Edmonds Kind of Play: Workspace options for kids with remote learning challenges

Courtesy Angela. Harper’s YouTube video.

As kids around the country head back to school — many of my friends and family in other states have started their school years already– the typical “first day” photos look much different. Those attending school in person are wearing masks and those learning virtually are in their workspaces or posing with their devices instead of backpacks. The preparation and challenges in this school year are different than any other that I’ve experienced and also look different for each family.

The Edmonds School District has a Family Support number, 425-431-1451 and email FamilySupport@Edmonds.Wednet.Edu to help you get set up with internet access at your home via Comcast Internet Essentials or a district provided hotspot. For those looking for care, we covered local options last week on Playtime and since then, the Edmonds City Council delayed the vote on their Frances Anderson Center based pod option, the Boys and Girls Club of Snohomish County, which includes Edmonds, is offering 50% off of their daycare rates and Snohomish County YMCA is offering a 30% reduction as well.

While learning remotely will be different again from spring (per the community forums I’ve watched, each grade level will have instruction/instructor interaction via Zoom and students will be graded), the how to learn successfully at home question is still a tricky one, at least for our family. Half of my family has been officially diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD and that includes me. I got a diagnosis in my 30s and while I didn’t embrace it right away, as time has passed and one of my kids was diagnosed, it certainly connected a lot of dots for me as a student, employee, and person who has a full-time relationship with the reminder function on their smartphone.

One of the things people with ADHD struggle with is executive function, defined by Understood.org as “a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control” explaining that “Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions, among other things.” If social media is any indication, it is not just people with ADHD who are struggling with executive function right now, so I reached out to a former educator (13 years with 1st and 2nd graders) and current ADHD coach for adults at ADDed Perspective Coaching, Renee Crook — I have met her a few times over the years through friends, but have only recently realized this is her specialty.

As two adults with ADHD (Crook was also diagnosed as an adult), we had an interest in sharing information about the topic and relating about our own experience, and we covered a lot of ground in our Zoom call. The overarching theme to our conversation was understanding, options, and more understanding. Crook confirmed that stress affects executive function. So while our conversation is focused on options for students with ADHD, (Crook says there is a high genetic component, so there may be a parent with ADHD too), the hope is that there are possible options for all students. We started our conversation focused on workspaces and I was happy to hear that there isn’t one perfect workspace and that even within a student’s day, the best learning environment may change from a quiet desk to the couch while wearing headphones.

As a start in finding workspace options, Crook recommends having your student describe the challenges they have or what they “notice,” be it noise, light, and/or movement. We talked about all of the variables in a work space and how some students will need the stimuli removed from their work area, social media has a personalized cardboard tri-fold, like those used for science fairs, making the rounds that would help with that (Kentucky teacher Angelina Harper made YouTube video after her Facebook post about her kids workspaces went viral) and she also offered the options of noise cancelling headphones and/or listening to their Zoom classes in headphones as opposed to the computer audio in that case. Crook also explained that some students, including herself, work better with background noise like music, which I was relieved to hear because both of my kids utilize music as a way to keep going during tedious independent tasks and I wasn’t sure if it was just an excuse to ignore the work. Crook explained that what may work for classes or morning work, may not work for afternoon or independent work. Some kids really are more productive while sitting on the couch, or in another non-traditional configuration. I know that I am personally looking for the comfort of a one-stop spot that I can prepare for and point to, but Crook talked about experimenting with what works and pivoting as needed.

We’re hearing the word “asynchronous” a lot, to describe the time students will have to do their work while not “in” a class. I’m not sure how all of the sitting still involved in back-to-back Zoom classes will go, and Crook and I didn’t spend too much time on the specific items available for busy hands and feet. But there are many options for low-distraction fidgets — anything from a smooth rock to a stress ball — online or workplace adjustments like a band that fits around the front two legs of a chair for foot bouncing (Crook says bands like those used in physical therapy band can be used for this are sometimes less expensive) and or an inflatable rubber disk for a chair. I have found those items on TherapyShoppe.com and of course, Amazon.

What I am currently the most nervous about in Continuous Learning 2.0 is the “this is the time to do your work” blocks. When the conversation turned to time management, Crook explained that being explicit with instructions and expectations can be helpful for everyone and not assuming that the kids know what we mean — we struggle with this here on the adult and student level. “Clear but simple directions” with “clear outcomes” will help with your students clarity and confidence. Using the analogy of a gas tank, Crook explained that we have a finite amount of executive functioning skills and it can strike while iron is hot and plan tasks around energy levels when possible. A routine or a “flow” of a day is helpful as we use less of what is in the tank when we don’t have to make a lot of decisions at each step. Another option Crook offered for this independent time is to give a menu of options while allowing for flexibility and a “choice,” but still limiting options.

Crook told me that people with ADHD struggle to perceive the passing of time, calling it time blindness, and we talked about tools available for time management. There is a product called a Time Timer, which has many less expensive knock-offs including the one we own, that is basically a kitchen timer with a colored cellophane component that shows you how much time you have to do a task and it gets smaller as time passes. We couldn’t live without ours though Crook says even an analog clock nearby can also be helpful. There are also free app versions of this I found in the app store on my iPhone. Crook explained that people with ADHD can feel like five minutes is one hour and one hour is five minutes and told me about the option computers where the time is announced audibly at different intervals. There is a Chromebook add-on found in the GooglePlay Store that offers this option. We searched “audio clock” and found at least one option that will do audible time checks, “It’s 10:30,” so time doesn’t get away from the student, or ourselves. Visual cues, in the form of a checklist with or without images, can be helpful, but she warns, also can be overdone.

As I scanned through the notes from our conversation, I see the words compassion, including self-compassion from Crook, on more than one page. I know that this is not so easily done when adults are working and everyone is on top of each other during the day, but this information is more of a reminder, especially to myself, that the perfect set up we see on social media, may not be what works best and for us not to be so hard on ourselves as we all adjust, again.

Renee Crook is an ACG Certified ADHD & Life Coach, Consultant, Speaker, Facilitator for ADDed Perspective Coaching. So also co-facilitates the Eastside ADHD Parents Support Group, currently meeting virtually. Her resume also includes ADDA (Attention Deficit Disorder Association) Board of Directors, Chair of Virtual Support Programs, and ADDA ADHD Adult Support Group Facilitator.. She will be speaking at the 2020 Virtual International Conference on ADHD hosted by ADDA, CHADD & ACO in November. She can be reached on Facebook @ADDedPerspectiveCoaching and at ADDedPersepctiveCoaching.com.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx, an Edmonds mom of two boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time.

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