Did you know that I was a certified middle school teacher? In addition to my Juris Doctorate, I have a Master of Education degree. I am the world's most over-educated, unemployed (except for my several side jobs) organization blogger. My knowledge on the subject of education, in particular, is the type that MUST be shared. I would be selfish not to help parents and teachers with one of the most difficult of pre-teen issues - how to keep your kid organized in school.
Note that this post is not about your kid. This is about you, and what you can do to help him or her with keeping things together, throughout elementary school and, especially, as your kid approaches and navigates middle school.
Ten Things That You Can Do To Help Your Child:
1. Have a routine task (in my case, circled because it repeats weekly) to track homework and grades on-line.
See where my Frixion pen points to Kickboard and Edline? Those are the on-line tools that our particular school gives us to track assignments. If I can't stay up-to-date on assignments, how can I expect my kid to stay on task?
TIP: Even if your school doesn't have on-line tracking, note important dates, like report card days, in your planner.
2. Have a place where you write the homework down in your planner.
At my kids' school, the teachers warn that the kids' planner overrides the on-line stuff. That works for us, but at least this way I can ask the teacher if my child keeps saying he "doesn't have homework." Note that this does not excuse my child from writing down his own homework. My goal is NOT to do the work for him. It's to teach him to be responsible for himself.
3. Go through the backpack every night with your child.
The part where I said "with your child" is critical. From kindergarten on, go through the backpack and clean it out nightly.
Depending on your kid and whatever special needs there may be, this can vary from having your child take out his folder or school planner and hand it to you, or this can mean an extensive emptying and reorganization of the backpack nightly. This is when you check for permission slips (and sign them, note them in your planner, and put them back in the communication folder or clip them to the homework planner), throw out old worksheets, and grab occasional awesome art work to save for the year.
It's important that you do this together because this is where you TEACH your child how to organize. If you struggle with being organized, don't let that worry you. Struggle together. It will pay huge dividends. Oh, and be patient. None of us are perfect. We certainly can't expect a 10 year old to be perfect. Done, my Loyal Readers, is better than perfect.
4. Do your homework while your kid does his or her homework.
I know this sounds crazy, especially since you are not in school anymore, but sit your kid at a quiet table next to you and work together as a family. Sometimes, I chop vegetables for dinner. Other times, I check my e-mail or Facebook. Often, I blog or write. Almost daily, I process incoming mail from my mailbox and the papers from my children's schoolbags.
There's something magical about sitting down together that makes everyone work just a little bit harder. Kids tend to resent doing homework less when mom or dad is also working. And you are right there if they need help, but engaged in your own work, so you aren't overwhelming them.
5. Create three supply bags. Keep them stocked with ink pens, sharpened pencils, and anything else they use regularly.
My kids got these free bags from their school. They keep one in their desk/locker/cubby, one in their backpack, and one at home near their launchpads where their book sacks hang out.
Why three? Well, any child (not just YOUR child, I promise...no matter how much it seems like just your child does this) sometimes leaves their pencil case in their locker or on the floor under their desk or at home. Homework stops abruptly, as does school work, when there is no sharpened pencil.
TIP: Include a cheap pencil sharpener in each supply bag.
If you watch back-to-school sales, you can stock up on supplies for the year.
6. Consolidate notebooks whenever possible.
You use your planner to keep everything in one place, right? What if your child could carry all their class notes in one binder? Or, perhaps, the morning classes in one binder and the afternoon classes in another?
Take a look at your child's schedule and organize the notebooks and looseleaf in a way that makes sense. For little kids, one binder might not work. Or at school, the teachers might have other policies, so be sure and check.
TIP: If your child has special needs and you think one binder would help, ask for an accommodation. You might not get it, but it's not a lot of work for our already overwhelmed teachers, so they might surprise you.
BONUS TIP: Consider a Tuesday/Thursday tote bag inside of the booksack. Or a Morning tote and an Afternoon tote. For some kids, having a bunch of necessary materials consolidated really helps. Of course, ONLY do this if it won't confuse your child even more.
7. For everything that you cannot consolidate, color-code.
I know. I don't even color-code my planner. But that's because I am not willing to put in the time. For my kid, I'd be willing to put in the time.
If you can find an afford things like colorful book covers, notebooks, and folders, use one color for each class. Math, for example, might be blue. Another way to do this is to use washi tape or duct tape (kids love duct tape these days) to wrap matching color folders, notebooks, and book covers.
TIP: Let your child pick the tape. It will be fun for the kid and helps the child learn the connection between the class and the color.
8. Color code the class schedule and put one copy in the front of the child's planner or binder and another copy hanging on the child's locker.
Seriously, even your naturally organized kid will benefit from the visual stimulus.
9. Use washi tape or a sharpie to create a distinctive place for the child to have the teacher sign their homework planner (if age-appropriate or an accommodation).
TIP: Add a reward for getting the planner signed everyday. Maybe an hour of Xbox time, choosing the dinner menu, or a bike ride with Dad.
10. Include checklists for every step of the school day (and hang them in locker, on inside cover of homework planner or binder, and on inside covers of notebooks).
You can type them up and ask the teacher to review them for anything missing. Make sure you offer the teacher copies to post around the classroom, if she wants them.
To make the checklists, think about what you would have your child do at every step of the school day and type up a cheat sheet with all the steps.
Some examples include:
1. Get communication folder out of bag.
2. Put in the green basket on teacher's desk.
3. Copy homework into planner.
4. Put planner on corner of your desk for teacher to initial.
5. Put out first hour homework (red) on the corner of your desk for teacher to check.
6. Empty morning books (red and green) out of backpack and put in desk.
7. Put rest of your books in your cubby.
8. Put red book and folder on your desk.
End of Class
1. Write homework in planner.
2. Raise hand and politely ask teacher to sign planner.
3. Put red book/notebook/folder in desk.
4. Take out green book/notebook/folder.
5. Put green homework on corner of desk.
I know these lists are very detailed and complicated. But two things happen. First, you communicate with the child (and possibly the teacher) about what steps NEED to be taken daily and what order is optimum. Second, your child doesn't have to think about what to do next. It's written right there. Obviously, I wouldn't use this for dyslexic children, though pictures and colors are still useful to them. Make sure that you use an action verb as the first word of each step.
TIP: I do this for myself at the beginning of the school year. In my planner, I have an a.m. and a p.m. checklist. I learn it pretty quickly, but tend to get out of habit over the summer.
If this helped at all, please consider sharing on social media.
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