The Top 3 Best Places To Do Homework (And Where To Avoid)

best places to do homework image 1Any parent familiar with the nightly homework struggle knows that where homework gets done can become just a much of an issue as when homework gets done. So a common set of questions we often get from parents is: “Are there any best places to do homework? And where should we avoid?”

In this post, we’ll outline our top 3 choices for best places to do homework, along with some areas we recommend you avoid.

Are there actually best places to do homework? It depends…

Now let’s start off by saying, even though we’ll outline some good choices for homework spots, each child has their own particular learning preferences.

This means that although the kitchen table might bit a great choice for one kid, it might be loud, distracting, and not conducive to focused work for another.

So first things first, recognize that your child may already have their favorite places to do homework in mind, and involve them in the process of making it a regular habit to work in the most productive spots. And the research actually supports this idea.

Metacognition: Self-aware students do better

Metacognition is defined as, “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.” This term’s origins are in the field of psychology, but a study out of Vanderbilt University actually ties metacognition or self-awareness to college success.

The study looked at college freshman and found  that those who were more effective in choosing their study habits (and locations) were much more successful in the classroom.

In other words, the students who knew themselves and the way they learn best performed better and got better grades. It’s important to note that these successful students didn’t all use the same study habits; but rather, they were able to identify what worked best for them and stick to those strategies. This is because every person takes in, processes, and learns information a little differently.

Keep this in mind when choosing the ideal homework location.

Best Homework Spot #1: The Kitchen Table

If you’re like me, when you grew up your parents expected all homework to be completed at the kitchen table. For some kids, this is a great option. It allows them to spread out all their books in the hum of a busy area, which for some kids who hate the quiet, is absolutely perfect!

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But for others, like me, this isn’t a great spot because it’s in the center of the house and there are so many distractions. Every time someone walks by to the fridge, sink, or garage is yet another opportunity to lose focus.

Best Homework Spot #2: The Couch Lap Desk

While this won’t work for some due to the temptation of the TV (or the ability to slowly sink into napping mode) we’ve found that some students are really successful on the couch with a lap desk.

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Comfortable, quiet, and free from distractions, this is usually a good spot if your child likes the ability to “sink in” and focus from the lounging position.

Best Homework Spot #3: The Outside Deck Dweller

A lot of students prefer the nice, cool, air conditioned indoors over going outside for homework time, because there’s less of a chance of discomfort (or your papers being blown away!).

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But we do come across those few students who just absolutely love being outside. For these kids, you can blend the best of both worlds, and have them do their homework outside on the deck.

Hey, maybe they’ll even get some much needed Vitamin D in the process!

The ONE homework location to avoid…

As we said before, much of your child’s choice of homework location depends on their personal preferences. But there is one place that’s generally regarded as a “no-no.” And thats… the bedroom.

Because this is the one place in the house your son or daughter are most likely to be distracted by toys, phones, computers, and all other forms of impulse to NOT study or do homework. So you should probably keep that one off the list.

How to help your child figure out what their ideal learning environment is

First of all, you want to give your child the flexibility to try a few different places.

If you find that your child is having a hard time focusing in a designated homework area, encourage him to try a different location and then ask leading questions such as:

“How focused did you feel in the ____?”

Or “did you feel like you got a lot done when you were studying in the ___?”

You want to avoid asking the question “which did you prefer?” because many times students will choose the convenient location over the one that leads to productivity.

If there’s a lot going on and you still find that your student is having a hard time focusing, encourage her to find outside locations. This could be a public library, or staying after school for a homework club or a teacher’s office hours. Sometimes there’s just too many distractions in the home for a student to get a lot done.

Finally, if you find yourself caught up in arguments with your child over where she is doing her homework (e.g. she insists on doing her homework in her bedroom though she’s not getting a lot done), try bringing in a neutral third party such as a tutor. Many times, this third party will eliminate the stress between the parent and the student while working with the student to figure out what learning environment they perform best in.

Your turn

What study locations have your kids found to be most productive?

Take a moment to share in the comments! We’d love to hear some new creative ideas.

 

If you live in the Washington DC Metro area and would like to learn more about our tutoring services, please fill out the contact form below: 

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12 School Organizing Tips To Start The Year Strong (For All Ages)

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There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area in life: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

For our purposes though, let’s amend it slightly:

Eighty percent of school success is showing up AND staying organized.

I’ve worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their performance in school did not reflect their true abilities. I’ve also worked with many students over the years who struggled to pick new things up, but managed to keep at it, stay motivated, and achieve success.

Surprisingly, it’s organization that usually makes or breaks students’ level of success in school, because it’s one of those “cornerstone” habits that impacts almost ever other area in their academic lives.

So whether your child is:

  • In elementary school and just starting to get the school routine down
  • In middle school and figuring out how to manage the increased workload in their classes
  • Or in high school and getting prepared for upper-level courses, SATs, and college applications

Below you’ll find a list of 12 school organizing tips for you to use to start off the year strong.

1. Set up a regular school “check in” time

First up is a common cliche in parenting: get involved.

Unfortunately, just “getting involved” in your child’s schoolwork isn’t quite the right approach, because more is not always better, and sometimes you can create even an even bigger issue than you started off with in the first place by being nitpicky or overbearing.

