Summer is an exciting prospect as we look forward to time with friends, family vacations, warm weather, and barbecues. But summer also comes along with anxiety around figuring out how to handle unstructured time now that school is out. Your first instinct may be to pack your student’s time with camps and programs. While this is a great way to fill time and have fun, they likely last only a week or two, which leaves us with many more weeks of unstructured time.
Unstructured time can be daunting as boredom sets in, and we run out of ideas to mitigate it. Although summer is an important time for students to relax and take a little bit of a break from rigorous schoolwork, it is equally as important to stay motivated and active. Learning ways to fill time with exercises of reading, research, and movement will help keep your summer more full, less boring, and more active.
Unstructured time can also be positive, as it teaches a student independence and how to effectively fill their own time with activities they enjoy. This kind of space and time fosters curiosity, creativity and self reflection, which can lead to the student coming up with activities and meaningful ways to fill their time. But they might need some help.
Filling this time might look like helping your student figure out what they enjoy doing in their free time with specific goals in mind. Try having them make a list of two books they would like to read, set a fitness goal, or consider a DIY project like building a table that they would like to complete by the end of summer. When your student sets these goals for themselves, they’ll fill their time with more meaningful activities, which will in turn make it easier for them to stay motivated. This independence and autonomy in goal setting will also relieve some pressure and stress for both parents and students! Encouraging your student to think about projects and goals over the summer helps to reinforce their own management skills and can foster motivation, which will help them in the upcoming school year. In achieving these goals, your student will have a greater sense of pride and accomplishment, improving their self esteem and thus academic performance in the fall. You can help them structure their time by creating a timeline with them, and making sure that they are reminded of these summer projects when they mutter, “I am soooo bored.”
While summer is a great time to take a break from schoolwork, it is also important to keep our minds sharp and look forward to the upcoming school year. If your student needs help with math or writing, Stride is offering summer programs to help pre-teach curriculum that students will encounter in the upcoming school year. This summer, we’ll also focus on reviewing content covered during the remote learning period.
While there is no sure way to steer clear of boredom and unstructured time the entire summer, setting up some specific goals, projects, and activities can help. It is important to maintain routines and keep your brain sharp over summer. Because students with executive function challenges already combat upkeep of routines and organization, it’s helpful to maintain some structure by having small goals throughout the summer — this way, jumping back into the fall semester (and school mindset) will be much more smooth!
This time of year can feel hectic and panicked for all of us; as school comes to a finish, and work gears up for summer, we’re all trying to stay organized in this transition. Balancing this can feel exhausting and overwhelming. How can we take a break from this, quiet our anxieties, and take some time to ourselves? How do we find just a few moments to catch our breath and focus on the present so that we can finish strong in this last week or two of school?
Walking meditation can help. This practice not only relieves stress, but also gives you an opportunity to take a moment break and recenter. By taking five to ten minutes to focus on yourself, you can be more productive and feel less overwhelmed when you resume work.
This type of meditation allows us to be on our feet, and can feel easier and less daunting than sitting down to meditate. It focuses on steps and breaths and lends itself perfectly as a quick break from work and school. Maybe your student is studying for a final and becomes anxious, or they are working on a paper and become frustrated. Maybe you are between meeting calls and are feeling overwhelmed by all that you are expected to get done by the end of the day. A walking meditation allows for a break and a reconnection. Through movement and mindful discipline, you can learn to reduce stress and anxiety.
How to begin:
Find a place: This can be your yard, driveway, kitchen, or a hiking trail. You just need enough space to walk 10 to 15 steps in any direction, and preferably a place you won’t feel observed.
Move: Take 10 to 15 steps in one direction, pause, and take a breath. Then, turn back to walk 10 to 15 steps in the opposite direction, breathing at each end, and repeat. This can also be done in one continuous line.
How to move: Walking meditation is the act of deliberately moving, following your steps with your breath and focus. You should focus your attention on the way that you move your feet with each step: how you lift your foot off the ground, move it slightly forward, and how you set your foot back to the ground, heel first, and then toe. How your weight shifts to that leg as your repeat with the other foot. This can be practiced as slowly or as quickly as you would like, the focus should be on how you move with intention and keep your mind centered on the movement of your breath with each step.
