, what kids often refer to as BORING.  7 AM alarm, bus, school, home, snack, homework, dinner, showers, bed. All to begin again the next day. So what can we parents and educators do as partners to keep the enthusiasm alive?While every day cannot be the first with all the fresh new supplies and the excitement of new teachers, we can try to help prevent the boredom associated with routine.

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Here are my 5 tips to happy school days.

  1. Set Goals. Ask your children to set 3 goals for themselves (one academic, one social and one athletic) to be achieved in the first quarter of the year (approx. 10 weeks). Mark the date of the end of the first quarter on your calendar, so they can see the end in site. These goals need to be realistic but challenging. While working toward straight A’s may be unrealistic, improving grades from the previous year in just one subject may be quite doable. Just as joining a social club may not fit every personality, finding one new friend may be just right for another. And while everyone is not athletically gifted, everyone can add one form of physical exercise to their daily activities. Think about these goals with your children and how each one might be achieved. Have them write these goals down, seal them in an envelope and tape the envelope to the inside of the their binders as a reminder. At the end of the quarter open that envelope. See how well they did and set new goals for the next quarter.
  2. Refresh supplies & save work.
    Every week or two, clean out those backpacks stuffed with loose papers, gum wrappers and broken pencils. Discard the unnecessary clutter. Replace those once beautiful crayons with a fresh box and those pencil stubs with new ones. Give your child a fresh clean folder to save favorite work and a special place to keep it.
  3. Change up the morning routine. At home try breakfast in bed, or special breakfast 4ibogkpbtday, a surprise sleep in a bit longer day and drive the kids to school. At school plan special days: pajama day, dress as book character day, inside out day, riddle days with solutions revealed at lunchtime.
  4. Change up the after school routine. Think about after school special treats: ice cream, bowling, skating, library visit, movies, etc. Make it a surprise or something to look forward to. Whatever will keep your child excited.
  5. Reward! Discuss what’s being done to help achieve those goals. Reward even the smallest steps forward. Reminder: There is nothing children want more than to please their parents and to be loved unconditionally. Recognize the challenge of achieving their goals and show them your pride in their efforts.
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“Weather” to Educate!

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Baltimore County students began their first week of school on August 24. Many smiling faces headed out doors that day. Children with freshly cut hair, new shoes and school supplies stuffed in backpacks hanging from their shoulders headed off excited to start the school year, meet their teachers and reconnect with old friends.  Even the many reluctant tweens and teens were quietly enthusiastic.

Teachers know the first days of school set the mood for the year to come, and rested, energized and stoked with new ideas to share, they generally greet students with matching excitement.

That rosy picture, however, soon dulled in the schools where under the new Baltimore County ruling schools without air-conditioning must not open or must close early on days where the heat index reached over 90 degrees. As a result many schools were forced to close for 2 of the first 5 days, and the next was a repeat performance.

We all know consistency is essential to learning. How much learning can we expect if a teacher can’t fully relay lessons plans without interruptions? And how long can that anticipated enthusiasm last when children are home, many alone, with new supplies still stuffed in their backpacks.

While heat is a problem, I am certain there are better methods for dealing with these conditions than closing schools and leaving children under educated and often home alone with idle hands.   Already the superintendent is speaking of asking for a waiver of make-up days and we haven’t even begun to see the possible winter weather closures or the June heat closures. Are we sacrificing our children’s educations to weather conditions? This is 2016 in the most developed nation in the world. Can we not find a better solution than neglect?

Children need to be in school, learning, exploring, sharing with friends. I am not an engineer. But I am certain large fans, possible portable air conditioners and jugs of cool water could help relieve the heat conditions in the classroom enough to make it comfortable for learning. I encourage parents to join with their PTA’s and work together to change this unacceptable ruling that is sacrificing our children’s education.

 

JAKE PULLMAN & THE MAGICAL TIMER

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With an organization plan set in place, and time management under control, Jake and I embark on my third and final element to success – focus time.

By now I have learned that reading is most fatiguing for Jake. And because it is slow and arduous, his attention drifts easily. While his parents are complaining of the number of hours spent on homework, I can see the number of hours lost fruitlessly staring at pages while his thoughts are somewhere else. What we need is a new plan, something I never run short of.