So before you jump in, spend a little time to think and determine what level of involvement you’re going to have with homework, grades, and other aspects of their academics. This way you have a good idea of what you need to discuss with them before you start.

Then, set up a regular meeting time with your son or daughter to talk each week about assignments, what’s going on in class, upcoming tests, and any other concerns they might have.

This shouldn’t be a lecture, so frame it as a conversation: “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk each week about school?” And leave it open for them to discuss how they’re feeling and what they would like to see you do better.

2. Don’t nag

Now that you’ve established a line of communication with your child, it’s extremely important to then give them the space they need to get organized and figure out how to manage their schoolwork in a way that works for them.

Kids may not immediately see the benefits of staying organized, but constant reminders are the last thing they want to hear. So when you are helping them get organized this year, make it clear that you don’t want to nag, you just want to set them up for success.

Then because you have a regular meeting time set up to discuss school together, use that time to suggest changes, voice your concerns, and make sure that they’re staying on track.

3. Set up a homework routine

Making the best use of time after school can be a BIG struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework.

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That’s why this is one of those times that can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine that you hold to, especially for elementary and middle school students.

First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome. This could be:

  • Right after school
  • After 30 min break
  • Before dinner
  • After dinner
  • Right before bedtime

And consider scheduling in some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break.

For high schoolers it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have start, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and they’re homework isn’t done.

4. Keep homework contained (but mobile)

Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.

Now interestingly, studies are now showing the kids are more productive when they vary where they do their homework. But that being said, it can be hard to stay organized when they’re constantly shifting spots.

So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least three spots that homework can be completed and try to stick to them. This will help eliminate some of the clutter if you have a space cleared off already.

Then, for younger students, you can try putting together a mobile organizer for all their school supplies that they can take with them from spot to spot. For older students in middle or high school, you can try helping to set up their backpack so that it permanently holds all of the supplies they’ll need to do their homework on a regular basis. This will also allow them to do homework during study hall, breaks, at the library, after practice, etc.

5. Get everything ready the night before

Now a lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time. But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.

So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before the, making sure that all assignments are in there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.

You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time, something we call “The Launching Pad.”

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You can even have them set aside outfits for the next day. Say hello to less stressful more smooth school day mornings… just make sure to do it all early enough that everyone still gets to bed on time.

6. Improve the sleep schedule

A big part of staying organized is actually having enough focus during the day to make sure that you remember assignments, that papers go in the right places, and you have the ability to sit down without distraction and study or do homework on time.

And probably the number one contributing factor to that is getting enough sleep at night.

So making sure your child is getting to bed at the same time consistently will help improve their level of focus throughout the day. A great way to do this is to set an electronics curfew and enforce an hour of quiet time before bed for winding down.

This may not be a popular decision especially if you have kids who are older and in high school but they’ll thank you when they’re not dragging when they get out of bed the next morning.

7. Use color coding

A great way to make organization fun, especially for younger kids, is to use color coding. Now that’s not to say it can’t be helpful for older students as well, because the research does shows that it can help with visual memory. But figuring out how to get your kids engaged in the organizing process can be difficult, and this is one way to let them have some say over how they want to do it.

You can have them organize their notebooks and binders by color (e.g. math is green, science is red, etc.), or even go as far as using specific colored pens and pencils for either different types of assignments or different subjects.

And let’s face it who doesn’t love going to Target or Walmart to pick out some new stuff!

8. Label and organize binders and notebooks

Then once you have some initial color coding in place, you can further organize all of your notebooks and binders by adding in some labeling.

So not only can you have a binder for a specific subject or subjects but you can also designate certain sections within them for notes, homework assignments, study materials for tests etc. You can also create labels for things like papers that need to be signed and returned to the teacher, returned assignments that are already graded, and any longer-term homework or projects that aren’t due right away.

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Again this is a great way to get your child engaged in the process by allowing them to figure out what organization method would work best and to run with it, so put out the suggestion, and the let them determine how to get it implemented.

9. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”

Even the most organized among us tend to build up clutter over time, no matter how hard we try.

So a great way to combat this is to schedule a 20 minute pre-arranged session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized.

Not only will this help your kids stay on track with their school organization efforts, but will also help foster a sense of family involvement so that it’s not just that your child is being singled out. They can see you and other members of the family doing the same.

10. Archive old assignments

Along those same lines, your kids are also going to have a buildup of old papers and assignments that aren’t necessarily relevant to what they’re doing in school right now.

Archiving and properly treating (i.e. not throwing them out too soon) all assignments should be a regular part of your organization routine.

A great rule of thumb is to make sure that you’re keeping old tests and quizzes and then tossing everything else. That way if there are any cumulative test throughout the year, your child will be able to reference back to previous questions to study, and will know which areas they need to work on where they may have gotten marked off previously.

11. Use an agenda book

It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper can have.

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So for students in middle and high school, an agenda book (or something like it) should be the official holding place of all things important. So encourage your child to fill it out with what homework is due, what tests are coming up, projects or after school activities, and anything else that’s important to remember each day.

Then once it’s down on paper it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.

