SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Strategies To Manage a Rotating Class Schedule

Many schools have a rotating schedule, meaning only some classes meet each day. This can be very difficult for some students, especially those who are disorganized already. It becomes extremely important to figure out a system to keep up with the rotation of classes, know which classes are meeting the next day, and make sure all the work for those classes is completed on time. I recently asked several students about this to find out what systems they are using to help them.

Anna said that she does the homework for her classes the day it is assigned regardless of whether the class will be meeting the next day. This is ideal for students who normally procrastinate or for those who find keeping up with what classes are meeting next is just too confusing! She carries her schedule (which she color-coded) in the front of her binder so she knows which class to go to next. She doesn’t really have to know before arriving to school, because she already did all the work!

Marcus records in his calendar which classes are meeting each day. He is doing the homework the day before it is due, because he feels that it will be fresher on his mind. If he has a pop quiz, he will be ready to take it. This method does require some planning ahead, because he needs to check each afternoon before leaving school to make sure he takes home everything he will need to do his homework for the next day.

A third student told me she is in a state of confusion and not dealing well with the rotating schedule. For a student like this, it might be a necessity to help her set up an electronic calendar. My Study Life offers a free calendar that is customizable for every school. It does take some time to set up, because you cannot set up the rotation of classes without first setting up the school year calendar. Once the calendar is entered, you need to enter what happens when there is an unexpected holiday or snow day—is that rotation lost, or does it roll forward? At our school, we lose the day and go on to the next rotation when we return. The app lets you know which classes are meeting each day as well as any tasks you have entered.

If your child’s school is on a rotating schedule, it is important to help him figure out a system that will work for him. He needs to make sure to do the correct homework for each day. Whether he accomplishes that by doing it the day it is assigned (even when the class is not meeting the next day) or waiting until the night before it is due to do the work, he needs to consistently stay on track and keep up with all the work. If he’s having trouble, explore My Study Life to see if it can help.

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Strategies for a Smooth School Year

Children across America are returning to school! Summer vacation is over. Most kids stay up late and sleep a lot later in the morning during the summer months. It is now time to start getting used to an earlier bedtime and wake-up time so your children won’t be sleepy and tired the first few weeks of school. A few changes in daily routines during the school year can make this year go more smoothly.

  • Try to keep school supplies organized and in one area. The supplies should include a planner, which is one of the essentials to keep up with schoolwork and commitments. A desk is nice but not necessary. The kitchen table is a great place to study. Inexpensive plastic shoe boxes work beautifully to hold pencils, pens, markers, glue, and tape. Paper can be stacked on a shelf nearby. Binders and notebooks can be color-coded and stored in a book bag along with any homework just completed.
  • Spend 20 minutes every day getting organized. Some students do this without assistance, but if your child is disorganized, she will need your help with this until it becomes a habit. Before leaving for school, she should check her planner to make sure she is taking everything she needs for the day. Before leaving school in the afternoon, she should check her planner to make sure she is taking the correct books and assignments home. And, just after doing her homework, she should put everything she used back in its place.
  • Monitor your child’s time using electronics. Some parents have an additional plastic shoe box where phones go during homework time and when going to bed. Teens should not sleep with their electronic gear nearby. It is very common for kids to text one another off and on all night (check your child’s messages to see when he is texting). Too much light from the screen can also interfere with the ability to go to sleep.
  • Decide together how many extracurricular activities are appropriate for your family and healthy for your teen. Many teens are so booked with activities that they do not have time to do well in school. My rule of thumb with my own children was that they could play one sport or one have major commitment (such as marching band) each season. Once they made a commitment, they had to stay with it until the end of the season. Parents and children should make this decision together, but keep in mind that there are only so many hours in the day!

In my student support role, the two problems that come up the most with struggling students are time management and organization. Some students can manage this without help, but many need support to learn how. You can provide daily help until your child begins to manage on her own. Making sure your child has what she needs, teaching her how to keep it organized, and monitoring how she spends her time each day can help overcome these issues.

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Use Diigo for Organizing Online Research

Students are asked to do lots of research, and much of it takes place on the Internet. One of the most difficult parts of Internet research is gathering enough of it to support a thesis and then keeping up with where the research came from in order to cite it properly in the final product. I have students do article summaries in class, and they often do not get finished by the end of the period. They need to be able to find the same article again and remember exactly how far they were with their summary. A social bookmarking tool like Diigo helps with this and makes research on the web more productive.

