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How to structure your unstructured time, aka summer, from a mom still trying to figure out this crazy thing called parenting.
Why so much structure?
Most young children benefit from visual schedules, behavior charts, and are comforted by routines. Pre Kindergarten teachers are rockstars at this! However, some older children benefit form similar charts, especially those on the spectrum or with behavioral struggles.
My son, who is on the autism spectrum, can go maybe a day or two with less structure. And I can wing structuring just one day at home without a chart. But we have to have a chart to make it the store or even church without a battle. So anytime we have a three day weekend or school break, I have to bump up the structure. Without this structure and routine my child struggles with anger, obsession behaviors, living in his own world (introverted and not communicating) and bathroom accidents.
Creating Better Structure
I thought I did a good job providing structure last summer, but I didn’t plan enough social interaction with kids his age. (My best friends have babies or toddlers And other school age play dates fell through) However, When it came time for my teacher in service (two weeks of training), he bounced from relatives houses during the day without a set structure. And this left him a mess for the first day of school. And our first few weeks of school were… hard. Like epically HARD. My main goal for summer structure is to make the transition back to school less difficult.
I love structure. I meal plan and lesson plan like a pro! (Only one of those do I have official training in though! And if ever given the chance, I could be completely unstructured and binge watch Netflix with the best of them. ) However, I told our ABA therapist that we struggle with creating such a set structure and then becoming locked into it and not being able to flex and bend. Y’all I have a two year old too. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned! So she gave us some recommendations, and I incorporated them into my planning. One such suggestion: using a white board instead of printed charts; It’s easier to adjust. I opted for chalk board charts and chalk paint pens, but it’s the same idea.
My chart and routines need to be:
- Flexible yet structured
- Have planned bathroom breaks (this works for both kids… I’m about to start potty training my two and half year old… Lord help me!)
- Give choice and variety at meal time but provide comfort by knowing what to expect. And create less whining at meal time. Yay! (Two year old needs this too!)
- Include scheduled social activities
- Provide daily outings, but plenty of time at home to stay caught up on cleaning.
- A way to monitor behavior through set expectations and self regulation.
So, in an effort to curb undesirable behaviors and include both academic activities and social activities on a daily basis in a flexible, realistic, and manageable manner, I created these basic routine charts.
I’ve done something like this before only with color bins for each food group and he could pick one item from each bin. But since my son can read now, this worked perfectly.
Breakfast: pick one item off the breakfast shelf plus milk or yogurt. No whining for juice!
Lunch: he gets his standard peanut butter sandwich or crackers plus a protein snack, fruit snack and then chips.
Dinner: A dinner item (my choice) plus his choice of a fruit snack. I do let have a reward for trying new foods… but that’s another post.
An organized pantry
I organized my pantry to reflect theses menu options. Now, my son wants me to add labels to each shelf on our pantry… well maybe. I also moved less desirable food options up higher and hidden in bins. Less whining but without labeling them as bad. I did create specific times we could have them… snack time or as part of healthy choices!
Daily Routine Chart
I began thinking about our normal flow and just added times. To keep it flexible I just wrote morning activity and afternoon activity. This way each day I can change the activity but the routines are the same. I added a little bit of free play time and movie time to save my sanity. I planned in bathroom breaks and specific times to stop and talk about behavior. (See behavior chart below)
Nap time: so this is where I had to stretch myself. Typically my daughter’s nap time is when my son gets to watch TV, and I get free time to read, write, whatever. I didn’t want to completely give this up, so I’m setting the expectation that he must complete one academic activity (math worksheet, journal, sketch pad drawing, etc.) that I sit one on one with him for. (10-30 minutes at most) And then he can pick a video for the following hour. So… I’m trying!
Weekly Routine Chart
Homeschool mommas are probably better at this than me. If I don’t plan outings and activities, I think I would just stay at home and then blink and a week would have passed and we would have done nothing. This was the best I could come up with. I’m working around my 2 year olds much needed nap time. So the simplest way was to plan an AM activity and PM activity. And we need at least one social outing each day. And I can mix it up each week while some items won’t change.
So… I had to actually ask our ABA therapist for a recommendation. Over spring break our strict behavior chart based on tasks was actually locking us into certain activities. And then my daughter got walking pneumonia… again. (She has asthma and week lungs) So my son had a few fits when activities changed. She recommended a self and match behavior system. (And we modified it a bit to fit our needs) Instead of being task based, like many behavior charts we tried before, we list three desired behaviors which can change each day. And after each activity we reflect and “match” I ask how he thought he did; sad face, smiley face or middle face. (We added the middle face) Then, I respond by saying how I thought he behaved. Each smiley face earns two points. But if our faces match… if he acknowledges he did not meet expectations he still gets one point. 5-6 points earn a star. Two stars earn a 5 min break (right now he likes The Pokémon game). Basically this system isn’t all or nothing. And it’s more about reflection to actually create a change in behavior. I keep a chart at home but can recreate it on a whiteboard or paper if we travel. Our ABA therapist is making us a laminated version for travel too.
There is so much more to this method than my modified, but works for us, version. Want more info on the self and match system:
Basically, this is a LONG post to say I’m really trying to stay structured. My word for the year is persevere. Not because I’m a quitter, but this kind of stuff is hard. And we have seen so much improvement, but I don’t foresee a time when this won’t be some variance of hard. My husband bought me this book called Persevering Parent as a gift for us to read together. (Quite the romantic gift right?) I completely acknowledge that not every kid needs this type of planning and structure, but mine does so I’ll do my best to give him what he needs. And I want to share what I learned, because I can’t be the only one!
Schedules, routines, and charts, oh my!
Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia!