It seemed like we were out of town playing soccer every weekend after my son turned 9. While travel soccer created so many wonderful memories, it also remains to this day a reminder of some of the most frustrating parenting moments for me. I cannot count how many times I would remind my son of what all he needed to pack for the weekend. I would make him a neat little checklist, walk him through it, and then expect him to be responsible enough to execute the task of packing on his own. I was all about creating responsible, independent children. Even with all of this scaffolding and support, it seemed like every weekend we would show up at the hotel or the field and something would be missing from his bags.
I will never forget the weekend where I officially lost the prestigious and highly coveted Mother of the Year award. This was the weekend when we showed up at the field and Cal got his bag out of the van, sat in the grass to pull on his gear, and then realized he didn’t have his SOCCER CLEATS. Boy did I ever lose it. Seriously…how can you forget to bring your cleats?! While his team was warming up, I had to find the nearest place where we could find replacement cleats. The fact that they were fluorescent orange and quickly became his favorite cleats of all time still makes me salty, but that isn’t the point of my sharing this story.
Recently, parents and faculty had the chance to work with Sarah Ward, Speech and Language Pathologist and Co-Director from Cognitive Connections. This was possibly the best professional development around executive function (a set of processes that all have to do with managing oneself and one’s resources in order to achieve a goal). What I wouldn’t give to have had some of these strategies when raising my own children. We learned that when we are trying to develop nonverbal working memory for goal-directed future thinking, we need to ‘start with the done’ in order to teach children to visualize, or think in pictures. One of the strategies Sarah shared for helping kids be prepared was so simple, yet so genius. Using my soccer bag example above, she said she would take a picture of all of the things Cal would need to place in his soccer bag and then have him use that photo as a reference. It’s seemed like a small tweak from my earlier checklist, but she assured me that the change in behavior would be huge.
Creating a laminated card that shows everything he needed would have taught him to think in pictures. This idea also would have helped him develop “whole to part to details” thinking. Another suggestion would have been to create another picture card showing him what he should look like if we were just heading to practice. Then I would ask him to tell me his plan to match the picture, teaching him to state his intentions and develop mental spatial time travel (thinking about where he had to go to get items). The goal would be that we would both know that he was ready to get in the car for practice when he matched the card.
The example above is just one of the many, and I do mean many, strategies Sarah shared with us. Lower School teachers spent over 8 hours before the start of school learning from her expertise, and they would love to invite her back for a follow up now that they have spent time implementing some of these suggestions in the classroom. We will be sharing some of these success stories with you at a parent coffee in the near future. My challenge to you as parents is to try this strategy at home with students independently packing book bags and getting dressed in the morning. Let me know how it goes, or if you need help with the details. I’d love to hear from you! This is one of those magical solutions that I predict will be a game-changer during your morning routines.
Stephanie Medcalfe is the Lower School Director at Cape Fear Academy.
Stephanie and her husband moved to Wilmington from Indianapolis, Indiana where she was the Assistant Principal for Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. Stephanie has taught in both elementary and middle schools and has been a Special Educator. She graduated from Ball State University with a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.E. in Educational Administration. She is responsible for the Lower School Faculty and the After School Program.