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Today when Jake I met I suggested we begin by reviewing the night’s reading assignment, quickly scanning the first 20 pages of Gary Paulsen’s novel Hatchet. Then while setting my stop watch, I asked Jake to read only until he felt his attention drift. After ten minutes, I saw his eyes lift from the book and follow a squirrel running through the yard.

“Stop,” I told him and slipped the book from his hands. When I saw he had read only seven pages, I knew there was room for improvement, but I was pleased, when checking, to find his comprehension was good.

“Okay, this is great,” I told him, but his raised eye brows spoke doubt of my encouragement. “No really, it’s really good. You can finish this assignment in only 20 more minutes if we break it up into two more reading segments. In between, you can have a snack, shoot some baskets, or play an active game, just no video games or texting.”

He welcomed the plan, but added, “My parents will never buy this.” They like many parents, want him sit until all his work is done.

I understood this concept. I was raised on it and have heard the same complaint from too many of my students. But if I could show the Pullmans that Jake would be done with his work at a reasonable hour following this plan, I was hopeful they’d buy into it as so many other parents have.

There’s something magical about working with a timer. It helps keep students focused and even when they drift, it’s only to check the timer, which with it’s diminishing count down, always reinforces the return to the task. With Jake it was no different. He was able to complete the reading with relative ease and maybe even some enjoyment.

As we continue to work together in the next few weeks, we’ll begin to adjust the timer upward until Jake reaches an age appropriate attention level. Because I like to encourage student decision making, in the future I ‘ll always ask Jake to decide the number of reading segments and number of minutes to set on the timer.  I’ve found the the beauty of this method is students like to challenge themselves increasing their focus time  without much if any encouragement from me. Here’s hoping Jake follows the pattern.

 

Note: All characters are fictitious and resemblance to anyone is purely coincidental. 

The Best Way to Change Parenting Guilt to Responsibility

As an educator and family coach I have met with too many teary eyed and angry parents struggling to accept their child’s challenges. This  guilt can often over power responsible action. As I tell all parents: It is not  your job to make the perfect child; it is your responsibility to help them be the best they can be and to love them unconditionally. Today I am sharing a guest post from a  wise ADHD coach offering the essential tools to conquer the help guilt and move forward responsibly.

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#4 Ways to Mold Parenting GUILT into Parenting Responsibility

By Judy A. MacNamee; ADHD Coach

The American Heritage Dictionary defines parenting as: “The rearing of a child or children, especially the care, love, and guidance given by a parent” However, Morrison, (Chas E Merrill, 1978.), adds that parenting is “the process of developing and utilizing the knowledge and skills appropriate to planning for, creating, giving birth to, rearing and/or providing care for offspring”.   I see it as a combination of both, inclusive of love and guidance coupled with knowledge and skills.

Yet, this perfectly cornered definition or any other one that you may have in your mind can be smothered often by parental guilt; guilt for not being there enough, guilt for yelling, guilt for divorce and guilt for working two jobs.  You know…that list goes on and on because if a family, albeit it one or two or more parents, have a child with behavior and/or learning difficulties, it must be someone’s fault!

If you are taking time to read this, chances are “guilt” has engulfed you within its web.  Unfortunately, the ramifications of guilt’s emotional grip don’t always end there.  It may come and go initially, but the longer it continues to return the more chronic and even obsessive it can become.  Self-blame can also rear itself in forms of enabling, misdirected blaming, anxiety and constant battles with yourself and your family.

As an ADHD Coach, I have witnessed parents’ feelings and expectations resonate within their child. The child may take on ownership of this guilt (no matter where it may stem from) and personalize their inability to meet those “perfect” expectations expressed or even internalized.

Lying and lack of motivation are often behaviors seen in teen clients as they struggle to avoid hurting mom or dad.  Children may then avoid their own feelings and struggles complicating the parenting issue even more.

Enough discussion of the deep black hole of guilt, let’s look to opportunity and what steps a parent can take to look through a healthier lens and realize that there will be no perfect child?  I am presenting four (#4) steps that you can begin today or even right now to begin down that road of change.

