Lessons in Organization from the Circus


This weekend we went to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum, and Baily’s Circus.  Besides being truly amazed and a little bit terrified by some of the acts, I was struck by the incredible amount of organization involved. Everything ran like clockwork and everyone and everything was in its place, right down to the shovels and buckets to clean up after the animals.

Obviously this kind of organization is critical to keeping the cast, crew, animals, and audience safe, happy, and able to have a good time.  How do they keep 200 people and dozens of animals so organized?

The answer is systems.  My daughter works for the same parent company, skating on an ice show, so I know from her experience, that absolutely everything has a system.  Everyone knows exactly what to expect, how things work, and what their part is.  When travel day comes around every week, no one is late, because being late means missing your bus, train, or plane to the next city.  Nothing is left to chance in the performance because, one thing out of place could result in disrupting the show, or worse yet, an injury.

A well-thought out plan and a clear understanding by all involved allows things to run smoothly.  Could we apply that to our families?

Most people operate more comfortably when they know what to expect, but for children and teens with learning or attention challenges, this need is often heightened.  Having a set structure for when and how we get ready for school, when and where homework is done, the steps in preparing for the next day, how we speak to each other or ask for help – all of these things can be structured and practiced.

Every family has its moments of chaos, especially if they have an unpredictable child, but having a clear structure that is consistently reinforced and followed, helps everyone feel calmer and function more effectively.

The new school year is a natural transition, making it a good time to re-evaluate/adjust the routines and systems that you have in place.  Starting a couple of weeks before school starts is a good time to begin talking to kids about how things will operate this school year.  Talk about the new system or routine and make sure that everyone knows this is not optional, but also allow children to be involved in planning some of the details wherever appropriate as this helps with buy-in.

Families with very rigid children will need to talk about and practice their systems a lot before the school year starts.  Gently and consistently preparing and coaching children until new habits are formed will pay off in a less chaotic school year.

Structure alone will not solve all of the challenges involved with learning and attention problems.  There are many underlying learning/processing skills that need to be in place and supporting students well in order for them to learn as comfortably and independently as they should.

These underlying skills can be identified and developed so that academic skills can be remediated and students can be more successful.


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