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To-Do Lists: Check the Box

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By Kristen Carlson

We can all benefit from the use of checklists – whether we’re shopping at the grocery store, keeping track of appointments, or planning for a trip! Making a list helps us to orient, organize, and prioritize our thoughts to come up with a clear plan. For students, to-do lists help break down longer-term projects, which are often breeding grounds for procrastination, into individual, easier-to-accomplish subtasks with firm deadlines. In the 21stcentury, creating checklists on your phone makes your tasks even more accessible; you can even sync your tasks to your smartwatch!

Here are some to-do list highlights to try out:

  • Google Tasks: Many students use Google Classroom or Google Drive in school, which makes Google Tasks a perfect option for tracking assignments. Not only can you access Tasks from the sidebar when using any Google application, but tasks can be synced to your calendar and accessed from your phone. Students who have messy handwriting or find it challenging to utilize a traditional academic planner may find checking off their work using Google Tasks a much easier and productive method.
  • Microsoft To-Do: This task app syncs your to-do lists to your Microsoft 365 account so you can access it from your Outlook Calendar. Tasks can be moved, grouped, and organized into individual sections. This app also allows you to make subtasks to break down more complex responsibilities. You can assign tasks or share your lists with other members in your organization, which makes this app ideal for working professionals!
  • Actions by Moleskine: With this app, you can view, track, and color-code your tasks. When you create a task, the app takes care of scheduling, reminders, and notifications. This way, you can receive push notifications when you need to get a job done! Tasks can also be moved around by priority and can be dropped into lists. This app also offers smartwatch and Siri compatibility, which makes it even easier to keep track of important items and keep your productivity hands-free.
  • Post-It: Take pictures of existing Post-it notes or add your own digital notes to help you brainstorm, collaborate, and get organized! Once you’ve added your notes, you can group them on a grid and share them to PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, and more. This app allows a lot of creativity and independence, and it’s great for group projects, business meetings, or quick reminders when you are on the go!
  • Good Old Pen and Paper: If you’re not tech-savvy or just prefer the act of physically writing tasks down, putting pen to paper is always a great option. If it’s a grocery list, consider grouping items by their location in your local store. If it’s a daily list, you might organize the tasks by the order you want to accomplish them in. Add check boxes next to each object or action so you can get satisfaction out of checking them off the list!

There are many options out there when it comes to checklists; some prioritize accessibility and ease, while others focus on versatility and functionality. It’s important to try multiple possibilities until you find one that works best for you. Ultimately, your efforts will result in the same outcome: a handy tool to help you plan, prevent procrastination, and give you the satisfaction of getting the job done! 

Erica MechlinskiTo-Do Lists: Check the Box

School Mornings

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By Kristin Backert

The alarm rings. Once. Twice. Three times. You go into your child’s room and discover he’s still sleeping. You tell him to get out of bed, and he mumbles that he will in a minute. When you return 30 minutes later, he’s still snoozing away but bolts up in a panic when you inform him that the bus is leaving in five minutes.

Sound familiar?

If your child is struggling to get out of bed when the alarm rings, there are several things you can do to help him feel more in control. First, establish a routine. While it’s difficult to predict the amount of homework a student gets on a given night, aim to have a “light’s out” time so that he knows it’s time to unwind and go to sleep at a reasonable time. If your child struggles to stick to this light’s out time at first, that’s okay! It’ll take time to adjust, so in the meantime, try to get him into bed within a half hour of the light’s out time. By doing so, this will increase his chances of not only getting enough sleep, but feeling rested enough to wake up in the morning with no fuss. This routine can encompass other elements as well, such as picking out an outfit the night before and placing a packed backpack near the front door to reduce stress in the morning.

Another method your child can try is to manage his academics effectively. Part of the reason that students stay up so late is they misjudge how long an assignment will take them, or they lose focus. Have your child set a timer for 25 minutes; he must work continuously during this time, and when the 25 minutes are up, your child earns a 5-minute break. He then returns for another 25-minute block of work, and so on and so forth. By scheduling blocks of work and breaks, your child will be able to remain more focused and complete his work efficiently. It’s also helpful to teach your child how to gauge how long he believes an assignment will take him so he can judge how many 25-minute blocks he should devote to it and how he should prioritize his assignments. 

