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Helping a Child Manage a Long-Term School Project

One family's story of helping their son plan and complete a long-term school project -- despite the challenges of having AD/HD and dividing his time between his divorced parents' homes.

By Katy Smith

John seemed overwhelmed as he unloaded his backpack one day after school. His fifth grade teacher had assigned a long-term book report project that had several components, included multiple deadlines, and involved reading three books. John loved to read, but having AD/HD often challenged his ability to organize materials and follow timelines.

"Mom," John groaned, "I'm not sure how I'm going to handle this."

It was clear he'd need plenty of support at home. And, since his father and I are divorced, John splits his time equally between our respective homes - a daunting task for any child trying to keep his school work organized!

Fortunately, the "Book Box" project was described in detail (deadlines and all) in the assignment sheet from John's teacher. The project would be spread out over the next two months. The first step, I thought to myself, would be to break the project into individual pieces, like a puzzle. The challenge would be to keep all the "puzzle pieces" together, not scattered between two homes with the possibility of key pieces getting lost in the shuffle.

Project Planning: A Family Affair

Within a day or two of John's getting his assignment, he, his dad, and I met to plan our coordination of the project. His dad and I may have our differences, but we're strongly committed to working together when it comes to John's well-being.

Here are the strategies we used to plan and complete the project:

  • Parent Participation - The three of us reviewed all components of the project and decided which tasks each parent would help John with. For example, I volunteered to supervise the creation of word puzzles and bookmarks, while his dad said he'd help John build the thematic "Book Box" that would house the rest of the project. We noted our "assignments" on the project instruction sheet and made copies for both homes.
  • Project Calendar - All deadlines were noted on wall calendars posted in our respective homes where we could all refer to them.
  • Weekly progress checks - Every weekend, we'd check our calendars and the instruction sheets to see if John was ready to meet the next deadline. Before he left one parent's home to return to the other, we helped him check his project folder and notebook to make sure everything was intact and included.

Lessons Learned

Overall, this plan helped John stay on track and feel confident throughout the course of the project. He fretted less about losing things and devoted his energy on the work itself. Like many kids with AD/HD, having clear and consistent structure in place helped him stay organized and focused.

As parents, we had to resist the urge to do the work for John; our role was to guide and coach him. Doing the work was his responsibility. We made it a point to comment on how well he was meeting his deadlines and how much less frustrated he seemed compared to his previous projects. His dad and I also learned that modeling the desired organizational skills and behaviors was far more effective than lecturing him!

A Successful Outcome

When the final grades were in, John earned an "A" on his "Book Box" project. He was thrilled! We were so proud of his efforts and the team work we'd learned as a family. At the school Open House, his book box was on display for everyone to see. I couldn't help but think of his project as a hard-earned trophy for our family - one well-worth the effort!

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