By Janet Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It.
Life is complicated, and is becoming more so every day. Even in elementary school homework is the norm, expectations are high, and time is tight. How can you help your young students keep it all together?
There are strategies that parents and teachers can teach—strategies that will not only prove useful now, but will instill lifelong skills. Whether it’s stuff, time, or information, management is the key.
First let’s look at strategies for coping with stuff. Backpacks, lockers, and desks are black holes for papers, homework, pencils, etc. Here are a few tools to employ:
- A homework folder that lives in the student’s binder. This is a simple two-pocket folder, with one pocket for homework to do, and the other for homework done.
- A sturdy backpack. Sturdy, because it is important that your young student does not suffer back injury. I suggest a backpack with compartments, so that items can be separated according to need (the organizational technique known as “zoning”: everything in its place).
- A separate, transparent zippered pouch for small items: pens, pencils, calculator, etc.
- A well-stocked binder. A binder with a zipper or a “locking-ring” mechanism is worth the investment. Colorful dividers with sleeves that hold papers help students find their place. Clear plastic sheet protectors keep handouts damage-free.
Backpacks should be completely emptied every night, checked for missing items (that permission slip), restocked (pencils sharpened), and, once homework is complete, readied for the next day and placed by the door. At school, lockers can be “zoned” by using shelves or magnetic pockets, and desks and lockers should be cleaned out regularly. Teach your young student how to file older papers and when to get rid of papers no longer needed.
Time management is a bit trickier than stuff management, but there are strategies here, too:
- Procrastination may be a result of feeling overwhelmed by a project. The technique for dealing with this is “chunking”: breaking larger projects into smaller chunks, like learning only a few vocabulary words at a time, or writing only one portion of an essay.
- Some students work best if they get the hardest assignments done first, and some if they get the small things out of the way. Assess your student and direct her or his efforts.
- We all need to feel rewarded for a job well done, so allow students to take breaks between tasks, and hand out mini-rewards (cookies, gold stars). Five minutes off for every twenty minutes of work is a good model.
- Often students have no idea where their time goes. Have them keep a log: how long they think something will take, and then how long it does take. Does it take twenty minutes to brush your teeth or two? Did you watch five minutes of TV or thirty?
- Long-term planning requires calendar skills. Every student should learn to use a planner of some kind, whether it’s paper or digital. Parents and teachers can do a “planner walk-through” to acquaint students with the layout and with ways to record and retrieve information.
- Long-term projects also require a “chunking” of tasks over a time period, so lead students through planning stages.
Finally, information management is a skill we all must master in this information age:
- In order to complete tasks like homework, students need a quiet, well-lit, comfortable study space with minimal distractions. Keep a box at home with extra pencils, paper, etc., especially if your student doesn’t have a desk.
- Homework time should be consistent. I suggest a physical activity break right after school, followed by homework time of ten minutes per grade level.
- Brain research shows that after twenty minutes, even adults lose focus. Twenty minutes of concentrated effort should be followed by a short break.
- “Active” reading helps with retention. Try the PQRST method: preview, ask relevant questions, read, summarize, self-test.
- Note-taking skills can be enhanced with aids like the Cornell note-taking system, where pulled-out key words highlight the more detailed material.
- Long-term retention of information and ultimate mastery requires repetition. Repeat material over increasing periods of time, and encourage students to review.
Very few of us are born with the organization gene. These are skills that can be taught, and with a few simple strategies, your student can achieve organization success.
What are your most successful organizational strategies?
More hints, plus reproducible worksheets, can be found at janetfox.com.
Janet S. Fox is a writer, teacher, scientist, wife, mother, and avid gardener. She has published poetry, short fiction, and science articles, taught an elementary reading program, and now teaches middle school and high school English. Janet and her family live in Texas. Check out Janet’s blog, which features “interviews, musings, and more about books for kids.”
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