School mornings have a bad rap, but they don’t have to if you plan accordingly! If your child goes to sleep at about the same time every night and learns to manage his time while attending to his homework, waking up in the morning and heading off to school will be a breeze.  

Erica MechlinskiSchool Mornings

#FunFriday: Solitaire

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If you’ve ever owned a computer (or, if you’re old-fashioned, a deck of cards), there’s a good chance you’ve played Solitaire. While this game is a great way to pass the time, did you know that it also helps strengthen executive function skills? The game teaches you to expand your flexible thinking skills as you consider all your options. It also encourages you to analyze the steps you took and to learn from your mistakes. #FunFriday

Get more fun tips on our FaceBook page!

Erica Mechlinski#FunFriday: Solitaire

You Never Know When You Need Excellent Executive Functions!

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By Rhona Gordon

I am hoping that all of you are relaxing and enjoying the pool, ocean, or air conditioning! Even with summer schedules, I hope it feels less hectic than the pace during the school year. However, this is NOT what I am experiencing this summer. In the first week of June, I tripped on a carpet and broke my right wrist; I knew it the second I landed on the floor! One positive is that I’m a lefty, so I had no trouble writing and working! I had never had a cast before, so I had no idea what I was in for. Right away, my brain started saying that I needed to find compensatory strategies to get me through the 6-8 weeks of being in a cast, which by the way, feels like a vice on your arm and fingers! So, I called upon my executive functioning skills to help me out!

I needed cognitive flexibility to set myself up to manage with this cast on. 

  1.  My vitamins and all bottles, like shampoo and face wash had to be opened and left with the cap loosely fitted around the bottle – okay, I asked for help on this one and the task was accomplished!
  2. I was having trouble in and out of the shower, so what did I do? What we all do – searched Amazon and got what I needed – a long handle with a sponge on the end to help one-handed washing!
  3. Typing on the computer was very painful, so I used what I tell my students to use: speech to text. It transcribed about 80% of what I said correctly, so I used my left hand to make the changes. 

The last thing is time management. My speed of accomplishing any task was WAY slower with a broken wrist. How could I NOT be on time? That would be terrible. So, I started planning every move with forward thinking and working backwards from the deadline, which is exactly what we tell all out wonderful clients to do! I looked at all my appointments and added anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour for on time arrivals. Actually, I think I should train the airlines to use the same strategy! This was not an easy task, and it meant less sleep, but hey, who can sleep with a broken wrist, anyway??

I’m happy to report that seven weeks have passed, and my cast is now off. I thought I would be totally fine once the bone was healed, but no, now I have to counteract the side effects of having an immobile arm for 6 ½ weeks. Oh well, I will need to continue to use my Excellent Executive Functions to help me navigate all the physical therapy I now have to endure. But I am grateful to have these skills in place, and I ask all of you to remember the organization strategies that you learn while working with Thinking Organized. You need them every day, and sometimes when you least expect it. Finally, if you ever find yourself in a cast (and I truly hope you don’t), call me. I’ll give you the specific executive functioning skills for broken bones!

Erica MechlinskiYou Never Know When You Need Excellent Executive Functions!

Keeping Up with Academics in Summer

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By Jennifer Sax

After ten months of working hard in school, many parents want to give their children a break over the summer. While summer fun and relaxing are extremely important, it is also essential that students maintain their skills so they are ready for the upcoming school year.  Research shows that taking an extended break from academic work can “un-do” some of the skills that students gained during the school year, and this is especially true for our students with learning disabilities, ADHD, and executive functioning challenges. To prevent summer learning loss, it’s essential that your children find a way to balance fun and academics. Here are some great ideas!

  • Set up tutoring sessions. The Educational Mentors and Speech-Language Pathologists at Thinking Organized are available throughout the summer for individual sessions to work on summer packets, summer reading, and to reinforce executive functioning skills. 
  • Enroll in a learning-based program. When your children are home from sleep-away camp and/or vacation, enroll them in one of the intensive academic or group programs at Thinking Organized. Master Math, Ready Reader, and Just Write programs can be scheduled to fit your summer plan while targeting crucial academic skills.
  • Write daily. A summer journal can keep your children writing over the summer, which will help reinforce their ability to craft clear and descriptive prose. You can have them write about their day, or give them funny or interesting prompts to write about. If you would like a list of these, feel free to contact us!
  • Start a family book club.Read the same book as your children and discuss it chapter by chapter. This can help improve and support reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. Have your child make predictions, connections between events, and look up unknown vocabulary. 