12. Create a calendar for extracurricular activities

Finally creating a calendar for extracurricular activities is a great way to get the entire family on the same page.

Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4:00 – 7:00. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00. Maybe there’s a big quarterly science project due at the end of the month. Whatever it is, getting it on a calendar the whole family can see will help everyone stay informed and on the same page.

You can even take a step further and give every person a different color to stay even more organized!

Time to get organized this school year!

Although these are just a few organization techniques that you can apply to your kids’ schoolwork and other activities, they can have a huge impact if used regularly.

That being said, there are a virtually unlimited number of organization ideas you can try, so don’t feel limited to just this list. Use it as a starting point that experiment and customize for what makes sense for your family.

Then, if you come up with something that works great, or if you have something that you want to share that’s not included in this list, go ahead and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear what works best for you!

The School Routine: 8 Painless Ways To Start Easing Back In

school routine image1Every summer has a rhythm to it…

In June, the whole family is excited! Your kids are “free at last,” and you’ve finally earned yourself a well-deserved break from the before and after school routine.

Then July rolls around. Prime vacation time. It’s the middle of summer and everyone is ready to get away… whether that’s to the beach, to visit family, or just for a road trip or two.

Some pro-active families are keeping up with reading and maybe some practice assignments here and there… but for most, schoolwork couldn’t seem further away.

Then there’s August… the “wind-down” month. Maybe you’re getting in some last minute vacation time, but everyone has the first day of school in the back of their minds, whether they care to admit it or not.

And although summer should be enjoyed, the problem is: if you’re not careful, August is gone, and the first day of school hits the whole family like a ton of bricks.

Your kids are…

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Image credit: JON_CF

…trying to scramble last minute to get their summer reading done so that they’re not left behind in class.

…now having to sacrifice most of their previously free time to do homework and study – something they haven’t done in months.

…waking up WAY earlier.

And you’re having to manage them through that whole process, not to mention adjusting your schedule to pack lunches, get them to school on time, and make sure they’re actually getting their assignments done.

But, there is an alternative…

In today’s post, we’ll cover 8 things we recommend you start now, so that you can slowly ease the family back into the school routine without it being such a shock to the system.

Not only will this be more comfortable for everyone involved, it’ll also set the stage for a more successful school year once the end of August does finally hit. Getting off on the right foot sets a great tone for the rest of the year and leave the whole family better off in the process.

1.Get the ball rolling on summer reading or other assignments

school routine image3First, make sure you set aside some time to address any required assignments or a reading list that may have been provided by your child’s school.

If you can catch it now, and then plan out time to work on those assignments, you can avoid that last-minute scramble to finish up books, math packets, and other summer assignments during the days leading up to the start of school.

A great way to get summer reading done, especially if your child finds it a bit daunting, is to set aside time for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). This works best when everyone is getting in on the “DEAR” action… so come up with a time as a family (after lunch, after dinner, etc.) where everyone in the house puts down what they’re doing, turns off all electronics, and sits down to read.

2. Start the sleep schedule shift

If you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, spend 3 months getting your kids used to staying up late with a lazy 10am wake-up, and then abruptly force them out of bed at 6am to head off to learn for 6 hours straight.

Well without realizing it, this is exactly what happens to most of our families in the lead up to the start of school. Whoops!

Now of course we’d never intentionally send our kids off to school in a zombie-like sleep deprived state, but it is important to keep in mind that study after study shows that loss of sleep for kids can negatively impact not only their performance in school, but also their physical and mental health.

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Image credit: Adrian Sampson

So that being said, it’s a good idea to address the summer vs. school year sleep schedule difference at least one week before school starts to get your kids (and you) adjusted before the first day.

First, schedule a family meeting to sit down and establish what that schedule is going to look like. What time are you going to wake up? And what time to does bedtime need to be in order to get enough sleep each night?

Then, each day leading up to school, set the alarm clock a little bit earlier so that by the final day of that week, they’ll be getting up at almost the same time they need to get up in order to be ready for school. So if that’s 6am, the schedule might look like this

Day 1 – 9:00 am wake-up
Day 2 – 8:30 am wake-up
Day 3 – 8:00 am wake-up
Day 4 – 7:30 am wake-up
Day 5 – 7:00 am wake-up
Day 6 – 6:30 am wake-up
Day 7 – 6:00 am wake-up

But waking up is actually only half of the equation, because is your child isn’t also starting to wind back bedtime, it’s going to be harder and harder for them to stick to the schedule and they’ll start losing sleep before school even starts! Not good.

So the second part of this trick is to also set a bedtime alarm that follows a similar adjustment schedule. There may be some moaning and groaning, but if you make sure to explain and set the expectations up front, it will help your son or daughter understand why they’re doing it. Plus they’ll (hopefully) be tired enough by waking up earlier that this isn’t too much of a “task.”

Execute this plan, and you can help smooth out one of the biggest “shocks to the system” when starting school again.

3. Start the morning routine

Now the “waking up” piece of the puzzle is taken care of, your family is getting ready to wake up on time for school. But then what do they do after that?

That might seem like a silly question, but having a morning routine established that makes sure your son or daughter are off to school in the morning with everything they need each day is another key component of reducing stress and disorganization during the school week for the whole family.