What do do with your hands: Your arms can lay flat to your sides, or you can clasp your hands behind your back – do whatever feels most comfortable.
Focus: Try to focus your attention on things that you might normally take for granted: how your body moves with each step, how the birds sound outside, or the sounds of your house. This can also be how each breath feels.
The wandering mind: Remember this is ok. Just simply try to refocus your attention back on the movement of your walk and your breath.
You can integrate this practice into any part of your day. These are all elements, though at a faster pace, that you can focus on while running, pushing a cart in the grocery store, or walking your dog. By practicing this regularly, either as a quick break from sitting or as a more established practice, you can allow yourself to ease away from the stress of your day, work, and school for a few moments while staying active. Walking meditation doesn’t require you to sit still and think about nothing, but it encourages you to refocus and think about the intentionality of your thoughts and movements. It is a practice in discipline and movement in its core.
You can learn more about this meditation and mindfulness practice here.
Right now, electronic organization is more important than ever. Working from home and remote learning have increased the need to prioritize our organization techniques and efforts. Electronic organization was important pre-COVID, but it’s even more relevant now, especially as the semester wraps up and it begins to feel like summer. It can be difficult to maintain habits as we get excited about the end of the school year and get antsy to be outside and with friends.
Staying organized on your computer can feel overwhelming and disorienting. Often, we save documents to our desktop or Google Drive without thinking about the future need to retrieve them from the abyss of other documents. When we do go back to dig up the documents we need, anxiety and frustration can build as it may take more time than necessary to find what we’re looking for.
1. First, it’s important to get into the habit of titling documents. We don’t want dozens of “untitled” files floating around our drives and desktops. This is an easy first step to staying organized. The next step is to save these documents in specific folders so they’re organized under the appropriate subjects.
2. Just like we have folders in our backpacks or filing cabinets (or storage boxes under our beds), we should have folders designated for each class (or project) — either in a cloud system or on our desktop. Having subfolders can add another layer of organization too! This might look like one folder for homework, one for tests, and one for administrative work. Having folders and subfolders will make it easier to save and dig files out later when studying for a test, finding an assignment to turn in, or reviewing a project.
3. Continuing this organization is important, and having your student check in at least two times a week to organize their desktop and drive will help them to create that routine and stay organized. These check-ins also allow time to make sure everything has been turned in and ensure there aren’t unnecessary documents floating around.
4. Keeping a list or calendar of assignment due dates (and where they need to be turned in) is key. It is even more important now, at the end of the semester, to make sure assignments are turned in on time. Considering that all assignments are now due online, and we don’t have consistent reminders in school about these assignments, it can feel overwhelming to keep track of everything. Keeping a sticky note on your desktop, an easily viewable document in your Google Drive, or a physical planner will help track this and relieve some anxiety. Knowing where to submit assignments online (Schoology, Google Classroom, etc.) should also be noted in your student’s planner. Consistently checking grades to understand course progress is also helpful.
Keeping an organized, cloud-based drive by titling documents and creating folders, as well as staying on top of updating your calendar and assignment list, will help your student feel a greater sense of control over their work and ensure that assignments aren’t lost in a virtual, document abyss. We are all excited about warmer weather and the prospect of summer, and we want to make sure that we all feel organized and accomplished as we wrap up the semester.
The last few months have posed many challenges and have been a time of adjustment and revaluation. Since school and some jobs are remote, many families are now spending more time together — for better or for worse. While there are many benefits to this (more family time, learning new hobbies, no commuting), we are also faced with new challenges, especially regarding our relationships with the people we are quarantined with and the new boundaries we are trying to establish.
We are learning how to shift our boundaries in the midst of this new situation. Many parents are not used to having their students underfoot at work and similarly, most students are not used to having their parents present during school time. We are not used to sharing our environments with the other people in our house and are used to a separation. We are used to reconvening at the end of the day or having various extracurriculars and social activities. With much of this on pause and spending our days at home together, we need to find a new system of setting boundaries and giving space. However, it can be difficult to know where and how to set these boundaries.
