A brain-based condition, attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is the most common one identified in children. Its core symptom is a lack of focus that can make it difficult for kids to stay on task. In many children, this lack of focus is coupled with hyperactivity — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) — which can lead to fidgeting and/or acting out in class. Too often, these kids are merely labelled as ‘behavior problems’.
Children with ADHD who use school planners are more organized and earn higher grades. But only if they use them correctly. How to help your child make the most of this essential tool using these 9 simple tips:
1. PICK THE RIGHT PLANNER.
The best school planner (paper) will be thin, with a spiral binding to prevent pages from falling out, and a weekly layout. A monthly planner may be overwhelming and unwieldy, and won’t have enough room to write down daily assignments. Avoid bulky planners and leather covers. Finally, look for a planner that has a pocket or sleeve for storing papers to and from the teacher.
2. KEEP THE PLANNER AT YOUR CHILD’S FINGERTIPS
Experts recommend that students keep their planner in the front pocket of their book bag or a binder that they carry to their classes. It should take no more than two small actions — reach and open — for your child to retrieve his planner. Have them keep a pen in the spiral binding to avoid the “pen hunt” that often causes kids to stop using a planner. Use a binder clip to mark the current page so they can access it with one flip.
3. REVIEW WHAT TO WRITE DOWN, AND WHEN
Go over the times of day when your child should use their planner — in class, when the teacher announces assignments and due dates; at transition times, such as packing up at their locker at the end of the day; at home, when they check the homework assignments they need to do (and marks them as they’re completed); and before bed, when they ensure that all of their assignments are in their backpack. Suggest that your child use “texting” language, so they can write quickly and save space.
4. HAVE THE TEACHER CHECK THE PLANNER
Many children with ADHD insist they wrote down their assignments, only to find that they left out critical details. One student wrote down that she had Reading homework, but forgot to note the questions that were to be answered. Encourage your child to write down assignments word-for-word and ask their teacher to look over the planner before they leave class.
5. SCHEDULE FUN STAFF AND SCHOOL STUFF
Using a planner can help your child develop skills that those with ADHD usually find challenging: juggling responsibilities, allotting time, and planning ahead. Have your child schedule extracurricular events — concerts and martial arts lesson — and activities with friends in their planner, as well as academics. It will get them to take the long view and learn to spot and avoid time conflicts.
6. CUSTOMIZE THE PLANNER WITH “ADD-ON’S”
Parents can place sticky notes of various sizes and colors in the planner to remind their child about special school events or tasks — asking the Math teacher for help with last night’s homework, for example. A notation about Thursday’s piano lesson may include a prompt to practice every day for 15 minutes. Make a checklist of books and materials your child needs to bring home each day and paperclip it to the planner.
7. USE THE PLANNER TO SHARPEN LONG-TERM PLANNING SKILLS
All kids, especially those with ADHD, have difficulty with long-term planning. When your child has a big test, or is assigned a complicated project, use the homework planner to break it down into manageable mini-tasks. If they’ve been assigned a report, mark the due date with a colored marker and work backwards, allotting a day for selecting a topic, and so on. Be sure to leave enough time to write a rough and final draft.
8. THROW A PLANNER MEETING
A meeting at the beginning of the week — Sunday evening usually works best — works miracles in improving the use of a planner. Everyone in the family grabs their planners or calendars to discuss the week ahead. Parents can start by telling family members about their weekly schedules — everything from deadlines at work to carpool plans. This sets the stage for children to respond with their plans. It drives home the importance of thinking ahead!
9. PREPARE FOR THE NEXT DAY
As your child packs his book bag each evening, make sure that homework is in its folder and that everything he’ll need — violin, sneakers, lunch money, and their planner — is ready to go in the morning. Reserve a shelf or cabinet by the front door for items that your child takes to school every day. Label it with colored stickers, so that glasses, wallet, and bus pass can be easily found. Hang a hook underneath for a backpack or sports bag.