• Living Skills,  Mental Health

    Executive Functioning Sarah Ward-Style

    In mid-March, like many other parents, the guarantee of my son being *Someplace OK Other Than Home* crumbled before my eyes, just like that.

    It was welcome to Mom’s Living Room Elementary School, Ltd. Class is now in session! Within days we were buried in Zoom meeting invites and assignments due by Friday. 

    I thought I could buy myself a few more months of simplicity before the scattered schedule of middle school started in September. But never mind all that, there we were!

    Judging by how I squeaked through juggling multiple classes in high school myself, my guess was that the multiple class digital format was going to be kind of a wreck…and it was. I futzed around E’s various Google Classrooms and Learning Boards, attempting to prioritize his work while he lounged on the couch playing Roblox. It got old fast. There had to be a better way!

    The name Sarah Ward surfaced in my panicked brain. I had heard about the speech therapist’s executive functioning training programs in 2019. Executive. Functioning. Where the Executives Function…with big desks, rolling chairs, conference rooms, and pants suits. I didn’t like the sound of it—no, not at all—not until mid-March.

    Suddenly I was all about Sarah Ward…where could I buy her materials? Go to her classes? Get a consult??? PLEASE and NOW!

    Not soon enough, I found a 5-hour seminar on facilitating executive functioning skills during remote learning through her website https://efpractice.com. It was one of the best $79 I’ve ever spent. 

    The goal of the seminar was to help kids and adults who have challenges with things like:

    • breaking down projects into smaller chunks
    • estimating how long tasks or projects will take
    • staying on task
    • remembering what the task was in the first place!

    Climbing a sheer rock faceAccording to Sarah, the thing that helps most (besides having a personal assistant) is to be able to “see” and “feel” yourself doing the project or task in advance. 

    A TALL ORDER

    The exercise of picturing and sensing myself interacting with something I want (like counting out five million dollars) or picturing doing something I want to do (like Dancing with the Stars?) to make it a reality is familiar enough. But I thought it only applied to BIG GOALS. BIG THINGS. Like Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” types of things—not your average, every-day, piddly things, like cleaning a room, or better yet, managing a morning routine.

    But, surprisingly, there are people out there who DO picture and feel themselves doing such things…even little things, BEFORE doing them, even if it isn’t conscious. In her webinar, Sarah quotes Russell A. Barkley, a clinical professor of psychology famous for his studies of ADD/ADHD:

    “Repeatedly practice self-monitoring, self-stopping, seeing the future, saying the future, feeling the future, and playing with the future so as to effectively ‘plan and go’ towards that future.”

    For example, getting ready in the morning. You could fumble around, you could wander, pick things up and put them down again, and find the right things through the process of elimination or muscle memory. Or you could have, even if subconscious, a sequential plan—not in words, but in pictures. 

    ………………………………………………………………………..

    And if a person can’t picture or feel into the future (yet), she suggests that we can help them do just that by supplying them with the images they need, like so:

    “Why not just write a nice, colorful list?” I ask. Because a word list isn’t enough.  It’s too far removed from the “doing.” Before writing, we IMAGine. We have an image, and we write about the image. Who knew? 

    “How about an icon list of actions, then? That has pictures!”

    No, even that won’t be as effective, because the person taking the actions needs to be in the picture. For example, if a person is given a series of photos of themself taking all the major steps of brushing teeth, it will be much easier to follow than an ADL list (pictured). The brain will see the photos as a whole action, like a movie clip, and not a bunch of little, difficult-to-remember-parts. 

    I saw a few of her visual aids before I went to her workshop. They resonated much more with me when I saw her teach and demonstrate them—when I saw the whole picture. She is a fun, dynamic, clear speaker. The tools she offers are very user-friendly. Of course, it takes patience and tenacity (read: doggedness) to use them over and over again and make a real difference.

    If you don’t have photos at the ready, you can ask “Ok, what do you picture doing next?” or “What are you doing next?” This can help the person start “seeing” and “feeling” into their next action.

    And now with COVID and technology, you don’t have to go anywhere fancy or far to attend one of her workshops!