Diigo is a bookmarking, research, and knowledge-sharing tool that works best with the Chrome browser. Diigo allows you to bookmark, tag, annotate, and highlight on any webpage. When your child is doing research, he can tag all the pages he finds with the same tag, which can easily be found when he searches for it later. When he later wants to find the same page, he clicks the Diigo icon within his browser to find the site again. The page that opens still has his annotations and highlights. Even if the website is actually no longer online, the page he annotated is archived and available to him. 
Diigo is fast becoming my favorite productivity tool for online work. Best of all—it’s free! To use Diigo, you first set up an account at Diigo and then install the extension in your browser. You can also install Diigo on your smartphone. The sites you bookmark are available across platforms—from laptop, tablet, to smartphone. This video shows how Diigo works.

Make online research more productive by using Diigo. It is a simple to use, free social bookmarking tool that is helpful for any type of research, not just academic. I save favorite recipes and articles I want to read later on Diigo. It saves so much time when you need to find a site again that you visited before.

> 6 Helpful Apps and Tools for Note-Taking and Organization

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Organization Help for the Second Half of the School Year

Winter break is a great time to clear out clutter and organize for the remaining months of the school year. Here are four easy ways to simplify school papers, keep clutter to a minimum, and refine homework routines:

  • Singer Bill Harley has a great song for children called “Down in the Backpack.” Do you wonder what’s in your child’s backpack? Are you almost afraid to find out? Winter break is a perfect time to clean out and organize this important school tool. It will be much easier to transport and manage if he only carries what is needed for each day. Empty it out and clean it together. Recycle papers that are outdated. Keep treasured artwork or writing assignments by using a three-hole punch and putting them in a binder. Label the binder “Grade One Work, 2015,” for example. In a year or two it’s always fun for a child to look back and see her work from a previous grade, and realize how much she has improved!
  • Now is the time to refresh supplies. Stock the clean backpack with new pencils, crayons, glue sticks, erasers, etc. I’ve seen firsthand how it lifts a child’s spirits to start more challenging work with shiny new tools!
  • If you don’t already have one, set up a specific homework spot. Also, try to get homework done during a convenient timeframe. Make sure homework goes into the backpack when completed, before bed each night.
  • Use a calendar as a homework chart. When homework is done and in her bag, your child can choose a special “homework is done” sticker to put on the calendar date. At the end of the month she can earn a special treat for perfect homework stickers. Examples could be earning extra time to play before bed on the weekend, playing a special board game together, or getting to order a favorite pizza.

By showing your child how to dispose of unnecessary clutter and become well-organized with school work, you are subtly teaching him valuable habits that will last a lifetime.


> Five Simple Ideas for Homework Success

> How To Manage School Clutter

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Managing Attention Issues in Middle School

Parents have asked me before why their child has attention and executive functioning issues now that they are in middle school when they handled elementary school just fine. Executive functioning is the ability to manage day-to-day activities. People with a strong ability tend to be organized and on time, and get their work done efficiently. I recently visited with Dr. Steve Butnik, an expert on attention deficits and executive functioning issues. He pointed out that attention and executive functioning deficits do not manifest themselves until a person is placed in a situation where the demands exceed his ability to handle them. There are even adults who make it fine all the way through their schooling, but find that they now have trouble in their career setting.

In elementary school, children are in a classroom that is structured both physically and intellectually. The room is well-organized, and tasks are broken into chunks that children can manage on their own. Their activities from one day to the next are predictable. In middle and upper school, though, students move from classroom to classroom. Each teacher organizes their room differently, and students are expected to be able to manage large parts of their long-term projects without their teacher’s constant guidance. Even some adults find they have trouble concentrating and getting their work done in a cubicle environment like you find in many companies. The sounds of other people talking or visiting and visual distractions can be too much to filter out.

No matter when attention or executive functioning issues manifest themselves, they can hinder success. Educational psychologists can help diagnose the problem and suggest ways to manage better. In most cases, planning what will happen when, organizing the workspace, and reducing sound and visual distractions can help.

Read Managing Middle School With ADHD for more information about attention issues in middle school.

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Use Table of Contents Tools for Note-Taking

My students often have difficulty keeping up with their notes. Those who type them on their tablet or computer often save each day’s notes in a separate file. When they need to use the notes to study or do homework, they often can’t remember where they saved them. Using the table of contents feature in a word processor can solve this problem very easily. If this is a problem for your child, show her this blog.

