Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Why tell children the schedule?

Let me continue on this topic of "bridges between home and school" - things teachers do at school that families could continue doing at home, making life with preschoolers a little easier or perhaps even more fun. Today I want to explain the thinking behind "the daily schedule" - why teachers always provide visuals of the day's routine; more specifically, why they always tell children where they are going next. Simply put: children need to know where they are going!

At the Addressing Challenging Behavior Conference this past March, Ron Roybal, speaking about Lessons Learned About Including Children with Autism, pointed out that "routines within routines are key to predictability for all children." He maintains that - in any activity, at any time of day, children behave best when they know what to expect, i.e.:

1. What am I doing now?
2. How do I know I’m making progress?
3. How do I know when I’m finished?
4. What comes next?

You will have much less challenging behavior from your child if you help him/her to understand the routine, the schedule.

(Lest you question the need to do this, let me ask you - are you comfortable in meetings where there are no agendas handed out? Most of us do better when we know where we are headed.)

The younger the child, the more this routine needs to be conveyed in ways that use a variety of senses - visuals such as hand signals, facial expressions, or pictures; or sounds such as a special clap or song; or even physical techniques such as standing and stretching, putting hands on your ears, or other fun movements.

I want to share with you a chart I created years ago for my then 4 yr. old Wade, who was sandwiched between his infant brother Bryce and 6 yr. old Keith. I was having a dickens of a time getting them all out the door in the morning, to get Keith to elementary school on time. My dear friend Carol (a teacher!) suggested creating this chart for him...when he finished a task, he moved a simple "velcro dot" to the DONE column. I listed five tasks:

1. Eat breakfast
2. Wash face and brush teeth
3. Make bed
4. Get dressed
5. Put on socks and shoes

The chart was not particularly pretty, but, boy, was it effective. The result was - almost instantaneously - no more grumbling, no more pleading, no more stress getting out the door - seriously! I couldn't believe it. (Though, in the interest of full disclosure, I have absolutely no memory of any of my boys making their bed on a regular basis - I'm sure my expectations for this were pretty low.)

Perhaps my delight in creating this was what led me to consider becoming a teacher myself? Yes, perhaps. However, the result pretty much sealed the deal - I began to see that the best way to teach a child was to try to think like the child, to see it from their perspective, and then - help them break down a daunting big thing into smaller chunks.

I began to see the power in having an inanimate object set the rules for our family! Yes, that's a joke - but there's a kernel of truth in it: I had removed "Mom" from the equation, I had taken the emotional out of the morning routine. 4 year old Wade tried to complete the tasks that were set out in front of him for their sake, for his own sake. He understood where he was headed.

The next time you need to do something or go somewhere and you find that your children are falling apart or resisting (and you are stressing out), I hope you'll consider how much information your children have. Ask yourself if you've told them where they are headed, what they'll be doing, how long before they leave, how they will know when it's time to leave, and other aspects of the schedule.

Keep your description simple, succinct, and (as always) calm. I use alot of visuals in my classroom. I am a big fan of pointing at pictures and saying "Hmmm, what do we have to do next?" or "What does this tell us?" I also use sounds - a chime, a rainstick, or a special drum to indicate I have something to say or that something is ending - "When you hear the drum, it will be time to...."

Honestly, to provide children this insight and help with routines and schedule is to show them the same respect we accord ourselves.

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