School Tips

School Tips: Help Your ADHD Child Organize Her Backpack

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The first day of school is on the horizon. How about a few school tips to make those first days go a little bit easier? One of the most challenging things about school is helping your child keep his bookbag organized. Here are several parent and child tested tips for helping your ADHD child:

1. Color-code. Tired of hearing your child say, "I can't find my science notebook and I looked all over for it!" followed by a half-hour dig through the wilds of your child's backpack? Try using color to help your child stay organized. Every notebook, folder, workbook, or textbook that pertains to a particular subject should be the same color.

For textbooks and workbooks, you can use contact paper, plain wrapping paper, or large colored stickers (depending on your child's preference and school rules). When you or your child's teacher tell her to take out her science homework, she has a visual clue that will help her find what she needs easily and quickly.

2. Take only what you need. Some children have a tendency to take everything they own to school. This means they will drag along with them the entire pack of pencils, four erasers, eight pens, three sharpeners... I think you get the idea.

A better idea is to allow your child to take the minimum: two pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, and two pens are usually sufficient. Include markers and crayons if they need them. Store the overflow in a marked box out of eyesight, which discourages raiding when someone can't find that elusive eraser.

3. Create a homework caddy. How many times has your child left their pencil case at home, because they forgot to put it back in their backpack after they finished their homework, or borrowed a pen to write down a friend's phone number?

Instead, use a caddy (a plastic basket or cardboard box are also fine) to store all the supplies your child might need, such as a ruler, a compass, a protractor, colored pencils, markers ,etc. When your child does his homework, he leaves his pencil case in his backpack, and uses the caddy instead. The caddy should not be stored in his room; it should be kept in whatever room your child does his homework, and can be available to anyone who does their homework in that room.

4. Teach your child to use a homework planner/calendar. Being organized in school include knowing how to organize your time. There are many different types of homework planners on the market, so you should easily be able to find one that suits both you and your child's needs.

You will need to train your child to use it, initially. Start out by helping your child fill out a school schedule. Color-code each subject. Then, every night when she prepares her bag for the next day, she simply looks at her schedule, and sees, for example, geography (green). She then makes sure that anything with a green wrapper or label ends up in her bookbag.

If you want to get even more organized, you can put a little number in parenthesis next to each subject; this number will indicate the number of materials that correspond to that subject. So if geography includes a notebook, a textbook, a workbook, and a handout folder, she will put the number four in parenthesis next to the word geography in her planner.

Next, you will have to help your child get into the habit of using the planner properly. Don’t try to do everything at once. Teach her a little bit each day. When you have taught her everything (and you will probably have to make a list in order to make sure you don’t forget anything), then you can slowly hand over the reins.

Plan to spread out the process over a month, since it takes about 30 days to develop a habit. In the first week, you will teach her how to use the planner, and you will supervise her while she uses it. This is full supervision, meaning she fills in the blanks or checks off work completed, but you stand next to her while she does it.

Don’t try to take short cuts, and don’t try to supervise while cleaning the room or doing the dishes, because then the following conversation will take place: “Why didn’t you finish the second half of your homework? What do you mean you forgot? Didn’t you write it in your planner? But I told you to write it in!”

During the second and third weeks you will gradually decrease the amount of assistance you give your child. You will do this from back to front, meaning the last steps you undertake when preparing with the planner will be the first ones you hand over to your child.

For example, if there are 6 steps involved in using the planner, days 1 and 2 your child will do step 6 unassisted. Days 3 and 4 he will do steps 5 and 6 on his own. Days 5 and 6 he will do steps 4, 5, and 6 on his own, and so on.

5. Set a regular weekly time to help your child de-clutter his bookbag. It may be tempting to schedule a cleaning on a Sunday night, in preparation for the upcoming week. However, this leaves open the possibility of “homework surprises,” - when your child suddenly realizes they have a big test or major paper due the next day.

This should happen less frequently if using the above methods, but unless you’ve implemented a system that insures your child knows he is responsible for getting all his homework in his planner (be on the lookout for a future post!) then it could still happen more often than you would like.

A better choice would be to set a time for the beginning of the weekend. That way if any surprises are awaiting you, they can be dealt with at the beginning of the weekend, instead of at the end. And of course, this also encourages your child to make sure everything is taken care of, since they know that otherwise they will have to spend their free time completing all that work.

Think of this time as a little bit of private time with your child. Avoid recriminations, and just focus on getting the job done pleasantly. Put some music on, set out a plate of healthy snacks. After all, if you have to do the job anyway, why not have fun while you’re at it?

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