While many of us (parents and students alike) need help staying on track and on task in this time of remoteness, constant prodding and checking in can foster resentment and fracture our mutual trust. Maybe your student is having a hard time staying on track, but checking in constantly is exhausting for everyone. Having a calendar up or a daily schedule posted in a public space, like the kitchen or living room, can allow for more passive communication and will allow you to know when to step in. If the student is responsible for checking off what they have done, this holds everybody accountable for their responsibilities and allows for the potential to foster more independence. For both students and parents, creating more separation during the work day will allow you to maximize your productivity without constant nagging. This will also allow for more privacy during work times, as well as increase student responsibility and independence in a controlled environment.
Setting up your independent offices and workspaces, however official or unofficial, will be helpful in creating physical boundaries. Having designated work spaces can aid in clear communication about when you are working and when you are unable to be disturbed during class, calls, and conferences. This will help parents and students know how and when to interact; this can also allow for the quiet needed during all of our Google Meet and Zoom calls! These offices and workspaces are necessary for both students and parents, and the boundaries should be respected by everyone involved. Just as students shouldn’t interrupt parents on conference calls, parents should avoid interrupting students when they are completing classwork or taking part in a virtual class.
We also need time to spend together and interact with the other humans in our house. Setting aside specific times to spend together can be a helpful way of maintaining communication and space and gives everyone something to look forward to in the day. Maybe this looks like having family dinners at 6:30, going for a bike ride at 4, or playing a card game together after dinner. These activities will give you a set time to spend with your co-quarantiners, ensuring that you will be able to interact with them, but alleviating the need to always be together. Having a few of these times throughout the day provides the opportunity to check in on one another’s progress in terms of school (and work) in a non-invasive way.
Set up a calendar not just for your student, but for yourself as well. Set your goals for the day, respect everyone’s workspace and schedules, and clearly communicate what time you and your student have meetings that can’t be interrupted. These boundaries will help provide the necessary space and independence that all parties need, while also allowing everyone to stay connected and communicating effectively. Once that independence is figured out, the time your family does spend together can focus on topics other than work completion!
We are now a month into quarantine, and most of us are still trying to adjust to learning and working online. It feels daunting to think that this era of remoteness and social distancing will continue to be our norm for a little while longer, and the ambiguity can make it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. This leaves many of us wondering how to stay motivated and continue to look and move forward in our day-to-day life.
Exercise and sleep are important to both our mental and physical health; they can help us stay in healthy routines and are fundamental building blocks to keeping up, staying motivated, and feeling fresh.
Exercise can sometimes fall to the bottom of the priority list, but even just a 5-minute workout can give you a great sense of accomplishment and can increase your confidence for completing future tasks. Movement releases endorphins which energize you and provides the momentum needed to keep moving forward with daily tasks. Keeping a consistent sleep routine will aid in this too! Sleep deprivation and inconsistent or altered sleep patterns can make us feel sluggish and unmotivated. For example, staying up until 3am and sleeping in until 2pm not only impacts our “normal” sleep schedule, but it can also cause us to feel that we have already wasted our day — leading to a “it’s not worth it today” mindset, which morphs into procrastination and falling behind on our goals. Keeping a consistent sleep schedule will help you stay on your toes, feel fresh, and keep your goals in sight.
Setting achievable goals is also imperative in the pursuit of consistent motivation. When we set expectations too high for what we can achieve in a day and we are unable to achieve that expectation, we begin to feel defeated about the unfinished work. Keep your goals realistic. Finishing a week’s worth of math assignments and completing an English essay in one day is going to be too much. Instead, set a goal of working on 10 problems and one paragraph. Breaking big goals into smaller pieces allows us to take pride in the small accomplishments instead of dwelling on how we fell short. Slow and steady wins the race. However, sometimes we still hit roadblocks, and that’s okay!
