Friday, October 11, 2013

Messy Backpack? How to Help Your Child Get Organized

By Bob Cunningham, Contributing Writer

For most students, the backpack is the key to getting things home from school. Eventually, everything needs to get to the backpack, or it’s not likely to make it home. For some children, what they want to and think they should take home doesn’t always match what the teacher needs them to take home. And for you, the parent, it’s frustrating. There are, however, some simple and effective strategies you can use to help your kids get the “right stuff” into the backpack and home from school where it belongs.

Let Kids Organize Their Home LifeBelieve it or not, the first step is to set the stage at home. Many parents make a tremendous leap of faith by assuming their children will organize themselves differently at school than they do at home. This is simply not the case, and if your kids are particularly disorganized, , it’s likely that you’re taking dramatic steps to help them get things together at home. If this is the case (be honest), you need to be willing to allow things to run less smoothly at home for a while in order to help kids develop the organizational independence they’ll need to organize their school materials. Try the following four tips.
  1. Give kids the responsibility for laying out their clothes for school at night.
  2. Insist that they gather items for after-school activities on their own.
  3. Have them set the table for dinner, organize toys, sort clothes from the laundry, sort coins or perform other tasks involving organization.
  4. Request that they repeat tasks until they’re done correctly, and stick with them for at least three weeks before you provide assistance other than encouragements and rewards (if necessary).

From Organization at Home to Organization at SchoolAs you increase your expectations for better and more independent organization at home, you can introduce a strategy for helping kids get the right things home from school. There are four important guidelines you should understand first:

  1. When you try a strategy, pick one and stick with it for at least a week and a half—this gives the strategy a chance to take hold. Many parents don’t stick with a strategy long enough for it to actually work.
  2. Communicate with your child’s teachers. It’s important for educators to realize this is a problem for you and your child at home. Let them know what you’re doing so they can give you feedback and support your child at school. Check in after a week and a half of implementing a strategy so they know if it’s working or not.
  3. Work with the system the teacher has established for the class first. Assignment books, mailboxes and cubbies are common tools used for organization at school. If there’s an assignment book, check it each night. If there are mailboxes or cubbies, go over how to use these with your child through role play or saying to kids directly, “At the end of each day, check your mailbox (or cubby) and put any papers you find there into your backpack. It’s not a choice.”
  4. Most importantly, remember that improving organization takes both time and practice. Poor habits are very difficult to break.
Tips to Help Your Child Bring Home the “Right Stuff”Now that you have those guidelines in mind, here are four things you can try to help your child bring the right things home from school.

  1. Give children a folder and tell them to put any paper the teacher gives out but does not collect into the folder. Remind them to put the folder in the backpack at the end of each day, and make them responsible for putting the folder in their backpack each morning so it gets to school. (Remember that the first priority is to get the necessary things home, not to eliminate the other things. You can work on what to leave at school once you’re consistently getting the necessary papers home.)

  1. Give kids a small sheet of non-descript circle or star stickers (the plainer and less distracting the better). Tell them to put a sticker on any paper the teacher says needs to go home right when the teacher says it. Remind them to look carefully for things with stars when it’s time to clean up at the end of the day and to put those papers in the backpack.

  2. Create a small checklist with a picture associated with each subject or activity that’s typically part of their school day. Tape the checklist to their folder, and tell them to put a check next to the picture when the teacher says there’s something to bring home and to look at the checklist when they’re packing up at the end of the day.

  3. Help them identify a well-organized student who sits nearby at school. (Ask the teacher to pick the student, if possible.) Let them know that it’s OK to check in with that student each day during cleanup time to see what he or she is taking home.

As you work on these strategies, make a day-by-day list of the things your child forgets for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks, look at the list to see if there are any patterns. Does your child always forget the same thing? Does your child forget things more frequently on a particular day? If you notice a pattern, think through what makes that particular thing or that particular day different from the others. Perhaps an adjustment to your child’s afterschool schedule, specific reminders about the particular thing or a change in other routines could also help your child get the right things home.

Bob Cunningham, the former Head of School for The Gateway Schools in New York City, has been an educational evaluator and a teacher in general education and special education at both the elementary and secondary levels in several school districts. He was also an instructor in the Learning Disabilities program at Columbia Univerity's Teachers College. Follow him on Twitter at @tfcminds.

Article retrieved from:

Image retrieved from:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Homework 101

by Jenny A. Frank, CSW

“It’s time to do your homework.”
“But, mom!”

