Organization Rescue Kit

Back to school means scrambling to get things organized and ready for the first day of school. Before you stress about which school supplies to buy, watch our Tutor Coach, Jan Rowe, explain which binders are the best for organization and how to organize them.

Spending 3 minutes watching these videos now might just save you and your children headaches later and give you the boost towards perfect organization this year!

Organizing a binder

The best binders to choose from



How to Organize Homework Folders & Backpacks

pendaflex-hanging-folderIt’s springtime, which means it’s not quite the end of the year, but your kids (and maybe you) might have a touch of spring fever—routines have fallen to the wayside and your child’s backpack and homework organizational system might be in need of some attention.

But don’t worry, because tutor coach Jan Rowe has some ideas to help organize homework areas.

Check out her videos about the backpack clean out and the homework folder clean-out.

Spending 3 minutes watching these videos now might just save you and your children headaches later, and give you the boost to get through spring and ring in summer.

How to Use & Organize a Homework Folder

How to Organize a Backpack 


Top Tutor Tips for Motivating Students

Helping to encourage and motivate a student who might be feeling negative towards school is no easy task, but our tutors have had great success as they work with students one-to-one. I asked a few of our tutors how they motivate their students on a daily basis. Here’s what they said:


For memory and retrieval:

Leitner system“I love using the Leitner system to help my students review for tests. You can study all sorts of
information from vocabulary words to math facts. I even take study guides, cut the questions into strips, and put them into the boxes. The picture below shows five boxes, but you can use three or four.

Here’s how it works: all the cards start off in Box 1. As you review the cards, each card you answer correctly goes into Box 2. If you give the wrong answer, study the card and then place it back in Box 1. When you review the cards in Box 2, if you still get the answer right, the card is promoted to Box 3, and so on until all the cards are in the highest box.

Kids love this method because it’s not only lots of fun and hands-on, but it helps them put important information into long-term memory. And once you create the boxes (or use envelopes instead of boxes), you’ll have a system you can use to learn virtually anything!” – Brian


For balancing easy and hard assignments:

“Negotiate.  I have some students who only want to work on ‘easy’ assignments with me so I have to say, ‘Ok, let do 20 minutes of a less fun assignment and then 20 minutes of a fun assignment’.” – Diana


For mastering math:Card game

“Just like the outdoor game of golf, the card game known as Golf has a goal of keeping the score as low as possible by adding and subtracting integers. Start by arranging nine cards in three rows of three. The goal from this point onward is to try to reduce the value of the cards you are holding. You can do this by swapping a card from your hand with one in the discard pile, one from the deck, or turning one over from your cards but only on your turn. The player with the lowest score wins the game.” – Jan


For addition and subtraction:

Dominoes“One of my go-to games is hopscotch–write numbers, addition/subtraction, or even multiplication and division problems on cards and make a hopscotch board to get the kids moving. If they get it right, they move forward; if it’s wrong, they go back a space. I also do this game with writing and reading–laminate pages with lines and have the student pick a card with a word on it. If they write all the letters correct, move forward. This also works great for sight word recognition.” –Christine
“Another game is to use dominoes with math, which works for adding, subtracting, and multiplication. Lay them out on the floor and have the student use a flyswatter to hit the number you call until they collect them all.” – Christine


For reviewing:

“Some of the things I’ve used include foam dice that have general questions on the side so they can be applied to any subject. They are used with a student’s study guide or review questions. For example, one of the questions is how/why…Used with a biology lesson, you can say how does DNA replication work? Or, why do we need oxygen?” – Tiffany


For paying attention:Ticket

“One of the issues my students face is being able to focus without going off task during sessions. I’ve found that when I redirect their attention frequently, they feel judged. To them, constant redirection feels punitive, so instead of me refocusing them, my goal is for them to notice the behavior themselves. When they’re about to drift off or get distracted and then they notice it and tell me, I give them a ticket. At the end of the session, they can trade their tickets in for prizes. I keep a small toy treasure chest with me. It has little pieces of candy and other trinkets. Kids love it! It also makes them more aware of it when they’re doing homework on their own, without me there.” – Brian