Because there generally isn’t a structured routine in the morning during the summer, all too often, even if everyone is up on time, mornings during the first week of school turn into a mad dash of collecting backpacks, school supplies, lunches and breakfast before ushering everyone out the door.

So when you have that family meeting to establish the new wake-up schedule, also take some time to discuss what needs to happen each morning. Talk it through so that the expectations are clear, and include some “night-before” preparation as well to make mornings easier.

Then, to take it a step further, actually turn it into a fun visual checklist for them to follow that you can post on the fridge or front door.

During the lead up to school, practice waking up at the set time and then slowly adding in steps of the new routine – whether that’s getting dressed and brushing their teeth, getting their backpack ready (try the Launching Pad!), or making sure to be at the table ready for breakfast…

And before you know it, the first day is here and they’re off to school with everything they need.

4. Plan out lunches ahead of time

Okay ready for another one we usually don’t think about until the first week of school?

Packing. Lunches.

This is definitely one of those things where if you get off to a good start with some healthy habits, they can be pretty easy to maintain. But if you get off to a rocky start (e.g. sending them to school with a few bucks, which if we’re honest are probably spent on snacks…) it can be hard to change those habits mid-stream.

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Image credit: Melissa

So let’s get the routine down now. Again, have a sit down with your kids and brainstorm a few different easy lunch ideas that they’d like to eat, but will also be healthy enough to keep their energy levels up throughout the school day (and avoid the post-lunch crash).

A good formula for this is (more details here):

  • A fruit and veggie
  • Protein
  • A drink
  • A small dessert
  • Whatever else rounds out the meal

The week before (the magic time window) is a great time to go shopping and start making lunches again so that the whole family gets back into the swing of it before the big day.

5. Organize the homework space and gather up school supplies

Now it’s time to take stock of what needs to happen after the school day – primarily, where homework and studying gets done!

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Identify a few places your child can do homework this year (the bedroom isn’t a great idea) and give the spots you’ve select a once-over to determine what you might need. Then make a list and plan a trip to the local office supply store to get what you need.

Now, if your son or daughter is on the younger side, many schools provide a list of materials you’ll need for the start of school (and sometimes teachers will make modifications), so it’s probably a good idea to plan your school supply run after you’ve been to the open house…

6. Attend the open house

Most schools have an open house. Make the commitment to go, even if you’ve heard it all before. Here’s why:

When school starts up again, parents tend to most worried about… you guessed it… academics.

What are the requirements?

When are the tests?

What does my son or daughter need to know in order to perform well and learn what they need to?

Now’s the time to start engaging with the process and answering those questions for yourself so that you know what the expectations are going into the new year.

For your kids though? It’s the two F’s: friends and fitting in.

This is especially true during a transition year, either to middle school or high school, when they’re going to be encountering what seems like a whole new world of people, teachers, and routines.

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Thankfully, the open house will help with all of these things. As parents we can get a sense of the requirements being put on our kids, and our kids can start the process of getting comfortable in their new environment by:

(1) Working their locker. Have them do a trial run 3 times with their locker combination to make sure they’re confident they can get in and out when they need to.

(2) Walking the path from class to class. Again, do this with them 3 times during the open house so that they know where they’re going, and feel comfortable during the day.

Although simple, these small details my a surprisingly large difference in how kids feel about starting school again. So the more you can help them build up their new routine, the smoother the first week will be.

7. Make a checklist

Now having family meetings and going to the open house are all well and good… But it’s easy enough to get caught up in trying to squeeze the most out of the end of summer and forget to tackle your school lead-up preparation until it’s too late.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, after the open house, make a checklist of what you need to have ready for the start of school. Make sure everyone in the family has something to do so that the burden isn’t only on you.

Then, pick a regular time each week (or day if you’re close to the start of school) to go over what’s left as a family. You don’t have to be a taskmaster, but you do have to set some accountabilities for the family so that everyone is better off when the school year hits.

8. Get involved from the start (and put yourself in their shoes)

And finally, if nothing else make sure you’re setting the tone for the school year right at the start by making the commitment to be involved.

Be sure to discuss not only where homework will be done but at about what time it should start. Discuss these logistics with your child and get their input. And then apply that same process to each important aspect of their school lives.

Being involved doesn’t mean micro-managing their schedule and how they accomplish their schoolwork… but it does mean having the discussion with them about it.

Perhaps most importantly, when you’re doing this, put yourself in their shoes:

  • What are they thinking about?
  • What things are they worried about that you might take for granted?
  • And what can you do to help (in a way that gives them the autonomy they need to feel in control)?

Ask these questions on a regular basis, and for the most part, it’ll be hard to go wrong.

So that’s it! Eight ways you can re-start the engines on the school routine now

…so that when that first day of school hits, you, your kids, and the whole family will be ready for smooth sailing this year.

And if you have any other suggestions for how to make this school year the best one yet, just leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

Why Is My Smart Kid So Scattered? And What’s the Real Impact on Grades?

smart but scattered image 1Every day I speak to parents who are stressed out and confused. If you live in the DC area, you can probably identify with being “stressed out.” But many are also confused at how their smart kids can be so scattered.