It is important to cherish the enjoyable, relaxing, and care-free aspects of summer, but don’t let that come at the cost of skill regression. Thinking Organized is here to help your children maintain and build skills at a time that is convenient for you! 

Erica MechlinskiKeeping Up with Academics in Summer

Procrastination and Laziness: Two Sides of Two Different Coins

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By Colette Hapi

As parents of children who have ADHD or those who have the proclivity to procrastinate, it can be easy to assume that this avoidance stems from laziness. In fact, there’s a good chance that your children’s teachers have told you that they could do so much better if they would just apply themselves and stop being so lazy. 

However, it turns out that procrastination is rarely a symptom of laziness. So the question becomes, if your children’s procrastination habits are not a result of laziness, then what are they a result of?’ According to Dr. Fuschia Sirois, a doctor of psychology, “People engage in this irrational cycle of chronic procrastination because of an inability to manage negative moods around a task.” It is likely that your children avoid doing certain tasks because those tasks elicit certain moods, and procrastination serves as a coping mechanism for the challenging emotions and negative moods (including boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, and self-doubt) induced by said tasks. Children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, where focusing on tasks is already difficult, tend to procrastinate more due to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, or insecurity, as opposed to laziness. They worry that they won’t be able to accomplish a task correctly, and so they figure it’s better to not even try.

As parents and educators, we try to help these students by encouraging them to break a task down into smaller pieces, make a plan to tackle each piece, and then execute their plan. While this sounds good on paper, students’ feelings of anxiety, fear, and inadequacy impedes them from making thoughtful decisions on how to attack the task at hand, which makes them more prone to procrastination, thereby creating a vicious cycle.  So how do we help our children? The most important thing is to realize that their procrastination is not about productivity but about emotions. If we are able to help them manage their emotions properly by talking about them openly and acknowledging their value, then that will help them procrastinate less. 

Erica MechlinskiProcrastination and Laziness: Two Sides of Two Different Coins

The College Admissions Scandal

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By Kristin Backert

By now, you’re probably familiar with the college admissions scandal, where high-profile celebrities bribed others to get their children into elite schools. As a result of this scandal, there’s now a lot of scrutiny over children who claim they need accommodations at school or for standardized testing. While ensuring fairness in higher education is important, this increased scrutiny could make things more complicated for those students who truly have learning disorders and need accommodations to facilitate success. According to lawyer and disability activist Matthew Cortland, “There are already too many hoops and hurdles disabled students must navigate in order to vindicate their civil right to higher education. My fear is that these celebrity fraudsters will incite a crackdown on accommodations. Schools and testing companies will make it even more burdensome for disabled students to get the accommodations that allow them to realize their civil right to access higher education.”

If your children are preparing to either go to college or begin the application process, there are a few steps you can take to ensure they still receive the accommodations they legitimately need:

  • Document.Keep physical evidence that demonstrates the differences between your children’s academic performance when they have accommodations versus when they don’t. Keep old tests, essays, and report cards, as they illustrate clear, tangible shifts in your children’s performance.
  • Testimonials.Teachers, tutors, and therapists (the three T’s!) have unique insight into your children’s strengths and weaknesses, which make them an excellent resource to write letters on behalf of your children advocating that they receive accommodations in college.
  • Professional Testing. Many standardized tests require that children undergo neuropsychological testing that is no older than three years by the time your children take the SAT or ACT, so keep that in mind as you begin saving for your children’s college funds. Getting an updated evaluation gives your children a better chance of using accommodations not only on the exams, but for when they go to college as well. 

This college admissions scandal has the possibility of making it more difficult for students to navigate the accommodations process, so it’s important that you and your children remain vigilant about tracking their academic performance and advocating for needed assistance. 

Erica MechlinskiThe College Admissions Scandal

Executive Functioning and Music

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By Colette Hapi

As parents, we are always looking for different avenues to help our kids develop skills that will promote success as they grow into their adult lives; this is especially true for parents of kids who have ADHD. As parents, we become quite well-versed on academic-based strategies that can help our children, but there are also non-academic avenues that should warrant our attention, like learning to play an instrument. Your kids can do something they enjoy while simultaneously developing and fostering critical executive functioning skills; sounds like a win-win situation! 

