by Janet Fox, Free Spirit author of Get Organized Without Losing It
The transition to middle school from elementary school is a huge milestone in a child’s life. It can also be fraught with difficulties, especially if the child in question struggles with organization. Middle school kids are expected to manage assignments on their own, keep lockers, remember books and assignments, move from classroom to classroom without supervision—and for most kids these are new responsibilities that take some adjustment. Can parents and teachers help make this transition easier? You bet.
Here are a handful of strategies designed for the elementary to middle school changeup. Whether you are a parent or teacher, these suggestions may help your struggling kids.
- Before school starts in the fall, help your child find and put together a binder with dividers for each subject. As your child brings home papers and homework, teach her how to file. (Visual and tactile learners especially will take to color-coding colorful binder dividers with sticky notes, markers, etc. Auditory learners will need your verbal cues.)
- School planners are the new normal. Whether your school issues one or you find one for your child, walk through the pages with your student/child. Make sure he’s comfortable with recording and retrieving information. Use colorful sticky flags to note long-term deadlines and colored markers to outline homework due. If your student has access to technology, iCal, Outlook, and other electronic calendars offer a visual way to track calendar information across devices. Tasks and/or subjects can be color-coded and alarms added to remind students of deadlines.
- Time management is especially hard for kids to learn. Let your kids track exactly what they do with their time for a day or two and then share. There’s always a surprise or two. (“I played that game for only 10 minutes!” “I brushed my teeth for 15 minutes!” Not.)
- Once school begins, have an “empty the pack” rule every night. Let your child dump her pack out on the floor. Both of you will see that important permission slip and those dull pencils. Make it fun-time rather than nag-time.
- Lockers are usually a new concept in middle school and can be the repository for all sorts of important/forgotten/nasty things. Ask your child to empty his locker every week and bring the contents home for a “look-see.” No nagging allowed here, either.
- Speaking of nagging, each of us is strong in one of three learning styles: visual, auditory, or tactile. If you understand your child’s strength, you can key your corrections to that learning style, which will not only help her understand your instruction but also help develop her skill. For example, instead of “Go clean your room,” give a tactile learner colorful baskets and have her sort her toys according to a system.
- Let your child work out his wiggles before homework time. Have a snack and share a conversation about anything but school. Play with pets or shoot some hoops. Then, once homework starts, let your child have a short break every 20 minutes or so for more effective retention.
- Help your child set up a home study space. Good lighting, a comfy chair, and a quiet spot (no TV!) are all that’s needed. If the only study space is the kitchen table, use storage boxes that can be stowed out of the way to hold supplies. Keep a file box for older work and help your child move the older papers from the binder to the file box every month or two.
- Make sure your child studies at the same time every day. This way the habit is introduced and the struggles will be reduced. Kids should study for at least 10 minutes per grade level per day (i.e., 30 minutes in 3rd grade), more in middle school and beyond. If your child has no homework, have her read quietly during homework time.
- Get ready for school the night before. Pack the backpack, sharpen the pencils, run through the homework checklist and planner. Make sure gym clothes are clean. Then put everything by the door to be ready to go in the morning.
- Teach and step back to foster independence; but don’t hesitate to step in if you see your child struggle. He needs you, now and always.
Most of us are not born with the organization gene, so if your child struggles with these issues, don’t feel bad. Be patient. Teach your child the kinds of skills outlined here and you’ll set her up for a lifetime of success.
Homework checklists, time-management tools, and more are available as free downloads here.
Janet Fox is the award-winning author of Free Spirit’s Get Organized Without Losing It and other work for children and young adults. She’s taught middle and high school literature and language arts, and received her MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
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Get Organized Without Losing It by Janet Fox