The parents who call our office looking for help are confounded by the fact that their kid is really smart (heck, most of these kids can tell you a story a mile long, remembering every last detail, and some have even been in the gifted program), but their grades are mired in mediocrity because they are perpetually disorganized and procrastinate like crazy.

Parents report that when left to their own devices without any parental oversight, these kids can’t keep up with their assignments and rarely study for tests, let alone remember when the tests are in the first place. And not surprisingly, when parents try to help, their overtures are resisted.

It just doesn’t make sense. How can a such a smart kid be so forgetful? Why is life with this kid so chaotic, with assignments left until the very last minute, stressing everyone out? And why, when help is clearly needed, do these kids push their parents away?

The Real Reason Kids Are So Scattered

Let’s start out with one of the most common reasons kids underperform in school — weak executive functions. Executive functions (EF) refer to cognitive processes occurring in the frontal lobe of the brain. They have to do with focus, problem solving, planning and organization. As you can imagine, these abilities are incredibly important in school.

So when kids aren’t all that focused or organized and have a hard time thinking ahead, we often assume that they’re lazy, unmotivated, or just don’t care about school. But actually this isn’t the case at all. It’s often that their executive functioning abilities, which do get better with age, are weak.

ADHD vs. Poor Executive Functions

Sometimes, parents wonder if a child with weak executive functions has ADD or ADHD, because the symptoms seem similar, and there definitely is overlap. A lot of kids have weak executive functioning abilities, but the problem might not be significant enough to warrant a diagnosis of ADHD. However, everyone with ADHD has executive functioning deficits.

The Disconnect Between Ability and Achievement

Regardless of whether your child just has weak EF or ADHD, it doesn’t really matter. The symptoms are similar and there’s almost always a divide between ability and achievement. Kids with weak EF are capable kids who underperform. They have the potential to get As, but they’re earning Bs and Cs, stressing you out, and falling further behind. The work they turn in to their teachers is not always in line with their intelligence. We see this a lot in writing. Very verbal students have a tough time organizing their ideas and sustaining focus long enough to get all their thoughts down on paper.

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Now, not all kids who have executive functioning weaknesses have problems in writing, but what they almost always have in common is difficulty staying organized. Their binders, backpacks and oh yeah, even their bedrooms are not the tidiest in town. And so often, when things are scattered, time management isn’t so great either. Prioritizing is not a natural ability. The students we see don’t think about homework in an organized fashion.  They don’t think to ask themselves “What do I have to do tonight? And what should I do first, second, and third?” Getting organized enough to prioritize homework is tough for some, but what’s even harder is planning out that book report that’s due in two weeks or that science project not due for another month.

What the Research Says: The Impact of Disorganization on GPA

For years, we’ve been helping kids to get and stay a bit more organized, and it’s not an easy process. Most kids need regular upkeep to develop “habits of mind,” and for many, this takes a long time.

As a classroom teacher, I always knew that the students who came to class prepared had a leg up. There was a clear difference between the ones who did their homework and had it filed away in the right folder and those who slapped down a few answers on a piece of paper and had to dig through their backpack to find it. But I never saw research on the impact of disorganization on homework completion. I just knew that my disorganized kids chronically underperformed, even if they could do well on tests (because they were indeed intelligent).

A few weeks ago, I was reviewing some new research when I ran across a study from The Journal of School Psychology. Here’s what I found: kids with attention difficulties turned in 12% fewer assignments than kids without attention problems. Although this doesn’t sound like a big number, the impact on grade point average for these kids was significant. The researchers found that the culprit wasn’t behavior during homework, like lack of focus, it was actually organization (bringing home the right materials, bringing the completed work back to class the next day, etc.). Disorganization was the most important predictor of homework completion and GPA.

What You Need to Know

The bottom line is that when your child has a poor sense of time and seems to have trouble keeping track of his things, it’s not intentional, and no amount of nagging or reprimanding him will help. Instead, what really helps is simply understanding that your child needs more structure than the average kid. Simple measures to set up routines and structures can work for all your kids.

Personally, I’ve found simple systems to be the best, and that’s because although I love to be organized and tidy, I have to work at it. It doesn’t come naturally for me and I’ve found that other parents have similar struggles.  By targeting a few easy-to-implement routines and strategies that can be done on autopilot, virtually any parent can help their child even if he or she is resistant.

The key is choosing the right strategies and using them consistently. Both elements need to be present to see lasting and positive change. If you want to reduce the stress in your household surrounding your kid’s organization and time management (or lack thereof), check out my online course Getting Past Procrastination: Get Organized, Beat Procrastination, and End The Homework Battles In The Next 3 Weeks.

Careless Errors: How To Fix Them Without Fighting

shutterstock_252865087“How do I help my child fix careless errors they made in their work?” is a question we probably get every day.

Do you let the mistake slide and have the teacher correct it? Do you fix it for your child so their homework is marked 100%? Or, do you show your child why the mistake was made in the first place?

When you remind your child not to make these mistakes and they continue making them, you run the risk of spending all night arguing with your child.

Here are 3 common situations regarding careless errors and how you can help students correct them without causing an argument.

 

  1. My son came home with a math test where he didn’t do as well as he had before and I saw that he made lots of very careless, silly errors. How can I let him know to double check his work once he’s finished, without sounding like I’m being negative or giving him a hard time?

Getting kids to check their work is really hard work! “Checking their work” can feel very overwhelming. And frankly, that’s why kids don’t do it, especially with homework. If your child’s homework is done and you say, “Now, go back and check your work,” what you’ll typically hear is “Yep, I already did that,” when you know that it’s nearly impossible that they went through every answer in such a short period of time. In testing situations, when teachers remind their students to review their work, this overture is rarely successful. Kids simply don’t have the mental fortitude to review every last answer on the test.

So, what can you do?pic-1

Encourage your child to highlight or circle the problems that are hard for them as they complete their homework. Have them go back and check or redo only the problems that are circled or highlighted. This reduces the amount of checking they need to do and makes the task more approachable.

 

  1. What can you do about the child who rushes through homework and puts little attention to detail in their work?

Ah, the rusher! This trait is really common, especially for younger kids. They don’t really see the value of homework. They will often slap down a few answers and call it a day because getting outside and playing with friends or jumping onto the X-box is far more exciting than homework.

If that is what’s happening in your house and it’s a chronic problem, consider Designated Homework Time.

Designated Homework Time is based on the principle that homework should take about 10 minutes per grade level. If you have a third grader and he’s doing homework in about seven minutes flat on a regular basis, tell him, “You know what? Your homework should be taking about 30 minutes so I’m going to set the timer for 30 minutes. I want you to sit here and do work for 30 minutes. If you really don’t have any homework (which is hardly ever the case, by the way) or you’re finished, you can read for pleasure or get ahead on an assignment.” By encouraging your child to use that whole half hour, you’re less likely to fight battles over rushing through assignments. Kids are more likely to stay a little bit more focused and spend an adequate amount of time on each problem instead of merely doing the work hastily.

 

  1. My daughter is constantly making careless errors in math. When she has a problem with long division, I say, “Check every long division problem by multiplying and do it after every single problem.” Would it be less overwhelming to remind her problem by problem or does that add too much time?

Certainly, there are some tasks in math that can be checked very easily. For example, a long division problem can be checked by multiplication. That’s a really easy way to find an incorrect answer. The idea of checking the problem right after as opposed to the end is a good one because waiting until the end to check work feels very, very overwhelming for kids. But most kids are not that diligent and when left on their own they will not take the time to review every last answer.

shutterstock_142812715If your daughter comes home with an assignment or a test with lots of careless errors, you can ask her, “What might you do differently next time?” Always look to the future. Don’t ask questions that require her to think about the past such as “What did you do wrong?” or “Why didn’t you check your work?” To kids, asking them to reflect on the past often feels punitive. I also like the question, “Knowing what you know now, what changes would you make on the next test?”

For homework, you can make checking work a game. Say to your child, “I wonder if you can check five problems on this worksheet. For each one, give yourself a tally mark and see if you can get to five.” Giving kids a goal for how many problems that they can check on their own makes something arduous a little easier.

 

Why Your Child Doesn’t Organize or Plan Ahead (And What You Can Do About It)

Time management. Organization. Studying. Planning ahead.

Do these ideas give your child a sense of excitement? Or fear of the unknown? If your child seems uninterested or even afraid of these ideas, it may be more than just a feeling of being overwhelmed and a dislike for school. They may have executive functioning deficits.

 

I hear the phrase “executive functioning” more and more these days, and whether or not students have it. What exactly is executive functioning?

Executive functioning skills are cognitive processes in the frontal lobe of the brain, the area behind the forehead. These are skills that are really important for kids when it comes to school. Executive functioning skills are important for focus, self-control, planning, sustaining focus and resisting distractions. These skills allow people to juggle multiple things in their mind at one time. For example, when writing an essay, can you remember to capitalize the letters and use proper punctuation, spell the words correctly and also make sure you’re writing makes sense? If you can, you probably have good executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning skills also have to do with a thought process: finishing something, starting something new, planning ahead, and staying organized along the way. Executive functioning skills get better as kids age, but even at a young age, the skills are important for school success.

 

Executive functioning sounds a lot like ADD or ADHD. How exactly are they related?

Issues with a child’s executive functioning skills are actually very closely related to ADD or ADHD. Professions no longer use the term “ADD”; it was replaced in the mid-1980s by Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or AD/HD. The slash actually represents with or without. A child could have ADD and not the hyperactive part, but they still have an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD has to do with things like focusing and sustaining focus for a period of time and also being able to regulate attention.

Many parents say, “Well, my kid doesn’t have a problem with attention. He can play X-box for 3 hours. But when it comes to homework, it’s much harder for him to regulate attention!” That’s really where ADHD comes in. It’s not about paying attention to any one thing, it’s about making yourself pay attention when things are difficult and there is trouble regulating attention.

When it comes to executive functions, sometimes people can have poor executive functioning skills but they may not meet the criteria for ADHD. However, everybody with ADHD does have poor executive functioning skills.

 

I think my child is showing some symptoms that he has issues with executive functioning. What are some signs that might help parents see this?

