Ken Shyminsky, a former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada, draws upon his personal experiences as an teacher and student with Tourette Syndrome to help children with TS and related disorders. He also has Tourette himself and is the founder of the website Neurologically Gifted.
The importance of structure and routine is sometimes undervalued at home, in regards to its contributions to academic success at school. Success at school is the product of skills and knowledge learned at school and at home. In fact, learning acquired at school can be undone by poor habits at home (and vice versa, of course).
Although the formal teaching is done at school, parents need to be mindful of the teaching and learning that occurs at home. A student’s learning environment extends to the home as well. This learning environment is created by dedicating one or two areas of the house as “learning zones” where school work is to be done. In addition to these zones, “learning hygiene” is also critical. That is, adhering to designated learning areas and learning rules (structure). To ensure the effectiveness of the learning zones and learning hygiene in your home, try these tips:
- When your children enter the house, have them place their backpack at front door, or in the designated learning zone.
- All school work is done in the learning zone. Most frequently this is done at the kitchen table where parents are nearby to help when needed and/or coax the child through their assignments. For self directed learners, the work can be done in the bedroom or an office area in the home.
- Do not do math in your bedroom, science in the kitchen, reading on the couch etc. as this scatters school materials throughout the house. During the morning rush, you will be unable to collect all of the assignments and/or materials needed for the upcoming school day. Complete work in one or two spots (the same spots every day).
- Have a visual calendar in the house to record upcoming assignments and trips. In this way, parents will not be caught off guard by last minute announcements of assignments due the next day.
- Remember, grown ups can have organizational weaknesses as well. I often recommend parents post organizational tools (for themselves) in the learning zones, to support their child’s learning at home. The most commonly used organizers are checklists. Create checklists and post them in an obvious place in the house (usually the fridge – if it isn’t buried under layers of paper already!).
- Reduce clutter and distractions in the learning zone.
When all the work is done, have your child immediately put it in the backpack (not beside, on, or under because they may end up someplace other than in the backpack). Put the backpack at the front door. (To ensure I don’t forget items, I often put them in a spot where I virtually need to step over them as I leave the house. I will put my lunch bag on the floor in the kitchen doorway so I can’t leave the kitchen without my lunch, or I put things beside my car keys because I can’t drive to work without them.)
Have your child empty the backpack once per week and reorganize it. Ensure all necessary materials are present. Don’t be too frustrated by lost materials. It may part of your child’s neurochemical/neurological challenge. Make plans and anticipate that things will be lost. Have extras, and buy cheap if it’s likely to be replaced frequently.
Keep to these routines and rules daily. The assignments will change, and the amount will change, but the routines should not. Eventually they will become entrenched into the family’s routine.
For some families who have greater challenges, there will be days when you must choose between getting homework done, and maintaining your family’s sanity (choose sanity). Be sure to have open communication with your child’s teacher and make them aware of these challenges, so they can support you and your child appropriately. When they are aware and appreciate your homework battles at home, they will be able to provide support at school and make accommodations to your child’s homework load. This is a short clip of our son working well at homework time.
Things can easily become difficult and a reduction of workload and/or the length of time spent working will be adjusted accordingly. It can easily become overwhelming to either parent or child resulting in meltdowns. Once a meltdown occurs it is difficult to resolve.
The next homework session will come and both the child and parent will have increased anxiety at the onset of the session. Ideally, homework time ends with the child being successful even if all the work needs to be deferred to another day. There can be a fine line between pushing your child to get more done and pushing them over the edge.
In rare instances, I have heard parents tell me “I just can’t keep track of everything”. This is an indicator that you (the parent) are doing too much. With gymnastics, hockey, and soccer, etc. parents have little or no time to support learning at home. Keep it simple and prioritize.
Make choices at home that will support scholastic success. Teaching isn’t only done by a teacher. It’s done by parents/guardians too.