For multisensory motivation:

“For the majority of my students, I can say that some form of tactile involvement makes the difference between them spacing out and them remaining actively engaged.  I give students the choice between using a digital pad or a white board with an assortment of color options.  Whether working through math solutions or conjugating verbs, the novelty of such writing tools tends to be very effective in aiding retention.  In line with an interactive experience, active diagrams, such as those found at or, add a visual dimension critical to understanding many scientific concepts.” – Ramtin


Love these ideas? We’re working on writing an entire ebook full of tips from tutors about how to motivate students, so be sure to check back here to read it!



6 Ways to Develop Organizational Habits Now to Avoid Stress & Clutter Later

I’ve taught many students over the years who struggled fiercely in school. Those who were organized managed to stay afloat and achieve success. I’ve also worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their grades did not reflect their true abilities. They stumbled because their poor organizational skills impacted them in each and every subject area.

If your child is the one who needs some tweaking when it comes to neatness and planning ahead, the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to set the stage for organization.

Here’s how to get & stay organized:

  • Set Up an Appointment to Talk – Instead of having an off the cuff conversation that might not go well, set up a time to talk. This way, you and your child will have a chunk of time to have an uninterrupted chat. For example, you might say “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk about the new school year after dinner tonight?”
  • Nag No More – As parents, we may see the benefits of staying organized, but our kids may not. And the last thing they want to hear are our constant reminders like “Did you get your things organized for tomorrow?” or “Did you clean out your backpack?” Instead, during the appointment to talk try saying something such as “I know I was on your case a lot last year. You’re getting older and I don’t want to nag you. Let’s get prepared for the new year by setting up systems you like.”
  • Maintain Neatness – Most every student starts out the school year with an organized binder, but for some, this state of neatness doesn’t last long. The key to maintaining order is a 20 minute pre-arranged weekly session called the “clean sweep.”

During this time, everyone in the house drops everything and gets organized. This is the time kids use to sort and file papers, clear out binders, and organize their backpacks. Stick with this one routine and you’ll see a real difference this school year.

  • Archive Colorfully – Some kids are packrats and some are purgers when it comes to the school papers. They don’t know what to save and what to keep. A good rule of thumb is that old tests and quizzes should always be kept. Most everything else can be tossed. Those important papers can be filed once a month into a Pendaflex hanging file folder. Label each tab with the subject name and in no time, your child with have a colorful archiving system set up to keep all of those important papers organized.
  • Homework Folder It’s never too early to begin good organizational habits. From the day the very first assignment is given, a separate homework folder can help. A study of middle school students found that having a dedicated homework folder (just one folder for every class) helped students locate their homework with more accuracy and turn it in on time. Label one pocket “To Be Completed” and the other “Completed.” This is important so that students get in the habit very early on of putting schoolwork in the correct place.

When an assignment is given in class, it should be placed in the left pocket and when it’s finished at home, it goes in the right pocket.  Repeat the mantra, “Homework isn’t done until it’s in your folder” until this process is automatic.

  • Homework & Study AreaIdentifying and setting up multiple areas that are relatively free of distractions is very helpful for students. Students should have a few potential study areas that are clear of clutter, such as:
  • The kitchen table
  • The dining room table (my favorite)
  • A home office (on the main level—it’s too hard to monitor homework time if it’s occurring upstairs or in the basement)

It’s important to have school supplies in one central location so that time is not wasted searching here, there, and everywhere for pens, pencils, or paper.  Label a shoe box with the child’s name or purchase a shower caddy to keep materials upright.  This way, as students move homework locations, their supplies are portable.

I hope these tips help your student get off to a great start, but if you find that your child has a hard time taking your advice, we can help. Our tutors specialize in teaching kids the best ways to organize materials and just as importantly – to organize time. Sometimes, a neutral third party specialist relieves stress at home and ensures that the child is equipped with proven strategies.

HELP: My Child is a Victim of a Disorganized Digital Desktop!

Does your child’s computer desktop have random folders and loose documents scattered over the screen?  Ever encounter a situation in which your son or daughter is trying to complete homework but cannot find it on his or her chic (and expensive…) iPad or laptop?

Although tablets and laptops can ease the flow of hardcopy papers, which in itself can improve organization to some degree, they cannot solve all our clutter and disorganization problems.

Students who come by organization innately typically have a neat backpack, binder, and digital desktop.  This article is not for those students.  Instead, it’s for those who struggle with the essential executive functioning skill of organization in almost every part of their life, including digital files.

So, how can you help fight digital disorganization? Here are a few ideas that just might work in your family.


Rule 1: Open the Dialogue

Sit down with your child and open the dialogue. Ask her how she might organize her electronic papers this year.  Would she like to use an online resource such as Dropbox, Evernote, or Google Drive?  If so, terrific!  These programs allow students to save files to the cloud, so that they can access them anywhere and at anytime, as long as there’s a Wi-Fi connection.


Rule 2: Create a “One Subject, One Folder” System

At times, documents will need to be saved to your child’s desktop, and herein lies the problem. Many students tend to just place individual files—PowerPoint presentations, word documents with assignment instructions, and anything else—on the desktop, arranged in no logical way.  This makes it inefficient, if not impossible, to locate important files in a pinch.

With your child, create a folder for each school subject. Even extracurricular activities like band or swim club that have affiliated assignments, schedules, or contact lists ought to get their own folder and be treated like a distinct subject.


Rule 3: Cluster Your Apps and Programs

Applications and school-related folders should function like oil and water—no mixing!  Keep all apps, such as Skype Dropbox, on the opposite side of the screen from school-related folders.  Check out this article for a step-by-step approach on how to implement this practice.


Rule 4: Make Shortcuts for Important Documents, NOT Copies.

One of the issues students face when keeping local and cloud-based documents is that they often have many different versions of the same thing. It’s not uncommon to end up with multiple versions of the same file without knowing which is the most up to date. If you’ve ever had multiple files each labeled something like “draft,” “final,” FINAL,” “FINAL FINAL,” you know what I’m talking about.

Consider showing your child how to make shortcuts to documents instead of placing copies of documents he wants quick access to on his desktop, only to end up with a puzzle of a problem.

If your student is a PC user with Microsoft Office, check out this article to learn how to make shortcuts or pin documents to the task bar.  And for Mac users, here is a reference on how to do the same thing, or in Mac language, how to create an alias.


Rule 5: Get Your Child on Board

Make it an exercise in taking turns. First, let them be the expert and ask them to teach you something about the computer (we always have things to learn about technology from our kids!).  Second, share with them an organization tip and encourage them to practice it when school starts.

Giving your children some freedom regarding the specific spatial configuration of their desktop apps and files—which apps are neighbors, etc—and the overall aesthetic (even if you hate their background, they may love it, and that’s what counts) will make them feel like the desktop is truly their own.  More often than not, having a sense of ownership over something usually translates into taking better care of keeping it organized and usable.

If Educational Connections can be of assistance helping your child prepare for the school year, either with a brush up of content or learning organization and executive functioning skills, please send Erin an email at [email protected] to inquire about a tutor or educational coach.

Our May Tutor of the Month: A Writing and Educational Coaching Whiz

Robbyn EllisOur May Tutor of the Month is a Writing and Educational Coaching whiz. Robbyn Ellis, works with Educational Connections students on organization, time management, and study skills, as well as, English and reading. Robbyn creates strong bonds with her students. One mom described her as being, “very sensible” saying Robbyn made her son feel at ease during tutoring sessions.

Robbyn has spent the past decade and a half working with children as a nanny, teacher, and tutor. She has extensive experience working with students on English, ELL, and preparing for college level writing courses. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Western Connecticut State University with a BA in English. When Robbyn is not tutoring she is a talented musician and has played trumpet for years. She has even toured Australia and New Zealand with a brass band twice.

If your child is struggling with writing, reading, or executive functioning skills, we have great tutors, like Robbyn, who can help. Contact us today to learn more about getting started with one of our top-notch tutors.


Diffuse Homework Tension with a Great Educational Coach

Tiffany MeadowsOne of the best ways to diffuse the tension around homework is to bring in outside help. For this reason we picked one of our best tutors and educational coaches as our tutor of the month for March, Tiffany! Tiffany has been described by parents as enthusiastic, engaging, professional, and relatable.

Tiffany works as both a science/math tutor, as well as an educational coach with Educational Connections. She has experience in science and math, stemming from years in the laboratory and classroom, and loves to share this passion with her students. Tiffany also really loves working with students on their organization and study skills. No matter which student she is working with, Tiffany’s number one goal is always tailoring her sessions to make sure she is meeting the student’s specific needs.

When she’s not tutoring, Tiffany loves spending time outdoors. She is a big fan of both hiking and gardening. For more information on tutoring or Educational Coaching, give us a call at 703.934.8282!

What is the Biggest Studying Mistake Kids Make?

Study Mistakes
In the DC Metro area we are quickly reaching the end of January. For students in Fairfax County and surrounding school districts, this means lots of unit tests or cumulative midterms. These tests are typically a large component of students’ quarter or semester grades, meaning preparing for them is crucial.


On our blog, we’ve written a lot about the best study skills (two of my favorite articles on the subject are: “The New Science of Learning: How to Learn Less in More Time” and “Study Tips for Final Exams“); but what we haven’t covered is what students should avoid doing while studying.


So what is the most common study trap students fall into when preparing for a big test?

If you guessed procrastinating, cramming, or any other variation of putting it off until the last minute, then you would be correct. Many students fail to do something we call “backward planning,” and instead cram right before the test.


Now, if you’ve ever talked to any teenager about their studying habits you’ve probably heard something along the lines of, “I work best when I’m under pressure,” or “cramming really works for me.” Both of these phrases were some of my favorites when I was in high school. It wasn’t that I was lazy, but I genuinely believed that staying up until 3 am the night before a test trying to cram as much information into my head as possible worked: because it did. Well actually, it did on things like quizzes or chapter tests; but when it came to cumulative exams like midterms or finals, it didn’t. I blamed it on “being a bad test taker.”


I didn’t realize it at the time, but there are scientific and psychological reasons why cramming worked for small tests like quizzes but not for big all-encompassing cumulative exams. It’s simple, when you cram all that information is stored in your short-term memory. The next day, when you take the quiz, you’re able to dump it all out and do seemingly well. However, when you have a large test that requires retracting information from your long-term memory, cramming just doesn’t work.


Research shows that if, especially for large tests, you distribute the same amount of studying over multiple days rather than one or two days, you get much better results. Part of the reason this is true is because you’re sleeping on the information. Sleep allows us to consolidate information and transfer it from our short-term memory into our long-term memory. Also, breaking up studying allows for repetition, which is necessary for successful studying.


But how do you break the vicious habit of cramming if your child is a chronic procrastinator?

Firstly, it’s important to understand why people procrastinate. Almost 99.9% of the time when people procrastinate it’s a sign that they are feeling overwhelmed. They likely just don’t know where to begin. Think about it, doesn’t the idea of learning four months worth of calculus or chemistry feel overwhelming?


The key to helping your child overcome procrastination while he or she feels overwhelmed is to make the bar to entry low enough that anyone could accomplish the task. Let’s say your son brings home a three page Algebra II study guide. If he has a history of putting off Algebra homework until the last minute, work with him to get started right away. That doesn’t mean he needs to complete the entire study guide the night he receives it. Getting started can be as simple as writing his name on the paper and doing the first problem. For most people, adults or teenagers, just getting started is the biggest hurdle.


