Ten tips to help your child stay organized all year By Monica Ginsburg
The No. 2 pencils are sharpened and school supplies are stocked. Notebooks are clearly labeled and filled with loose leaf paper. Backpacks are ready and organized. But for how long?
"Staying organized and on top of school work is an issue for every kid," says Marcy Wiener of Chicago, who teaches middle-school kids with learning disabilities and has a son in 7th grade. "All you have to do is open up a locker or a backpack, and that’s all you need to see."
Before you hit any last-minute project deadlines or find homework assignments stuffed at the bottom of a backpack, try these 10 tips to help your child get, and stay, organized: (Note: nagging is not on the list.)
1 Set up an easy-to-follow system. Chicago mom Kathy Andrade likes to color-code folders and notebooks by subject for daughters Alyssa, 13, and Victoria, 10. For son Patrick, 7, a basic two-pocket folder for homework "to do" and homework that is completed does the organizational trick.
2 Clean at least once a week. Clean out backpacks and folders, that is. Andrade saves papers by subject in a big file box so past assignments can be used for reference or studying. She also does a weekly check of supplies, which are stored in a clear pouch in her kids’ notebooks for easy viewing. "I want to
give my kids the right tools to be organized, then they can be more accountable for their own destiny," she says.
3 Review assignments daily. "You don’t have to correct papers, but you do need to look at your child’s notebook to see what homework was given and the completed assignments to make sure everything is done," says Wiener. If writing down assignments becomes a problem, ask your child’s teacher to review the notebook every day to make sure everything is there.
4 Focus on smaller tasks. Long-term assignments should be broken down into smaller tasks such as researching the topic, organizing notecards and writing a rough draft. Work with your child to set due dates for each piece and record the progress in assignment notebooks. "Children often put things off because they don’t know how to accomplish the task or assignment at hand," says Shartrina Robinson-Amato, director of educational programs at Rush Neurobehavioral Center in Skokie. "They might fear it will take too long or may not even know how to get started." Be sure to include the schedule for after-school appointments such as soccer games and orthodontist visits so kids can see how extra-curricular activities impact school commitments.
5 Prioritize assignments. Encourage kids to tackle bigger projects first, such as studying for an exam or quiz or finishing a paper or project. Leave rote assignments that require less concentration for last.
6 Study even on no-homework days. This is most important for younger students who need the consistency. Simply create "study options" such as practicing keyboarding, reviewing math flashcards or reading a chapter of a book. "But there has to be something you can see at the end," says Alyse Siegel, a Chicago-based educational specialist who teaches kids time management, organizational skills and study skills. "Write a sentence about the chapter, list the math problems you had trouble with or print out your keyboarding."
7 Model organized behavior. "Parents aren’t always good role models," says Siegel. "If you tell your child you’ll pick them up after soccer practice at 4:30, and at 5 p.m. you’re still not there, what message are you sending?" She also encourages parents to verbalize their own time management strategies. "For example, if you need to pick up your husband at the train at 5 p.m., you might tell your child that, although it’s a 10-minute commute, it’s also rush hour so you’ll leave five minutes earlier to ensure you’re on time. This helps kids see how time is planned, and also to see that they need to have a plan."
8 Don’t ignore missed deadlines. If your child misses a due date, help them find time over the weekend to make up the work, or ask them to talk to their teacher. Most teachers are understanding and will offer some alternatives for late or missing assignments.
9 Reward good behavior. Offer motivators such as extra computer time, a sleepover or staying up late on the weekend for a job done well and on time.
10 Set homework rules together. Julie Becker of Northbrook involves her kids, Sam, 13, and Rachel, 7, in setting homework guidelines so everyone is clear on expectations. "We’ve agreed on things like how much down time they need after school, so I’m not nagging them to get to their homework and they feel like they have some input in their lives," she says. "Everyone knows the rules up front."
Monica Ginsburg is a Chicago-based freelance writer and the mother of two girls.