Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Redefine Perfect: Handle Homework Hassles IV

by Meghan S. Leahy, MS, NCC

Homework can be very stressful for both adults and students. The best approach is to find a system that works for everyone and make it a habit. Discovering the system that works best can be tricky. It takes experimentation, creativity, and patience. Also, the system needs to be flexible, re-examined, and tweaked over time.

For students with ADHD, the key is flexible structure. Adults have to remember that it is their job to implement this structure for students in a positive manner. It is the student’s job to engage in the homework process and complete the work. This is an important relationship. Adults need to find a balance and model productive behaviors while allowing responsibility for quality homework completion to remain with the student. Students are empowered by adults who can honestly and enthusiastically help them discover success in small, continuous steps.

Here are a few helpful tips:

•    Make a plan. Know what is required; awareness is key. Each night, have the student make a list of all the work that needs to be done, for that night and for the week. Discuss a plan of attack for completion. How will the work be broken down?

•    Use your words and laugh a lot. Research has proven that positive reinforcement is the most successful way to motivate students with ADHD. Avoid negative language and always ask open-ended questions—remember to wait for a reply. Realistically, not too many students enjoy homework. Don’t judge. Address the fact that it is a reality that must be accepted and talk it through. Some students need to vent. Let them discuss how hard life can be—as long as they are talking while they work.

•    Redefine “perfect.” There is no such thing as perfect, so help your students to set reasonable goals that will make them (and you) “perfectly” happy. At the end of each marking period, reward progress, examine setbacks and set new goals.

Meghan S. Leahy, MS, NCC, is the founder and director of Leahy Learning and coauthored the medical textbook Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Throughout the Lifespan (Western Schools, 2014). As a clinical associate at the Penn Adult ADHD Treatment and Research Program at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked with college students and adults. She has also been a clinic director at Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Get Support & Communicate: Handle Homework Hassles III


by Thomas J. Power, PhD

Debate continues about the value of homework and whether homework should be assigned to students, particularly in the elementary grades. Although many arguments have been made in favor of homework, three are especially important.

First, family involvement in education clearly has been shown to have a positive effect on children’s performance in school. Homework provides an opportunity for families to be involved in their children’s education and to help their children to do well in school. Second, the quality of the family-school relationship is critical for school success. Homework is a natural means of family-school collaboration and provides ongoing opportunities for parents and teachers to connect with each other. Third, when students transition into high school and college, they generally need good work habits to be able to work effectively on their own. Homework provides an opportunity for students to develop independent study skills.

The most important question is not whether to assign homework but how to support families with homework. The following are a few points to consider:

It is critical for homework assignments to be adjusted so that students experience high rates of success. Parents have an important role in negotiating with teachers the right amount and type of homework.

Homework can be a battleground that has negative effects on student motivation to learn and the quality of the parent-child relationship. Many parents need training to design a homework routine and use positive reinforcement strategies that will be effective. School guidance counselors and your child’s doctor may be able to offer referrals to a professional who can offer this service.

Homework assignments can be overwhelming to children and their parents. It is usually a good idea to break up homework into manageable chunks or units and to set goals for completion and accuracy for each unit. Subsequently, children can earn positive reinforcement for being able to achieve established goals.

Thomas J. Power, PhD, is professor of pediatrics and education at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Management of ADHD at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is a former member of CHADD's professional advisory board. He is one of the coauthors of Homework Success for Children with ADHD: A Family-School Intervention Program (Guilford Press, 2001).


by Courtney Calio, MSEd

Students with ADHD feel overwhelmed with the idea of homework. Work outside of the school day requires time management, focus, and self-regulation—all skills that do not come easily for those fighting ADHD. Not to mention that the required task could be difficult, in a content area of little interest, or seen by the child as pointless. These possible culprits are at the core of the all-too-familiar scene: fighting and crying over homework with your child at the kitchen table, plugging through one spelling word or math fact at a time.

The reality is that all children of this generation are required to sustain a daily routine that requires intense academic rigor. Eligible content and high-stakes standardized testing leave little room in the school day to release extra energy or engage in self-selected learning activities. Unfortunately, there is little reprieve from this routine for many children at dismissal time. The transition from school to home, usually with well-deserved extracurricular activities jammed in between, creates a difficult dilemma. How do you explain to your child who has ADHD that he or she must be focused all day at school to do his or her best work, but then must also refocus at home to do more schoolwork?

As an elementary educator, I have come to realize that only so much can be expected at home from all children, that the smallest modifications can reap huge rewards, and that without communication (from teacher, parent and child) the battle is never won. My advice to parents of children with ADHD:

You must communicate with your child's teacher about homework. Determine the exact purpose of the homework. Is the teacher open to differentiating the assignment to meet the strengths of your student? Your child's teacher will not understand any struggles going on at home unless you communicate them and work together to develop possible alternatives.

Consider your child's learning style. Is your child a great artist, musician, or athlete? Does your child love technology? Seek out ways to complete a reading log or memorize spelling words and math facts that involve your child's natural strengths, known as multiple intelligences in the world of education.  Find activities that are enjoyable but meaningful and produce the same results.

Stay positive and involve your child in open dialogue. Involve your child in discussions with the teacher and demonstrate how to communicate and voice struggles. Your child knows he or she has ADHD and it will always present challenges in life. There will be many times when modifications can't be made and when one just has to get the job done. Explain this, each and every time. Show your child that you are advocating for him or her, that you understand, and that learning how to cope and overcome will make him or her stronger.

Courtney Calio, MSEd, teaches fifth grade in the Kennett Consolidated School District in Pennsylvania.

Earlier versions appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Establish the Homework Ritual: Handle Homework Hassles, Part II

by Jim Karustis, PhD

Many years ago I discovered that homework problems can truly rip families apart, and that is no exaggeration. Common complaints include:
  • “My kid will argue for six hours about doing homework that would take her fifteen minutes!”
  • “He says he does his homework at school, then I get hit with surprises at teacher conference time.”
  • “My child really does try, but homework seems to take up all of her time every night.”

Homework can be a silent problem. Many students struggle while doing their homework at home, but as long as they finally complete the work and submit it, the teacher may not even realize that there is a problem. Many well-meaning parents gradually find themselves taking over the lion’s share of homework responsibilities, out of fear that their children will be penalized for incomplete work.

If your child is experiencing significant homework problems, review the basics of what we call the homework ritual. Get clear on the rules yourself, then review them with your child and post them prominently in your home.

As much as possible, homework should begin at the same time each day. There should be a designated, distraction-minimized location. Don’t believe it when your child says he can pay attention better when the television is on — turn it off. Some children do fare better, however, when there is some subdued music in the background — mainly for rote tasks. The homework location should be virtually a sacred spot, set aside only for homework, so that your child can keep materials there and not confuse the location with other activities.

If these elements of the homework ritual have been problematic, then I suggest that you implement an incentive system that targets the troublesome homework-related behaviors — for example, fifteen minutes earned for her favorite video game for beginning homework with one reminder.

The next issue is to keep separate and distinct your roles as homework manager and homework tutor. Managerial duties include the structure of homework time and making sure you know what your child has to do for homework. Once you are confident your child understands the directions, then leave the homework station. Inform your child that you will check back later, but that you expect that he will have completed X number of problems. The assistance with the actual instructional material can come later.

All students should use homework assignment books. Most schools now have websites where teachers can post assignments. While these may greatly reduce the importance of pen-and-paper assignment books, they have variable reliability for some students. If compliance with consistently using an assignment book has been a problem for your child, you may wish to ask the teachers to sign the book on a daily basis. On days when there is no assignment, teachers would write "no homework" and sign off on it. If your child is one of those who says she has completed her homework at school, then make it clear that privileges at home are contingent upon her bringing the work home for you to compare against what is in the assignment book.

If you have these elements in place and still experience significant problems, it may be time to request a meeting of the school’s Instructional Support Team (private schools have equivalent teams with varying names). The IST can assist with basic interventions regarding homework and related issues, and can also begin the process of exploring the possibility of whether your child is receiving instruction consistent with her current level of functioning. For students with ADHD, requesting reduced homework demands is a common and reasonable intervention.