Now let’s say your child isn’t procrastinating. She’s putting in a ton of time and hard work to prepare for her tests, but all this effort isn’t reflected in her grade. What could be happening?


It could be a lot of things. But the most common issue is that she’s probably trying to “multi-task”. Survey her study environment: is her cell phone in her hand, is Facebook or twitter open on her computer, does she have headphones in her ears? All of these things could be splitting her focus.


When I was home over Christmas, I walked into my sixteen year old brother’s room. He was “studying” for his AP US History exam. He sat on his floor, computer open to Netflix, iPhone open to a text message with notifications popping up every two seconds. His text book was open on his lap, but that was the only indicator that studying was going on. My brother is a straight A student, but he was caught up in the teenage lie of multi-tasking while studying.


There’s been a lot of research on the role of multi-tasking while studying. Studies have shown that people don’t multi-task, instead they just task-switch. They jump, very quickly, from one task to another. But research suggests that this decreases your focus. Your brain is trying to take in information from different sources. In my brother’s case, it was trying to understand the significance of the Gettysburg address, while also trying to comprehend how Leslie Knope was going to get that lot filled on Parks and Recreation, while also trying to interpret and respond to the text conversation my brother was a part of.


The takeaway is, if your child is studying and not seeing results, try lessening distractions. This can be challenging since so many assignments require a computer to complete, but try encouraging your child to utilize one of the procrastination and distraction blocker applications.


With midterms right around the corner, try encouraging your child to avoid falling into some of these study traps. However, if you’re met by resistance or if your child fights you on the studying issue, try bringing in an outside professional. All of our tutors specialize in helping students study the right way.


How Long Will My Child Need a Tutor or Educational Coach?

Many parents give us a call when their child just got a low grade on a test or quiz, or is getting very stressed out about a class they have had all year.  They are calling in reaction to a problem that needs to be solved, which is perfectly natural considering how many different things are constantly going on in family life.  There are so many different competing priorities, which means that some things won’t get attention until they become a real issue.

When parents call for this reason, they will also frequently ask the question, “How long will my child need a tutor?”  They are hoping to be able to check tutoring off their list as “problem solved,” and move on to the next priority as soon as possible.  Again, this is a perfectly natural thought process for someone who is juggling a lot of needs and is hoping to get some peace of mind in one area of their family life.

However, answering the question of how long a student needs a tutor or Ed Coach is not always something that we are able to do before the sessions start, at least not with a precise amount of time.  Here are three factors to consider when deciding how long you might want to have tutoring for your child:

1.)    Every Student is an Individual

Every child is different, and tutoring can also churn up some underlying issues that didn’t present themselves beforehand.  Some students just needed a little bit of clarification and review, whereas others need a lot of repetition to truly learn something.  Additionally, many students who are naturally bright may quickly show understanding for new concepts, but they may not have learned the material deeply enough to remember it beyond taking their next test.

2.)    Getting the Most Value Out of Tutoring and Ed Coaching

You may notice that after a month or so of working with a tutor, your child is really showing a lot of progress.  Although this is a great sign, it’s important not to jump too quickly to the conclusion that they no longer need a tutor’s support in place.  Many challenging concepts in core classes need a lot of reinforcement before they are truly mastered, and content will only become more challenging as the year progresses.

Also, Tutoring and Ed Coaching sessions are investments.  Although they can certainly remedy an immediate problem, the amount of time and money spent can have a much greater payoff if sessions are consistent and targeted towards mastery and a strong academic foundation.

3.)    Building Life-long Habits

It is very easy to get into the mindset of “getting through” a class, or even school itself.  Having an Educational Coach or tutor can help your child make it through a tough class with a heavy workload.  However, it is unlikely that will be the last tough class or challenging situation that they will encounter.

Like the old, “teach a man to fish…” adage says, it is far more beneficial for a coach or tutor to teach their student to learn how to learn and manage work independently versus serving as someone who is just there to walk them through their work.

