Planning Problems (or, Scarlett’s Solution Doesn’t Work)

We’re 4 weeks into our homeschooling year and basically thriving.  Basically.  My older’s course load is fairly demanding but, and he agrees, not out of line for his grade (8th) or beyond his intellectual ability (um, elsewhere).  However, he’s feeling underwater, and it took me several days to figure out what the problem has been.  It’s all organizational.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  This is the first year he hasn’t had all his course work coming from me, with a weekly (and often daily) list of work to be accomplished, written and assigned by Mom.  With three online classes this semester, he needs to gather assignments from other sources than me.  So, instead of Monday having a list of all to be done by Friday, as in previous years, he’s still receiving new assignments through Thursday, when his last online class of the week meets.  His first approach was to ignore any work from a class once the class had met for the week, but this led to anasty trio of Mondays, with a  daunting backlog of assignments.  Over the past week, he’s understanding that the Scarlett O’Hara approach to homework makes for really dreadful days and seems willing to make changes. 

I’m trying to help, but as a naturally rather organized person, I don’t know how.  I grew up in the  pre-planner-in-kindergarten days, had a strong desire to perform well in school, and didn’t want to disappoint my teachers (Okay, so the last two carried a price tag.  I know.  That’s a different post.).  My job, back when I worked out of the home more than a few days a month, didn’t require planning.  The list of patients came to my desk each morning, throughout the day the schedule was updated, and any meetings were blocked on my schedule by the staff.  No need for a planner when I don’t have any say in the events of the day.  Parenting requires a good deal of planning, and while I’ll jot a list on occasion, I generally don’t need to do so.

So here I am with an organizationally challenged child, and I’m stumped.  I provide him with room for a weekly plan, filling out the assignments I give and letting him add the multitude of assignments from his online classes, and I’ve given him a grid to use to plan each subject for each day.  It’s almost always empty.  He has an I-pod Touch, and I’ve encouraged him to look for planner apps that might appeal more, but unless Angry Birds or The Annoying Orange are involved and minimal time inputting data is required, I’m probably wasting my breath.

I’m tempted to just let him work it out on his own.  After all, one of the reasons he’s taking online courses is to put the onus of his education more squarely on his rather narrow shoulders.  Okay, that and to offer him a chance to learn Latin with someone who actually knows it.  I’ve injected myself minimally into these courses.  Aside from writing the checks and assuring we’re set with passwords and the like, I’ve left the classes to him.  Admittedly, I ask him daily about one or another of them, reminding him homework is best done in smaller chunks and not an hour before the class.  He’s trying to pace himself and keep on top of the new assignments that roll in each day, but his executive functioning skills are a bit overwhelmed.  Mostly I’m patient with this opportunity for growth (sounds better than incredibly frustrating process of watching my child dig himself into a homework hole day after day).  But sometimes my eyes roll (generally when I’m facing away from him) and my voice takes on an aggrieved tone.  And it’s downright painful to see him discouraged, not at the difficulty of the work, as that’s not yet been remotely a concern, but at his own failure to plan.

As I’ve posted, my older son has what I fondly call a healthy dose of ADD.  Yeah, he takes medication for it.  (No rotten fruit throwing, please.  Each family needs to make its own choice.  This choice works for us for now.)  And the medication works for basic concentration and impulse control.  With it, he can complete an essay,  work a set of math problems, attend an hour-long piano lesson, and squelch most of his impulses to purposely annoy his brother.  He feels more able to get through the day with it, and his self-esteem has risen with his ability to focus for more than 30 seconds at a time.  But it does nothing for organization and planning. 

I feel for the kid.  He’s quite honestly unsure of where his time goes.  Yes, we’ve done time studies.  You try to get a dysgraphic kid with ADD to fill in a chart of what he’s doing all day.  Go ahead. Try. Crazy yet?  I’m pretty sure he feels the same way.  Breaking down complex tasks is also tricky for him, since it requires being able to figure out the parts to the whole, prioritizing of the smaller parts, not feeling overwhelmed along the way, and not losing all those parts he does manage to complete.  Tears are common.  Comments of being stupid are not rare, although nothing could be less true.  These last four weeks, he’s felt continually stressed, not by the difficulty of his work but by the not-so-simple job of figuring out what to do when, where to keep it when it’s done, and whoa! Did the cat just come by?  I’ll be back in a minute…

Next week, we’ll try again.  He’s requested bigger squares on his daily planner, since writing small is very difficult for him, and I’m searching for solutions that don’t require that meeting-sized chart paper.  I’ve played around with some other scheduling forms, software, and apps, none that really fit his needs.  Well, none of them write and prioritize his schedule, prompt him to do each item, tap his shoulder when he goes after that cat again, or find his notes from last Thursday.  And, joking aside, I have compassion for him.  It’s hard to watch your child struggle and even harder to discern when to step in and when to stay out.  At 13 and homeschooling, I’m certain a fair amount of loving support and scaffolding  is in order while he builds organizational skills.  And patience.  Yeah, that would help.  But, ala Scarlett, ” I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”


7 thoughts on “Planning Problems (or, Scarlett’s Solution Doesn’t Work)

  1. I understand how hard this struggle is for both of you. I do have a couple of books that I have recently read that might help him with his organization. I am doing a read-aloud with my twin 12-year-old boys (7th grade) called “Study Smart Junior”. It’s designed for middle school kids and is written in the context of a story in order to show how to organize, schedule, take notes, organize notes, write summaries, and more (we haven’t finished it yet.)

    The other book that I read on my own and really liked a lot is called “How to become a Straight-A Student” by Cal Newport. I am now recommending it to all young people in school! It is written to college students, but so much of it would help junior high and high school kids as well. I SO WISH I had heard of his methods when *I* was in college! LOL! I love that he uses simple methods and not those “study every minute” and “take a course in the Franklin planner system” methods! He always stresses how the point is to have plenty of time for a social life and not spend your life studying! Part 1 is probably the shortest of the 3 parts, but explains a VERY SIMPLE method for time management/organization that just might appeal to your son. It wouldn’t take long to read and could be modified as he sees fit and find works for him. Maybe it will help him see that is doesn’t have to be complicated to get organized. For future reference, Part 2 explains how to handle the huge amounts of reading, note-taking, studying, and problem sets (math and science) you have each week, and Part 3 explains how to *easily* get through and write critical essays and long research papers while still keeping up with your other work. I love his research paper organization as well!

    Good luck to you, and I hope these ideas help you both!

    • Thank you so much, Cindy. With the myriad of books about organization out there, having some recommendations helps narrow the field. I think titles turn me off. I’d have never pulled “How to Become a Straight-A Student” off the shelf. I’m heading to paperback swap now to request a copy. Thanks again!

      • Sarah, I wouldn’t normally have chosen a book like that either, but the author was recommended on a Yahoo group I am on for something to do with high school and college, so I read about him on a website – forget the link just now. Then I looked on Amazon for his other books and read all of the reviews of his various books and thought that for $10, it was worth trying. I am glad that I did. I should write a review on Amazon for it! 🙂

  2. I was JUST talking about this same problem with my husband! Our older son is nearly 10 and we are seeing that he needs to learn how to organize his work. He is easily distracted (more than likely ADD, but with no formal diagnosis) also dealing with writing issues (not dysgraphia, but extreme upper body weakness that requires OT) and is easily overwhelmed and stressed by the need to figure out how to get it all done.

    I am starting a new plan this week. Up until now I have provided a notebook with a list of daily assignments. Now I am going to give him a list of goals for the week, for example, complete pgs. 10-18 in such and such workbook. Then I will help him determine how to split it out to complete it before Friday. Gradually I want to work towards helping him plan over longer time frames. Will this work? I certainly hope so…

  3. “I feel for the kid. He’s quite honestly unsure of where his time goes. Yes, we’ve done time studies. You try to get a dysgraphic kid with ADD to fill in a chart of what he’s doing all day. Go ahead. Try. ”

    Ha! This made me chuckle. I’m right there with you on this one. My girl’s only 9, but she’s one of heck of a free spirit. Time management will always be an issue, I fear.

  4. I don’t know if this will help, but what we are working on is a giant chalkboard where everyone can put their schedule stuff on. I’m talking apx 6 ft by 6 ft. We’re making it ourselves with plywood and chalkboard paint (there is also whiteboard paint if you want to pay twice as much). The theory being that as something occurs to us we can jot it down on this massive visual aid in our dining room where it will be in our face from then on. We’re still at the painting stage so I’ll let ya know how it goes.

  5. Pingback: Following Directions « Quarks and Quirks

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