Monday, February 8, 2016

Our Journey to Staying on Task

"Oh, What? I'm Suppose to Be Doing Something Right Now? Right...I forgot. I'm going.  I'm on my way.  And oh look! Here is my such n such.  Isn't it great? I like to set it up like this. Yeah, now this goes like this. There we go, now I'll straighten out the top and...oh what? Oh I forgot again. I'm going.   And oh yeah, I also forgot that I need to finish that craft project I started yesterday. It's over there. I didn't finish coloring this part.  Let me just color it real quick. And...okay! I'm going!"

Have you ever been on either side of this conversation? If you have children there is a good chance you have.  Have you felt crazy and mentally exhausted by the end of the day after relentless conversations like this? 

It is rather common for young children to get distracted.  Some just happen to have this conversation a little more than others. Me, I have been on both sides. I remember getting distracted as a child. During school or at home.  At home it was usually during homework time.  Now, as an adult I have a similar conversation almost every day, however, now I am on the other side of it.  The other participant is my 5 year old daughter.  

Adelyn is very distracted at home.  It is not a spiteful, "I want to do wrong" behavior. She tries hard, but staying on task is difficult for her to achieve. I can ask her to do something and she has forgotten by the time she makes it up the stairs. She also happens to be very creative (common for those who get distracted). She can turn a rock and two coins into something to play with for extended periods of time.  I remember myself, playing with two pennies on the design of my grandparent's kitchen floor.  When nothing else is around, 5 sticks can turn into a family of characters with different personalities.  Because of this creative characteristic, anything can be distracting.  Everything you see can be something to play with, something to create, or an adventure waiting to happen.  

The interesting side of this is that she does just fine at school. Although her teacher has many teaching tools and visuals on the walls, Adelyn is able to focus on her work and get it done within the designated work period. Without her toys and things in front of her and only her brown table area, she does great.  Her teacher suggested the idea that perhaps when she gets home after a very structured school day, she just feels the need to unwind and have the freedom to do at her own pace.  That sounds accurate to me.  

So how do we deal with this "distractedness" in the mean time?  Well, it has taken some work. 

These 6 things have helped drastically.  
1. Music/chanting the task to be done

                           Teaching the chant

     Doing it on her own and getting excited about it!

As I mentioned, sometimes my daughter forgets what she is suppose to be doing by the time she reaches the top of the stairs or the entrance to her room becoming absorbed with all of the inviting distractions around her. We recently have tried a fun way to keep her focused on the current task using music/rhythm.  

The following steps have helped us to put this idea in place.

  1. I chant the task/tasks that must be done.
  2. Repeat them 4-5 times.
  3. Have her chant with me 3 times
  4. Send her off! 

If you are doing a set of tasks you can chant all three in the sequence in which you want them to be performed.  Use only a few words per task. Start out by explaining each one and then pick one or two words when chanting. Think Dora the Explorer when the map told her where she needed to go. 

For example:
Take off your shoes
Pick out a snack
Sit down at the table

Chant (and clap for extra reinforcement:
Pick Snack

2.  A timer

This is a great visual to help understand the concept of time.  Children need something concrete. The red shows how much time she has left.  She has become good at telling a difference between a lot of red and a little bit of red.  You can set it to beep when time is up if you desire.  This helps us a lot during dinner when her talking is taking the place of eating.  We definitely encourage conversation at the table, but she needs this timer to keep her eye on and that really helps her balance it out. 

3. A BIG clock at EYE LEVEL

I hung this big clock right at eye level and in a place where Adelyn walks by frequently.  This is definitely helping with her telling time skills. I show her the big hand and what number it is going to be on when her time is up.  Works like the red timer, but it is working towards helping her tell time.  

I HIGHLY recommend getting an analog clock for your kids.  It teaches about telling time, gives a concrete visual understanding of time and has an impact on planning and spatial awareness.  When I think about planning my day, I see the clock in my head and schedule events in my mind by each number. Planning is very visual for me.  

4. Counting

"You have 10 seconds to get your hair wet.  You have 10 seconds to open up the shampoo, squeeze it out and put it in your hair.  You have 10 seconds to rinse it out."  

I was amazed at how quickly she got finished showering when we tried this method.  I used a very enthusiastic and encouraging voice when I said the above words.  Adelyn got pumped up and she counted to 10 while she did each part.  We were finished in about 3-5 minutes total instead of 15-20.  What a change!

5.  A picture routine  

Our brains process images and color faster than words.  Words take more conscious thought. We have to process what each letter stands for, what it sounds like, put all of the sounds together to make a word, and then process what the word means. Pictures win. 

It is even better to have a schedule with REAL pictures from your house.  I am in the process of making her one with her own stuff. I think that will help her process the pictures even faster.  With these clip art pictures, she still has to generalize those to her own things. 

As they learn to read, it is good to increase vocabulary and spelling words by having the routine written out.  Since our 3rd baby was born, my husband has impressed me, helping out a lot with the routine reminders.  He made this list above. 

6. Rewards!!

The first step to increasing any behavior is rewarding the behavior. Help children want to work to improving on task skills.  
This gives them something 
  1. concrete to see and therefor can
  2. track their own progress,
  3. take initiative to reaching the goal,
  4. and build self esteem in the whole process. 

Adults work for rewards whether we realize that or not.  I was delighted when I came to this realization in college during the time we worked on self direction projects.  Woo hoo, ice cream for me! The reward of a clean room is sometimes motivating enough for an adult (and sometimes that was me for a while).  For children, that is too abstract.  They need a concrete tracking system and reward that they can see with their own eyes and feel with their own hands. 

We have three different lines they can earn stars on. When they reach the end, they get to pick from our prize box (full of consumables for the most part).  They can also LOSE stars.

We divide the day in half. They can earn one per morning in each category and one per afternoon/night.

Respect- top line of the chart.  Includes kind words, gentle hands, personal space, honesty, helping others, taking care of someone else's things.

Chores- middle line of the chart.  Includes regular house chores, some daily, some weekly.

Responsibilities- bottom line of the chart.  Includes homework, packing for school, taking care of pets, scout homework, piano practice, getting prepared for sports.

 *In order for reward charts to be successful, parents themselves must be consistent.  I  totally know it is hard....I have caught myself having to hand out stickers for the previous two days plus the current day.  Pick a consistent time to do it every day. We do it after dinner. On crazy nights it is before they go to bed while I am still trying to hold my eyelids open. 

Also, hand out the stickers in a designated amount of time that works for each child.  Maybe it is at the end of each day or maybe at noon and the end of the day. As soon as they reach the end of the row show them to the prize box!

To sum it up:
These six things have put some fun back into our after-school routine, allowing tasks to get done, arguing to diminish, and enjoyment of being together to take place. Most of the time.  I did raise my voice pretty loud yesterday. It is better though, with these new methods in place. Patience and gentleness are two virtues that have challenged me during this journey with our daughter.  I am still learning.  Whether it is now or in the future, there will be things about me that will drive her crazy and require her to learn that same patience and gentleness with me.  It's all part of that beautiful family community.  My heart's delight and the people I gladly get to journey with every day, flaws and all.