Homework and Organizational Tips

Although some students appear to have an easy time staying organized, the majority do require guidance and structure during their middle school years in order to succeed in their academic and extra-curricular activities.

There is a good reason for this as neuroscience research has discovered that the prefrontal cortex, the organizational component of the brain (planning, initiation, impulse control, higher order thinking), is still developing at this age, and does not become refined until midway through high school or even later into young adulthood. So…a little patience, a sense of humor, and knowledge that, in all likelihood, your child will become an independent and responsible adult over time, should help you and your children get through this sometimes trying stage.

I. General Homework Tips for Parents

Make sure your child has a quiet, well-lit place to do homework, a clutter-free desk or table, and a comfortable chair.
Avoid having your child do homework in front of the television, or while simultaneously checking Face book, Twitter, Integra or other social media sites. Hold off telephone calls/texting until assignments are complete. Allow use of the internet only for research and ideas related to the assignments. Some children work well with quiet music in the background, some work best in a designated area in their bedrooms, while others thrive at the dining room or kitchen table with an adult nearby.

Make sure the materials your child needs are available.
Suggested materials include paper, pencils, markers, highlighters, post-its, glue, tape, paper clips, stapler, color-coordinated folders for each subject, dictionary, math tools, and calculator (if allowed).Ask your child if special materials will be needed for some projects and obtain them in advance.

Use of Assignment Notebook
Encourage your child to use the assignment notebook throughout the day:

  • In each class to write down assignments in every subject 
  • At his locker after school to gather materials needed for homework that night, i.e., textbook, reading book, notebooks, worksheets, and study guides, and put them in his backpack 
  • At home each night to check off the homework in each subject after it has been completed. 
  • Put the assignment notebook into the backpack along with other items needed for school the next day; it also may be helpful to have a box, crate, or large basket located near the door where your child can leave the backpack and materials before he/she goes to bed to avoid a frantic search for everything in the morning.

Help your child with time management and avoid last minute cramming.
Establish a set time each day for doing homework. Don't let your child leave homework until just before bedtime or a long-term project until the day before it’s due. Think about using a weekend morning or afternoon for working on big projects, especially if the project involves getting together with classmates. Allow for breaks to stretch, eat a healthy snack, exercise, or even have a brief time limited opportunity to chat with a friend.

Help your child break down big projects into smaller steps or chunks.
Always have your child carefully read and re-read the instructions and rubrics provided by the teacher, and ask for clarification if needed. Encourage your child to make a chart showing how much time may be needed to spend on each step, and to note in the assignment notebook ahead of time reasonable dates when each step of the project should be completed.

For example, if a research project is due in three weeks, discuss with your child all the steps needed to complete it on time, including:

  • Selecting a topic 
  • Gathering research by using books and the computer 
  • Reading and taking notes on the topic using outlines and graphic organizers 
  • Writing a rough draft 
  • Editing and revising the draft 
  • Designing the visual presentation with pictures or oral presentation with props, if applicable 
  • Writing the final report

Help your child figure out what is hard homework and what is easy homework.
Have your child do the hard work first when he/she is most alert to tackle the biggest challenges.Saving the easiest for last will help him/her finish on a high note, possibly leaving some energy to get in some extra studying or reading.

When your child asks for help, provide guidance, not answers.
Be a facilitator and check the homework, but do not do the homework for your child. Too much help teaches your child that when the going gets rough, someone will do the work for him or her.Homework is a great way for kids to develop responsibility, independence, and lifelong learning skills.

Be positive about homework.
Tell your child how important school is. Communicate that you value learning and effort. The attitude you express about homework will be the attitude your child acquires. Try to avoid sarcasm, criticism, and arguments. Show your child that the skills they are learning are related to things you do as an adult. If your child is reading, you read too. If your child is doing math, balance your checkbook.Also, encourage your child to practice reading aloud, a valuable skill for all ages.

Stay informed.
Check the class website on a regular basis and your child’s academic progress on I-Pass. Attend Back to School Night and parent teacher conferences. Call or e-mail your child’s teacher(s) or counselor if you have questions or concerns.

Reward progress in homework.
If your child has been successful in homework completion and is working hard, celebrate that success with sincere and specific praise, a small reward, or a special activity to reinforce the positive effort.

Adapted from the following site: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/academic/involve/homework/part_pg2.html#2

II. Additional Pointers for Helping Your Children in School 

Tip #1: Focus on Homework and Studying.
For each subject, encourage your children to review any notes, worksheets, or study guides, and to preview and review chapters in text books by first reading all headings, captions, chapter summaries, and questions at the end of each unit, in addition to looking at pictures, charts, graphs, and related vocabulary lists.Some children may have to rewrite their notes to remember facts; others might have to read them aloud, while still others may benefit from acting them out, singing them, drawing an illustration, or building a model. Another great memory aid, or mnemonics device, is the use of initial letters in a phrase or rhyme to remember facts, e.g.,

Order of Mathematical Operations:Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally may help children remember: Parentheses, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, and Subtract.

Tip #2:Keep backpacks neat.
At least once a week, have your children empty their backpacks to make them neater. You will be amazed by what they might find! Often, some "lost" notes or homework will show up just in time, as well permission slips that require parent signatures.

Tip #3: Use time efficiently.
If your children get stuck on a particular piece of homework, have them leave it and move on to the next piece. Otherwise, their frustration will rise and make matters worse. Have your children return to the piece they left after a while, as they may have gained a clearer understanding by then. Use a timer to signal a reasonable period of time for each subject, or to define time for breaks, snacks, socializing, or exercise.

Tip #4: Always look ahead.
Your children should check their homework assignment book daily, and look at the future assignment column, in addition to a central home calendar that lists extra-curricular activities and appointments to anticipate what they will need to be doing soon.If a test is coming up, make sure your children don't leave studying to the last minute.

Tip #5: Do research wisely.
If research is involved in a project, be careful about how your children use the Internet. The Internet is a valuable resource, but it can be very distracting. Your children might get sidetracked and waste time going from topic to topic. Encourage visits to the library to do research and discover an array of sources including books, magazines, journals, and original documents.

Tip #6: Use technology.
Help your children learn to use a computer effectively to apply to their schoolwork. Let them experiment with PowerPoint and help your children learn to type efficiently and use Word correctly. Install books on their Kindle or similar devices and audio books on their iPods, and watch the Discovery Channel, History Channel, PBS specials and other educational television programs with them.

Tip #7: Prioritize what must be done.
Your children must learn to prioritize the things they need to do. Schoolwork and extracurricular activities are a priority, but parents and students should balance these activities so they do not hinder academic success, cause undue stress, or interfere with a good night’s sleep.

Tip #8: Communicate with teachers.
This applies to parents as well as children. If there is any doubt about an assignment, contact the teacher. Encourage your children to ask the teacher if they find something to be unclear, either after class, after school, or the next day. Doing this will also help your children develop important communication and self-advocacy skills, and will build their self-confidence.

Adapted from the following site:

For additional ideas about helping your youngster with organizational and study skills, please check out the following links:

Homework Reference Sites

The Student Support Services Team at Fowler hopes you find this and upcoming articles helpful in supporting your children at home and school.We will also post these sites on the Fowler School web page under the Guidance section; simply click on Fowler Support Services Staff and Resources.We truly value your input so please let us know if you have any suggestions for future topics.

Submitted by,

Arlene Fuchs, School Adjustment Counselor