All of your child’s notes for one class can be typed in the same document. The table of contents will make it easy for him to find what he needs. This way, there is only one file for each class, and that is much easier for him to organize and find.

If your child does not type her notes at school, perhaps she could spend some time each evening organizing and typing her notes. That has always been a great study strategy, and now it is even better because of the linked table of contents in the document.

Here is how to set up a table of contents using Google Docs. (Other word processers such as Microsoft Word work in a similar way.)

  • Open a new Google Doc and name it something that makes sense (maybe “Notes for Science Class”).
  • Select “Insert” and then select “Table of Contents.” A box will be inserted where the table of contents will be. When you click inside the box, you will see a tool that allows you to add topics to the table of contents. The table of contents grows with each section of notes you add. I like to keep the table of contents on page one and start my notes on page two.
  • Type a title for your first day of notes. The title should match the topic for the notes. If the lesson is about magnetism, title that section “Magnetism,” highlight it and change the font to “Heading 1.” (There is a drop down menu where you can select “Heading 1.”) Every time the topic changes, use “Heading 1” as the font for the title.
  • Click inside the table of contents box where you inserted it on page one, click the update tool, and a link to your notes on magnetism will be created.
  • Type all your notes on magnetism. When your teacher changes topics, insert a new heading for the topic and add it to your table of contents using the update tool. You can also create subheadings by using “Heading 2” and “Heading 3.”

For those of you who prefer to watch how to do something new, here is a YouTube video that shows two different ways to make a table of contents using Google Docs.

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Tips for Better Note-Taking

Taking notes is difficult for many students. Teachers often talk quickly, and students are not able to get everything written down. Additionally, students often do not know how to make the best use of their notes once they take them. There are some tricks that can make note-taking easier and the notes more useful. If this is a problem for your child, think about the following.

First, decide how to take notes. While some students do better handwriting their notes, using a computer is more flexible. If your child has a laptop, she can type her notes in a word processor. But I would encourage her not to try to get everything down that the teacher says. It is better to listen and write only what is important. Teachers use key phrases like “listen carefully,” “you will see this later,” or “pay close attention” when they are about to say something that will become the foundation of future learning (or show up on a test or exam). If your child tries to write down everything that the teacher says, she will not be thinking about the key points. It is better to type a few key words and fill in more details later using her textbook. (It is also good to have a note-taking buddy. The buddies can get together after class and compare notes.)

It is important to develop a set of abbreviations for frequently used words. It is a good idea to enter these into the auto-correct feature in your word processor. For example, when I type “govt,” my word processor types “government.” “Imp” turns into “This is important!” As your child is typing notes in class, he can type “Imp” when he hears his teachers say, “You will see this later.”

If your child finds that her teacher lectures from the textbook, she might try to set up an outline before class using the textbook, so that she can listen in class and enter details into the outline.

Just taking notes in class isn’t enough. Students should spend some time after class revising the notes and making sure they make sense. Visual learners should use colors to highlight related information and draw arrows to show cause-and-effect relationships between concepts. Kinesthetic learners should create flash cards (either on paper or electronic) that can be manipulated while studying. Auditory learners should read them aloud and talk about what they mean with other students.

Find out from your child whether their notes are useful when studying. If not, talk about how to listen for key words, use abbreviations, make outlines before class, and spend some time working with their notes after class. With practice, note-taking gets easier and more effective.

To learn about an interesting note-taking technology, see Audionote: A Technological Solution for Note-Taking.

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Five Simple Ideas for Homework Success

Each September, it is adorable how my new 1st grade students can’t wait to start homework! The challenge for parents and teachers is to continue this enthusiasm and make a child’s time spent doing homework successful. Here are five simple ways that parents can support homework success.

  • Have a regular homework place and time. The place can be the kitchen table, a small desk, or any flat surface that works for your family. Determine if your child likes getting work done right after school, or if he needs time to play and unwind before starting. Try to maintain his time schedule as often as possible.
  • Provide adequate lighting.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum. Make sure the space has necessary tools, such as a pencil, eraser, crayons, scissors, and a glue stick. Keep the tools together in an easily accessible container. Return the container to the same place when finished each night. Have your child put completed homework into her backpack as soon as it’s done, so it always gets back to school the next day.
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, video games, computers, cell phones, etc., so noises don’t cause your child to lose focus. If he doesn’t like it when it’s too quiet, try softly playing a classical CD while he works.
  • Work in small increments. If your child gets overwhelmed, try having her work with a timer in 2- to 3-minute increments, and then take a 1-minute break, until work is completed.

