Blue, Purple and Green: How I Color Coded my Child Into Middle School

Note: October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Zoe – my color coded sixth grader with mosaic Down syndrome

Zoe – my color coded sixth grader with mosaic Down syndrome

By Suzanne Wingard, Director of Training, Family Connection of SC

Color has always been a part of organization in my life – from taking notes in school to sorting training handouts at work. It has visually simplified even the most complex tasks mainly because I am a visual learner. Luckily, so is my daughter.

Zoe was born with mosaic Down syndrome, a rare form of Down syndrome where not all the cells have the third copy of the 21st chromosome. She has been fully included in general education classrooms with supports in a private school since Kindergarten. We’ve put several accommodations in place and provided an aide for support. We’ve also used color to help her learn new concepts such as separating parts of a math problem or identifying new vocabulary in her reading books.

Colored Math Problems

Colored Math Problems

Over this past summer though, our anxiety started increasing – mine more than hers – about the dreaded transition to sixth grade in middle school. New buildings, higher curriculum expectation, demands for independence, peer pressure and feelings – oh, so many feelings.

I decided to tackle our anxiety with the only thing that consistently works in our lives – Organization Through Color!

We wrote down our anticipated challenges with transition to middle school:

  • Remembering a schedule of which class to go to for each class period
  • Finding each classroom within the five different campus buildings
  • Keeping up with homework, classwork, handouts and notes for the five curriculum classes as well as the five rotation enrichment classes
  • Managing study time for an increased number of tests and quizzes

All of these led to increased demands on organization and time management skills.

Middle school emphasizes a more independent way of learning with the ability to improve executive functioning skills such as organizing and prioritizing, staying on task and self-monitoring.

The Summer Scavenger Hunt Begins!

To start the color organization process, Zoe selected one color for each curriculum course: math, science, reading, writing and history.

We then found a solid color binder with dividers for each class.

Once we had the binders, the real fun began — accessories to match! It’s amazing what you can find in the back to school section of your local mass merchandise store. Pencil holders, spiral notebooks, composition books, section dividers, spiral notecards, even mechanical pencils — all in the same color scheme for each curriculum subject.

Colored Curricula Folders

5 colors were selected for the 5 curriculum classes

But it didn’t stop there. Each curriculum class required a cover for their textbooks.  It took us two months and three states, but we finally found a solid color stretchy material book cover to match all five binder colors. Of course, online shopping would have been faster, but we decided to make it a summer scavenger hunt.

Colored School Accessories

All the accessories were kept in the same five-color scheme

Identifying what binder and book was needed for each subject was now easy, and she was able to keep a set of books at home and a set of binders in the classroom. But we still had the issue of remembering which class was in each period.

Color Blocked Schedules

Once Zoe’s class schedule came out, we created a new version using the colors that correlated to her curriculum classes. We added class time blocks, teacher names and building locations. This was printed, laminated and added to each binder as well as her locker. If she was marked tardy for class, it certainly wasn’t because Zoe didn’t know where she was going!

Color Blocked Schedules

Color blocking makes information easier to find

Following the Rainbow

With the school year underway, we continue the same color scheme at home to keep everything consistent. Homework is done in each binder with the corresponding color pens or mechanical pencils. Vocabulary notecards are completed in the same color card ring as its curriculum color. This allows Zoe’s brain to keep the information in separate “folders” when learning new concepts or studying for tests.

There are so many different ways color can be used for organization. Our process has not only calmed our anxiety, but it has also created a huge amount of independence for Zoe. No more frantically flipping through one binder to find the science homework that somehow ended up in the math section.  If it is science, for Zoe, it’s going to be blue.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Articles do not endorse any educational product, service, curriculum or pedagogy

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Director, Early Childhood Hearing Outreach (ECHO) Initiative, National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management, Utah State University