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Playing office with the kids

As a writer and teacher, I work at home on various afternoons, evenings and weekends. So, my sons see me slogging away at articles and marking essays. Often, they not only wonder what I’m doing, they want to imitate me.

While I was grading finals last year, my six-year-old offered to help me. “I’ll tell you the answers and you write down if they’re right,” he said. So he did, reading off the letters to the multiple-choice questions. It actually saved me a lot of time.

My two-year-old recently got in on the action, asking, “Can I have a paper? Will you open this pen?”

He then scribbled away on Post-Its or printer paper, copying the actions of his busy daddy. His pen did manage to scratch up the floor, which was a major distraction, but (once I stopped stressing about the cost of fixing a wood plank) I realized that the home office thing was mutually beneficial. I got to be around my sons and they got to learn my (few) good working habits.

The concept of a home office is one that can translate to a young student as well. And as the school year shifts into higher gear, dads and moms may want to help their kids outfit their own working environment. Making it like an office invites a sense of both play at being an adult and the concept of actual responsibility.

Here are some tips to creating a productive space: 1. Pick a location free from distractions. A corner of a bedroom or den, perhaps.

2. If you haven’t already, buy a desk or table and chair that’s the right height for your child. Choose a desk that’s inviting for your kid. It can be blue or pink or something simple, as long as your child is involved in the choice. Also, make sure it has plenty of space on the desk and good lighting.

If your child has a computer, be sure the desk can accommodate both the computer and additional workspace for workbooks and other supplies.

3. Now dress up the area like an office. Make up a shopping list and go to a school or office supply store and buy the essentials: pens, pencils, papers, etc. There are many styles and colors to choose from. Let your child express his- or herself. Old Navy and even Staples have some cool school supplies.

4. Part of the dressing up is getting the right organizational tools. Buy baskets or bins for the writing and other handheld tools.

But also consider a calendar, a bulletin board and a chalk or eraser board. With the calendar, you can help keep lists of assignments, after-school activities, and birthdays. On the board, make the lists short and easy to check off to give your child a sense of accomplishment.

You might also want to try and in and out tray so you can check the homework in the outbox.

File folders for different school subjects are great, especially when kept in small cardboard file boxes.

Also, consider a paper or electronic rolodex for phone numbers and file folders for different subjects

5. Provide a bookshelf or small area for reference books or CD programs. You can purchase a book version of a thesaurus or a dictionary or get something like the Franklin Bookman Electronic Dictionary and Thesaurus. Of course, the Internet offers some wonderful resources, including for an online encyclopedia

To with all those materials for the home office, here are some tips to encourage your student gets a lot of use out of them:

1. Regular time for studying, either right after school or after dinner, before any TV or other Internet usage. Get them to study before they get too tired.

2. As I alluded to before, consider doing your own work, whether it’s office work or bill paying, at the same time as your child. This shows solidarity and cuts down on the thoughts of what the child is “missing” if your TV is blaring in the background.

At least, you should read a book for some of that time, but not in the same room as your child, if possible.

3. Check their homework when it’s done.

4. Keep stress to a minimum. If your child is doing most of what they should do, keep encouraging. Their classroom success will come.

5. Reward your child for getting their homework done. With all the distractions kids have, their diligence is something to be praised. The reward rounds out the home office concept by showing that good work is well compensated. The reward could be anything from a special dinner to an allowance of some kind.

Whether your child has 15 minutes or four hours of homework, the home office will make them feel comfortable and as grown-up as Dad or Mom. Doing some work with them adds the extra bonding element too that can help them both establish good habit as well as provide bonus bonding time for you and your child.

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