Homework is helpful for young students because it reinforces lessons that have been introduced during the school day. It also gives parents an indication of what, and how skills are being taught.

Most important, homework is a great way to develop responsibility and a sense of timeliness—life skills that promote success beyond the classroom!

> 7 Simple Homework Tips

> Printable Weekly Assignment Sheet

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A Simple List System for Managing Time and Assignments

Many of my students have trouble managing their time. They come to school without their homework and especially long term assignments they have known about for a long time. All of them have digital calendars, apps on their phones, and planners provided by the school. Despite these tools, managing their “to do” list is still a problem. I think the problem might be they have too many tools to use, and they don’t use any of them well. They need something easier.

Since I am good at juggling a lot of deadlines and details, I thought students might be able to benefit from my strategy. Here is what I do.

  • In a small journal that goes with me everywhere, I jot down a few words to remind me of each task I need to do. For example, if a student asks me for another copy of our syllabus, I write “Mary-syllabus” in my journal where I keep a running list of everything I need to do. A student in science class can simply write “science.” Later, when doing homework, she will see that she does have science homework to do. (This assumes that she has a syllabus or online source with the details of what is due for science.)
  • When I get a few minutes to go over my list, I do everything I can do quickly right then and check it off the list. If a task will take some time, I enter a deadline when it needs to be completed into my calendar app with a reminder that pops up several days ahead of time.
  • At the end of the day, I spend just a few minutes going over the list to see if there is something important I need to do before stopping for the day. I start a new page for the next day by copying remaining tasks onto that page.

If your child has difficulty managing his time, this simple strategy might work for him. Combine this with an organized notebook system, and he just might be able to get his work turned in on time! It does require diligence to do it every single day, but since it requires less time than other strategies, he may be more willing to give it a try.

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5 Back-to-School Organization Ideas for Kids and Families

Help your child begin the school year with some simple organizational skills and family routines to encourage school success, right from the start.

Here are five easy ways to help your family keep school priorities on track:

  • Have one large family calendar for all your school children to utilize. Keep it in a convenient place. Record school notices and important meeting dates. Pencil in when all assignments are due. Write the day of the week for gym class, so your child will be sure to wear her sneakers. Get her in the habit of checking the calendar before starting homework and before leaving for school each morning.
  • Together, agree on a specific homework spot. It should be a clean, flat surface, with adequate lighting and free of distractions. Do all homework assignments there each afternoon or night. On nights where there is no homework, have your child read, or read to him at least 15 minutes before bed.
  • Keep homework supplies together in a convenient spot, such as a shelf in the kitchen, or near the homework spot. You can use an empty shoe box or small basket to store pencils, a sharpener, crayons, scissors, and glue sticks.
  • Keep backpacks and lunch boxes in a designated place, and help your child remember to store them properly, right after school. Empty and inspect backpacks together at the same time each day, such as right off the bus, or right after supper.
  • Help her remember to put completed homework into her backpack each night before going to bed, so she will get credit for work well done!

With families’ busy lives, simple organizational steps can make for a smooth and stress-free home-school transition.


> Organization Tips for Back-to-School Time

> More Back-to-School Resources

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Homework Help for the New School Year

Recently, I wrote about some back-to-school organization tips to help students who are disorganized or have problems managing their time. A daily routine that includes time for getting ready for the next day is very helpful. Most students benefit from structure and planning ahead. Another important part of the day that proves to be difficult for many students (and consequently for their families) is homework time.

There is not one perfect time of day to do homework that works for every student. Your child may need to have some exercise time when he first gets home from school. If he has ADHD, he exerts a great deal of emotional and physical energy trying to remain seated and quiet in school. She, especially, needs to have very active time when she first gets home from school.

Perhaps right after dinner is a good time for your child to settle in to do homework. (If possible, homework time should be the same every day.) He needs a distraction-free, well-equipped place to work. His phone, television, and video games should be put in a place where he will not be tempted by them. Multitasking between homework and phone (or anything else) is a poor use of time. Human brains can only concentrate on one thing at a time. So if he is texting a friend in the middle of doing homework, he switches his thinking back and forth. Every time he switches, he loses his previous line of thought. He has to go back and reread the question or rethink what he was writing or doing. The end result of the multitasking is often poorly done work or only halfway completed assignments.

