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Get on TOP of schoolwork

Things we love about fall — first projects, book reports and notebook checks! Not your child’s favorite activities? Well, let’s see if we can move these from the top of your most dreaded tasks.

I believe that we first have to sell the benefits of managing time and materials more effectively to our kids. Many believe that they do not need to use a planner. Others just don’t know how or cannot manage their time well in class to get assignments written down. Explain how you use your planner and calendar. Cite examples of when things went well because you used your planner and when things went wrong because you didn’t use it well.

If your child is beyond third grade, help with getting on TOP might be better provided by a tutor, coach or older student. If your child is in third grade or lower, you may still be in a position to offer help and have it be well-received. Here’s how to start.

Time management and organizational tips

Time Management

Make a copy of your child’s planner and play school. Help your child figure out what to write and where. Praise a job well done and gently provide feedback to help your child correct errors. If there is a test on Friday, include studying as part of each night’s homework. This is a great time to talk about some ways to study.

Some children simply run out of time in class to get their assignments written down. Others have poor handwriting or can’t manage the visual-spatial demands of writing so much in a small space. If that is the case, it might require a meeting with the teacher to brainstorm. Ask your child to notice when and how other students seem to get things written down. When do they do it? Does the teacher consistently post assignments on a website?  Many kids will need a good deal of hands on help to master this one.

According to The Organized Student, planners should be used to:

  • Keep track of things that are due in both the short and long-term.
  • Keep track of school and personal activities.
  • Estimate about how long we expect something to take.
  • Calculate how much time is actually available to complete a task.
  • Block out study and work time.

Challenge your child to use her planner well for all subjects for five consecutive days. Check in on how it feels to be organized. Ask how she accomplished this feat. Did it take a lot of extra time? Was it hard? Offer lots of praise for a job well done and maybe even a special treat – although a week of good grades is likely to be quite reinforcing on its own.


You have an office so shouldn’t your child? Set up a neat, well-equipped office for your student.  Be sure they have a big enough surface to work on with all needed supplies within arms reach. This should include pens, pencils, a pencil sharpener, stapler, glue, tape, paper clips, paper, a computer and a dictionary. It should be out of view of a television when possible. Some students work best in the kitchen with lots happening around them. Others do better in a quiet space. Ask your child which they prefer and give it a try.  If the first space does not succeed, try try again.

Break down the work into smaller pieces! Take big tasks, on the very day that they are assigned, and sort them into many manageable ones. This is a great time to photocopy a calendar page and create a timeline for completing the project. Doing this will set the stage for him to complete tasks independently in the years to come.


Some of the best put it off until later activities I know include baking pies, organizing sock drawers and grooming the cat! But aside from gaining weight, finding it easier to get dressed in the morning and fewer kitty hairballs, there may be little benefit to these tasks.  Procrastination often leads to very late nights, anxiety and often careless errors from a rushed job.  Help your child steer clear of procrastination.

  • Often the hardest part of any task is getting started. Institute the five-minute rule. Have your child do a necessary task for just five minutes. Then let her decide whether she can spend yet another five minutes.
  • Make a to-do list of everything that has to get done today. Then estimate how long each task will take (err on the side of overestimating).
  • Break tasks down.
  • Talk about the plan to increase accountability.
  • Do the hard stuff first!
  • Use a timer to get started and stay on track.
  • Take breaks not vacations.
  • Take a moment to picture the finished product and the satisfaction that will result.
  • Use timer and reminder apps to help keep you and your child on track!

Some students, and adults, need to carve out time daily or weekly to get organized. Life moves at such a fast pace that kids, and adults, often stuff papers and belongings anywhere. Teach your kids to designate a day or two a week to properly sort through their bags and binders. My experience is that while most avoid starting this task, the sense of pride and accomplishment that follows is well worth the effort. If your child is avoiding it, try the five-minute rule or just go through one subject or just the outside pocket of the bag. It’s OK to start small.

As another school year commences, remember this is a time to start anew not rehash past offenses or failures. Children need us to be cheerleaders. Make mistakes learning opportunities and encourage students as they embark on a new journey of trying hard, putting forth effort, taking academic risks, planning, managing time and organizing papers!

Rice Psychology Group offers diagnostic intakes and consultations, psychoeducational testing and assessment for learning, attention, gifted, behavior and social-emotional concerns, individual and group therapy, and specialized help for attention, memory and organizational problems. For additional information, visit

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