“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NASB)
When you are homeschooling a special needs or struggling child, you are not always on the same timeline as others. The curriculum you use needs to be adapted and usually one of the biggest modifications involves time.
Our children with various challenges and differences do not develop at the same rate as those who are typically developing. They need more time to learn skills and retain information. They may mature more slowly and need additional practice and support to progress. My son could take two hours to do an assignment I thought should take twenty minutes, and it was the same way with chores. Other children have medical issues like seizures that can interfere with their ability to remember previously learned skills. They need to re-learn information, and that takes time and makes the rate of progress variable. So given those kinds of situations, how can we make the most of our time and be good stewards of that resource?
One lesson I learned about my use of time was that I really needed to focus on my goals for each of my children. Once the goals were in the forefront of my mind, it was easier to eliminate things that were not conducive to helping achieve those goals. When everything is treated as being equally important, there is no priority and the important issues may get pushed aside by lesser matters.
With my son, Josh, it became clear that he was not going to be able to do many different subjects in a single day and finish all of his work. Although he didn’t need as much sleep as I did in those early years, I didn’t want him spending all day and then the evening trying to get his schoolwork done, struggling all the while. I homeschool for many reasons, including helping my children develop a love for learning. Spending too many hours on school tasks seems like a good way to achieve burnout for all of us. My husband and I agreed to focus on the basics with Josh, and limit the amount of time spent on highly structured learning tasks.
I had to pare down my long list of what I would like to do and instead think realistically about what I could do each school day. Because Josh and his sister, Beckie, had learning challenges I had to eliminate some of the supplemental material I had originally planned on and limit the work to the core essentials of their education.
In addition to recognizing the best way to invest our time, we need to try to teach our children to make the most of their time. Many kids live in the moment, which is a perspective that has blessings of its own. Without losing that ability to fully experience life as it happens, we need to gently guide our children to consider future events and plan for them in a thoughtful manner. This does not come naturally for most children, and there may need to be consequences that occur as part of the learning process.
Here is an example from the Boring family homeschool: I have a lesson planned and go over it with the kids. They start goofing around, are not working on their assignment even though they know what is expected and are capable of completing the work. I do not mind spending more time on a lesson if my children do not understand something. However, when it is clearly a matter of choice and they are choosing to be silly, they are wasting their time and mine and there will be consequences. I think that the children should experience the consequence of their poor decisions so that hopefully they will make better choices next time.
With that goal in mind, we started “homeschool homework” when the children were wasting time. I would set a time limit for a certain assignment, and if they did not complete it within that period, they had homework with Dad when he got home. This kept them accountable to Dad, and kept them from more play time until their homework was done. This worked well for us since my husband did not have to plan or teach the lesson but could just follow-through with what I had assigned.
Making the most of our time will be manifested differently for each of our families. We all have limitations and demands on our time. Finding balance, remembering our goals, and investing time in our children will allow us to experience the satisfaction of time well spent.
My son has never had a good internal sense of time passing. When I said it was time to work on a certain subject, my son always wanted to know how long it would take and how much more work we had for the day. He also is forgetful and inattentive, so even though the answers rarely varied he asked the same questions daily because he didn’t remember from one day to the next. I thought it might help if I gave him a visual and tactile depiction to represent what we needed to accomplish for school each day. I found some interlocking links and selected one link to represent each school task for the day. I told Josh he could remove one link each time he completed a subject. That way, he could see and touch a visual representation of how much more schoolwork he needed to complete. I thought he might even become more motivated when he saw the chain getting shorter as the day went on. One day, Josh was having a particularly “off” day. We all have off days, but when my struggling learner has an off day, it’s really OFF. Josh just couldn’t seem to focus or sustain his attention to anything. By the end of the day, he had draped the links around his shoulders to help himself remember what he was supposed to be working on. All I could think of was Marley’s ghost from Dicken’s The Christmas Carol when Scrooge asks about the chains Marley has and the reply is “I wear the chains I forged in life.” Poor Josh! He looked like he was wearing the chains he forged during the school day, and that was just for one day. Imagine if we carried over all the unfinished links to the next day and the next. Soon, Josh would buckle under the weight of so many unfinished tasks. We had to start each day fresh. I am reminded of the Bible verse in Lamentations 3:23,23 “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” Each day is a new day, with new challenges and opportunities. Let’s try to help our kids without dragging any chains from unfulfilled tasks from the past and focus on each new day as a chance to try again.