Your child should have a comfortable place to work with all the normal school supplies handy. She may work well at the dinner table where you can keep an eye on her. School supplies can be stored in a plastic shoebox and stored nearby. Many teachers post homework assignments online, so if she does not know what she needs to do, encourage her to look online. If she uses her computer to complete homework, make sure she has paper and ink for the printer. The most frequent reason my students give for not turning in homework is “my printer isn’t working.” The second most frequent excuse is, “I left it at home.” So, she needs to have a safe place to put her homework in her binders to make sure it gets to the teacher on time.

It is easy for me to say your child needs to have a set time each day that is devoted to homework completion. In reality, it can be very difficult. Many families have more than one child, and each has after school activities that pull the family in many directions. Homework completion, however, remains a major concern for many students. If this is true for your child, establishing a routine that includes when to do homework, and having a well-stocked, distraction-free place to work can be very helpful. If homework is a major challenge, ask to meet with your child’s teachers or the school counselor to try to figure out what is causing the problems.


> 7 Strategies for Successful Homework Routines

> Printable Daily Homework Tracker

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Establishing Back-to-School Routines for Kids With ADHD

Adolescents with ADHD or working memory problems often have trouble getting ready for school in the morning. They often forget to take important things to school like their book bag, homework, and clothes for gym. Mornings are chaotic and create stress for both parents and children. Morning and evening routines at home can help, and the beginning of the school year is a great time to establish those routines.

The goal is to have your child ready to leave for school with everything he needs when he gets there. The first step is to determine what he will need for school. This might be best accomplished the night before as part of his bedtime routine. Until he is able to do this for himself, you will need to help. Ask him about each of his classes to determine if there is homework or a project due. Discuss extracurricular activities such as sports to make sure he has completed everything he needs or has the appropriate supplies or equipment ready. Organize everything and place it beside the door or in the car, if appropriate. He should go to bed at the same time each night knowing he is ready for the next day.

Your child needs to wake up to get ready for school at the same time every day. The morning routine should stay the same to the extent possible, and she should be ready to leave for school with some time to spare. Since the evening routine included getting everything ready to take to school, the morning routine can focus on getting ready and eating a nutritious breakfast. Plans for lunch need to be settled before she leaves, as well.

Routines like this lead to forming habits that can last a lifetime. For children with attention or working memory problems, good habits are extremely important. They need to do these things by themselves without even thinking about it, but it will take a lot of help from you to get to that point. Each child is unique and the time it will take to change these evening and morning routines into habit will vary. You can begin by giving oral instructions (one at a time) each day and then later move to checklists that your child uses on his own. Much later, after a great deal of practice, he may be able to manage without help. Keep in mind that there are plenty of adults who rely on checklists, and there is nothing wrong with it!

Establishing routines that form into habits can lead to success in school. The morning and evening routines help students get to school on time with everything they need. I will write soon about homework completion, which is another important part of every teen’s day during the school year.

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Organization Tips for Back-to-School Time

Some of the schools near me start in two weeks! It is hard to believe the summer is almost over. If your child is disorganized and has trouble keeping up with everything and managing his time, you might be able to help. While shopping for school supplies, keep in mind that a strong organizational system is important. Tabbed dividers, labeled tabs, zippered pockets, and time management apps may help. Consider the following.

  • Students in middle and upper school are often told by each individual teacher how to organize for their class. These kids are trying to manage five or six different “systems,” and it is very hard for them to keep everything straight. You can help by looking for ways to create consistency across subjects. For example, each binder can have tabs or divider pages to mark specific places to put today’s homework, graded work that needs to be saved (including tests and quizzes), and a place to write notes. An earlier blog, A Notebook System That Aids With Organization, offers more information about coming up with a notebook system. If your child receives accommodations, this system can be included in his IEP or 504 Plan.
  • When I ask my students about how they use their locker, they frequently answer that they don’t use it at all. My students prefer to carry everything they need in their book bag. If your disorganized child does this, she may need assistance keeping the bag organized with necessary supplies handy for class. Depending on how much of a problem this is for her, you might need to set aside a daily time to reorganize the book bag. Her binders for every class must fit into the bag. She needs to have a specific place for her pencils, calculator, and whatever she uses every day. Some small zippered bags or plastic boxes can help with this.
  • Your child needs to know how to use an electronic calendar to help manage his time. This does not have to cost money if he already has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. He needs to record which classes will meet each day and whether there are special assignments due soon. This is another area where many disorganized kids need help. He can learn to use Google Calendar or try an app such as those described in A Free App To Help With Time Management. If a tablet or computer are not available, your child will need a planner where he can write upcoming assignments and events.

