Author: Jen Franklin Kearns, ds-connex team member
A change in schedule can be difficult for many people. For my family, breaks from school (whether it be Winter Break, Spring Break, or even just a three day weekend) are definitely a challenge.
My children’s Winter Break began on Friday, December 18th, and they returned to school on Monday, January 4th. We had 17 days of endless questions: “Do I have school today? Why isn’t there school today? Do I go to dance today? What time is my basketball practice today?” Most of these questions came from my oldest child, Alex, an 11 year old with Down syndrome. While we had many fun activities packed into our Winter Break (including Christmas!), he was very confused and indignant about departing from his typical schedule. I did my best to explain to him why we weren’t following our regular routine, and showed him many different calendars (from the wall calendar to the calendar on his iPad). Our break from school was so long that he began to believe that he was advancing to the next grade when he returned to school in January. We had several discussions about having to finish fifth grade first, and not moving on to sixth grade until the fall.
It is easy to understand how Alex would be confused. All three of my children lost track of what day it was while on break; the only difference is that two of them were able to get back on track a bit easier after consulting a calendar on their own. The confusion became an obstacle for my child with Down syndrome; it is frustrating for Alex when he loses track of the days. We were able to help him through this challenge by employing these simple tactics:
1. Showing him the calendar when he became confused. This was not only a good review of days of the week and counting (as we noted how many days left until school started again), but it also served as a nice visual reminder of the schedule. Being able to see the days laid out in front of him seemed to be a great help.
2. Verbal reminders. If he started insisting that it was time to get ready for his Tuesday dance class on a Friday afternoon, we simply reminded him that we don’t dance on Fridays. Hearing these verbal cues seemed to reset his thoughts, and allowed him to move on.
3. Changing the subject. If, after a verbal cue, he was unable to continue about his day, we would simply change the subject. So, if he continued to insist that it was time for his Tuesday dance class on a Friday afternoon, we would redirect him to another activity to allow him to center his focus on something else. “Hey, buddy, let’s go play cars!” was a popular deterrent during this recent break from school.
Although the kids are now back to school, and are slowly returning to our regular schedule, I still anticipate some bumps in the road. We will need to remind the kids of the day even now, but even more of a challenge, the time of day. On Winter Break, they enjoyed the luxury of not abiding by the clock to determine what activities could be fit in during their free time. Now we will have to manage our time more carefully.
To avoid any major disruptions to an already hectic schedule, I made an executive decision this year to ease back into our routine as slowly as necessary. Before now, I was adamant that we would jump right back on board with our regular schedule, no matter how difficult it would be. This meant that the kids were expected to go from vacation mode to school mode, at (what probably seemed to them) the drop of a hat. This time around, though, I decided to try a different approach: I would send the kids where they needed to be, and what got done is what would get done. Two of my three kids were able to readjust with very few issues; they went to school and all their extracurricular activities and were able to keep up with no major problems. But, with this approach, Alex was given some much needed space to resume his schedule. I opted not to push the homework issue. If, for example, he was assigned 20 minutes of reading one night, but we could only get through 10 minutes before he started to fall apart, then 10 minutes it was.
I made sure to communicate this decision to his teachers, so that they knew we weren’t simply ignoring the work. This decision has made the week less stressful for all of us. We will continue to work on getting up to speed, but I do feel like my willingness to be more flexible afforded us the time and space we all needed to get used to our daily routine again after the long holiday break. Hopefully this strategy will continue to help us get readjusted to our busy schedule. As nice as it was to slow down and take a break, it is good to be back on our familiar routine.
Are changes in schedule a challenge for your kiddos? What techniques does your family use to help manage these challenges? We’d love to hear your thoughts!