    Sarah Ward’s techniques break down anything from simple tasks to complicated long-term assignments. She offers a simple formula to accurately estimate time on all kinds of projects. She also goes over exercises to help develop time-consciousness.

    I hope you get to experience one of her workshops. It’s well worth it!

     

     

    Photo credits: www.thecoffeeapple.com, www.anglofiles.com, Tommy Lisbin for unsplash.com, Arina Wong for unsplash.com, istockphoto.com

  • Living Skills,  Mental Health

    Morning HELP

    Find Yourself Blasting the Kids Out of Bed in the Morning?

    Maybe you’ve tried the old techniques your parents used–I know I have–where waking up is about avoiding trouble. It usually starts with “It’s blankety-blank time already! You’ve got to get up…NOW!” For me personally, there was no stronger deterrent to facing the day than starting off in the doghouse.

    Then you’ve done the obvious—you’ve turned on all of the lights and pulled back the shades. You’ve wheedled, even begged, but your kid just snuggles further into the covers.

    Ok, so just plain kindness isn’t going to cut it. Here are some other ideas for you:

    Prep–Before Starting

    SET UP AN INTRINSIC REWARD *WITH YOUR KID* AND PUT IT IN A LIST
    An intrinsic reward is something that you do for your own personal enjoyment or sense of accomplishment. It is a lovely thing. Sit down with your child and make a list of reasons why getting up early can personally benefit her. It can be as long as ten or as short as one reason—the more compelling it is for the child, the better. This list can help her feel more in control of herself and her morning–that she’s not getting up earlier just to comply with her parents.

    While You’re at it, Set Up an Intrinsic Reward for You

    Are there other reasons why you want to get up early besides making sure your child shows up on time? What can you do for yourself first thing in the morning? Is there a special project that’s hard to find time for during your usual day? This is not a “should” thing. Is there a favorite coffee or pastry you can indulge in to start off your day? The more enjoyable this activity is for you, the more likely you will get an earlier start.

    Devices

    The National Sleep Center suggests keeping the TV or computer in a room other than the bedroom, this way the bedroom is only associated with analog activities and the thought of sleep.

    Set Two Alarms

    Think of it as an alarm clock on both ends–one for bedtime and one for getting up—
    Figure out the time you’d like him to be asleep. Write it down, post it on the bathroom medicine cabinet…however you can keep it clear in your mind. The more concrete and realistic your goal is, the better chance you have of accomplishing it.

    Once you’ve got that ideal bedtime, practice setting an alarm or reminder for 1 hour before.
    This is a coming-in-for-a-landing time. Time to slow down, turn off devices and get ready for the next day. Stop TV watching, computer or cellphone use. The light coming from these screens interrupts the release of melatonin, a necessary harmone for sleep.**

    If she must be in front of a screen shortly before bed, plan on dimming the screen as much as possible, or even better, use a program like f.lux*** that will automatically block the blue light coming from your device, making the screen look less like daylight and more like your indoor lights.

    The Night Before, Establish a 5 Minute Quiet Time

    It eases the feeling that you are “rushing to bed.” which is a lot like speeding to get to yoga class. It gives the brain a chance to unwind before the lights go out. Make sure there is a comfortable place for both of you to sit. Set a timer for 5 minutes.

    Here are a Few Tools to Help Create Calm

    Good Morning! The Hour has Come
    Start an interesting conversation by talking about something she likes.

    I try to  stay away from the “have-tos.” We all know them. They are always around, lurking in a nearby corner. Here are a few ideas about what to say instead:

    • Talk about something fun you’ll be doing this weekend/after school together.
    • Ask him about a project he’s doing that’s fun for him (even if you think it’s a bore).
    • Talk about her favorite movie/video game character and which one you like best.
    • Ask him if he wants to help you do a preferred activity, like pour cereal or help make eggs.