Kids who have executive functioning difficulties often have a hard time staying organized. It’s not just in subjects, but also time management. If your child might have a messy backpack, forgets to write their assignments down, and doesn’t always bring the right materials home from school, he might be struggling with executive functioning skills.

Help your child create a mental to-do list for what he has to do for homework that day or even plan ahead. Long-term planning is often really difficult for these students. If something is due two weeks from now, they have a hard time breaking that assignment down into smaller, manageable chunks. In addition, kids with weak executive functioning skills might have a hard time focusing and putting effort into homework, especially when it’s really not interesting to them. They might even be able to just focus for 5 or 10 minutes before they lose track. For these kids, they need to have breaks on a regular basis and have assignments broken into smaller pieces so these chunks are much more attainable than a single, massive, intimidating project.

 

What is the first step in helping my child improve his executive functioning skills?

If you suspect your child has some executive functioning deficits, the first step is to realize that tasks like focusing and planning ahead are just going to be harder than for other kids. It’s not that your kid wakes up one morning and says, “You know what? I’m just going to really aggravate my mom.” or “I’m going to frustrate my dad.” It’s not like that at all. Kids want to please! They want to do a good job, but things like staying organized and focusing and planning ahead are just innately difficult for them.

It’s really important to acknowledge the fact that your child is going to need much more structure than the typical kid. You might not see a plan to start homework from your child the minute they come home from school each day. You might need to engage in a dialogue with your child to make sure they know what they’re going to do first, second or third. You’re also going to have to provide a distraction-free area for him to do homework. If left to his own devices, he’ll often do homework in places like his bedroom, which is really distracting! A child with executive functioning deficits just needs a little more external structure than the average student.

 

What do I do if my kid doesn’t want to listen to me?

A low frustration tolerance is typical for kids who struggle with attention. It’s not uncommon for these kids to really push back towards their parents’ overtures, even when they know they need the help. If your help has gone on deaf ears by your child, consider getting someone else to do the heavy lifting. Often, kids are much more willing to listen to someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to them, like a tutor or someone who has training in Educational Coaching.

Educational Coaches have the ability to work on three specific things with kids. One is organization, both with materials and time. The second is time management of short and long-term assignments, and the third is study skills. Kids with executive functioning issues get by because they’re really smart, but when the work becomes harder and there’s a lot more of it, they really have a hard time.

 

Having somebody who can work in these three areas, in addition to helping with subject areas, is really the key. Give us a call at 703-934-8282 or fill out a Get a Tutor form and we would be happy to help.

3 Habits To Try Now for a Successful School Year

It’s the start of a new year, and if you’re like many parents across our area, you’re looking for new ways to help your kids develop strong habits at home and school. Last Thursday, I spoke with WTOP on ideas to make a positive change for the new year.

 

Q: How can parents help to create better habits, both at school and at home?

With the start of the new year, it’s common for parents to want to help their kids do a lot of things — and at the top of the list is to be more organized. However, a parent’s definition of “organized” can be completely different than their kid’s! To maintain organization throughout the year, it’s important to include organization into your routine.  If it’s your child’s study area, help her get it neat and tidy to start the new year, and then snap a picture of it. A photo gives kids a point of reference to look at down the line. This idea works great for kids’ rooms, too.

 

Q: What about procrastination? That seems to be a big issue for kids.

Procrastination is incredibly common, especially when it comes to work that requires planning ahead. For example, if there’s a book report due in three weeks, expecting your elementary schooler to break down such a big task into smaller chunks might be unrealistic. Kids often need parental help because time feels vague and intangible. You can make time feel more concrete by tying it to something they love. Let’s say your son is passionate about baseball. If you’re feeling creative, take a pack of baseball cards and divide them evenly into four piles and each time he completes one of the small tasks leading to completion, give him those cards as a reward. You’re not bribing; you’re rewarding him for getting his work done.

 

Q: Focus and attention to detail are things that parents may also want to improve. What can we doStudent Teacher Prepping for New SAT?

We all want our kids to pay attention, especially when it comes to the quality of their assignments. So we say things like, “Don’t forget to check your work!” but that rarely helps. I often think of task completion like the bell curve. When you’re getting started, you’re climbing that hill. When you’ve finished, you’re sliding down the back side, just wanting to be done, thinking about the next thing. To kids, asking them to muster up the effort to go back and review every last question and climb back up the hill usually doesn’t have a good outcome. Instead, say, “As you do that math worksheet, circle the hardest ones, and just go back and check those” or “Just review three of the ten math problems.” By making a difficult task feel easier, kids are much more likely to complete it.

 

4 Tricks To Avoid Disorganization

Parents call our office everyday looking for help on relieving academic stress. They’re frustrated and stressed beyond belief about their kid’s academic progress, but oftentimes, it’s not just about grades. They just can’t dodge disorganization!

Their kids are disorganized, or they procrastinate, or they aren’t as motivated as their parents want them to be. We see kids that are very, very bright, so intelligence isn’t the issue; however, they struggle to maintain organization. One thing they don’t do well is to plan ahead. Let me give you a couple of strategies to deal with this.