Homework can be put in its place for what it is meant to be, which is a reinforcement of classroom instruction. If it is dominating home life, then try the modifications outlined above, and consider seeking assistance from the IST or a qualified psychologist with expertise in school issues.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

A psychologist in private practice, James Lorenzo Karustis, PhD, is a member of the professional advisory board for Chester County/Main Line CHADD. He coauthored Homework Success for Children with ADHD: A Family-School Intervention Program (Guilford Press, 2001).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Handle Homework Hassles, Part I

With schools back in session, we know you want to prepare for the homework blues before they become nightly battles. For the next few weeks, we'll share advice from experts, many of whom are first and foremost parents of children with ADHD. Some have additional expertise as educators, psychologists, social workers, or pediatricians. Let us know what other topics you'd like to read about!

by Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD

Tips and tricks for surviving the homework wars fill volumes. Strategies intended to “help” with homework often leave both parent and child feeling like they are just adding to the workload. The real key to success with homework rests in identifying strategies that work for all homework all the time. Here are three basic interventions that get the job done and build valuable lifelong habits:

  • Process is more important than product. In recent years, educators have perfected the art of outlining explicitly the product they expect from students. Rubrics and assignment contracts spell out clearly what teachers expect to see handed in. The missing link often rests with the process. Help your child get from “I haven’t even thought about the assignment” to handing in a quality product by creating process cards. Together with your child, outline clear and simple steps to completing the task. Cards for tasks such as learning new vocabulary and outlining reading materials can be used repeatedly to build both confidence and good work habits. Start each step with a motivational check box that can be ticked off for a sense of accomplishment.
  • All reading assignments must be active. Asking a child with ADHD to simply read a chapter for homework is like asking him or her to watch grass grow — many will comply, but in the end the grass and child remain unchanged. If reading assignments are not active, the brain is not engaged, attention wanders, and learning does not take place. Active reading strategies can involve asking students to locate key ideas in the reading, color coding answers to the end-of-chapter questions, or creating questions based on the reading. 
  • Build basic skills. Basic skills are the gifts that keep on giving. Devoting a chunk of time in the summer to targeted basic skills practice such as increasing reading fluency, improving written language skills, or committing math facts to memory will help build your child’s automaticity. Students who read more fluently, compute with speed and accuracy, and write with ease will realize the benefits across all academic tasks.

by Sheila Grant, MS, RN

As a parent, I have experienced the stress and tension of trying to get my kids to complete their homework. When you break it down, the steps required to complete homework can be especially challenging for a student with ADHD:

  1. Figure out the assignment. (Big problem, because it is not always written down.)
  2. Do you have the right materials to complete assignment? (Is the book at home?)
  3. Do you have an understanding of what is required? (Your child may have the assignment, but does not really know what is required.)
  4. Complete the assignment. (This is the hard part.)
  5. Hand in the assignment. (How many times does your child finally complete homework, only to leave it on kitchen table?)

After many stressful nights, tears, and fights, hiring a homework helper was the best thing I ever did for my family when my kids were in elementary and middle school. I hired many wonderful college students and graduate students over the years. Some were studying to be special education teachers.

Once or twice a week, the homework helper sat in the kitchen with my child and supervised homework. The job included going through the backpack to find all of the errant papers, checking assignment books, working on organization, and making sure the assignments were complete and put away in the backpack. I was able to prepare dinner quietly; there were no fights, and my children felt a sense of accomplishment and confidence in their ability to do the work.

Homework helpers do not cost nearly as much as a tutor; figure on paying between $8 and $15 per hour. Here are my tips:

  • If you have a university near you, try posting an ad. There are always students who need jobs and are perfect for elementary age through high school. Mature high school students would work well for elementary-age children.
  • Be prepared to change homework helpers if they do not work out. Look for one that is very organized, very kind, and comfortable setting limits with your child. For example, if you asked my son if he had any homework, he would frequently say no because he simply forgot. The effective homework helper did not stop there, but went through the backpack and the assignment book and almost always found something that needed to be done, even if it was simply organizing school materials or reviewing material. 
  • Ask for an extra set of books to be kept at home. This accommodation should be a part of the child’s IEP or 504 Plan to ensure you get that extra set of books.
An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Maureen A. McQuiggan, EdD, is director of curriculum and professional development for the Radnor Township School District in Radnor, Pennsylvania, and an adjunct professor in special education at Immaculata University. She is a member of the professional advisory board for Chester County/Main Line CHADD and the parent of two children affected by ADHD.