As most of us have experienced, it takes a lot of repetition and dedication to truly build habits that will last.  Without reinforcement, it can be very easy to fall back into old patterns.

What Are Executive Functioning Skills and Why Do They Matter?

I use the term “executive functioning skills” on pretty much a daily basis. I use the term when talking to parents on the phone or at parent workshops, in emailing back and forth with tutors, and even when writing my weekly blog. But when speaking with a friend recently, I mentioned executive functioning skills. She looked at me with a look of pure confusion, like I just spurted out Mandarin. It dawned on me, that the term “executive functioning skills” is not a common, everyday term, but I think that it should be in every parent and teacher’s vocabulary.

What are executive functions? begin, we’ll need to get a little bit technical. You may remember from freshman level psychology, that the brain has different parts that control different actions. For example, the occipital lobe, in the back of the head controls vision. Executive functions are located in the Dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex, or in plain English, in the frontal lobe. This portion of the brain controls our ability to solve problems and regulates our emotions. This part of our brain isn’t fully developed until early adulthood.

The term executive functions is an umbrella term for the control and management of cognitive processes, such as reasoning, task switching, critical thinking, problem solving, working memory, and planning. Every person’s executive functions develop at different rates, with most people having a fully developed brain by their mid-twenties. This is actually the reason why you’re not able to rent a car until you are 25!

Everyone has executive functioning skills, but just like the ability to play a musical instrument, some people’s skills are more developed and stronger than those of others. This is why twins, Jackie and Jamie may look the same on the outside, but act very differently. Jamie may have stronger or more developed executive functioning skills, allowing her to be organized, promptly get started on homework when necessary, and keep track of her assignments and homework. Jackie on the other hand may have poor executive functioning skills leading to a string of incomplete assignments on her report card and a locker or bedroom that looks like it belongs on an episode of Hoarders.

What is the difference between ADHD and executive functions?

If you are a parent with a child like Jackie at home, or a teacher with someone like Jackie in your class, it’s highly likely that at one point the four letters ADHD have popped into your mind. It is important to understand the relationship between ADHD and executive functioning skills because it is a tricky one and there are a lot of common misconceptions.

executive functions versus ADHDThe simplest way to look at ADHD and executive functions is to picture a line graph. On the left hand side, you have children like Jamie. Jamie has strong executive functioning skills. She is able to regulate her attention, keep herself organized, plan ahead for assignments, and manage the paper flow to and from school. In the middle of this line you have students who may be like Jackie. They are children with poor executive functioning skills, meaning the things that come easy to Jamie are an everyday struggle to students like Jackie. Finally, all the way on the right, you have students with ADHD. These are children who have been diagnosed with ADHD by a psychologist or a pediatrician.
In other words, it is possible for a student to have poor executive functioning skills but not have ADHD, but it is not possible to have ADHD and strong executive functioning skills.

How do executive functioning skills impact academic performance?

Going back to Jackie and Jamie, it is easy to imagine how successful Jamie would be in the classroom. Since organization, attention, and planning ahead come easily to her, she can always remember to turn in assignments and focus on studying. But it’s clear that for Jackie, school would be an uphill battle.

While the concept of executive functions may be a complicated one, there is one simple fact: strong executive functioning skills are absolutely vital for long-term success in school. Even if Jackie had an easier time absorbing content, she will likely hit a wall once she hits high school or maybe even college. In fact, proceeded only by financial strain, anxiety and inability to juggle coursework is the top reason why students leave college prematurely.

Can you teach executive functioning skills?

If you have a student with weak executive functioning skills, there is good news. First, these are skills that develop over time as the brain matures. Second, these are skills that can be taught just like any other skill with the help of a good coach. For many families in Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and Maryland, that’s where we come in. Our Educational Coaching program is the premiere executive functioning coaching service in the area and our tutors are trained professionals who work with students on an individual basis. Our coaches come to the home and help students tackle daily and long-term assignments while teaching students strategies that will help strengthen their executive functioning skills over time.