Make a plan when you get home 

First, we always encourage kids to make a plan before they start anything. Our educational coaches say, “When you get home from school, don’t start with a subject. Don’t start with Science, or English, or Math, or History! You want to start with organization – and the first step you can take is to make a very simple to-do list.”  This to-do list could be as small as a few things needed to complete for homework each night. When you make a list, it helps to visualize the tasks at hand.

orderly-deskLay it all out 

For some kids, a visual is often better than a written piece of paper. Encourage your child to take out their books and papers from their backpacks right when they get home from school. Have them lay everything out on the kitchen table or desk so they can visually see what they need to complete for the night. It’s a really powerful technique that actually reduces procrastination quite a bit! That’s because when kids have a plan, even if it’s a really basic one, there are no surprises and they’re much more likely to get going.

 

Use your weekends!

I also believe in using weekends, especially a Saturday morning or Friday evening. If you use a Sunday evening to plan for the week, your kid will say something like, “Mom, can you take me to Michaels? I forgot about the science project that’s due tomorrow,” and you know Michaels is already closed for the night! Instead use weekends early on, perhaps before your child goes out for the day, and encourage her to look at what order their homework portal to figure out what needs to be done.

 

Ann image 1Do a clean sweep
Lastly, consider a clean sweep. I love this idea because it helps everybody in the house get organized. A clean sweep is when you have a standing appointment in your phone (and in your kids’ phones too!) to clean things out. For example, you can use Sunday evenings from 7:00 – 7:20 pm and everyone is in on the action. Everyone in the family – not just your disorganized kid – is straightening up their materials and getting organized for the week. It could be that your kids are organizing their binders, getting their papers ready for the upcoming week, or cleaning out your purse or maybe organizing the junk drawer. It doesn’t really matter what it is but the idea is to have that standing appointment to maintain neatness on a weekly basis.

 

If you find that these tips help, that’s great! But, if you find your child is having a hard time with these tips or taking your advice, we can help. Our tutors specialize in teaching kids the best ways to organize materials and – just as importantly – organize time. Sometimes, a third party specialist relieves stress at home surrounding academics. Contact us at 703-934-8282 to see how we can help.

Back To School and Back To Stress?

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Summer is officially over and kids are back in school. In some households, back to school also means back to stress. So, how can parents make the transition into the school year more successful and less stressful? This week, I was able to interview with WTOP radio about starting off a successful school year without the stress.

 

How do I get my child off to a successful school year?

You absolutely want to attend Back to School Night and listen for information on two topics. The first is how progress is communicated. In most school districts, progress reports are sent to parents electronically every two weeks, or, at minimum, a mid-term point. Be sure you know when these dates are so you can discuss with your child how they’re doing early on and not late in the game when things may have gone wrong.

Second, you want to know how your child’s teachers will report homework assignments. There’s nothing worse than finding out that your little Jimmy didn’t turn in a book report, and you were thinking, “what book report”? So, at Back to School Night, find out from each teacher how they’ll be communicating homework assignments. You’d think that all teachers would have the same process, but they don’t. Get on the ball early, so that you can help your child stay on top of things.

You can read more on Back To School Tips Every Parent Must Have here.

 

Issues families have over homework don’t usually come to light until the end of September or October when the homework load becomes too much. How do you avoid stress and frustration?

In talking with thousands of parents and kids, one thing we know for certain is that each child faces their own unique challenges. So, to avoid stress and frustration, it’s always helpful to think back on what happened last year. What was the biggest issue you encountered? For many, it’s procrastination! So before you see your child starting to procrastinate on homework assignments this year, talk to them about possible solutions. One idea is to use a timer to help kids get started on homework, especially for those in elementary school. For example, if you want your child to start homework in 20 minutes, set the timer for that amount of time and say, “When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to begin.” So now it’s the timer telling your child to start, not you. It takes the emotion out of the request.

 

What about the flip side, the kid that spends too much time on homework?

For students spending an excessive amount of time on homework, we use a technique called “must do”, “should do”, “could do”. We have the kids sort their assignments daily into one of those three categories. The work that absolutely has to be done first goes into the “must do” category. If it should be done, but not necessarily at that time, put it in the “should do” category – like a math assignment that’s not due for a couple of days. And then if the work would be more of a step up but isn’t necessarily required, it goes into the “could do” category. Having kids think about their assignments this way can help balance what absolutely needs to be done versus what’s simply a nice to have.

 

How do you find that balance between extracurriculars and academics?

Time management is the key to finding a balance. The biggest mistake I see kids make is not using small chunks of time to their advantage. They often think, “I need a few hours of time to get all this work done”, but in reality, they can probably check more things off their homework to-do list by using small increments of time. Use that 20 minutes before soccer practice for completing the spelling homework, or that half hour before dinner to get math done.

In fact, studies show that dividing work into smaller chunks helps kids to be more focused and efficient.

 

And remember, if your child isn’t listening your advice, don’t take it personally. Kids tend to respond better to outside help, when it’s not coming from their mom and dad. Even in my own home, my kids are more likely to listen to one of our coaches or tutors than to me. Consider getting a third party perspective, like a tutor, for your child.

 

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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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGye_KKLGyQ

The best binders to choose from

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=68e4Z6Jc8RQ&index=10&list=PLHCQ9H856EWpIrOV8yAt2NvCJNYVilSfy

 

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