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Organizing for Boys: Getting Your Guy Through Middle School

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Updated on Dec 30, 2008

For decades, we worried that girls weren’t thriving in school. Now, after decades of work on the issue, there’s been a surprising turn: boys are the ones having trouble. Particularly in today’s standards-driven, no-nonsense classrooms, boys seem to be struggling to stay in their seats, talk quietly and follow lectures … skills which don’t seem to be so hard for girls. With scores looking more and more uneven, it’s a serious national issue.

But if you’ve got a boy, it’s also a personal one. While educators wrestle over proper curriculum, you’ve got a guy in a growth spurt, stuff akimbo, who needs to get from home to school to at least six different classrooms and then home again … every day!

While you may have lucked out with a Jerry Seinfeld neat-a-like, don’t be surprised if you discover you’ve got a budding Kramer. Ana Homayoun, founder of the successful Green Ivy Educational Consulting in the San Francisco Bay Area, sees it all the time. “Boys,” she says, “tend to struggle with follow-through.” In other words, remember those word problems you coached him on last night for an hour and half? The ones he was so proud of? Don’t be surprised if a teacher calls the next day to ask where it all went. Hint: Try the bottom of his backpack.

Of course, it’s crucial for middle school boys to manage their work as independently as possible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help … a lot! In her practice, Homayoun coaches students of both genders on all areas of school and college admission success. Here are her top three strategies for boys:

  • Set up a good study area. “Parents,” says Homayoun, “should work with boys to create a study place in the home that is consistent, organized, and inviting.” If space is tight, this might be in your son’s bedroom. But if at all possible, Homayoun prefers another location. “Have them do homework at the dining room table,” she counsels, “or even better, a clean desk space outside their room. Everyone’s room should be a place of rest, so doing schoolwork outside of the bedroom is important if at all possible.”
  • Insist on a planner. This is common advice, and many schools will issue one on the first day of school. But all too often, it, too, gets chucked to the bottom of the backpack. For boys, especially, a planner makes sense of the chaos of a multi-period day. Try taking it an extra step by helping your son use it daily, and by having him make a plan to show the strategy he’ll use for tackling it all.
  • Try to do homework at a consistent time. Chaotic and freeform as boys may be, they also tend to thrive on calm routine. Setting aside a regular, undistracted interval not only reinforces the importance of doing the work, says Homayoun; it helps boys “get ahead rather than leave things for the last minute.”

Does this mean you will never endure a Homework Blowout? Don’t count on it. While you’re teaching your son to schedule ahead, you’ll probably want to have some plans of your own for those inevitable days when you’ll be pulling him off the ceiling. In her practice, Homayoun gets these regularly, and she offers classic, time-tested advice: “Give students a fresh start by helping them re-organize their binders, go through their backpack and clean out all the old papers, and create a system with them in their room.”

In other words, your son may be in middle school, and he may say he doesn’t want you around, but you’re as important as ever, and he knows it.

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