Once all of the presents have been opened and holiday goodies have been eaten, our students or children on the Autism spectrum may be looking at 10-12 more days of Winter break. We then have to figure out what in the world to do with that many hours at home. As a mom of two elementary school boys and a teacher, I’ve concluded that some structure is necessary for a successful period of time away from school. Here are my top 5 survival tips:
1. Provide structure utilizing checklists.
This does not have to be daunting or elaborate. It can be written out on a piece of paper, a checklist in the notes section of your phone (my favorite option), or on an app. Choiceworks has a relatively inexpensive picture schedule app and there are several other options that could be worth the investment. Don’t feel like you have to fill the checklist with complicated activities. Pro tip: alternate a less desireable activity followed by a more desireable activity all day.
2. Try to plan an outing everyday.
As arduous as that may sound, it really is worth the work. It doesn’t have to be a big, fancy, festive outing. It can simply be a trip to the grocery store or even a walk around the block. For those who like outings, it will be something to look forward to or, if they don’t like outings, it can be something that you can reward with something high value, like screen time or a snack. Either way, it will help to work your way through the schedule of the day. Ideas include: grocery store, mall, children’s museum, athletic complex or YMCA, indoor pool, park, library, theme park, restaurant, movie theatre, home improvement store, farmer’s market, hiking trail, bowling, outdoor store, or art museum.
3. Create seasonal family traditions.
It’s easy to create traditions that revolve around the holiday, but when the holiday ends, we may be at a loss for ideas. I encourage you to find other ways to create traditions in the last week of December, around the New Year, or the first week of January. Give your child/young adult things to look forward to beyond your holiday celebration and utilize a calendar to let them know when those items are occurring. As you get closer to the day when your student returns to school, use printed pictures or a written account to reflect on the time spent away from school that they can share with their teacher and class when they return.
3. Use your helpers, even if it’s more work at first.
This is a testimony as a mom with slightly bigger kids and as a teacher of high school students. THEY GET MORE HELPFUL, I PROMISE. It used to drive me crazy to have my kids or students help me with tasks that I could do faster myself. I can honestly attest that in both cases, home and school, now their help really does save me time and energy. You just have to get through that time when it involves a ton of instructions and requires lots of patience. I am absolutely NOT super mom, but I did do this thing right. My kids are incredible helpers and, I pray, independent adults someday.
5. Minimize screen time, pretty please.
I ask this as a teacher and mom who has come back from an extended break approximately 30-40 times: put a timer on your student’s screen time. We have all read the research on why screen time isn’t the best, but we have also relished that glorious quiet and moment of peace when our child or student stays in one place and engages in something for more than 2 minutes. Unfortunately though, when your student returns to school and we, as teachers, are only able to give 5 to 10 minutes of a screen time reward, it is an incredibly hard task to get them back to working. Apply some structure to the time and don’t let it extend all day. Use it to your advantage and get them to do less fun activities, like helping with the dishes or laundry before rewarding them with a short amount of screen time.
If you are a parent, use some tips and let me know what you found helpful. If you are a teacher, send a link to this post to your students’ parents, give them some hope during these weeks. If you are a teacher and a parent, (bless you, you are my people) hopefully you can use some tips and share your experiences with your students’ families. As always, if you’d like to connect with me and find out more about my classroom, follow me on Instagram @ausometeaching.