As published in the October 2015 issue of Durham Parent
Every September, families begin the school year with a flourish of excitement and optimism. Perfectly sharpened pencils find their way into tidy cases, binders miraculously fill with pristine sheets of paper, and knapsacks never seem to go astray. But as surely as autumn leaves tumble to the ground, the best laid plans of mice and men (and children) seem to fall by the wayside. That’s when the challenging work of maintaining routines begins.
Helping children develop and maintain good habits to stay organized can be a tough haul, but the rewards are immeasurable and lifelong. Not only do routines and organizational strategies reduce frustration and tears, they build your child’s self-confidence, independence and ability to self-regulate.
It is important to remember that routines take time to establish. Younger children and those with weaker organizational skills or challenges with attention and focus will need more of your time, hands-on support and patience. Nevertheless, persevering with routines through the autumn months will make for a more successful school year.
Here are three simple but effective tips to help you and your child stay the course:
Keep a basket of homework supplies on hand
Looking for pencils, a calculator, glue sticks or construction paper can waste precious homework time and get your child off-task easily. A basket of supplies kept in an easy-to-reach cupboard reduces frustration (and excuses). Non-permanent markers and a small easy-erase white board provide a fun way to practice math facts and spelling lists.
Pack the knapsack the night before
Mornings in many households are rushed. Helping your child pack their knapsack the night before provides more time for them to complete the job with your supervision. As parents, we are more likely to take over and simply “do it” when running late. Allowing time to provide gentle instruction and encouragement (rather than rushing to do it for them) will help your child learn how to organize their belongings.
Tape a “Don’t Forget!” note to the inside of the front door
Gentle reminders (other than you) are an effective way to build your child’s independence. A note (in big letters) that says, “Get lunch from fridge” or “Wear boots” provides one last reminder before your child heads out the door. You may have to help little ones read the note – or better yet, draw them a picture – but the purpose here is to establish a routine that your child can use right through high school and beyond. The minute an “I need toremember” thought comes to mind, teach your child to write (or draw) it on the list. Review the list with them before bedtime and add on anything they might have forgotten. In the morning, the list will be front and center to provide that visual reminder before heading off to school.
As with anything we teach young children, remember to follow these important steps:
First, model the task for them.
Next, do the task with them.
Then, be nearby as they do the task. Provide guidance only as needed.
Finally, they will be ready to tackle it on their own. If they are struggling, be sure to give them time to problem solve before stepping in. If help is needed, don’t do it for them – instead, give a small hint as to how they can proceed.
And always remember –positive feedback for a job well done will help your child persevere in building life-long habits.