by Kathie Sutin
As summer melts into its hottest days and back-to-school sales pop up, it's time to think about ways to get the new school year off to a good start.
The nice thing about a new school year is you get to wipe the slate clean and start all over again. If last year left a little to be desired in the realm of organization, here's your chance to re-invent your life so you don't have a rerun of the same old “Mom, I can't find my permission slip!” panic five minutes before your child is supposed to be at school.
Getting organized not only will keep your nerves from fraying, It can actually help your child's performance in school, since it will free up time that can be spent studying or relaxing so she can approach the next school day refreshed.
“Never too early to start”
Poor study skills or organizational skills can keep students from succeeding, according to Carol Seligman, M.Ed., M.S. A certified teacher, specialist and licensed speech/language therapist, Seligman is an academic tutor who also teaches students study and organizational skills.
Study skills, time management, organizational skills, test preparation, and note-taking come naturally for some children. But others need to be taught these skills, she said.
One of the first things that students should be taught is to write down their assignments. It's a simple thing that can save time and sometimes tears.
Many students need help with organizing the tools of learning. "Even just organizing their notebooks can be a challenge," Seligman said.
She suggested observing how your child does with different systems before deciding on which works best. Some children do better with binders, while other do better with the folder system. She added that parents should try to "hone in on what the child would be comfortable with."
While the need for study skills, time management and organizational skills really becomes evident in about fourth grade, Seligman says it may be beneficial to start stressing these things earlier. "It's never too early to start," she said.
Groundwork for success
Begin the school year by laying the groundwork for academic success this year by getting organized. Here are some tips to help. Adding these strategies to your child rearing style might spill over into the rest of your life, too!
● Ensure stress-free mornings. Take some of the stress out of mornings. Get as many things ready the night before as you can. Your day can get off to a smooth start when homework and books are put in the backpack, and clothing, shoes and socks that will be worn are laid out the night before.
● Provide consistency. Pick a time that's consistent for homework, but tailor it to the child. "Kids think optimally at different times," said Joan Holland, director of the Miriam School in St. Louis, Missouri. "It isn't the same for every kid." Requiring your child to start his homework right after school may not be the best thing. Sometimes a child needs time to do nothing before getting down to work after a long day at school, Holland said.
● Review assignments. Review the assignments with your child. Having a daily review session of what's coming up can help avoid those last-minute runs to the library to do research for a paper due tomorrow when it was assigned weeks ago.
● Help with organization. Help your child organize her desk and papers so she can find things easily.
● Arrange supplies. Organize your child's backpack. Use a small pencil case for pens and pencils if the backpack doesn't have a special compartment for them.
● File materials in binders. Binders can be a big help. With dividers and pocket pages, they're a big plus in keeping kids organized. Hand-out materials and completed assignments can go into the pocket pages, and each class can have its own color-coded divided space.
● Keep a to-do list. Encourage your child to keep a "to-do" list to keep track of homework assignments, materials that are needed for class, and chores. Crossing items off the list when they are completed gives anyone a feeling of accomplishment.
● Find study space. Set aside a study space. It can be in the child's room or the kitchen table. No matter where it is, it should be a quiet place with all the supplies the child will need close at hand.
● Schedule cleaning sessions. Schedule weekly weed-outs. Too many papers can create chaos as well as frustration. File away old tests and papers so they are retrievable but are not overloading the backpack getting in the way of the daily assignments.
● Establish communication. Turn your fridge into your central communications center. A large calendar where you mark project due dates, assignments, exams, and extracurricular activities as well as school holidays keeps everyone in the family abreast of what's going on.
● Provide reminders. Help your child stay organized by reminding him to file, write down dates, and keep his papers together.
And, if those permission slips are your undoing, Holland has a great tip.
"One of things we do here at the Miriam School is use a special folder to carry important papers back and forth to school," she said. "It goes home every day and parents check that folder for information they need. That's at our initiation, but parents can initiate it, too."
After the permission slip or other communication is signed by the parent, it goes back into the folder for the child to take it back to school the next day.
Getting your child organized can help his life—and yours—run more smoothly. But while you know you have your child's best interests at heart when you try to get him organized, Seligman advises parents not to overdo it.
"Too often such efforts deteriorate into nagging," and can become a power struggle, she said.
Kathie Sutin is an award-winning freelance journalist based in St. Louis, Missouri. She specializes in writing about medical issues, travel, parenting, education, business, food and people. She has three children.© Photo by Thomas Perkins | Dreamstime.com