Project Hell. This weekend our family sunk into the abyss otherwise known as 5th grade final projects, a.k.a. Project Hell.
The projects are just the kind of homework I’d want for my kids – they are open ended and allow for creativity. Patrick is currently producing a book on the flora and fauna of the Amazon and developing a board game about stopping deforestation. Davis has been conducting an experiment on the effects of video games on heart rate and also working on a presentation about tribal life in the Amazon.
Like I said, these are cool projects. Cool does not mean easy, however. Managing projects like these requires advanced planning, time management & organizational skills, verbal/written sequencing skills, good research skills, decent computer skills (like Word, Excel and PowerPoint), and more. These are exactly the executive functioning skills that lag in kids with ADHD.
So for my 2E kid, the one with gifted verbal abilities, ADHD and generalized anxiety – this weekend has been project hell.
Fortunately, we’ve made it through with minimal arguments, stress and meltdowns. All kids are different, but between helping my own 2E child and working with many, many 2E kids at the tutoring company I own, here are the tips that I’ve gleaned for taming the homework beast for 2E kids.
Identify your 2E child’s passions
We all prefer to do things that we like, things we find interesting and rewarding. It is no different for our kids. In fact, for 2E kids, you’ve probably found that there is a HUGE difference in attention and perseverance when the topic is one of their passions.
Davis is a huge sports statistics and history fan – as in fanatic. He can hold his own with the most avid fans and his color commentary during sports games is chocked full of relevant facts and related stories.
He develops his own pre-season rankings for college and pro football, college and pro basketball and pro baseball. He has hosted his own sports TV show, writing the scripts and serving as the on-air talent.
Why is this important? It shows me that he has the organizational and research skills to complete his work. It shows me that he can sustain attention and sequence his ideas. It shows me a path forward when the project isn’t as thrilling as sports.
Pinpoint issues making homework difficult
So if you’ve seen your 2E kid’s considerable skills at work on a project of passion, but you don’t see those same skills displayed when doing homework, how do you make the connection? It helps to understand the obstacles. Here are four common stumbling blocks for 2E kids:
Physical Organizational Difficulties
Does your child know what has been assigned, when it is due and what is expected of them? If not, there is no way they can successfully complete their homework. There are lots of options here – use a day planner designed for school kids (like these or these). Skip the pen and paper (especially if handwriting and fine motor skills are a source of trouble). Use an iPod or smart phone to snap a picture of the assignment. Use the phone’s calendar program or a homework-planning app like The Homework App or My Homework.
If keeping up with assignments (turning them in on time and having materials to study for exams) causes trouble, then develop a new paper management system. I prefer ones that use a single binder, with pocketed divider tabs for each subject. Homework to complete can go in the back pocket of the divider tab and homework to turn in can go in the front pocket of the divider tab. Check out the SOAR Study Skills system.
Mental Organizational Issues
Sometimes the organizational issues are not about the physical things, but more about appropriately grouping like content together to develop a coherent story or plan. Davis has a phenomenal memory, as evidenced by his stellar sports knowledge. Ask him a question about something he has learned in school and he can talk about it in detail. Ask him to put pen to paper and his mind goes blank. He’s having recall organizational issues.
He needs help developing memory cues and chunking material into appropriate groupings to aid his recall when fine motor skills are involved.
Addressing attention issues is easier in the abstract. Minimize distractions and maximize focus. Easy right? Not so much in common practice. There are lots of tricks to try and hopefully one or two work for your child.
Teach positive self-talk. One of the most insidious enemies of attention is negative self-talk. 2E kids have lots of practice at telling themselves just how bad they are at school stuff. That running, negative commentary about how they can’t do their homework or they never get it right or they can’t show how much they really know is incredibly distracting. Teach your kids how to encourage themselves. Model appropriate praise. Help you kids practice combatting the negative thoughts that occupy their minds.
Set the stage for success. Make sure your child has an organized workspace. Gather everything they’ll need in one place: a good writing surface, pens and pencils, and a calculator or computer. Get rid of the phone – turn it off and/or remove it from the work area. Make use of the Do Not Disturb setting. If working on the computer, close extra browser windows – especially those with notifications that can be distracting, like Instagram, Twitter and FaceBook. Finally, use music to your advantage. Grab the headphones and create a playlist of soothing music. Over time, using the same music will help put your child in the right mood for studying.
Use a timer. Work for 30 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. Over time, the length of the working session can expand up to an hour.
If your child really doesn’t understand what he is learning in class, get him help – and fast! Don’t let a momentary difficulty with math result in your child feeling beaten down and her ultimately thinking she is bad at math.
There are lots of resources for help with content mastery. Talk with your child’s teacher. Take advantage of before or after school support from the teacher. Hire a tutor. Check out Hippocampus or Khan Academy. Have your child form a study group with his friends. Choose the modality that best fits your child’s temperament and strengths. 2E kids may need to use multiple learning modalities to really get the topic.
Does your child not understand assignments or expectations? Is your child simply wiped out after school? Does your son really just need some downtime before getting started? Is your daughter distracted by other activities that are more exciting?
Capitalize on your 2E child’s strengths
You know your child. What makes them tick, why they feel pride and how they shine. You know what they look forward to each day and how they feel and express love. Use this information.
Look at your 2E child’s academic strengths. What kind of learner are they? Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc…? Does your son excel at problem solving and logical thinking? Does your daughter love making connections between abstract concepts? Does your son have a phenomenal memory?
Understanding what your child’s relative strengths and weaknesses makes it easier to develop a path forward.
Develop & implement a joint plan
Make a Plan
Develop a plan with your child. Use your child’s strengths to mitigate the weaknesses you’ve identified together. Set a schedule and stick to it. Include milestones. Overtime, these milestones can be less discreet.
Include Consequences and Rewards
Make them meaningful, but scaled appropriately for the task. An extra 30 minutes of media for completely homework that doesn’t include any grumping and grousing during the evening. Maybe it’s a longer term reward – a trip to the movies or a special dinner if your child manages a longer term project with minimal parental prodding.
Build in Choices
Letting your child exercise some control over the schedule will reduce the grumpiness that can accompany homework.
Revisit Your Agreement
Be willing to adjust your agreement if it isn’t working. Especially in the early stages of trying this approach, you’ll want to be flexible to see what works and what doesn’t.
Let your child fail
I’m serious – let your child fail. (Sometimes.) Stop rescuing them from their own missteps.
The consequences of screwing up these 5th grade projects are magnitudes smaller than having my boys whiff it on their college capstone project. Early failures when the stakes are relatively low create opportunities for self-reflection, change and triumph. The discomfort and worry that accompanies failure are helpful in developing coping skills and frustration tolerance.
I’m not suggesting that you set your kids adrift without any parental guidance, but the biggest gift we can give our kids is the chance to learn for themselves and that includes learning from their own mistakes.
This post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education.
Check out other folk’s take on 2E Kids and Adults.
Maggie’s other writings on giftedness:
Other resources from Maggie: