How Parents Can Help Their Children Get Organized and Learn to Be Productive Part 3

My older child, Meagan, just entered 6th grade (middle school in our district), which involves moving from class to class.  We bought the requisite list of supplies, including the exact type of binder the teachers wanted to organize school papers.  I was unable to find the brand listed in the stores, so I ordered it from the Internet.  I thought, “Wow! This is going to be a fabulous binder.  I can’t wait to see what the fuss is all about.”  When I received the binder, I was confused.  It had no sections, no pockets, no tabs, no dividers, nothing.  I wondered “How in the world is she going to keep the papers separate for the six different classes she’s taking?”  I tried to explain to her the binder wasn’t going to work, but she was insistent on using the exact type specified.  I kept my mouth shut and my eyes on the binder during the first week, observing as she attempted to organize all the various papers.  She eventually came to me, sheepish, and asked me to help her.  “Mom, all my papers are mixed up in a big pile, and I can’t keep anything straight.”  We ceremoniously emptied the binder and put it in the playroom.  We went shopping and looked for a binder with six different sections built in and soon found the perfect solution.  The lesson of course is not to assume that other people know what’s best for your child.  To help them succeed, you must guide their choices and be educated yourself on the different options and best way to organize them.  Once the system is in place they are pretty good at using it.

Designate a specific homework time.  Many children come home to no structure.  Yes, I agree it’s important to allow a child to relax and unwind a bit after a long day, but it could be a mistake to allow your child to put off homework until after dinner.  Instead of spending time with the family, playing, doing chores, and doing personal maintenance, children end up underestimating how long homework is going to take and stay up late, cutting into their bedtimes, causing chronic sleepiness and inattentiveness during class the next day.  I let the children have a half-hour to play with the neighbors, watch television, talk on the phone, whatever, but then it’s right to homework until dinner.  Usually they are done before we eat and can spend the evening relaxing without having assignments hanging over their heads.  Teach them the old mantra, “Work before play.”  Be aware of what projects were assigned and the due dates, and make sure they are cracking at them bit by bit, so they won’t attempt to complete it all last minute and pull an all-nighter (which usually includes you).  Help them identify all the steps needed to complete long-term assignments and work on them in manageable chunks.

Get the kid’s day started. Pack (or have your kids pack) lunch boxes if they don’t buy at school; make sure the clothes are selected down to the last hair bow and shoes; lay out breakfast dishes; fill up the backpacks (don’t forget homework, permission slips, lunch money, show-and-tell, gym clothes, musical instruments, etc.)

Put library books in their own tote. How many times have you taken your child to the library to check out books, accidentally combined them with their own books, forget they were on the bookshelf, and owe lots of money when you finally discovered and returned them? Simple solution: Keep a separate tote for library books. The next time you go to a conference, keep the cheesy bag you get to carry around your materials. Take it to the library with you and immediately put your checked books inside it to transport home. Train your kids to always replace library books after reading them into the special book bag. Meagan has a separate compartment in her school backpack just for school library books that need to be kept separately and returned. Using these methods, you’ll never again have to rummage through a hundred books on your kids’ shelves to find the borrowed ones.

Don’t make lunches for your kids! Every month, Meagan brings home the school lunch menu and hangs it on the refrigerator. The cooks at her school are diligent in creating a balanced meal, including protein and vegetables (their lunches are healthier than mine).  Each night, she looks at what’s being served at school the next day. If she wrinkles her nose at the offering, she packs her lunch that night and puts it in the refrigerator. Generally, though, she likes what’s being served and buys her lunch. She has a spending account I fill up once or twice a year, so I never waste time looking for change in the morning. Meagan simply gives her account number to the cashier and takes her food. When it comes right down to it, the cost of purchasing at school (national average: $2.00 per day) is minimal. When you factor in the cost of the food (juice boxes, deli meat, pre-cut and washed vegetables, apples, etc.) plus the time (ten minutes a day equals 50 minutes a week) and hassle to prepare it (priceless), the extra few bucks a week spent in hard cash is worth a panic-free morning.