Emily Stocker » Curriculum Corner

Curriculum Corner

Welcome back to school! It is an exciting time of year for everyone–the kids are back in the classroom, teachers cannot wait to start their new school year, and if you will indulge me as a fellow parent, there is a collective sigh of relief for the structure that school provides.

If your house is anything like mine (I have 3 girls: 5th grade, 3rd grade, and 3 years old), our pace of life gets hectic really fast. Organizational systems go downhill by week 3. The shiny new school year wears off by the end of September and we are back to “Hurry up, we’re going to be late!” and “I don’t know where I put that field trip form that you were supposed to sign three days ago, but I have to have it for tomorrow!” 

I’ve asked teachers, administrators, parents, and friends from around the country for helpful hints to make home time peaceful, productive (homework and chores), and the one thing that keeps coming back is focus on executive functioning strategies.

Through August/September, I will focus my Curriculum Corner on executive functioning, since that is the backbone for success for all of us. For some, this is a strength! For others, executive functioning is easy until you have ballet, soccer, hockey, scouts, homework, basketball, and (insert all the other activities here) to derail you from your magical organizational system.

Why is this important? 

  • Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember, and juggle multiple tasks.

How can this help me?

  • Do you want to see your  child(ren) become independent in completion of age-appropriate tasks in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Do you want to see your child(ren)’s confidence grow with their independence?
  • Do you have time to actually read the teachers' newsletters, figure out which forms you signed and thought you signed, but didn’t (I’m guilty too!), sign all the papers? And do you know where to find all these things because you have an organizational system that works?
  • Are you able to provide  your child(ren)feelings of success by providing a structure and routine around homework, chores, bedtime, etc that is manageable for them? 
  • Are you drowning in papers, wondering how on earth you are supposed to cherish every single one of them?

How do I make it happen?

  • Checklists
    • We have one for every night–I print it out by the week and it helps to focus our mornings and evenings. Plus, crossing things off feels SO GOOD!
  • Timers/appropriate time limits for tasks
    • Check out this timer, which highlights how much time they have left visually. We use these in school with high success!
  • Planners (and how to use them)
  • Explaining why you want them to try a particular way (and why they should expend that extra energy when they feel like “their way works just fine”)
  • Using your child’s strengths to help with tasks
    • Are they a visual learner that benefits from having graphic organizers at their fingertips?
    • Would some motions help them retain more information?
    • Do they need to talk it out or read a story pertaining to a social situation to have a better understanding of multiple perspectives?
    • Can you come up with a mnemonic device to help remember the dry facts that we all just have to know?
  • Have a homework routine with a place set up with all the materials they might need. 
  • Reward systems, whether that means stickers earned to be turned in for quality time with you, a night out with friends, or an allowance for completing tasks provides a bit more motivation than just “getting the work done.”

I hope this is helpful as you set up for the first week of homework and after school activities. I know we are recreating checklists and routines at my house as we speak!

Questions or thoughts? Let’s set up a time to chat.

I’m not sure if you’ve heard this out of the mouths of your child(ren), but at school we are working on routines and procedures. It seems monotonous at times. It can be downright annoying to practice how to line up, how to move quickly and quietly through the room, and how to use the materials in the classroom appropriately, but there is a research based “method behind the madness.”

By practicing these routines, we make sure that everyone understands the expectations and has the opportunity to be successful. The playing field is even–there isn’t a secret handshake that someone does not know about. We break it down step-by-step. Annoyingly so, if you ask some of the kids. However, this takes the mystery and guesswork out of our expectations. It becomes muscle memory.

I have been teaching for a long time at this point. Mrs. Meehan would remind me that it’s not a VERY long time yet, but I’m getting there. It only took me until my oldest child turned 9 to realize that the very routines and procedures that work in the classroom also work at home. 

Let’s use cleaning your room as an example:

How many times do you say, “Clean up your room,” and you walk into a mess that seemingly they do not see?

