guest blog by Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith, BA
Summer is great—no schedule, fewer demands, and no homework! In August, however, it's time to start preparing to ensure a successful school year for your child.
Schoolwork and the stress it brings can be difficult for families dealing with ADHD. But you can get the 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.
WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER
A letter can be a great vehicle for getting pertinent information to your child's teachers, whether or not your child has a formalized educational plan. If a formalized plan has been created, don't assume that the teachers have been informed about its contents. Remember, it only takes a week to get behind in school, and then the stress for you and your child to play catch up never seems to end.
Write your letter before the school year even begins—or as soon as possible if it already has begun. Information is provided below to assist you in writing your letter, and a sample letter is provided at the end of the blog.
The purpose of the letter is to make your child's teacher(s) aware that your child has an educational program. Teachers may not have received those records from the school administration yet, and you want to make sure the information has been conveyed to them. Write the letter in the spirit of providing support to the teacher, while making sure your child's records have been made available.
Close the letter by saying you look forward to meeting the teacher(s) on back-to-school night, then be sure to attend it. If the school does not hold such an event, ask to meet before the parent-teacher conferences at the end of the grading period. Send the letter to all your child’s teachers, including physical education teachers and coaches, and share a copy with the school principal.
Important points to address in your letter
- Your name and relationship to (child’s name)
- Your contact information
- phone numbers
- mailing address
- email address
- best times to reach you
- 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
- 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
- System for home-school communication
- daily homework and assignment sheet
- daily/weekly behavior report
- progress report, problem-solving, as needed
SET UP YOUR HOME FOR HOMEWORK
Next, think about setting up your home environment for homework sessions. Because many children with ADHD have problems with organizational impairment due to executive function deficits, proactive strategies can remove some of the stress from this process.
Organize a designated 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 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 assignments, due dates, and for planning out the components of long-term assignments. You can also include the dates of other activities, such as soccer games, piano lessons, and so forth. This will help both you and your child see the big picture of what needs to be done each week. Post-It notes and a bulletin board can be helpful organization tools for older children.
Make sure all homework supplies are organized and accessible close to the designated homework area. Sort the supplies in containers or bins placed in a regular spot on a shelf. Students often need 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, may be needed. It's wise to keep a supply of poster paper and maybe even a project board on hand for those moments when your child announces at 9 PM that he just remembered he has a project due for his science class tomorrow.
One tool that is essential for children with ADHD 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 that day’s assignments. Time limits will vary depending on the age of the child, ability to stay on task, and difficulty with or interest in the assignment. The timer can also be a tool for teaching time-management strategies.
Prepare a notebook for all handouts your child’s teacher sends home. This notebook will be for you. It's hard to remember classroom policies, course outlines, and grading scales for all teachers. When your children bring home correspondence during the school year, you will have a place to keep it. Another option is to create a section for each of your children in a three-ring binder, using notebook dividers with pockets. When you need to refer to the information, you will know right where to find it.
Writing a letter to your child’s teachers and setting up your home environment so that you are ready to meet the challenges of homework completion can help your child and family get off to a good start in the coming school year.
SAMPLE LETTER TO YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER
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 look 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 yet received the records, [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]:
- Preferential seating
- Extra time on tests (time and a half)
- Test answers recorded in an alternate manner, as needed—especially for short-answer and discussion items (oral, audiotaped, dictated, or typed responses)
- 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 numbers and email addresses below.
Parent(s) Full Name(s)
Town, State, Zip Code
Home Phone, Cell phone
Mother’s email, Father’s email
Resource Room Teacher, Music Teacher, Art Teacher, Coach [all that apply]
Beth A. Kaplanek, RN, and Linda Smith, BA, are two of the founders of CHADD's Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD. A previous version of this blog appeared in Attention magazine.