A New School Year: Getting Off to A Good Start!

Whether the opening of school calls for in-person, hybrid, or remote learning, we can expect significant changes from the way we started the school in previous years.

What will this mean for students with executive function (EF) challenges?  They will have to adjust to different routines in class as well as online learning.  They will have to think about where they will be each day, consider what each day’s schedule is, and have the organizational skills to find schoolwork and materials when learning from home or school.

What can we do to help them thrive in any learning environment?

Structure the environment

  • Whether working from a school classroom or the dining room table at home, provide an area that will allow the student to initiate tasks and maintain focus—flexible seating, quiet area, etc.  Consider environmental factors that would help the student function optimally, such as sensory issues–just as you wouldn’t seat a student with an extremely fine sense of smell near the door next to the school cafeteria, a work space at home in the close proximity of the kitchen may not be the ideal place.
  • At home, provide a box, basket, or bookshelf space that can serve as a place to hold all books and papers. This would be in place of the student’s classroom desk or locker and provides a place to easily access all materials when it is time to get to work.

Make a schedule

  • At home–parents and kids can work together to create a consistent daily schedule at the beginning of every day or week. Include schoolwork, lunch, and planned breaks such as you would find on a school campus throughout the day (e.g., recess for younger students, passing periods for older students).  Include movement activities as well as enjoyable activities.  For hybrid schedules, follow the school schedule when possible to create consistency.
  • Use timers.  Time is an abstract concept for many students with EF deficits—timers help the student develop an awareness of the length of time for activities and can help with transitions at school and home.

Support time management and planning

  • Learning how to tell time is one thing, but managing it effectively is a challenge for so many students!  Working in the even more abstract time environment of online learning can certainly intensify this problem. Support students in breaking down a task or long-term project into concrete steps, estimating how long it will take to complete component parts.  Project Mapping is a great strategy to support time management and planning.

Structure online discussions

  • Teachers–be explicit in your expectations. Post questions distinctly–use visuals—ask for clarification–invite students to ‘think about their thinking” (a great metacognitive strategy!) as well as what others are thinking.

Use reinforcement

  • At school or home—reinforce appropriate behavior—make sure to tell the child what he is doing that warrants the reinforcement.  Acknowledging appropriate behavior in any environment really does pay off!

As parents and educators busily plan for the new school year, one of the most important things we should consider is that we are all flexible.  We would love to hear how you are adapting to the changes this new school year brings!

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