We may still have trouble achieving our goals, even when making them more realistic, and focusing on this can lead to diminished self esteem. To mitigate this, check in with yourself about your progress and goals. It’s okay to re-evaluate, and if what you originally planned for isn’t working for you, you can adjust. Make a list of what you have done well, and what you want to improve. This can be an excellent daily activity to keep your spirits up and keep you looking forward, but it’s also helpful in evaluating how you need to change your longer-term goals and/or habits. Sharing these ideas with your mentor, parent, or teacher is a good idea too, and can increase accountability for those acknowledgements and goals.
In addition to academic and work-related goals, try to set goals in other areas of your life. Setting and achieving these goals (which might be more meaningful to you) will help you feel more accomplished. This might even help keep you more motivated in school, and work can feel more attainable and struggle-free. Feeling a sense of accomplishment in one aspect of your day can help you to continue moving forward with the rest of your work.
The light at the end of the tunnel is always there, whether or not we can see it all the time. Keeping healthy habits, like sleep, exercise, and easily-achievable goals —both academic and non-academic — can help us keep moving forward and through the tunnel of remote learning and work.
In this period of learning and working from home, we all find ourselves in a familiar environment: home. This leaves us with an overwhelming number of distractions that pull us from productivity.
Maybe these distractions show up as the pile of laundry that needs to be done, or the ding of a phone notification. Maybe your co-quarantiners are watching TV, playing in the backyard, or generally taking part in something that’s more fun than the work you should be doing. Maybe you just feel overwhelmed by your written (or mental) to-do list. We all know what this feels like and the frustration that accompanies these feelings; before you know it, the day has passed and you haven’t accomplished as much as you had hoped. So, how can we limit these distractions?
Routines and lists can help us not only plan out our “productive times,” but our “distraction times” as well. It is unrealistic to eliminate all distractions, and some distraction can actually be helpful — this time can provide a necessary break. Try including time for distractions in your routine! Maybe this means working for 45 minutes and then taking a 15- or 20-minute break to indulge in the distraction of your choice (whether that’s laundry, social media, getting a snack, or doing a few pushups). This could also be less time-focused and more goal-oriented, whatever best fits the way you work. Setting up a routine like this can help us stay focused and avoid unrealistic expectations for productivity. Scheduling time for distractions might simultaneously mean setting more rigid restrictions for yourself, like no watching TV until 5. Remember, discipline = freedom!
The space and environment that we work in also affects our productivity, and the right environment can help us get into the zone. Setting up a designated work area can help separate work time from free time. Having a clear and clean space to work in, with limited visual and auditory distractions, can help us focus and mitigate that quarantine FOMO. Make it an inviting space to settle and zone into; turn your phone to silent, and let people know that you will be back in 45 minutes. This will be your designated work space: not a sleep space or a gaming space, but a “you are in work mode” space.
Social media begs for your attention, the next season of a show is calling your name, and bed has never looked more comfortable. Notifications keep popping up on your screen, pulling you in. Set your phone to “do not disturb” for the 30 minutes to an hour that you’re dedicating to work. This helps to keep these intriguing distractions at bay. Maybe your gaming system looks tempting, or watching New Girl (for the second time) feels stress-relieving. Try finding a place where distractions like these are out of sight and out of mind during the time that you have set aside to do work; remind yourself that they will be there when you are finished with your work.
We are all dealing with different sets of distractions. Whether your distractions take the form of your phone, your co-quarentiners, or the list of a million tasks you have been meaning to do, they are more tempting than ever in this period of less structure and less accountability. Take the time to set a routine, create a specific workspace, and give yourself set time to enjoy your distractions!
Now, more than ever, our students need consistency, direction, and routine where they can find it. What does that look like during this time of school closure?
In a time of uncertainty, what can you control?
First things first: move.
Pull up a yoga class on Youtube. Hop on a treadmill or stationary bike. Do some jumping jacks or push ups to break up the monotony of sitting. Screen time is increasing for all of us, many parents are working from home, and students are antsy. Movement breaks should happen throughout the day to help parents, students – everyone – to realign and refocus.