It takes multiple parts of your brain to activate to work in a systematic way to clean a room. Children’s brains do not come that way–they are taught to think this way! Here is what we have found is successful, stolen off of multiple blog posts, conversations with friends and family, and too many sources to possibly name:

  1. Take a trashbag with you. Get all the trash and throw it away.
  2. Put all the books on the bookshelf
  3. All dirty clothes in the hamper.
  4. All clean clothes hung up or folded in the dresser.
  5. All toys off the floor

Breaking down this task allows a child’s brain to see all the different parts of cleaning a room–cleaning is not 1 task, it is 5!. This makes it easier to be successful. (PS–we take the trash bag TO the room because we don’t leave the room until it’s clean…otherwise we might become distracted by something else.)

Let’s apply this theory to homework:

  • Have a designated homework spot. It doesn’t change. It is the same everyday.
  • Have a designated homework order (Math first, then any written work (i.e. grammar, handwriting, etc., and finish up with Reading).
  • Have a consistent place for all the materials to go–and teach them how to put everything back together. Pictures of how it is supposed to look when it’s finished really help!
  • Who checks to ensure that homework is completed? Do you have to sign off on a homework sheet or assignment book? Or should you ask for your Middle School student’s Google Classroom login (which they SHOULD share with you) so that you can see the homework board posted each day?
  • Where does homework go after they finish? A certain part of a folder or binder? How do you know when you’re finished?
  • Where do your packed up backpacks go so that they are ready to grab in the morning without forgetting everything?

Want to set up a homework routine but not sure where to start? Let’s set up a time to chat.

As a teacher, I know that when I have all my materials ready, have thought through (and written via lesson plans) the procedures I will ask my students to complete, and then thought about all of the possible ways these delightful children will try to take my plan and turn it into mayhem, I am at my absolute best.

The same is true for me as a parent, but somehow it is harder in this role than it is professionally. However, my ability to know what is going on, check in on grades, and communicate with my children’s teachers IS the preparation work that sets stage for executive functioning success–how does my child know what to do if I have no idea what is going on?

My family has tried multiple strategies, but have found that adding everything to a color-coded calendar has been the most successful. Everyone has a color. The STM School calendar has been added to my phone in RED. Any of my events, personal or professional, are in YELLOW. My husband’s events (personal or professional) are in BLUE. My kids each picked their favorite colors: teal, purple, and pink. Each of their events is in that color, including Scouts, sports, school events, etc. This allows us to quickly look and see who needs to be where, pack what they need the night before, know what each person is doing, and then figure out how to bi-locate to get everyone where they need to be.

Things that we also add (appropriately color-coded to the person responsible for the task):

  • A reminder to check Wednesday Folders so that we can review grades, papers, and see if we need to focus on a particular area with one of the kids this week:
    • Was math a challenge and should I do math HW with the kids instead of just check it?
    • Did we totally bomb the religion quiz and maybe I should review it at home to make sure we are ready for the next portion?
  • A reminder to check email for the STM Blast on Wednesday evening (it goes out at 6pm!)
  • A reminder to check email for the PTO Blast on Friday evenings 
  • A reminder to check my oldest’s Powerschool each Monday to see what grades are posted. (Gentle reminder that this is only available for Grades 4-8; the Powerschool grade portion will be closed for PK-3 on Sept. 30 due to developmental grading scales that do not adequately show student progress.)

This seems like a lot, but realistically, life moves fast. When I don’t have that prompt, I may miss something (like the author visit, a missing assignment, etc.). As a parent, I know that I am my child’s first educator. If my brain can’t keep up with everything, how can I expect theirs to? It is not nearly as developed as mine!

I hope that some of these strategies may help your family. While they don’t seem particularly connected to one subject in the curriculum, executive functioning (being able to keep up with all the things) is really at the root of a successful child AND adult. 

Do you have a strategy that works for your family?  Tell me about it! We can always learn from each other–that is what makes the STM community so strong.