Organization Part II

Certainly organizing one’s time is an essential skill that students will need to acquire as they progress through their education. However, equally important is the ability to organize one’s necessary materials. Think about it—what good is the knack for time management if the product, assignment, or project goes missing?

Encourage organization with color-coding

Color-coding is a helpful study tactic that helps students maintain focus and narrow in on the essential information. Of course, any notes are helpful for exam review, but notes that are organized by color are especially beneficial for categorizing and committing information to memory.

Aside from using multiple highlighters and different colored post-it notes, students can also use colored folders, lined notebook paper in different hues, and different binders to quickly and easily organize materials by subject area. Multi-colored dividers are another easy method for keeping notes organized by course, date, etc.

A good rule of thumb, especially for forgetful children and/or the organizationally-challenged, is to create a homework folder that is unmistakably unique and distinguishable. Choosing a neon-colored or wildly-patterned folder for taking homework to and from school will mean that it is less likely to be left on the kitchen counter or mistaken for another school folder.

Consider using the homework folder just for daily homework assignments, with the left pocket being the “turn in” side and the right pocket being for “to-do” items. This allows students to easily find the homework they need to complete and quickly retrieve the homework they need to submit.

The biggest aspect of the color strategy for organization is consistency, so if the blue folder and binder is for math work, keep it that way throughout the school year to avoid misplacing things.

Utilize the materials purposefully

This will sound obvious, but many parents would be surprised to see just how quickly organizational skills can begin to fly out the window when students hear the dismissal bell. Instead of shoving papers and materials into a half zippered binder in an effort to sprint out the door, teach children to make use of the pockets, sections, and binder rings for keeping materials in their rightful spots.

Teachers can assist with this, especially with younger learners, by pausing in the final few moments of class to allow students to wrap up and organize any loose papers or materials.

Another teacher tip to promote sound organizational practices is to make sure that handouts are hole-punched every time. This is another obvious suggestion, but papers without holes are begging to be misplaced, dropped, or forgotten. Similarly, having a stash of reinforcers, the hollowed circle stickers to cover a torn hole punch, will help to ensure that even ripped papers are organized and secured appropriately.

Consider keeping a shared Google document for each child’s many, many educational usernames and passwords. This might include access info to their school email account, library username, Noodletools account info, Quizlet flashcards, etc. Not only will parents be able to access school work and monitor screen use for safety, but the automatic saving feature in Google docs ensures that passwords are saved when added or updated.

Organization Part I

Getting organized is one thing—staying organized is an entirely different story for some people. Many “type-B” folks, myself included, focus more on the whole picture, but fail to give much time or energy to the finite details to get to that end goal. The lack of these skills can prove to be a real hinderance to productivity and success; however, there are many ways to improve organization during this busy time of year.

  • For regularly-occurring tasks, like picking out outfits, showering, doing homework, or packing lunch,
    complete the tasks at the same time, in the same order every day to avoid getting distracted or missing a step. For instance, when a teen packs his gym bag, he should follow the same process every time, putting socks with sneakers, T-shirts or necessary uniforms, etc. You are less likely to forget an essential item if you’ve developed a routine for packing.
  • To maintain even more organization, decide which tasks can be accomplished in the morning versus those that should be done the night before. For example, picking outfits out the night before will avoid the last-minute manic search for “that one particular shirt” that may still be in the dirty clothes pile.
  • For those of us that are especially forgetful, it could be beneficial to use a checklist or personal reminder of necessary items for the day. With many children and teens carrying smartphones, one advantage of being dialed in at all times is that calendar apps and push notifications can help keep everyone abreast of the day’s activities. Parents can even help by setting recurring reminders of important things that occur daily or weekly on their child’s phone. Then, syncing everyone’s Google calendars makes everything that much more organized.
  • Placing essential things for school by the door the night before will reduce think-time and anxiety in the morning. It also helps to ensure that the item makes it to school by having to physically step over it or pass it on the way out the door in the morning. This is especially helpful when items are not the usual day-to-day necessities. For example, a talent show costume or lacrosse stick has a way better chance of making it to school if it’s hung by the front door than if it’s stashed upstairs in the closet.
  • Plan for and maintain an organized work space. For some, the kitchen table is best, while others do better studying on the Whatever the preference, establish an environment that is easy to access, free from distractions, has a flat surface for working, has space for books/materials, allows for charging a computer if necessary, and has ample light.
  • When working on homework or projects, an organizational technique that many overlook is to arrange all necessary materials up front before starting to study. This not only acts as a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished, but it also ensures that focus is not broken by having to dig through a book bag or desk to find something.
  • Parents can assist with keeping students organized by making sure all necessary materials are in the workspace. All school materials should be in the room and out of the book bag. All homework should be taken out and organized on a flat surface by priority and due date. Additionally, for nights when many assignments are to be completed, an agenda is highly recommended and should be placed within eyesight.

Phones and other technology devices should be out of reach and out of sight to avoid any unnecessary distractions. The calculator app on a computer should be used instead of the phone to avoid the temptation of reaching for the phone and getting sidetracked.

LE’s Back-to-School Series: Organization Hacks

To say that back-to-school season is hectic would be an understatement—at times it can feel like downright madness. Students are excited, but anxious; teachers are enthused, but overwhelmed; and parents are relieved, yet frantic at the same time. Going back to school can leave everyone feeling a little (or a lot) stressed. However, like with many other challenges, PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE. With a little organization, these tips and tricks from Learning Essentials will help parents and students get back into the swing of things like never before!