You might be wondering: how does playing instruments help with executive functioning? Well, it’s been said that musical training strengthens the brain’s critical tasks, such as processing and retaining information, controlling behavior, and problem-solving. For children to play an instrument, they need to:

  • Focus their attention, set goals, prioritize practice over other activities, and plan how to learn a piece. Skills strengthened: Inhibitory control, planning, and prioritizing
  • Process multiple stimuli at once, such as keeping in mind what they just played to know what comes next, or remembering the new information that the conductor or teacher tells them and incorporating it into the piece. Skills strengthened: Working memory
  • Be flexible enough to switch back and forth between tempos and styles. Skills strengthened: Cognitive flexibility
  • Measure how they are currently playing a piece with how they want it to sound. Skills strengthened: Self-monitoring

These habits draw heavily on executive function skills, so for those parents who have already enrolled their kids in musical training classes, kudos to you! To those who haven’t, this might be a good way to help your kids along as they are engaging in something that they, hopefully, enjoy. 

P.S.: Stay tuned for our upcoming tip as we go into more detail about the workings of the brain as people are learning instruments and how it helps develop executive functioning skills. 

Erica MechlinskiExecutive Functioning and Music

Altering our Math Attitudes

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By Kristin Backert

I’ve never been good at math. It doesn’t make sense to me, and I would be lost without a calculator. And as the prophecy foretold, most of the math that I learned in school hasn’t made an appearance in my adult life.

While this type of thinking is fairly common among parents, did you know that it’s actually detrimental to your children’s feelings about math? A few weeks ago, NPR published an article explaining how a parent’s casual remarks to their children about how they themselves were never good at math “can send a signal to kids about whether they can succeed.” When parents discuss their own dislike of math, they create an excuse their children can latch onto to explain away their own troubles and hinder them from putting forth their best efforts. If their parents don’t understand the material, then how could they possibly understand it?

When our children are having a difficult time with something, we often tell them that everyone has something that they’re not good at. Some people are gifted at playing soccer, some are great at playing the piano, and some are math wizzes. Placing people into these sorts of categories sends a message to your children that there are some things they are simply incapable of succeeding at, and this reinforces a belief that there’s no point in trying at something that does not come naturally to them. It’s important to help your children realize that even if they’re struggling to understand something right now, that doesn’t mean they’ll never get it; they just need to utilize the resources around them and keep an open mind.

It may seem like a small thing, but children’s first role models are usually their parents, so they will often mimic their parents’ attitudes towards particular subjects. Even if you do have negative feelings about math, it’s crucial to project an upbeat attitude about the subject. If your children are struggling to grasp a particular mathematical concept, don’t agree that it’s too difficult to learn; instead, help them pinpoint which elements of the concept are confusing, and encourage them to meet with their teacher for help or to use an online resource like Khan Academy. Creating this positive environment will motivate your children to embrace math and learn that they are capable of accomplishing anything they set their minds to.

Erica MechlinskiAltering our Math Attitudes

Understanding Language-Based Executive Functioning Skills

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Organization skills extend to all aspects of life from a student’s backpack to their writing skills. Language-based organization skills include organizing written language, interpreting information from a text, and effectively categorizing information for note-taking.

Language-based self-monitoring is called metalinguistic awareness. This skill involves using an “internal script” to reflect on and consciously evaluate our own behavior and performance. Language skills are vital to this process. Metalinguistic awareness is essential in following complex directions, editing written work, and determining how well one comprehends information presented to them.

Working memory is the process of temporarily storing and manipulating information for complex tasks, especially language. Working memory skills are critical in understanding spoken and written language, decoding and encoding, and following multi-step directions.

Cognitive flexibility is the ability to think flexibly by changing approaches or strategies when needed. It is a critical executive function for learning and succeeding in school. Language plays into this skill as students are increasingly required to interpret learned information in multiple ways. This skill is required for studying, reading comprehension, interpreting abstract language, and formulating written responses.

The reciprocal relationship between language and executive function skills is unquestionable. Both are needed to help students succeed academically and in life. Therefore, a certified Speech Language Pathologist is often the best resource to help parents and students understand that connection, and provide treatment when there are difficulties.

For a printable graphic detailing language-based executive functioning skills, CLICK HERE!

Erica MechlinskiUnderstanding Language-Based Executive Functioning Skills