A new school year has officially started and with it comes many fresh starts: new classrooms, new teachers, new books, and perhaps even new friends. Some students, however, carry with them old habits of losing papers, forgetting important books, and neglecting to turn in their work. Help your child create a stronger back-to-school routine and avoid these organizational woes with the ideas detailed below.
Establish a Homework Routine
Setting up a regular homework routine at the start of the school year is a key component of organizational success. Some children enjoy completing their homework as soon as they get home, to “get it over with” and move on to more “fun” activities. Others need a small snack and are then ready to work, while many kids need a few hours to fully wind down before they are ready to work again. The key is to help your child determine a routine that works for him, then keep it consistent. Do what you can to help him stick with this routine. For instance, if he prefers a small snack before getting to work, try to have that snack ready for him as soon as he walks in the door. If he prefers to eat dinner before working, aim to have dinner ready at the same time each day. Consistency is key, as it will ultimately help him maintain his homework routine.
Set Up a Study Area
Help your child to create a clean, well-organized study area where she completes her homework on a regular basis. This could be a desk in her bedroom, the kitchen table, a study desk in another room, or the like. This study area should be stocked with all the supplies she may need to complete her work – pens, pencils, loose leaf paper, highlighters, a sharpener, and so on. Help her organize the supplies into labeled containers or sections within drawers so that every item has a home. As the supplies quantities dwindle, be sure to refill them right away to avoid any unnecessary distractions in trying to look for these items.
Maintain an Organized Assignment Book
Many students, especially those with executive functioning challenges, think they can remember all of their homework assignments and feel no need to write them down. Others use an assignment book only sparingly. Yet as students move through school and the workload increases, it becomes imperative that they learn to write down their assignments on a regular basis. Help your child develop stronger homework management skills and avoid missing assignments with this strategy: in his assignment book, he should create five columns for each day: ET (estimated time), AT (actual time), O (Order), D (Done), and Assignments (which should be the widest column). When he is at school, the only place where he should write down his assignments is in the assignment column. When he gets home and begins his work, he should start by looking at each assignment and deciding how long he thinks he each one will take – then write the ET, or estimated time, for each one in the ET column. Based on these estimated times, he should decide which assignment he wants to work on first, second, etc., and write the numbers (1,2,3, etc.) in the O column. Once he completes each assignment, he should write the AT, or actual time each one took to complete (usually in the beginning there is a big discrepancy between the ETs and ATs but as he practices this strategy, the times will start to merge as he becomes more realistic with his time). Finally, once the assignment is done *and put in the right place to be turned in* he should place a check mark in the D column. This strategy can help him develop stronger time management, organization, planning, and homework management – skills that are essential for school success.
Learn to Prioritize
As students progress through school, they receive an increasing amount of assignments and projects. Help your child manage this rising workload by teaching her to prioritize and organize her assignments. For instance, a project that consists of researching, creating note cards, outlining, writing, and self-editing can seem overwhelming at first. To help ease her anxiety, look at the assignment with her and help her break down the large project into smaller, more manageable steps. Then assign a due date for each step and have her enter them into her assignment book with completion dates connected to each one. In doing so, she will feel calmer and more in control of her workload and will feel successful as she completes each step.
At Home Organizational System
As the school year progresses, the quantity of papers students receive seems to multiply, and many students leave this growing pile of (often crumbled) papers inside their backpacks or stuffed into their notebooks. Help your child develop an effective filing system to avoid this overload of papers. Try this 2-tier system: Tier 1 is his active notebook or the notebook he carries to school with him on a regular basis. Tier 2 is an accordion file that stays at home and consists of three sections for every class: homework, notes, and tests/quizzes (math homework, math notes, math test/quizzes; science homework, science notes, etc.). He should designate once a day per week to be his “clean out my active notebook day,” where he goes through his active notebook and removes any papers he doesn’t absolutely need to be carrying with him on a regular basis. He should file them into the appropriate section of his accordion file. Then, as quizzes or tests come up at a later date, he will know precisely where to find these important papers. As a result, he will be more organized, empowered, and in control of his paper load.
Starting a new school year can feel overwhelming for some students. Yet with these back-to-school ideas, your child will start the year feeling organized, confident, and ready for success.
I hold my Doctorate Degree in Education, my Master's Degree in Special Education, and run the EBL Coaching learning centers. I also frequently write articles on various educational topics, including homework.