In my last column, I wrote about simple solutions for back-to-school supplies, and a rollicking debate ensued in the comments section about the merits of the binder system, paper versus digital systems, and the perception that parents impose undue complexity on their kids these days. The one thing it seems we can all agree upon, however, is that the plan kids implement to keep their schoolwork in order is far more important than the tools they use.
In my former middle school, (and in my own home) we established a predictable, weekly routine that set the tone for the kids’ organizational success. Once a week, we put time aside for locker and binder cleaning, and made sure parents knew that on Wednesdays, being on time meant being early. Every Wednesday morning before homeroom, students were required to empty their lockers of crumpled loose papers, figure out what to recycle and what to keep, and ferret out the source of the fruit flies hovering over their locker.
Once locker clean-out was complete, younger students also got weekly binder checks to support their efforts to stay organized. This weekly routine offered a great opportunity to show students that filing their papers and notes in the proper section of the proper binder can save them so much time and angst later on. I can’t tell you how many “lost” assignments were recovered in the wreckage of backpacks and binders on Wednesday mornings. This routine is an essential part of teaching kids about planning and managing their work and their materials, because if we are patient with their small failures and missteps, the organization of things can evolve into the organization of thoughts.
By the time these students graduate to eighth grade, locker and binder checks have become little more than a weekly formality, but for sixth graders who are just learning how to transition from one classroom, one desk, and one teacher to a locker, seven classrooms, and seven teachers, it is a vital part of their education.
The weekly regroup is also a great time to plan out their goals, reflect on what went well the previous week, and what they would like to do differently in the upcoming week. By creating a weekly opportunity for reflection, we can help students think through and solidify habits.
I can already hear the murmurs of concern about the time sink and authoritarian tone inherent in this weekly routine. So, for a prophylactic rejoinder, I turn to a commenter from last week,Amanda113:
I went to a highly competitive private school, and they insisted on the binder method for each class. In fact, our teachers would do random “binder checks” to make sure they were organized and complete. Was it authoritarian? Absolutely. But it was such a great organizing system, and it prepared me well for college and law school. I kept some of those binders as a keepsake, and I still marvel at their organization.
Another commenter was kind enough to provide my next bit of advice. In order to save students’ backs from strain and brains from chaos, they need to have a place to file papers that are no longer essential to daily work, but still needed for future reference.Anonymous wrote:
I teach 6th and 8th grade, and every Friday I take class time to pitch stuff. I also have a plastic crate with hanging files in my classroom — a file for each student — that’s where I have them keep the work I would like them to save rather than lug it around with them. … I also have a shelf for each class where they can leave textbooks or workbooks that they may not need every single day. The amount of THINGS we ask students to keep track of is pretty ridiculous. It seems like we’re teaching them to be organized, but we’re not. We’re not helping them see what can be tossed, what is worth saving and how to save it.
The most important routines we can give kids as the summer fades into fall, however, are those around family time and sleep. Postponed bedtimes and chaotic breakfasts set the tone for insufficient sleep and bad moods, and to prevent these disasters, Ms. Homayoun recommends that parents engage in preventive medicine:
Create end-of-day routines to make the mornings start off happier. Remember those mornings when kids lost their shoe, were tracking down their homework, and spilled breakfast on their shirt on the way out the door? Morning madness can’t be avoided BUT it can be tamed. With young kids, make a game and set a timer for ten-fifteen minutes at the end of every evening where they work to put their backpack by the door ready to go with completed homework inside, and anything else that can be completed in the evening and may make your morning easier.
I conclude with the most important routine of all, one that sets the stage for kids’ emotional, physical, mental and academic well-being: sleep. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Kids need more sleepthan they are getting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, preschoolers need eleven to twelve hours, elementary school kids need at least ten, and adolescents need nine to ten hours.
In order to protect those vital hours of sleep, parents may just have to step up and take a hard line on bedtime. I’ll let Ms. Homayoun take the hit and serve as the unpopular messenger on this bit of advice while I hide behind her and nod my head vigorously.
First, take all phones (ideally, all technology) out of the bedroom, and have them go in a digital box after a certain hour (for those kids who insist their phone is their alarm clock, get them a fun alarm clock for their bedside). Students often are up later than their parents realize answering texts, sending Snapchat messages, and perusing Instagram.
Speaking of technology, I have purposefully avoided an important aspect of the discussion about supplies and organization — the shift toward a paperless classroom. I hope to cover the organizational and educational implications of this trend in another column, but as most schools still rely on paper and pencils as their default technology, I’m going to have to live with my Luddite label for a while longer.
Please, comment or email your questions and suggestions for this year’s Parent-Teacher Conference columns, because we truly want this column to be a partnership; a place for you to ask questions and find answers about the confluence of education and parenting.