First, as a parent, we need to take some self-reflection and begin to rid of those limited beliefs.  Listen to “your” story.  Does it include the word “should” within the web of guilt?  Let’s change the wording from “should” to “want” or an “opportunity to have.”  Change the story you are telling yourself and reflect on that.  Pause; look at the patterns that may have developed and what is one small step you can take today, to change it.  Journaling will strengthen that, as well.

Secondly, look back at our original definition of parenting. “-process of developing and utilizing the knowledge and skills appropriate…”  Parenting IS a skilled process!  Just like your child didn’t come out of the womb with organizational skills, you didn’t evolve into adulthood with the skills needed to parent your family.  If you feel that you need more skills; think of it as a continuation education of the parenting kind, then look to invest in counseling, parenting workshops or other community groups that can provide situational skills.  You will get better and better and when you begin to see results, the family dynamics will change too.

Thirdly, focus on the process, not the result.  Parenting is not a competitive event where scores are kept to see who wins.  I know, there are those out there who do like to keep score, aren’t there?  It is a life-long process and it’s that we must keep in sight.  Try to move your focus from the goal(s) to the love, care and guidance and embrace each moment.

Lastly, don’t do it alone.  Find a friend for support.  Join a Facebook Community Support or Parenting Support Group.  You are changing possibly years of engrained habits and feelings that will take time and you will want that support from others, just as you can support them.

Parents always say the years go by so quickly.  Focus on one day at a time and realize you are the best you can be.  Take the responsibility for the love, the caring, the energy put in to the process and enjoy the ride!

Judy MacNamee is a former educator and founder of ADHD CoachConnect, in Columbus, OH and can be reached at www.adhdcoachconnect.com where you can sign up to receive her monthly newsletter. You can also follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AdhdCoachconnect

 

Boarding School for Jake?

By Barbara Schilling Hurwitz  the author of the adventure novel, PANDU, now available for a sneak peak inside at Amazon.com

 

 

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Chapter 7

Obstacles to Progress

Progress is an uphill road with obstacles always cropping up to challenge success. Beware, be ready as a parent, coach, tutor, the Jake Pullman’s in your life do stumble. Bad habits are hard to break and new behaviors may be more resistant to form.

DON’T GIVE UP!

I reminded myself of this when I received the email from Jake’s Language Arts teacher. She began in a formal letter addressed to me, his parents and the school principal, “I am concerned about Jake’s lack of progress and his ultimate ability to pass 5th grade Language Arts.”

Oy, my heart sank. I knew the phone would be ringing, and I wasn’t ready to address Jake’s mom when the phone call came.

“Yes, I got the email. No, I was not aware that he had failed the unit grammar test, the latest literature comprehension quiz and had not yet submitted the essay due last week. I wanted to settle her angst, but this was her son and she was rightfully upset, but just possibly for the wrong reasons.

Why was this happening? Could Jake be over programmed, unable to commit his effort to school when his only commitment was to atheletics where he was rewarded with high praise for his achievement, where he spent positive time with his dad? Was she angry with me because I didn’t yet make the problems go away.

“My husband is ready to fire you!” But she was not ready to quit. The past few weeks had been so much happier. “The family wasn’t fighting. No,they had not yet had their family dinner, but that was because…. ” I saw she was prone to excuses too.

“This is not a magic,” I told her. “It takes time and great effort to change patterns of behavior. That only happens with consistent support. Yes, Jake fell off the wagon, but he can get back on. Things will turn around, but the key here is patience.” (Another one of my mantras.)

When I met with Jake that afternoon, he was not his usual smiling self. With his head hanging down he answered the door and mumbled a few words, “sorry….disappoint…” It sounded like a rehearsed apology. I let it pass and trotting off to the kitchen said, “We’ve got work to do. Let’s get started.”

The homework folder with the attached assignment sheet was just as we had left it. Nothing new added and the folder was empty. “What happened?” I asked shaking out the empty folder. Jake just shrugged, but I smiled. “Well, there’s progress. No excuses.” I stifled my laughter  recognizing the grasp for any positive signs rising from this abyss.  “Okay, Jake. You tried your way to be successful,  it didn’t work.  Then I came in and we changed to my plan, and we can see that’s not working so well either. What do you think we should do now?”

