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Help for disorganized kids

Abbi Perets lives in Houston, TX, with her husband and five children.






Organization tips for kids

A new school year, a fresh start -- and a forgotten math book. Does this equation have to add up to major stress and unhappiness? Or can you brainstorm a new solution to this all-too-common problem? We've got the homework tips you need to help your kids make the grade.

Boy with messy papers

Four days into the school year, my fourth grader had already managed to forget at least part of her homework four times. In other words, every day, she forgot something at school. The kicker came on day five, when I discovered two of her binders sitting on the dining room table an hour after she went to school.

Two days later, I sat down with her teachers, the principal, and the school psychologist to create a plan to help her succeed. Here's what I learned -- and how it can help you and your kids.

Start on the same side

When I set up my meeting, I made it clear that I wanted to come together to help my daughter succeed. This sends the message that you, the teachers and administrators, and the child are all on the same side. On the other side is The Problem. Every person in the room had tacitly signed off on working towards my daughter's success. How cool is that?
I also took a few minutes to jot down the specific problems I saw (forgetfulness, general disorganization, distractedness) and asked her teachers to do the same. This helped set the agenda and saved a few minutes in the meeting -- which is important when you're dealing with teachers who have to get back to class quickly.

Look for immediate and long-term solutions

My daughter has a different folder for every class, and she constantly forgot one or more. The school psychologist suggested switching immediately to a single accordion folder that would hold all her papers as well as keeping copies of her books at home. This let us eliminate the barriers to her success right way. We can work on her organization skills over time, but at least this way, she can do her nightly work and keep up with her class.
We also implemented a system wherein her teachers will sign my daughter's planner daily -- after checking that she has properly written the night's assignment. We'll sign it at home when the work is complete to help my daughter see that we and her teachers are in constant communication.
Her last teacher of the day will check over my daughter's planner daily and ask to see each item in her backpack as an extra reminder. Over time, this should reinforce good habits and help my daughter learn to check and double check that her materials are ready.

Teach kids to take ownership

To help my daughter take ownership of her actions, I sat down with her over the weekend and created labels for the various sleeves in the accordion folder. I explained that in school, any papers she gets go directly into the front sleeve of the folder. At home, each evening, we'll sort them into their proper tabs. Having her come up with the file names for each tab was an important part of the process.
I also explained to my daughter that we'll mark down important dates in her planner. Middle school teacher Hilary Morris suggests that you "help your child map out the week, especially if there are other activities going on." So if we know on Monday that we have Girl Scouts on Wednesday and a spelling test on Thursday, we can make a plan and talk about it so that my daughter knows what to expect each day.

Schedule follow-up and review times.

Before I left the school, we set a date to review the new system in one week and make changes if necessary. I also set up a weekly time -- complete with blocked-out space on my calendar and a reminder in my cell phone -- to sit down with my daughter and talk about the week. "Begin and end with your child's achievements," suggests Candace Lindemann, an educational consultant and former teacher. "Praise any effort in the right direction."
Change won't happen overnight, but we're taking steps in the right direction. And with an entire team of people pulling for her success, my daughter is in a pretty good place.

For more on keeping kids organized:

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