Hello readers! Many of you are familiar with my ongoing quest to help my son, Josh, get to places on time. It has been a lifelong (his life, that is!) battle and neither of us wants to concede defeat. Josh has never been on standard time, and his internal clock doesn’t match any time zone that I’m aware of. We’ve talked (o.k., I talk and he pretends to listen) about the impossibility of leaving home at the time you are due to arrive somewhere else and actually getting there on time. Josh wants to be able to beam from one place to another like Captain Kirk from Star Trek, playing the roles of both Captain Kirk, and Scotty who activates the beaming device. It has never worked. Josh keeps hoping that somehow it will. Today, for the first time ever, Josh admitted to me that “beaming doesn’t work.” This is progress, right? Wrong! Because the next thing he muttered was, “I’ll just warp there.” AAAARGH! I told Josh, “No! Warping doesn’t work either!” Josh just smiled and turned on his IPOD, saying “Listening to music now.” That’s his version of “Nobody’s listening. La, la, la.” And so the battle continues.
I’ve commented before on the way my children with AD/HD don’t have an internal sense of time passing. If they are doing something they enjoy, they just live in the moment and don’t realize how much time has actually passed until someone points it out to them or they look at a clock. If they are doing something that is less preferred (like spelling, math, etc.!) they are unable to sense how much time it will take and therefore believe they will be quite old before they complete the task. A couple days ago I remembered something that both Josh and Beckie said to me when they were preschoolers, and it made me think that they were such creative thinkers that they were not restricted to thinking that time always progresses forward. Josh and Beckie are 5 years apart in age, but their thinking patterns and development have been remarkably similar. At some point in their early years, each said to me something to the effect of: “Mom, when I get bigger and you get younger, I’ll teach you.” In their minds, the aging process was fluid, so that I might go in reverse and get younger while they continued to grow older. I’m sure part of that idea was the hope that they could be in charge some day. It’s interesting to me that these remarks were made long after they had developed object permanence and had a general understanding of cause and effect. Josh and Beckie still don’t really have a good sense about time passing and they struggle to get places on time. But they have given up the hope of my becoming younger and leaving them in charge.
No, not THAT miracle! I’m talking about Beckie’s fish, a pet Beta she keeps in a wall-mounted bowl in her room. It’s not that she doesn’t like the fish or care what happens to it. It’s just part of how her AD/HD manifests, that she can remember the daily task of feeding the fish but the non-routine cleaning of the bowl eludes her attention. I noticed in July that her poor fish was swimming in about 2 inches of water in a very dirty bowl. I told her she needed to clean the bowl and add water right away, because I didn’t see how the fish could survive much longer in those conditions. She said she would, but that she’d need her Dad’s help to get the bowl off the wall to be cleaned. Her Dad said he would help, but he also has AD/HD so they both immediately forgot about it. Last week, I thought about it again and checked in with Beckie to make sure she had taken care of it. She still hadn’t! Yet the fish lived on. So I managed to catch both Beckie and her Dad at home and called them together to remind them about the fish and to urge them to act on it right away before they forgot again. They managed to get the bowl cleaned and filled with fresh water in about 30 minutes. It wasn’t that the task was too hard, it was that it wasn’t part of an established routine and the fish was unable to do anything to get their attention long enough for them to take the necessary action. Though things were looking pretty grim for him in his bowl of evaporating water, Neon the fish is presently happily swimming in a full bowl of clean water.
