Back-to-school is an exciting time for parents and kids alike. Everyone starts out on their “best behavior” when it comes to academics. Kids have organized backpacks and readily start their homework with little prodding. Moms and dads adhere to “lights out” schedules at bedtime and see to it that homework is done in a timely manner. But as the months pass, these routines and rituals so often go by the wayside because life gets hectic. When parents are juggling multiple kids, sports, extracurricular demands and their own work schedules, it’s easy to see how priorities change.
The good news is there are some simple things parents can do early on and throughout the year that can make a big difference in their kids’ organization and homework completion. Here are a few simple suggestions for simple routines you can set up at the start of the school year.
1. Establish a homework area. Identify and set up multiple areas that are relatively free of distractions for your child. Some potential areas include the kitchen table, the dining room table (a personal favorite) or a home office. Contrary to popular belief, homework does not need to be done at the same place day in and day out. In fact, varying locations can heighten attention, so identify two to four areas that might be a fit for your child. Consider portable supplies (a shower caddy works great) so that students can move easily from location to location.
2. Set up a launching pad. A launching pad is a contained space for everything related to school that needs to get out the door each morning. In essence, it launches your child into the day in an organized fashion, equipped with all the right essentials – backpack, lunchbox, library books, pens, pencils, you name it! It can be a box, large basket or any container big enough to house your child’s school items. Put it in an area you know your child will see every day as he or she leaves the house. Encourage your child to get ready the night before by placing school items in the launching pad.
3. Designate a homework folder. From the day the very first assignment is given – which might be the first day of class – a separate homework folder can help improve organizational skills. A study of middle school students found that having a dedicated homework folder helped students locate their homework with more accuracy and turn it in on time. Take a step further and label one pocket “To Be Completed” and one pocket “Completed” so your child knows where to put their assignments.
4. Do the “Clean Sweep.” To maintain order throughout the year, and not just the first week of school, arrange a weekly 20-minute session called, “the clean sweep.” During this time, everyone in the house drops what they’re doing and gets organized. This is the time kids use to sort and file papers, clear out binders and organize backpacks. Stick to this 20-minute session each week and you’ll see a real difference this year!
At the end of the day, it’s the creation of and adherence to simple routines that can make a big difference in your child’s school success. The key is to start off with one or two routines and to stick with them until they become habits.
Ann Dolin, M.Ed. is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring (www.ectutoring.com) which provides in-home tutoring and organization/time-management coaching to students throughout the D.C. area.