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Organizing Your Preteen: Tools for Success

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Updated on Feb 25, 2008

Has your straight A student began struggling in school? If so, you’re not alone. Many students entering middle school suddenly have a hard time keeping up with their grades. Elementary school, with its simple schedule, routines, and predictable patterns are out. Rolling block schedules, up to eight different teachers per week, and unpredictable homework assignments are the new norm. Middle school can be a challenge for even the best of students.

The good news is, with some teamwork between the parent, school and child--and a trip to the office supply store--this situation can be quickly remedied once and for all.

Here is what you need:

  1. Homework Folder. Purchase a red plastic pocket folder, and label it “Homework” with a Sharpie marker. Label the left pocket “in” and the right pocket “out.” Explain to your child that all “active” papers need to go in the left pocket, including worksheets, study sheets, project sheets, etc. Once completed and ready to turn in, papers should be moved to the right pocket. This is an excellent concrete reminder for the student, and also an easy way for parents to learn what’s going on.
  2. Assignment Book. Select one with lots of room for writing; oversized planners work well. While most schools require the use of a planner, most don’t monitor its use very carefully. It’s not that kids don’t try to use them, it’s that they don’t always know what to write, and teachers sometimes don't give the students enough time to copy the assignment into their planners. When your child gets home the number one job should be making sure that the assignment book was used properly that day at school. If not, prompt them to write down each and every assignment. Include upcoming tests and projects. When kids say they don’t have homework, they usually do have something to work on, they just can’t remember. The use of an assignment book is a valuable habit to instill early on, and will become more crucial as the activities pile on during the high school years.
  3. Wall Calendar. Buy a three-month erasable wall calendar and an assortment of colored pens. Color code each class, for example, red for math, purple for reading, etc. Hang it in your child’s bedroom wall or study area, and teach your child how to fill it out. Include upcoming tests, repeating and one-time assignments, big projects with interim due dates, and even when to bring home gym clothes. Once a day, you and your child need to have a calendar “check-in” to make sure all deadlines are being met.
  4. Teacher E-mail Addresses. If you feel organization is going to be one of your child’s ongoing challenges, e-mail each of your child’s teachers to let them know you have this new organizational system in place and need their help. Then, follow-up if things aren’t working. For example, if Johnny never knows what to do for math homework, ask the teacher how Johnny is supposed to be getting this information. Is it on the board? On a teacher Website? Then, teach Johnny how to advocate for himself: if he doesn't know what to do for homework, he needs to ask his teacher.

Finally, teach your child to approach school as if it were his “job.” Remember, your boss rewards you for a job well done, and you should do the same for your child. Together, come up with a suitable reward for staying organized each week. This will keep the momentum going.

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