    Get Ready to Play

    Put aside 10 minutes to play. Set a timer. This one has helped the overall morning mood in our household immeasurably. No matter what the age, everyone likes to play. This activity could be from their Fun Things To Do List– something that truly pleases your child:

    • If they are small enough and it won’t kill your back, offer a piggy-back ride out of bed.
    • Set up a fun race. (“Beat you to the kitchen! Are you ready? I’ll give you a head start.”)
    • Turn on fun music you both like–something light and playful.
    • Set 15 minutes aside for playing together.
    • Does she like to draw? Play music? Read? Jump on a Trampoline? It’s his personal choice, and if you are involved, even just a little bit, it’s a great bonus.

    Persist

    It’s a process. If you and/or your kids aren’t used to waking up early (as we aren’t), know there will be harder days and easier days. Expecting some set-backs and slip-ups will make it more tolerable. Forge on, forgive yourself for the mistakes and you will make progress towards rising earlier! Remember your “failures” are part of change.

     

    * “Intrinsic motivation occurs when we act without any obvious external rewards. We simply enjoy an activity or see it as an opportunity to explore, learn, and actualize our potentials.” (Coon & Mitterer, 2010)

    ** Information from National Sleep Foundation

    *** https://justgetflux.com

  • Sports + Games

    Easier Building Toys!

    MAGNATILES

    We like them because they are so…QUICK! We erected a grocery store within 10 minutes, and then got to work on the clay food. Not for children who like to gnaw, because the small magnets inside tend to fall out from time to time.

    The pieces are a substantial size, so it’s easy to build something large where all kinds of toys can interact.  I find them user-friendly for many kids, whether or not building is a preferred activity.

    The Magnatile wagons add extra play-value, but matchbox cars also work fine.

  • Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Race to the Treasure Cooperative Game

    Let the Search Party Begin!

    You and your fellow players have a mission if you dare! Together, beat the Ogre to the treasure. Use your strategic and cooperative skills to design a path leading to the keys to the treasure before Mr. Ogre gets there!

    Good for the 5  and up crowd. Race to the Treasure combines  visual planning, graphing, and cooperative play into a fast-paced journey. An engaging game created by Gina Manola for Peaceable Kingdom, it’s easy to learn. Working together and agreeing on a strategy really counts towards winning!

    At the start of the game you roll the color and number dice to lay out 4 keys. Gather 3 out of 4 keys on your path to get the gold. Will you go north, south east or west? Increase the difficulty level by using a timer for each turn (not included), or by placing one or two ogres on the red Ogre Path at the beginning of the game. If you draw 8 Ogre tiles before your team gets to the treasure…he wins the race, and all of you get to try again.

    It’s a great game for young players as it nurtures cooperation and communication. Each game is a little different, so it’s entertaining for the adults who play along!

  • Social Skills,  Sports + Games

    Mole-Rats in Space Cooperative Game

    Watch Out For That Snake, Little Mole-Rat!

    Although we love winning and gloating about it in Uno and Monopoly, cooperative games are big around here–especially this one by Matt Leacock for Peaceable Kingdom.

    You and your mole-rat friends need to band together and help each other get to the space pod in the center of the game board where everyone will blast off to escape many hungry snakes! As you and your associates scurry around the tunnel network, there are a few necessary supplies to pick up for your intergalactic trip: a toothbrush, a turnip, a map and duct tape. Once you’ve all gathered these and make it to the mother ship, everyone wins the game and can safely take off.

    This can be a fast-paced game, and there’s suspense to the very end as the snakes have a way of multiplying indefinitely. A mole-rat can survive one bite from a snake because they can use the first-aid kit in their backpack. But if you’re bitten twice, you’re a goner and its game-over! Once one rat is out of the game, the adventure end–but have no fear, you can start the game again! The game play is about 20–25 minutes.

    Social Skills

    In order for the individual to win, all need to win. Similarly, if one player loses, all lose (womp-womp)! In a very direct way, this game promotes teamwork. If there’s enough buy-in and excitement, competitive players can have a chance to show off their supportive side.

    Upping the Ante (Spoiler Alert)

    Once you get the hang of the game, you can add to the challenge by opening up the special envelope containing 3 extra mole-rat cards. Each one places more snakes in the mix. Slowly introduce them one at a time, or throw in all 3 in for a triple dare!