Sound familiar? For many parents, these words are heard from the month of September and last well into June. What can be done to maximize stronger work habits and minimize frustration for you and your child? Quite a lot.

School-to-Home Organization

  • Eliminate the risk of forgotten books/notebooks at school by asking teachers to check in with your child at the end of the day. For those children using lockers, hang a typed list on color paper reminding your child what to ask him/herself each day when packing up homework (see box, below, for example). In addition, a small index card could be taped on the cover of your child’s planner. For more detailed tips, learn how to help kids bring the right “stuff” home from school (rather than a miscellaneous mess). 
  • Advocate for a well-established communication system between home and school. Find out more about the parent-school relationship. 

Homework Organization

  • Select a specified area for homework and necessary supplies. When completed, request that your child return all materials/supplies to their appropriate places.
  • Help your child avoid avoiding homework. Work with your child on establishing rules on when and how homework will be accomplished. For example, should he start with his favorite subject? Take a break after each assignment? How will she know when it’s time to get back to work? (Verbal reminders, such as “Johanna, just a reminder that there are only two more minutes left in your break” and timers are very effective.) What stimuli is acceptable or unacceptable when studying? How homework is completed is equally important as completing it.
  • For weekend homework, encourage your child to begin on Friday evenings. This is invaluable! Not only is information fresh in their minds but it allows enough time to make contingency plans for forgotten books or purchasing materials for projects.
  • Ask yourself, Are the teachers giving homework and instructions that suit my child best? If not, don’t hesitate to share concerns and ideas with the teacher.
  • If your child misses school, remind him that he’s responsible for finding out the next day’s homework. While there may be times when your child can’t complete the homework without classroom instruction, it’s still good to have him follow through by calling a classmate or emailing the teacher (if this option is available) during the day. This learned skill becomes very important by mid-elementary years and, certainly, by middle school. It can minimize anxiety when your child returns to school.
  • For children taking medication, ask yourself and your child if she thinks the medication is working as optimally as possible. Work with your professional to determine if a change may be required.

Reinforce Learning

  • Become intimate with your child’s areas of need (for example, organization, inattentiveness, comprehension, decoding) and help find appropriate techniques to enhance and reinforce learning. Locate professionals early in the school year at your child’s school and/or in the private sector who can provide helpful strategies.
  • In general, study cards or index cards are easier than a study guide or worksheet. Have your child write words, thoughts or questions on one side and answers on the other. The act of writing out a card is one more opportunity to enhance learning by reinforcing memory.
  • Use the internet to supplement and complement classroom materials.
  • For children having difficulty extracting ideas, build lists of words for your child from which to choose. Similarly, ask them to compare and contrast ideas. For those with writing challenges, there are several approaches: Have your child verbalize his or her ideas first. Use a word-web format or an old-fashioned outline using bullets before writing an essay. Encourage your child to refer to the list/chart/web/rubric and use a minimum of details (two to three details for younger children; four to 10 details for older children).
  • Consider making board games, such as a bingo or lotto board, as another way to reinforce learning. An opened manila folder works great as a board, index cards can be used for questions and coins can be a player’s pawn. It's inexpensive, simple and a great addition to family time!
  • Offer to give practice tests. After a few weeks of school, your child should have a sense of a teacher’s testing style. Practice tests that mirror that style offer your child the opportunity to get a feel for what could be asked.
  • Consider a study group. For slightly older children, a study group of two or three can be very beneficial and make learning more enjoyable.

The ultimate goal is to provide kids with good work habits, to help them prepare, anticipate, stay on task and avoid unnecessary tardiness. Par for the course with teaching organization, homework and learning strategies is making a long-term commitment. The foremost rule is to find the best system for your child; this will often mean going through some trial and error before finding the best one. Parental assistance can go a long way in making your child feel a sense of accomplishment and progress while minimizing stress for all of you. Below is a sample end-of-day reminder you can share with your child. 

End-of-the-Day Reminder

Before coming home, remind or ask yourself:
  1. To check your planner to see what homework and tests you have.
  2. To pack everything you need to complete homework. (textbooks, composition books, study guides, library books, folders) and study for upcoming tests.
  3. What's inside the locker that should be somewhere else? (i.e., old lunches, library books, tests needed to be signed by parents).
  4. Take home the knapsack, jacket and any other clothing/sports gear.

Jenny A. Frank, CSW is in private practice in Westchester County, New York. Her practice includes family treatment of children with exceptionalities, individual counseling, parent support groups and parent coaching. She lectures and is published regularly on issues centering on children with special needs. She can be reached at

Article retrieved from:

Image retrieved from:

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More