Agile for Kids

Agile for Kids helps your children become more independent allowing you time to focus on your work

Our Story

Two years ago, my youngest son began grade 4. There was a massive jump in the volume of work he needed to get through from the previous grade. On top of that, it was the first year that he had to write exams. At the start of Term 2, we found our son, Jonty, upset in his room. When we asked him what was wrong, he told us that he had no idea how he was going to get through all his homework, projects, and still find time to study for exams. He was completely overwhelmed.

My wife and I felt helpless, and it upset us that Jonty was feeling so overwhelmed and upset. We chatted about what we could do to help him. I suggested that we start by understanding all the work that he needed to get done. We sat with Jonty and wrote down everything that he needed to do, along with the deadlines. We broke the bigger pieces of work down into smaller chunks. This allowed him to see what needed to be done and by when. By making the work visual, Jonty could see that if he stuck to a regular schedule, he could, in fact, get all his work done. Including the studying! This made such a difference for Jonty. He was much more relaxed and was able to focus on getting the smaller pieces of work completed. Above all, he could see the progress he was making.

Fast forward to today. These Agile for Kids practices have proven invaluable during the lockdown period, where children are expected to continue with their school work at home. As parents, there is an even greater need to assist and in some cases, fill in as the teacher. All this, while working from home and trying to do a full day’s work, while coping with the stress and fear brought on by Covid-19!

I am sharing the steps we took to assist Jonty with Agile for Kids, and hope that they may help you with your children at home.


Visualise the work

Step one is to make the work visible. To do that, we created a simple Kanban board. “Kanban what?” I hear you say! Kanban is a system many organisations adopt to help manage the flow of work. For this story, it’s not that important that you know all the details, but for those that are keen to learn more, please click the following link http://www.kanban.co.za or click here to sign up for one of our Kanban courses

An example of the first board Jonty created is shown below. If you don’t have a whiteboard, you could use cardboard, or a mirror or tape on a door, anything really. All you need is some space where you can create some columns to visualise the phase the work is in.

For younger children, rather than writing the task on the sticky, you could use pictures to define the activity. See an example provided by Alhad Akole (board designed by his daughter Sara – Agile for Kids).

There is no right or wrong way of doing this. You are trying to visualise the work your child needs to do, the work they are currently busy with, and the work they have completed. For us, we included a column called “parent review”. For Jonty, when three items were in the parent review column, he would call us to review his work. This ensured that we could give him timely feedback, and if he made a mistake, he could fix it while the work was still fresh in his mind. It also meant that he didn’t carry the same mistake over to any new work.

I have included an example below of a more complex board. On this board, you will see an options column. This is work that we are aware of that needs to be done, for example, the current term of school. The next column is Next Week. This is work that we have either scheduled to be done the following week or has a deadline for the following week. We have broken up the To Do column into swimlanes, one for each day of the week. That way the child can see exactly what needs to be done each day. We review what was completed at the end of each day, and adjust the remaining work for the week accordingly.


Break up the work

To make the work visible on the board, we needed to define each task. To do this we decided that if anything took longer than 30 min, it would need to get broken up into smaller pieces of work. This way the work became more manageable and did not seem like this massive task that will never get done. So for exam studies, we would review each subject, and then break up the content that needed to be studied for that exam, into smaller pieces e.g. make notes on History Chapter 2. Once each subject was broken into smaller pieces, we would review the exam timetable, and schedule each task accordingly, taking into account other homework and projects. Similar to breaking up studying for exams, we did the same for projects and homework. For example, for a project that was due in two weeks, we could break it up into smaller chunks to ensure progress is made in time. This also ensured projects weren’t left until the night before they were due.

Each item on the board was clearly defined e.g. Maths page 23, questions 1–10, rather than just Maths.


Plan and Schedule

On Sunday nights we would plan for the forthcoming week. We reviewed the school schedule to see what was due to ensure those items were scheduled for the week. Based on any other activities, we then planned what needed to be completed each day. Each night we reviewed the progress made and updated the board accordingly. We also included other activities on the board as well e.g. reading, artwork, and exercise.


Focus

With all his work visible and scheduled, Jonty could see exactly what he needed to get done and by when. For Jonty, this provided a huge relief. He could see that if he did what was scheduled each day, he would get everything done in time. With his work now broken into smaller pieces, he could see progress being made. All that was left to do was focus on the single current task. To encourage the focus, we suggested that Jonty only ever have one item at a time in the doing column. This also meant that Jonty didn’t need to come and ask us every half hour what he needed to do next. He could see on his board what the next prioritised item was. This provided him with a level of autonomy and self-organisation. The other advantage was that he was more motivated to get the work done. Once the scheduled work was complete, it meant he could go and play :). At the end of the week, we reviewed the done column and Jonty could then remove the items and crumple them up and throw them away, which he looked forward to doing!


Make it better

Jonty, my wife and I would make a point of getting together often to review how the process was working and look at ways we could make improvements. I knew that if the process made it seem like more work, Jonty would not want to do it. So it was most important to take the time to ensure the board and process was assisting rather than making things more complicated.


Benefits of Agile for Kids

For our son

This process helped Jonty become more independent. By having a plan for the week he was no longer reliant on us to help figure out what he needed to do next. Jonty was more relaxed and less anxious about all the work that needed to be done. He could clearly see the schedule of work and realised it could be completed on time. As a result, he was a much happier little boy. This, in turn, allowed him to focus on what he was currently working on. This also provided skills that could be used later in life e.g. breaking up large pieces of work into smaller chunks, experimenting with new ideas, and how to solve a problem. It also empowered him and gave him autonomy in terms of being able to manage his workload. It gave him a great sense of achievement at the end of the week, to look at all the work he managed to get done.

For Us as Parents

We felt a great sense of relief and peace of mind knowing that Jonty was happier and less anxious. He could just get on with getting his work done. We didn’t need to be involved every minute of the day, but we felt involved enough to provide feedback, correction and guidance. We had full visibility of the work he had planned, what he was busy with, and what he had completed. We could very easily see if there was a problem and if we needed to help.


What we learned

Our advice to any parents who are keen to adopt this type of process is to start simple! Don’t create an overly-complicated board. If it’s too complicated then there will be resistance in using it and it will add no value. Although there are tools out there that you can use e.g. Trello, MS Team Planner, Miro, start with a physical board. It’s fun to create and quick and easy to change to ensure it works for you. Reflect on a regular basis e.g. once a week. Chat with your child about how the board and process works for them and come up with new things to try. If, after you try something new for a week and it doesn’t work, change it and try something else. Lastly, make it your own, have fun with it, make it colourful and exciting.

As part of the series, Agile for Kids, I also facilitated a webinar for parents and their children. You can watch the recording here:

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