I’m sure everyone knows what it’s like to be rushing around in the morning trying to get everyone ready and out of the house, so that they can get to school on time! Arriving late for school can be stressful for both the parent and the child, let alone the frustration of having had to help a child through every stage of getting ready. Often this is a regular occurrence for many families, and something as Occupational Therapists we are often asked to assist with.
Getting ready for school in the morning independently necessitates having adequate EXECUTIVE FUNCTION skills for
- REMEMBERING what needs to be done, when and in what order (working memory)
- Doing all the things you need to do and in the right order, rather than getting caught up in other things (planning , prioritizing)
- Knowing WHERE TO START (task initiation)
- Knowing how to ‘make another plan’ and problem solve when things don’t quite right e.g. there are no socks in the drawer when you come to get dressed (flexibility)
- The ability to focus on completing a task without getting distracted by others, the TV etc (Impulse control)
- Knowing what things you need for your day at school and where to find them. Not misplacing or forgetting them (organisation).
In addition to this is the MOTOR PLANNING required for the child to organize his/her body to carry out the SEQUENCE OF ACTIONS that need to be carried out – especially for dressing – i.e. putting clothes on in correct order, knowing which arm goes in which hole in shirt, etc. BALANCE and POSTURAL CONTROL is needed to do these tasks efficiently and effectively. Not only that – the child needs to be SELF REGULATED – alert and able to concentrate on doing the task, without being too lethargic or over excitable.
As you can see, getting ready for school is not as easy as it sounds, especially for children who have sensory differences, attention difficulties, problems with executive functioning and poor motor planning. In occupational therapy, we make suggestions to make the getting ready for school process easier for the child, having identified the key problems areas. Examples of some of these suggestions are:
- The use of a visual schedule or planner, clearly showing WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE AND IN WHICH ORDER. These can be tailor made for the child however some off the shelf products are available (such as magnetic moves charts http://www.magneticmoves.com.au/)
- The use of a visual timer so that the child can easily see HOW MUCH TIME HE/SHE HAS TO GET READY (e.g. Time Timers http://www.spectronics.com.au/product/time-timers)
- Having everything needed for getting ready for school kept and organized in predictable places, with labels if necessary (e.g. having a school bag spot in the house, always putting the lunch box away in the same place, having a drawer put aside for school socks etc).
For the child with underlying balance, postural control and motor planning difficulties, there may be some activities the therapist particularly recommends for your child to work on. For those with sensory processing differences there may also be some simple activities for the child’s sensory diet that are recommended. If your child is having difficulty with getting ready for school in the morning more independently, don’t struggle on; you can talk to an Occupational Therapist at Grow On Children’s Occupational Therapy about what the underlying difficulties may be, and she will make some suggestions for assisting your child to develop the necessary skills.