Sheila Grant, MS, RN, is the coordinator of Chester County/Main Line CHADD, where she facilitates the parent support groups. She is a psychiatric nurse on the adjunct faculty of Immaculata University.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Start the School Year Right II: Homework and the Home Environment

guest blog by Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith

Last week, in part one, we discussed how parents can effectively communicate their child’s needs through a letter to his or her teacher(s). This week, we'll address how you can set up the home environment to effectively organize and plan for those dreaded-by-parents-and-kids-alike homework sessions.

When your child has ADHD, it is important to set up a home environment that facilitates homework completion. Because many children with ADHD have problems with organizational impairment due to executive functioning deficits, the following proactive strategies will help take some of the stress out of the homework process.

Organize a space in your home for doing homework. Choose an area that is away from distractions and has ample room. Depending on their age, some children do better working independently in a quiet place that is away from other family members and distractions. Younger children often need to be in an area close enough to mom or dad so that progress on homework can be monitored.

A large calendar on the wall can be helpful for keeping track of your child’s assignments, when they are due, and when your child will be working on parts of long-term assignments. It can also be beneficial to include the dates of other activities such as soccer games, piano lessons, and so forth. This will help you and your child see the big picture of what needs to be done each week. Post-it notes and a bulletin board to put them on can also be a helpful organizational tool for older children.

Make sure all supplies for doing homework are organized and accessible close to the homework area. It can be helpful for the supplies to be sorted in containers or bins or placed in a regular spot on a shelf. Items that students often need to complete assignments include paper, pencils, pens, colored pencils, crayons, erasers, magic markers, a ruler, a calculator, a stapler and staples, scissors, glue sticks, and report folders. Different kinds of paper, such as lined, graph, computer, and construction paper are important to keep in the designated homework area. And for those moments when your child announces at 9 PM that he just remembered he has a project due for his science class tomorrow, it is wise to keep a supply of poster paper and maybe even project board on hand.

One essential tool to have in the homework work area is a timer that can be set to break the homework session into manageable units. Setting the timer for fifteen minutes of on-task work followed by a five-minute break can give the fidgety or frustrated child an opportunity to get up, move about, and then refocus on the work. Repeat this process for as long as is necessary to complete the evening’s homework.

Time limits will vary depending on the age of the child, his/her ability to stay on task, and the child’s difficulty with and/or interest in the assignment. The timer can also be a tool for teaching the child time-management strategies. Parents can make the child aware of the importance of using strategies, such as a timer, when they model using it to break homework completion into manageable parts.

Prepare a notebook for the handouts your child’s teacher sends home. This notebook will be for you. It is hard to remember classroom policies, course outlines, and grading scales for all teachers. Create a section in a three-ring binder for each of your children, using notebook dividers with pockets. When your children bring home correspondence during the school year, you will have a place to keep it. When you need to refer to the information, you will know right where to find it.

Schoolwork and the stress that it brings can be difficult for families dealing with ADHD. Help get the new school year off to a good start by setting up your home environment so that your child — and you — are ready to meet the challenges of homework completion.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith are two of the founders of CHADD's Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Start the School Year Right: The Teacher Letter

guest blog by Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith

When August arrives, it's time to start putting systems in place to ensure that your child can have a successful school year. You can help get the new school year off to a good start by effectively communicating your child’s needs to his or her teachers and by setting up a home environment that facilitates homework completion. This week, let's look at the first of these tasks.

How do you get pertinent information to the teachers who are working with your child? A letter can be a good start and is a great vehicle to give the teacher an opportunity to become aware of your child’s special education plan. Even if no formalized plan is in place, a letter is a great tool if the teacher needs to know more about your child.

Never assume that just because a formalized plan has been created that your child’s teachers have been informed about its contents. Remember, it only takes a week to get behind in school, and then the stress of playing catch-up never seems to end — for your child and for you. If the special education department within your school district has a system in place for getting the details of your child’s plan to the teacher, then collaborate with them to convey your child’s information to the teacher.

Write a letter to your child’s teacher

Does your child have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 accommodation plan for school? Does your child require special classroom interventions? Has your child’s teacher been made aware of the plan? If you answered yes to the first two questions, and no to the last question, then take out your pen out now and write a letter.