Keep time management and organization in mind as you and your child shop for school. Purchasing the right organizational supplies is important and can lead to success, but using these tools does not come naturally to many students. It takes some time to learn how to use them and a considerable amount of time before they become habit. For truly disorganized kids, a daily routine of going through the book bag, each binder, and checking the planner/calendar will likely be necessary. Parents should gradually turn over this responsibility to their child, but in the beginning will need to be very involved.

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A Great Tool To Help Students Organize Thoughts and Ideas

A graphic organizer is a simple paper tool that uses drawings or words to express knowledge, thoughts, or ideas. They are particularly helpful for young students to organize and sequence facts, concepts or steps for problem solving. Here are some templates for graphic organizers.

When you help a young child organize a story he is reading, you greatly increase his comprehension. When he’s working with nonfiction or informational text, a graphic organizer can help him understand and apply facts and information. They allow him to visualize thoughts about characters, actions, and settings in stories, or pertinent and important facts that need to be remembered from nonfiction. Graphic organizers can be used:

  • Prereading, to help a child predict what might happen;
  • During reading, to help him keep the story in sequence;
  • Post reading, to check for her comprehension, or to go back to the text to look for evidence.

Graphic organizers are wonderful for writing and math, as well:

  • A story map can help your child write the correct sequence of her thoughts to paper.
  • A simple Venn diagram can help him organize odd and even numbers to 21.

Using graphic organizers is a perfect way for parents to assist their young student with reading comprehension, sequencing events for a writing assignment, or outlining math steps.

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Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Functioning

Many children tend to be impulsive and have trouble planning ahead, keeping up with long-term projects, making thoughtful decisions, and turning in all of their homework. These abilities are all a part of executive functioning. (See Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School.) Most of the thought processes involved take place in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is not fully formed until students are out of high school, which explains why adolescents often have trouble making decisions.

Students vary in their ability to manage their day-to-day life because they do not all develop at the same rate. Nearly all students get better as they get older. If they are struggling with executive functioning in school to the point where it is affecting their success, they need additional support until they can manage their schoolwork by themselves.

If your child has trouble turning in all his homework, a good starting point for help is to set up a homework binder. This binder should be a bright color that is easily spotted in his book bag. The binder should contain the assignment sheets from each of his classes, any handouts that relate to that night’s homework, and a place for completed work to hand in the next day. As he completes the homework for each subject, he should cross it off, making it clear that assignment is finished. The completed work goes in its own section. If there is a question he cannot answer, he should highlight it so that he can ask for help with it the next day. (He needs to understand that he should finish everything else on that assignment.) The binder should also house special notes or permission slips that need attention from parents.

Your child needs help learning to use a homework binder. It will take time before she sees it as her “survival guide” to school success and using it becomes a habit. Once this organizational skill is mastered (she uses it without you reminding her), select something else to start working on. It is best to work intensely on one student skill at a time so she will not feel overwhelmed.

For a thorough discussion on executive functioning, read "What is Executive Function?" by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also have a free ebook with explanations and strategies for ways to help.

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Getting Organized: Back-to-School Shopping Tips

Many parents are shopping for school supplies, and most are using the list of supplies provided by their child’s school. Some students have problems keeping up with their school “stuff.” These kids lose pencils, pens, markers, papers, notebooks, and homework assignments. There are a few things to consider that might help keep them better organized.

First, everything a student needs should fit in one book bag. Binders for each class probably should not be larger than one inch. If they are too large, they won’t all fit in the bag.

Second, there needs to be a place to put pens, pencils, markers, and other small items. Most book bags have spaces that work well, and things should be placed in the same place every time. For some students, a zipper pouch inside each binder is helpful. This allows for customization. Each pouch can hold a pen and pencil, of course. But it can also hold special supplies for individual classes. If the social studies teacher asks for colored pencils, for example, the pouch inside that binder is a good place to store them. Likewise, a compass and protractor can be stored in the math pouch.

Finally, the book bag and binders may need to be reorganized frequently. Depending on the level of disorganization, this may need to be done daily. Excess papers and old homework can be removed from the binders, but keep them filed at home until you are sure they won’t be needed again. It is important to teach your child how to stay organized. This takes a lot of time and practice. Show her what to do, but she should do it herself in order to learn the skills needed to stay organized.

For more information, you may want to read my earlier blog about a specific notebook system that aids with organization.