He shrugged again. I tore a piece of paper from my note pad and handed him a pencil. I looked at my watch. “Okay, 5 minutes, let’s see how many ideas we each can come up with to turn this situation around. I set the timer on my watch and counted down. “5-4-3-2-1, write.” I felt his eyes following my pencil while his body remained motionless. At least a minute passed before he picked up the pencil and began to write.

When the timer beeped, our eyes met for the first time that day. I smiled. “So what do you have there?”

Jake bashfully covered his words and said, “Nothing.”

“Nothing? It took a lot of time for you to write nothing. Okay, I’ll go first. Number one, drop one basketball team.”

He shook his head about to cry. “That’s the only thing I do good.”

Well, I couldn’t help silently correcting, but instead I said, “Maybe so, but it doesn’t have to be that way. How did you get so good at basketball? Were you innately talented and intuitive or have you worked to build your skills?”

He shrugged.

“Your turn. Give me one idea. It’s just between us. No one’s listening.”

Jake stuck his head in the paper as if legally blind. “I could go to boarding school.”

He was not the first student to have suggested that option, words mimicked right out of the mouths of an angry parents, but it still made me squirm inside. I raised my brow and nodded. “Yup, I guess that is an option, but will that change your work habits?”

“I don’t know, but my parents’ll be happy to be rid of me.”

Hmm, I nodded and said, “My turn. Set up a regular after school study time at school with a teacher or student advisor.”

“I take the bus, so I couldn’t do that.”

“Is that a flat out rejection or just an excuse? Because I could arrange the transportation.”

He answered with only another shrug.

“What’s your next idea?”

“I don’t know. This whole thing’s stupid. I hate school. I’m only there because I have to be there, and as soon as I’m 16 I’m going to quit.”

Whoa, that was really unexpected. “What are you going to do then, Jake?”

“Move out. Make everyone in this house happy.”

“Okay, well until then, we’ve got 6 years to fill. I’m hoping we can use them advantageously. I want to come see you play basketball with the big leagues some day, but I’m guessing you’ll need at least we high school education to get there. So can we try to make the best of this time and work together?”

I didn’t want to hear any more of Jake’s suggestions as I knew we were heading down hill. I’d heard enough to get the drift. “Okay, Jake, what I see is a two fold problem. One you struggle with reading which for the most part makes academics other than math calculations challenging. Two, you struggle with organization and time management. I’m guessing you don’t really want to go to boarding school and you don’t want to give up any basketball time. So here’s my offer..

1. We’ll set up an after school homework coach to meet with you at school if the school doesn’t already have an after school homework club. You’ll work for approximately two 30-minute segments with a 10 minute break in between.
2. We will arrange for a reading evaluation to determine what needs are to be addressed by the school. (I believe an IEP needs to be set up, but will wait for the results of the evaluation.)
3. You’ll continue to use the study period to meet with teachers and complete assignments.
4. You’ll continue with basketball as scheduled unless it interferes with the homework plan.
5. You will continue to meet with me once a week to build skills, review progress and tweak our plan.

“What you do about school is your choice, Jake. Your parents can hire tutors, we can put homework coaches in place and get school support, but ultimately, it’s up to you. I’m confident you can be successful if you choose. This is the only plan I see that can work at this time. We can tweak it as we progress, but for now…this is it. You think about it. Share it, discuss it with your parents and get back to me.

Jake was speechless as I packed up to go. I reached for his hand, and smiled when he looked up. “We can do this, Jake. Just let me know if you want to.”

I called Hs mom  on my way home. Keeping my promise to Jake to hold our conversations in confidence, I shared only the parental advice I had given her before. “The most important thing you can give your son is unconditional love and support. He’s only ten years old. Tall and muscular for his age, but don’t be fooled, a sensitive little boy is hiding behind that facade.”

 

Note: Jake Pullman and his family are all fictitious characters. Their resemblance to any persons is only coincidental.