Make a plan, follow a routine.
How can we all use this time wisely? When a student has a routine, they aren’t constantly looking for a purpose or something to do; a routine allows a student to organize their life on a daily level. Research shows that routines decrease impulsivity and increase time management skills. Set some goals with your student for the next few weeks, and figure out what needs to happen each day to accomplish them. If the main goal is to read ahead in history, then create a morning routine that involves your student reading while their focus is engaged, and they haven’t been distracted by their day yet. For example, once your student is awake, they could:Brush their teeth
-Walk the dog
-Read for 30 minutes
-Make a quick outline of key points covered
-Vacuum their room
A routine can be more detailed than that, but it doesn’t have to be! Productivity early in the day gives you options (discipline = freedom, of course!). Routines open up a tremendous amount of time, and your student can run with that productive momentum start a (read a choice book, clean their room, start a DIY project) or take time to do whatever it is they want to do (play video games, scroll through Tik Tok, watch Netflix, you name it).
The flip side: when routines are off, things fall apart. When students with executive function challenges miss school due to illness, vacation, etc., it can take an inordinate amount of time for them to catch up and get “back on track.” This time out of school can be a blessing or a curse, and it’s up to us how we frame it.
How can Stride help?
We’re here to support you. Although we can’t meet in person right now, mentors are available to chat with students, help them catch up if they’ve fallen behind in the semester, help them get ahead, and overall, help them maximize their time out of school. Meeting remotely with mentors, regardless of what your student’s grades look like, is important to student success and maintaining consistency (and a degree of normalcy). Reach out to your mentor if you have any questions about your student’s progress or if you need more specific tips regarding building a daily, non-academic routine.
As you get organized and set goals for the new term, why not check in with an expert?
We talked to a local middle school teacher and she gave us an inside look into what teachers wish students would do.
Use teacher websites and calendars
Teacher websites and calendars are excellent tools to use to stay on top of assignments. Not only do the calendars outline the current week and beyond, but the websites often provide a gold mine of resources: copies of handouts, reading materials and videos. You may even find study hints or answer keys! These tools are better than an online search or textbook – the teachers’ resources are exactly what you need to learn to be successful in their classes.
Use your planner
Most adults use a planner in some form – electronic or paper – to stay organized and keep them running on time. Students benefit from planners as a clear visual aid to keep assignment due dates and test days straight. Despite teachers providing at least a week at a time in detail AND class time to fill out planners, too many students do not use this resource. Want to go electronic instead of paper? Ask your teacher.
Use class time to get the work done
Even if you think you understand the material, get work done in class. Reduce what you need to do at home, and identify challenging problems while the teacher and peers are there to help. Map out what needs to be done in class – do NOT say, “I’ll do it later!”
Ask if you have questions (even on a test or quiz)
Asking your questions out loud helps you figure it out for yourself. Additionally, the teacher may clarify or give you a hint – partial credit is better than none. Worst case: you might not get an answer, but the teacher knows you are trying.
Do missing/incomplete assignments
Checking Infinite Campus/online grade books on a weekly basis should identify assignments that are missing or have low scores. Resubmit or check with the teacher as soon as you see the “missing” posted, ideally within a week of when the work was due. Addressing missing work soon is easier for you and for the teacher and ensures that you understand what is next. If you ignore it, you may miss the opportunity to learn the material and get credit for it.
These tips are valuable for developing good relationships with your teachers. Completing them shows your teachers that you care in addition to helping you stay on top of your school game!
When your student has executive function challenges, it’s important they communicate openly with their teachers. Whether they need extra time on a test or clarification on an assignment, it’s powerful when the student reaches out to their teacher instead of the parent. This shows the teacher that your student cares about succeeding in school and taking their education into their own hands.
In what situations should students self-advocate?
If a question/issue is recurring, or is in any way hindering learning progress in class, it is important enough for the student to advocate for themselves by bringing it up to a teacher.