> 12 Back-to-School Organization Tips

> Printable Checklists, Calendars, Charts, and Labels

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Get Your Child Organized for School

Girl doing homework

At the beginning of every school year, teachers strive to get their classroom management strategies in place. They do this to provide a safe and predictable school environment for all students.

Now is a great time to organize your family’s home/school management strategy, as well. This will ensure proper attention is paid to the steady flow of homework, project information, permission slips, and important school notices.

Here are six easy steps to create an efficient and effective home/school management system.


  • Have a basket, bulletin board, or special file folder for all important school notices or assignments. If you have more than one child in school, have a separate one for each.
  • Keep a large calendar in a place where the family can reference it. Use a special color marker for different events, such as red for assignment deadlines, blue for field trips, etc.
  • Determine a designated homework place. Make sure there is a clear surface to work on, plenty of light, and few distractions.
  • Get your child a special “Homework Folder,” and make sure he has placed finished homework in the folder and backpack before going to bed.
  • If possible, make lunches the night before. Put nonperishables in the lunchbox, and keep perishables on a convenient refrigerator shelf for easy packing in the morning.


It’s also helpful to join the PTO or PTA to gain a better understanding of your child’s school culture, and find opportunities for involvement in the school community.

When you establish effective home/school routines, children thrive from the consistency and reliability. Most important, you will be setting the foundation for a successful school year.

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Make Martin Luther King Day a Family Day of Service

Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Did you know Martin Luther King Day has morphed into an official “Day of Service?” If you check the website, MLKDay.gov, you’ll see that they suggest “Making it a Day On, Not a Day Off.”

What a great idea. What an even greater idea to make Monday a day of service with your family!

I thought about the things our family does and about any service projects we organized or attended, and at first I couldn’t think of a single thing. How could that be?

And then I thought harder about it. I discovered that volunteering and serving with your family happens all the time! Here are some of the many tiny wonderful ways:

Neighborhood sneak and treat. We made treats every week in November and part of December, and delivered them to unsuspecting neighbors—doorbell ditching and running!

Cub Scout pop (soda) can drive. As a Cub Scout leader I helped the boys recycle and use the money to purchase a holiday gift to “give back” to a 10 year old foster kid. (My family saved all our cans for a whole month, happily donating them for a good cause.)

Church food drive for pantry. As a family we participated with our church by hand delivering empty grocery sacks with a note about our group’s service project. A week later we collected all the bags, which were filled with donated food items, and also donated a generous cash amount to the local food bank. (Did you know $1 in cash is worth $12 of buying power to your local food bank?)

School PTO service in the form of time. I thought about listing all the various events, fundraisers, and school projects I’ve been involved in over the past 10 years … Instead, I’ll just point out that this year my official PTO role is coordinating the yearly Elementary School Rummage Sale. Does that sound exciting or what!?

Chili dinner holiday party. Recently I volunteered to organize a chili dinner for a holiday party. I used VolunteerSpot.com to organize all the volunteers, and the free online sign up sheets made it easy to get more parents involved! (And don’t tell, but I didn’t have to cook a single bean!)

We are a foster family. For several years now we have hosted multiple children in our home who’ve needed a loving, safe environment while their parents work to put their lives back together. My children have benefited in more ways than I can count, so on a big level we often feel like the recipients of the service!

Donate to the United Way. We donate to our local United Way. Not a lot, but every little bit counts, right? We also donate a tithing to our church—even the children pay attention and pay their tiny share.

I was surprised when I realized all the different ways we help and give back in our community. Not all of these examples are “organized service projects,” but it made me realize how easy it is to serve others. Sometimes you don’t even know you’re doing it!

I will be sitting down with my kids this week and asking them to help me come up with a “Day of Service” plan of attack for next Monday. Should we surprise some neighbors and clean up their yards? Or maybe we’ll take a bunch of paper and card making supplies to a local nursing home and help the residents make birthday cards for their families or for each other! How about creating a basket of gently used items—toys, blankets, coats, and a pretty dress or two—and delivering it to a local women’s shelter?

What will you do with your family on your day off—I mean—your day ON?!

>Martin Luther King Jr. Day worksheets and printables

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A Gratitude Shout-Out From Our “SchoolFamily” To Yours


Our family’s world revolves around the activities of our three school-age kids.  And as much as it often looks like we don’t know whether we’re coming or going… all those activities we’re involved in are things we choose to do and wouldn’t change.