  • Create a back-to-school shopping list after browsing your child’s school website and any course information that might be posted online. You can also reach out to content-specific department heads, also listed on every school’s website, with specific questions about course needs and necessary materials. For instance, if you are unsure of the allowable calculator for an advanced algebra course, reach out to the school’s math content specialist. Of course, additional needs may pop up later, but it’s good to have an idea of the basic needs to get your child through the first week.
  • Consider purchasing a label maker or using a Sharpie to add initials to personal items. Between new lockers, class changes, confusing schedules, and everyday chaos, newly purchased back-to-school swag tends to get lost—quickly. Adding initials or labels to items such as bookbags, lunch boxes, water bottles, jackets, pencil pouches, and coats will help to ensure that misplaced items have a better chance of being returned.
  • Make a quick “to-do” reference sheet near the door so that children can begin the process of self-checking before and after school. For visual learners, use photos to represent the “must haves” before children run out the door in the morning. Depending on age and ability, reminders might include brushing teeth, making the bed, packing clothes for P.E., grabbing the lunch box, and putting the homework folder in the bookbag.
  • If parents want children to take more initiative when getting home after school, use an afterschool checklist with specific time frames so that kids know how long a typical task should take and at what time parents expect each task to be completed. To motivate kids who are new to an accountability process, consider incentivizing task completion.
  • Photocopy your child’s course schedule and keep it somewhere handy around the house and/or at work. This allows parents to quickly refer to class times to find the least disruptive window when determining doctors appointments, early dismissals, etc. 
  • Do a “practice walk/ride” to and from school before the first day so that anxious children feel more comfortable about exactly how they’ll be getting to and from school. Make a point to talk about traffic patterns and crosswalks, especially for new bike riders or families that may have just moved into the community. 
  • For young bikers, consider getting a combination lock that uses letters instead of numbers. One word is often much easier for children to remember than typical numeric combinations.
  • Designate a folder or file for any paperwork, permission slips, or forms that parents need to sign. This will avoid the lastminute chaos of trying to find the crumpled sheets in the bottom of a book bag during rush hour. 
  • Set up a whiteboard calendar in a highly-frequented area of the house to post major academic or extracurricular events and their times/locations. Consider color coding the calendar so that each family member’s itinerary is written in a specific color. Take a photo of the calendar and send a group text on Sunday so that everyone is aware of each person’s obligations and whereabouts.

Label a hanging cubby organizer with days of the week so that children can begin to plan their school outfits for the week in advance. There is nothing worse than running late and rummaging through the hamper in a fury to find a specific article of clothing. With a labeled cubby hanging in the closet, children can learn to plan ahead and build autonomy by sorting everything they need for each day’s outfit in advance—no more ransacking the drawers to find matching socks at the last minute!

Back to School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

Back to school means a resurgence of the feeling that parents, teachers, and elementary schoolers alike all dread—the Sunday scaries. This alliterative term, while somewhat melodramatic, describes the true sensation of angst or nervousness that begins to bubble up around Sunday evening. Whether the Sunday scaries emerge from the nervousness surrounding an impending due date, upcoming quiz, or just the general apprehension about the school week ahead, we all can relate to that sudden foreboding sense that can quickly turn a calm, lazy Sunday into a frenzied mess.

It’s best to be prepared. Here are some strategies for elementary schoolers to combat the “Sunday Scaries”:

Get organized
For the first few years of early elementary school, organization falls mainly on the parents’ shoulders. However, little by little, elementary schoolers will begin to observe how organizational skills help to mediate stress and maintain order for the school week ahead. Depending on grade level, organization could simply mean that children help their parents plan Monday’s outfit, lay out clothes for P.E. or after-school activities, assist with preliminary packing of the lunch box, or place backpacks and other essentials by the front door. As children get older, the responsibility for getting themselves organized for the week ahead can begin to become theirs alone.

Organization is fundamental for elementary schoolers because it allows them to begin planning ahead, anticipating certain needs, contemplating the order of operations, etc. All of these life skills will become essential as children develop and gain autonomy. For now, parents can begin with something as simple as helping their child check the weather when planning for Monday’s outfit: Might we need an umbrella? Should we pack a light jacket? Will it be too cold for flip flops? These considerations help children feel secure in their planning by showing them what to expect as they head off to school, which certainly helps to ward off the Sunday scaries.

Break out the checklist
Consider the scaries as proportionate to the amount of tasks to be accomplished before bedtime. We all know that feeling—Sunday scaries become increasingly more beastly as the to-do list piles up. To avoid the added stress, families can create a general weekend checklist of items that need to be accomplished during Saturday/Sunday downtime. By creating a checklist, families know exactly what needs to be completed in order to ensure a smooth start to the school week. The checklist also helps elementary schoolers divvy up the tasks throughout the weekend so that Sunday night does not have to turn into the daunting bewitching hour where everything goes off the rails.

Organization comes into play again here with the checklist. Parents can help younger elementary schoolers by helping to prioritize the weekend checklist. For instance, homework or reading assignments should come close to the top of the list, as those items, especially when procrastinated, can become anxiety-producing.

Look ahead
Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Oftentimes, stress of the unknown is what creates anxiety for school-aged children. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family.

Laying out the weekly calendar also helps to build independence among school-aged children. They begin to recognize their own important tasks, practices, appointments, etc. This allows them to begin to feel a sense of control over what will go on in the week ahead.

Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms


2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.