I am not a huge fan of most kid charts or systems. I find they often require so much energy or effort to maintain that they seem to create more stress and problems than they solve. But when it comes to teaching my children personal responsibility and daily routines, I employ a system that is both instructive and beneficial.
I call these my school year scaffolding cards.
School year scaffolding cards are meant to provide a framework for my children to understand and learn executive function. Executive function describes an individual’s ability to plan, manage time, organize, focus, pay attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks at once. Executive function is vital to learning how to live in the world as a self-governing individual.
Some people are naturally strong in executive function. They seem to posses an innate understanding of how to get things done without much oversight or reminding. One of my four children is naturally gifted in executive function. The other three have required help in this area, and two of them in particular have required intentional instruction on a regular basis in order to develop this skill. Left to their own devices, these two children would have never learned how to manage a task or think systematically in order to solve problems. In order for them to learn how to plan, focus, and follow through, they required training.
Enter the school-year scaffolding cards.
Scaffolding is quite simply the support beams to train a child in a certain behavior. Instead of you being the one that daily (or hourly) reminds and asks and reminds and instructs and refocuses and reminds them to do a certain task, scaffolding tells them what to do next. Your job is simply to steer them back to the scaffolding.
So, for example, during the school year, there is a pattern of steps that my daughter has to do every day when she gets home, then another pattern of steps she does to get ready for bed, to another to get ready for school in the morning, etc. These steps are the same every day. However, remembering these steps and managing the tasks within them is not something that occurs naturally to her. She is fully capable of doing the steps (making her bed, putting on her clothes, packing her lunch, filling her water bottle, etc.), but remembering the steps and recalling all of the details of the routine is not her strength.
To help her develop her executive function skills, to burn the patterns into her brain, to model for her how to establish routines, I created a set of cards for her to follow. Each card represents a different chunk of her day, and on each card I have listed all of the tasks she needs to do at a given time.
Not only does this alleviate the stress of her having to remember so many details when she is not prone to recalling details, it also alleviates the stress of me having to remember and remind her over and over.
My instructions to her are simple: “I need you to check your cards and follow what they say.”
The card tells her what to do. Her job is to follow the instructions. My job is to provide accountability by checking in when she is done and make sure the tasks have been done well .
This system is so helpful in training her mind to think systematically, and it is prevents a boatload of chaos in our day. Over time, the system will become more and more rote for her, and at some point she may not need the cards. But also, maybe she will continue to need the cards all year. Executive function can be developed, but for people who struggle in this area, creating modes of scaffolding is a life-long tool that they will use to continue to succeed in life. The goal is not to eliminate the cards necessarily. The goal is to know what she needs in order to operate responsibly.
An encouragement to younger moms…
If you have children who struggle with executive function, I want you to know the road is long and at times frustrating, but you can do this. The amount of time it takes for your child to do what may seem obvious or easy to you is not to be underestimated. You will have to repeat yourself, and you may have to ask the same questions hundreds and hundreds of days in a row. The cards do not magically take away your role as parent. The cards are a tool you are going to use to help your child grow, and growth is slow and at times difficult. Do not give up. Keep going. Be consistent. Be patient. Be diligent. Do not let your child off the hook simply because it is difficult. You are doing good work that will serve your child in the long run. Keep in mind their brain is still developing, and one day, you will realize you didn’t have to remind them to brush their teeth, and little by little they will begin to get it. There is not a timeline for this kind of thing. Every child is different. So do the best you can, and hang in there. You’re doing a great job.