Teachers don’t enjoy giving low grades. They want to help students succeed, not take away points from students who care. The most common situation we encounter is students who have incomplete or missing work who want to improve their grade. If your student has incomplete work, encourage them to reach out to their teacher to make up the points. Figure out the source of the issue (they forgot to turn it in, didn’t have enough time to finish it in class, misread the due date written on the board, were unclear on the directions) and go from there. At home, you and your student can tackle the reasoning and find some potential solutions for your student to share with the teacher. At school, the teacher can assist in implementing a fix (give extra time for assignments, create a new seating chart, clarify instructions). However, if your student doesn’t reach out to the teacher, no solutions will be found and their grades will stay low.
Sometimes your student needs to speak up about outside influences having detrimental effects on their schoolwork. Some examples of this are:
-“I’m getting easily distracted by the people I sit by.”
-“I can’t see/hear very well from my current seat.”
-“Someone is teasing/bullying me.”
These are all important issues that the teacher can fix once they know what’s going on. Teachers can’t see or know everything that goes on in a classroom of 25-30 students, so the issues can’t be addressed if the teacher isn’t aware of them. Even if the teacher seems intimidating or your student is scared of “telling on” their friends or other students, encourage them to share their concerns with their teacher. Every single student has the right to a functional learning environment.
When’s a good time to approach a teacher?
During work time in class: If a quick question comes up for your student during class, encourage them to raise their hand and ask their teacher in the moment. There are likely other students with the same question! If your student has a more specific question or concern, the teacher is often circulating or at their desk during work time and can give individual questions one-on-one feedback at that time.
Before/after class: This can be both a great and bad time, depending on the transition. Make sure to ask if it’s a good time for the teacher to talk. Don’t be discouraged if the answer is no; sometimes the teacher just needs to set up for the next class.
Office hours: This time is allotted for teachers to answer questions from students. This is a great time to connect without the pressure of being around peers or other distractions. This is an especially helpful time to nail down any gaps in understanding.
If your student is nervous about approaching a teacher in person, help them write an email to set up their conversation. This takes the time crunch and distraction out of the situation, and it gives your student and the teacher helpful points to refer to when they meet. Emails are also helpful to document bigger issues, like a family emergency or a request for different accommodations.
We want our students to be comfortable advocating for themselves and being able to handle tough conversations with their teachers. As always, taking an active role in their education is the best way for your student to get what they need.
A daily struggle for parents of students with executive function challenges is finding the patience needed to support your student. It can be exhausting when they seem unfocused or unclear on the work they need to do. How do other parents do it? Where do they find this seemingly endless patience?
Here are some gentle reminders:
Executive function skills are learned.
They do not come naturally to most of our students, but they can be developed. As much as everyone would love to see concrete, immediate results, the systems and routines we teach take time to develop and become habits in our students’ lives. Different systems work for different people. Some of these systems take a few months to catch on, others take years. Your student is a work in progress. You, as a parent, are also a work in progress.
Your student doesn’t fit the school system.
It’s easy to look at low grades, think there’s no growth, and feel discouraged. Grades can be a measure of success, but they don’t always reflect the success of your student. At Stride, we value “the process” over grades. If your student sticks with the process – follows their schedule, studies accordingly, practices their routines – and gets a 50% on a test, we can live with that. If your student doesn’t commit to the process and gets a 50%, we have an issue. The process is what helps our students succeed in a system that is not conducive to their strengths.
The path to success is not a smooth ride.
“Two steps forward, one step back” is a phrase we use frequently. Over time, you are going to see some fantastic results in your student’s progress, but don’t let their setbacks deter you. It’s all a part of the process, and experiencing minor setbacks does not mean your student is not moving forward. If the setbacks start to outweigh the victories, it’s time to check in and get back to basics, but that’s a different conversation.
It’s tough when you’ve had a long day and your student says, “Yes, I finished everything,” yet you can think of a handful of uncompleted assignments. Take a breath, get ready to navigate those assignments, and remember that your student has so much potential to accomplish big things with their gifts and creativity. They can figure this out. But they need your help to reach those high achievements, and it starts with your support, love, and patience.