I’ve been working with my kids to teach them the basics of food preparation and simple cooking skills. Their impulsivity makes the dialog entertaining (Mom: Beckie, the next thing to do is add one egg. Beckie: Crack it first?) Okay, I had to laugh at that, and eventually Beckie joined me. She knew, of course, that we don’t use the eggs with the shells included. She just asks questions and makes comments without thinking sometimes. Scott decided to teach them how to make grilled cheese sandwiches, which is one of his favorites. Unfortunately, there is some waiting involved before you can flip the sandwich in the pan, and waiting is BORING especially when you have AD/HD. When I am cooking I spend the waiting time preparing additional ingredients I know I’ll need or by cleaning up as I go. When my AD/HD family members have to wait, they leave the room to find something else to do. This risks them getting involved in something and not remembering that they were cooking until the smoke alarm goes off and they are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to take time to save their game before dealing with the burning food. (Hint: The AD/HD mind will say “The food’s already burnt, but this game can still be saved!”) Anyway, the strategy used for the grilled cheese was to set the stove timer. That way, they could leave the room but not lose track of time because the timer would beep to pull them back to the kitchen in time to flip the sandwich before it burned. Since they each wanted more than one sandwich, they got to practice this several times. I found it annoying to hear the timer going off every minute until they finished making a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches, but it was much less annoying than the burning smell and the smoke alarm would have been. I’m all about strategies, and this one seemed to work for them.
Sometimes there are so many things to do that it’s hard to figure out where to start. This is true whether you are organizationally challenged or not. It’s easy to become overwhelmed when faced with a long to-do list. I’ve noticed that the naturally disorganized members of my family have a hard time with the executive functions of initiating and prioritizing, and often they start with less important things that are easier and will take less time to get done. Unfortunately, that often means that pressing matters wait while non-critical items get done first. I have tried to help my son Josh with prioritizing by reviewing his to-do lists, putting stars by the most important items or high-lighting them. (Some of you know that Josh is color blind, but he can still see differences in color contrasts.) I’ve discussed with him the items that are on a deadline to be completed, and the items that can wait a little longer though hopefully not indefinitely. After one such heart-to-heart chat with Josh, he pensively nodded his head before replying, “Okay, Mom. I’ll prioritize that later.” Aaarrgh! At least Josh realized the contradiction and gave me one of his famous “maybe being cute will be enough this time” grins as a reward for my fruitless efforts!
Happy Independence Day!
After the cookouts, parades and fireworks I have been reflecting on the meaning of Independence as it relates to my family.
Dr Jim Dobson has said that parenting is the only vocation in the world where you work your way out of a job just as your starting to get good at it. His meaning as I understand it is that our goal as parents is to raise up our children to the point that they are independent and don’t need us anymore. This is a daunting task. It is all the more difficult when you are dealing with special needs kids.
Right now we are dealing with my son, Joshua and his struggle with time management. Sometimes it seems that Josh invented the concept of slow motion replay. Left on his own, he will finish his morning toilet, shower, dressing and breakfast just in time for… lunch. He has two speeds: “Stop” and “Plod.”
We have tried reasoning, threatening, nagging, bribing and shaming. We’ve tried reminders, lists, prompts, voice recorders. We haven’t found anything effective yet, but we will keep trying.
This is an area that is critical for his future success. And ultimately, that is what our goal is – self-reliance and independence.
Happy 4th of July.
My son just left at 7:33 for a class that starts at 7:30. He remembered the class, mentioned it to me 20 minutes before its starting time, and I reminded him that he should be getting ready to go soon. It is a 7 minute drive for him to get to the building the class is in. Add another few minutes to put his things in place and be ready to begin. Cognitively, he is bright. We have talked about planning ahead to get places on time. We have discussed the scientific impossibility of leaving home at 7:30 and arriving at his class at 7:30, and he understands it. It is not just this particular class, but any appointment when he has to be somewhere that he leaves home at the time he should be arriving at his destination. It does not matter what time of day it is, he is always late. We have given watches, planners, verbal reminders, and timers. Not one of these things has been effective in getting him places on time. His father and I have tried not reminding and prompting, to see if our son will become more independent and step up to the challenge of getting someplace (anyplace!) on time. No go. Truly. Nothing seems to make any difference. We are hoping for some new ideas, since our son wants to get a part-time job, but we don’t know where he could work that doesn’t involve showing up at a specified time and being on time.