There’s a certain excitement in the fall when school begins. Most students start classes with new notebooks, binders, markers and well-meaning resolutions to be better organized this year. But somewhere between homework, tests, playdates and the rush of the winter holidays, many of these resolutions become wistful memories.
What can parents do to help children stay the course? It sometimes takes a rededication— a fresh renewal of efforts— to motivate students midway through the year. Setting up systems to teach students how to effectively manage their time and materials helps them learn the benefits of staying organized in school as well as in daily life.
Here are some valuable ways to aid kids in managing schoolwork and that all-important time after the school day ends.
Systems for Organizing Materials
- Make backpack checks. Every day after school, designate a specific time for you and your children to go through each piece of paper in their backpacks. Show your children how to properly file completed work in a folder at home or a in designated place in their binders. Not only will you know what homework needs to be done, but you’ll help your children to systematically store information they may need at the end of the semester.
- Get an assignment notebook. Knowing what you need to do is integral to success in any endeavor. Take time to teach your children to list both nightly work and long-term projects in an assignment notebook. If the teacher can check the entries at the end of the day, even better. Students should review their list of assignments before leaving school to ensure they bring home the right books and binders for homework.
- Color code assignments for direction. Color coding helps students efficiently document assignments and obligations. Some students like to use a lot of bright colors throughout their notebooks, but that can be confusing to the eye. When the number of colors is limited and clearly defined, the student can quickly identify what work needs to be completed. Encourage your child to follow the color key for insight on the order in which to complete assignments and tasks.Color coding may work as follows:
- Red = Tests or quizzes
- Blue = Long-term projects
- Black = Nightly homework
- Green = Fun activities or weekly obligations
- Make a check-in and check-out spot. Establish an area in your home for your children to put everyday things such as shoes, backpacks, instruments and sports equipment. This will become the first place they stop when arriving home and the last place to check when leaving the house. Having an established place for daily-needed items helps children remain responsible for their belongings.
Systems for Managing Time
- Create a monthly calendar. Knowing how to use a monthly calendar is an essential organizational skill. Some households maintain a family calendar in a central place, like the kitchen, and list each member’s activities in a different color. This is a good way to model the use of a monthly planner. Giving your children recognition on the family calendar motivates them to learn the valuable skill of managing their days in their personal calendars. Use the same color coding system as in the assignment notebook.
- Break down long-term projects. Students can use their assignment notebooks to learn how to structure time by planning large projects backward. Start at a project due date spot in the assignment notebook. Then show your child how to break down the steps required to complete each portion of a long-term assignment, such as a written report or a science project. For example, if a report is due on the 30th, the student may want to have the final draft ready to edit by the 28th, the first draft ready by the 25th, the outline prepared by the 23rd, the research completed by the 20th, the thesis or main point decided by the 18th and the topic chosen by the 15th.
Setting interim due dates in an assignment notebook or on a calendar takes into account other obligations like family trips and sporting events. You might want to model breaking a large task into parts by putting tasks such as hosting a birthday party or scheduling a vacation on the family calendar. For the birthday party, you may want to write down interim activities such as sending out invitations, hiring the entertainment, and ordering and picking up the cake.
- Organize guess and actual time sheets. Estimating the time that tasks require enables students to manage academic work more efficiently. To teach this skill, give your child a piece of paper with three columns— the first marked “assignments,” the next marked “guess” and the last column marked “actual.” On the far left, have your child list a number of tasks, such as “math worksheet,” “science reading” or even “get ready for soccer.” Next, in the guess column, have the child estimate how long each activity will take to complete.
When the student begins a task, set a timer to measure the amount of time spent. If the timing of the task is distracting, the parent can be responsible for monitoring the timer away from the student. When the students completes all the listed tasks, compare the guess and actual times, and discuss ways to improve the estimates in the future. Parents can model this skill by completing their own guess and actual sheets for household chores such as cooking dinner, doing laundry and paying bills.
- Plan for after school. What children should do after school is an age-old quandary for parents. Too many activities may leave students with insufficient time for homework, as well as unnecessary stress and anxiety. And when your children have no plans for after school, this time is frequently wasted. A snack can easily turn into a two-hour break, and students often don’t see how quickly time evaporates. Scheduling a time to complete homework is necessary for many children. If students know that at 4pm the TV is turned off and homework gets done, there is less of a tendency to procrastinate. Some students also find that the guess and actual time sheets prompt them to start their homework.
Although the midyear slump is a common phenomenon, it is also one that can be avoided with a little planning and parental involvement. When parents encourage children to write down homework assignments in an assignment notebook and help plan students’ long-term projects, then children are less likely to fall behind when the newness of the school year fades.