The purpose of the letter is to make your child's teacher(s) aware that your child has an educational program. They may not have received those records from the school administration yet, and you want to make sure the information is conveyed to them. Write the letter in the spirit of providing support to the teacher, while making sure information about your child has been made available.

Below you'll find a list of important points to address in your letter, as well as other items that can be included based on your child’s individual needs. A sample letter is also provided.

End the letter by saying that you look forward to meeting the teacher(s) on back-to-school night. Then be sure to attend! If your child’s school does not hold such an event, say that you would like to meet the teacher(s) before the parent-teacher conferences at the end of the grading period, and ask what day and time would be convenient. Send the letter to all of your child’s teachers — including physical education teachers and coaches — and be sure to share a copy with the school principal.

Important points to include or address

  1. Your name and relationship to (child’s name) 
  2. Your contact information: phone/fax numbers, mailing address, email address, best times to reach you
  3. Your aim to work as partners to ensure a successful year (for teacher and child)
    •   establish positive, open communication between home and school
    •   offer cooperation, collaboration, assistance, support
    •   provide helpful information about your child
  4. Information about your child’s disability and educational program (IEP or 504 Plan)
    •   instructional needs, modifications, and/or accommodations in the plan
    •   behavioral needs, modifications, and/or accommodations in the plan
  5. System for home-school communication
    •   daily homework and assignment sheet
    •   daily/weekly behavior report
    •   progress report, problem-solving, as needed 



Dear Mr./Ms./Mrs. _____,

My husband and I are writing this letter to introduce ourselves and to open a door of communication. We are the parents of [child’s name], who will be a student in your class this year. We are looking forward to a successful school year for both you and [child’s name], and as parents, we want to work with you and the school as partners in [child’s name]’s education. We will be happy to help you and [child’s name] in any way we can.

In case you have not had the opportunity to receive the records from special education, [child’s name] has an educational program [insert IEP / 504 Plan as appropriate] to address needs related to ADHD, which affects [Insert appropriate information here. For example: his ability to sit still, pay attention, and control his behavior. He has particular trouble getting organized, staying focused, completing and turning in assignments on time, and memorizing information, such as math facts.] We want to take this opportunity to share information about his educational services in a simplified format, including the modifications and accommodations he receives.

Listed here are the main provisions of his [insert IEP/504 Plan and list specifics below; this is a sample]:
Preferential seating
Extra time on tests
Test answers recorded in an alternate manner, as needed — especially for short-answer and discussion items
Second set of books at home
Use of a calculator for math
Shortened homework assignments for math and writing
Homework, long-range assignments, and tests recorded in planner, signed by teacher, and sent home every day
Resource room, 45 minutes 4 times per week for math
Foreign language exemption
Home-school reward system for homework completion and turning in assignments on time

We would also like to take this opportunity to set up a system of communication between home and school. You may already have such a system for your class that we will be happy to adapt and use. If not, then we will send a planner to school with [child’s name] everyday. It will always be in his backpack. He is to use it to write down his daily homework assignments, as well as any long-range assignments, such as upcoming tests, so that we can help to monitor his schoolwork at home. I will also use the planner to communicate with you on a weekly basis. Would you please assist us by reviewing and signing his planner before he leaves school each day and sending a note home in the planner on Fridays, so that we can help [child’s name] come to school prepared and reward him for his weekly school progress?

We would like to thank you in advance for taking the time to read our letter and helping with this important program. Having a system of support in place at the beginning of school will help to get the year off to a good start. My husband and I look forward to meeting you on Back-to-School Night, [insert date if known].

Please do not hesitate to contact us about problems or call on us for assistance at any time. We have included our phone and fax numbers and e-mail addresses below.

Best regards,


Parent(s) Full Name(s)
Street Address
Town, State, Zip Code
Home Phone, Cell phone, Fax number
Mother’s e-mail, Father’s e-mail

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith are two of the founders of CHADD's Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Pack It Light, Wear It Right: Backpack Awareness

 by Zara Harris, MS, OT

This year, National School Backpack Awareness Day will be Wednesday, September 16. All across the country, backpack events will educate parents, students, educators, and school administrators about the serious health effects heavy backpacks worn improperly have on children.

More than 2,000 backpack-related injuries were treated in hospitals and clinics in 2007, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Countless students display stooped posture and complain of aching backs and shoulders and/or tingling arms. Too much weight improperly supported over time can cause long-term problems for developing spines. According to a Boston University study, approximately 85% percent of university students self-report discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage. Good habits need to be set during the school years.

For those of us whose children have ADHD, more often than not we are more concerned that our kids have remembered their backpacks and have the right books in them than that they are carrying them correctly.

For students with organizational challenges, taking everything with them all the time seems like the best strategy. But the weight soon adds up. Using their lockers between classes to switch out books is often a step too far in time — and that locker has its own organizing challenges. So, what do we do?

Start out right

At the beginning of the school year, pick the best backpack for your student (see the guidelines below). If your student carries a laptop or tablet to school, consider getting a backpack with a special padded compartment that can be accessed from the outside without disturbing all those bits of paper. Buy a second (labeled) power cord that can either live at school or in a compartment in the backpack. Keep the other one permanently plugged in at home.

When possible, have a set of duplicate textbooks that lives at home. This both reduces the weight of the backpack and the frustration of not bringing home the right books. Label these books well so they do not creep back into school later in the year. When buying school supplies buy the jumbo packs, keep a supply in the backpack, a set at home for homework, and keep the rest in a closet ready for when the first lot go missing.

Most students with ADHD struggle to use ring binders effectively and do better with an accordion file so that papers can just be dropped into the well-labeled pockets. Beware, though, that these fill fast. Beware also that if the accordion file is dropped, it is a paper disaster. Get a tabletop box of hanging files (with the same labels) and plan to transfer papers once a week from the accordion file to the box file.

After-school activities or subjects like music or sports that require special clothes or equipment on special days present extra challenges. Consider having a separate bag with those items that can either be carried separately or inserted into the backpack on those days. At one time I had a Monday bag, a Tuesday, bag, and so forth. It might be useful way of recycling last year’s backpack.

Privacy issues

As students gets older, the contents of their backpacks become increasingly “personal.” Before school starts, make a plan to manage the organization at a regular time and give the student time to remove any “personal” items before you sort it together.

If you can, arrange for a regular locker check, too. This may be done with the help of the teacher or a better-organized student. Make sure that your student can use the padlock provided for the locker and can reach the hooks within. Invest in some locker shelves and organizers to help your student see belongings more easily.

The older the student, the more he should be responsible for his own belongings. Backpacks fall into the must-be-done category, however — think about those week-old sandwiches under the social studies book, to say nothing of that completed science project she forgot to hand in. A regular weekly backpack and locker check can be an essential tool for school success.

•    To fit the student, the bottom should rest in the curve of the lower back and NEVER more than four inches below the waistline (two inches for smaller kids).
•    Broad, well-padded shoulder straps and back of pack.
•    Adjustable straps to fit the pack to the child and to allow for growth during the year.
•    If possible, find one with waist and chest straps to secure the pack to the child’s body.
•    If a younger child has to carry many books, then consider a wheeled bag with a handle long enough that he or she can pull it without stooping.
•    If the student will carry a tablet or laptop, consider choosing a backpack with a special pocket that opens to the outside (handy for airports, too).
•    Label it well!

•    A full backpack should not weigh more than 10% (15% absolute maximum) of the child’s body weight.
•    Load the heaviest items closest to the child’s back. 
•    Arrange books and materials so that they don’t slide around in the backpack.
•    If the backpack is too heavy, consider having the child hand carry a book or lunch box. It can be useful to have one that clips to the backpack for storage in school.

•    Distribute weight evenly by using BOTH straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
•    Wear the waist belt and chest strap if the pack has them. This helps distribute the weight more evenly.
•    Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back and not below the waist. A pack that hangs loosely can pull the child backward and strain muscles.

To ease those dreadful morning scrambles, load the backpack the night before and place it by the door.

More information is available in the Backpack Awareness section of the American Occupational Therapy Association website.

Pediatric occupational therapist Zara Harris, MS, OT, is based in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Licensed in both the United States and the United Kingdom, she has had over thirty years of experience. Specializing in helping students who are struggling with handwriting, homework, attention, time management, and organization, Harris has worked with international schools on three different continents.