As students juggle schoolwork, friends, college applications, sports, and extracurricular activities, one of the key skills that helps them succeed is the ability to organize and prioritize the many demands on their attention.
The elementary school years are the best time to establish good study habits at home that will help kids take responsibility for their work and become more independent. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Children who learn inner control by making decisions and facing the consequences gradually become more independent and ultimately more resilient.”
Here are some ways to teach your elementary school–aged child how to organize her work and keep track of her responsibilities:
1. Establish a consistent homework routine.
Having a consistent routine helps kids learn what is expected of them without having to repeat instructions ad nauseam.
Encourage kids to do homework in the same spot at roughly the same time every day. Let them choose a space with less distraction, preferably where you can keep an eye on them. For us, homework is done at the kitchen table, after the kids eat their after-school snacks.
I prefer to allow TV or playtime only after homework is finished. Each family will have different rules, but as long as you keep the rules consistent, there will be less confusion and negotiation required on a daily basis.
2. Keep homework supplies and work organized.
Homework time can be frustrating when you spend large amounts of time searching for an eraser or a colored pencil, only to repeat that entire process the next day. I learned the hard way that it is important to have a space for supplies. Once kids know where they can find their stuff, you can take a step back and let them help themselves.
An important corollary to the above is that kids must take a few minutes to put things back in place when homework is done.
Just as important to remember is that completed assignments need to go back into the appropriate folders and backpacks as soon as they are completed — not in the morning, just before rushing out the door. This sounds obvious, but there have been countless occasions when the homework folder or completed worksheet has stayed home, and as a consequence, points have been needlessly lost in the classroom.
Follow this link to learn more about how to keep homework organized
3. Let kids do their work independently.
With young kids, you may feel the need to sit with them while they do homework, but it’s best to let them be independent and to help only when they ask. Most elementary school homework is a repeat of what was done in class, so kids are often quite capable of handling it. Allowing children to work on their own creates a sense of achievement and confidence.
Read more about how to help your children with homework without doing It for them.
4. Help kids organize their tasks.
When my son entered fourth grade this fall, I found he suddenly had a lot more homework than the single sheet of math or language arts that he was used to getting in lower grades. In addition, he had more deadlines to keep track of, since not all of the assignments were due the very next day. There would be larger projects due in the next week or two. At the same time, some reading-based assignments had to be done regularly — three times a week — and were therefore not noted in the homework agenda every day.
My son needed a system to keep track of these various assignments and deadlines. We decided to use a desk calendar and a folder to store the worksheets until they are submitted. A friend’s son, who is in middle school and more tech-savvy, uses Google Calendar. It is important to encourage kids to maintain the calendar or tool they choose so they can keep track of their work on an ongoing basis.
5. Prepare your kid for online homework.
With schools in many states preparing kids to take the computer-based PARCC tests in 2015, you may find an increased number of assignments that require kids to practice computer-literacy skills. These may include typing practice, writing for the class blog, or creating PowerPoint presentations.
Our school district provides Google Chromebooks to fifth-graders, so I am expecting that much of my son’s homework to be online next year. The school already provided him with a Google account so that he can access email from teachers and chat with classmates.
Here are a few ways to prepare for young kids to go online for homework:
- Help kids understand how to be safe on the internet before they actually get there. Watch BrainPOP Jr.’s free video that explains Internet safety to young kids.
- Set ground rules and talk about your expectations — homework needs to be done before they can chat with friends about other stuff.
- Be aware of which assignments your child has, and have a general idea of how long it should take to do each on the computer.
- Have kids use the computer in a public spot so you can keep an eye on progress.
6. Take a break when needed.
When there is too much homework, and it looks like my son won’t be done with it in time to go out and play, I encourage him to take short breaks between assignments. A break could be as simple as him running races down the hallway with his baby brother or taking his bike out for a 10-minute ride around the neighborhood. The physical play helps my son focus when he begins the next assignment. You can similarly identify a brief activity that will help recharge and refocus your child.
Establishing good homework habits early on requires some initial effort and planning, but it will help your child over the course of her school years. It has certainly made for more peaceful evenings in my home.