  • Free guitar lessons on Wednesdays? Great. We’re in.
  • Chess Club starting on Monday? Perfect; where do we sign up?
  • 5th grade Scarecrow Crafting contests! (Please bid on the…um, “creative” creations? Yes, but if I win the auction will it be okay if we don’t bring it home? The wet hay stinks!)

If you think about it, all these activities and extras, whether during or after school, are all thanks in huge part to brave volunteers and already-weary teachers who go the extra mile and take the time to care.

Chess Club, for example, is run by Mr. Young, a 4th grade teacher. He’s been checkmating 2nd through 6th graders long enough to know college-age kids who used to be on his team! That scarecrow bonanza owes its brain to a room mom who spent umpteen hours rounding up multiple parents to help with supplies and valuable time. And the music teacher who spends her Wednesdays teaching young kids to strum a mean Kumbayah? She doesn’t get paid for that; it’s on her own string.

All around us in our extended “SchoolFamily,” there are numerous people that we’re grateful for. I’ve created a list of just a few specific to our family; Who are YOU grateful for in YOUR community’s “SchoolFamily?”

  • All our schoolteachers of course! We totally get that they are a huge influence in our children’s lives. And if there is ever a job that doesn’t get enough thanks it’s that of being a teacher. Our “SchoolFamily” supports and thanks ALL of our teachers!
  • The SMART reading volunteers across our whole town. Hundreds of SMART volunteers (stands for Start Making A Reader Today) read one-on-one in schools to younger grades. Thanks to all those participating in a reading program that really hits the needed mark.
  • After-school activity teachers and leaders. We’re grateful to our piano teacher, art teacher, volleyball volunteer coaches, T-Ball coach—and of course we can’t forget the drama coach! Over the years we’ve had ballet teachers, karate teachers, and multiple other types of teachers—thank you to all.
  • Church/Youth Group volunteers. We are always grateful to Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, and Cub Scout leaders who are all volunteers and are not only unpaid, but often under-appreciated!
  • Community and cultural volunteers. Have you thought about all the people-hours that go into the various parades, festivals, and town/city carnivals in your area throughout the year?  Some city positions are paid, however remember that many, many volunteers help support and spend their own time and resources to create memorable events like a Veterans Day parade, a Christmas Carnival, or planning and running a successful 4th of July  Festival! And every time there is a cultural event, be it a play, a choir, or a community children’s performance, there are sure to be volunteers behind the scenes helping your community be a better place to live.

THANK YOU to all of the people who give of their time and talents to my “SchoolFamily.”

Who is your “SchoolFamily” gratitude list?



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Executive Functioning -- How it Affects a Student in School

Disorganized pileThere is a great article you might enjoy reading: Executive Function—A New Lens Through Which to View Your Child. What I like the most about it is that it focuses on how a better understanding of your child's strengths can lead to figuring out ways to help him succeed.

Executive functioning is all of the thought processes that allow a person to "get along" in the world. It includes organizing and prioritizing work, getting started and following through to completion, focusing and sustaining attention, staying alert, managing emotions, using memory, and regulating when it is appropriate to take an action. Problems can occur in any part of executive functioning. While there is not any one test to find out about a person's executive functioning, there are some signs that it may be a problem.

The children I have worked with who have an executive functioning disorder have similar problems. In general, they have difficulty with a combination of the following.

  • Organizing their supplies and books. Their book bag looks like a disaster area with papers crammed in and falling out behind them on the sidewalk as they move between classes. For help with this, see A Notebook System that Aids with Organization. A well-supplied and quiet study place at home can help, too. (You will need to help them keep things organized until they learn how to do it on their own.)
  • Keeping up with long term projects. These children need help breaking down the task into manageable chunks, and they need someone to check to make sure each chunk is completed on time.
  • Turning in daily work on time. These children need a calendar or assignment notebook where they write down their assignments. You will probably need to ask their teacher to help you with this since you can't go to classes with your child. Remember, too, that just because they have one does not necessarily mean they will use it. You will need to assist until they learn how to do it on their own. (Sometimes, they did the homework but lost it between home and school, which may relate to the organization issue already mentioned.)
  • Managing time. Generally, these children are unaware of how much time they spent on something or how much time a given task will take to complete. They might start doing homework at 10PM thinking they will be able to complete it in just a few minutes. Parents have to intervene to make sure they are allotting enough time for daily tasks.

Be aware that many of these children are very bright! In fact, several of the students I taught who had difficulty with executive functioning were extremely smart. They just had trouble pulling everything together. With assistance in these areas, they were very successful in school.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016