Back to School Organization Tips from a Teacher and a Parent

Back to School Organization Tips from a Teacher and a Parent

Summer is winding down and the stores have already stocked the shelves with school supplies. This will be my first school supply shopping trip where I will need to follow a list not created by me. My son is entering preschool in the fall. It’s adorable how he tells people he’s going to work but he really means school. #teacherparentproblems  

Because this is my first time starting the school year as a teacher and a parent of one school-aged child things are a little different. My entire morning routine is going to change. The first week or two I’ll be running on those start of the school year fumes. But eventually the teacher tired is going to set in and my son’s new sleeping schedule will make him irritable making us all want to press snooze. This is why I’m putting together a Make Over Your Mornings email challenge that will begin after the Labor Day holiday. You can learn more about it by signing up below.

Organizing my mornings will only be part of what needs to change. Thankfully we won’t be looking at any homework time in the evenings with a preschooler, but some of you may be in the same boat of added “to dos” this school year. As a middle school teacher, I’m well aware of the changes that come with students starting school-sponsored sports teams. The added amount of homework. An increase in the number of academic classes and teachers to student schedules. All of these are big changes for kids, and for parents.

This is why I have teamed up with my friend Amy from Organization Boutique. As a parent of middle schoolers herself and an expert on organizing, Amy shares how parents can prepare for life in middle school. My added teacher perspective ensures you can feel confident and ready for the changes that come with starting middle school.

Practical advice from a teacher and a parent to help start the school year organized.

Why Students Need Organizational Skills

Look at how many people are searching for time management tips. It’s so much easier to learn when you are younger and have fewer responsibilities. Not to mention how it can prepare for high school, college and beyond. Many job postings want to hire people with strong organization skills. Parents and teachers can’t always remind them of what needs to get done and how to do it. Taking on responsibilities helps build self-esteem and confidence.

Organizational Skills = More Efficient + Less stress

Time Management Skills for Students

Teacher Advice: Start with the class schedule. Most districts offer a time for students to walk their new schedule. Specifically, the incoming grade that is new to the building. This is a great time for students to familiarize themselves with the school building. Take notice of the distance between classes and the student’s locker. Students should work out the times they will have to stop at their locker and which materials they will take with them at each stop.

Buying materials for middle school might look a lot different than elementary. There really aren’t a lot of supplies needed. Teachers may ask for items they will collect and use as a community supply rather than expecting students to keep track of them individually. So stick to the list! Avoid your child having extra materials that might be distracting during class time or clutter their lockers.

Parent Advice: Use a paper or digital calendar/planner to plan long-term projects and keep track of activities outside of school. Have your child schedule out their school hours, activities, chores, and any other planned events. This will help them see how much free time they have so they know where the best time to schedule homework and anything else that comes up. Have them follow the schedule for a week and then talk about how it went and make any needed adjustments.  Keep doing this on a weekly basis until they are confident in their planning skills.

Stop procrastination in its track!  Many parents have been up until midnight helping their student finish a project they just started that evening even though they knew about it a month before.  Teach your child to plan in advance. Have your child write out all the steps they will need to take to complete a long-term assignment, then schedule each step by putting it on their calendar with a deadline.

Don’t be the alarm for your kids.  This may take a lot of time and effort depending on your child’s personality.  Some are naturally early risers and don’t have a problem waking with an alarm. Others are heavy sleepers or slow to wake and may need an extra loud alarm clock or to have the alarm across the room to avoid snooze.

Organizational Skills = More Efficient + Less stress Click To Tweet

Lockers

Teacher Advice: You might be a teacher if you roll your eyes while walking down the locker decorations isle. Seriously, why do kids need carpet in their lockers? Ok, the chandelier lights are kind of cute and much more practical. The shelves that you can add are definitely a great idea! I also like the magnetic containers for holding loose pens or pencils.

Some schools, like mine, provide a color coding system for class folders. This makes it easier to organize the locker by placing materials in the order they will be needed. For example, if books, folders, and notebooks are placed together, spine facing out vertically, in the order of class period from left to right students can keep them in that order throughout the day. Each time they grab a set of materials from the left they should return them to the right. This will cycle materials keeping them in order. Using a strategy like this from the start will hopefully keep the locker clean and homework where it belongs.

Parent Advice:  Learn from my mistake – buy a locker shelf to help organize the locker.  When attending the orientation day before school starts, most of the locker prep revolves around learning the combination and adding decorative accessories.  Students don’t have all their books yet so it’s just putting some supplies in there. I didn’t really think about how much other stuff needed to be stored in the locker and my son’s binders and folders were destroyed because he needed to stack so much in it.  He literally brought one “binder” home at the end of the year and it was just the front cover.

Extra Clothes and Lunches

Teacher Advice: Most schools will provide or suggest students keep a daily agenda. It’s a good idea to mark each day that will require Gym clothes or sports practice clothing. Especially considering these are not always year-long activities. Seasons change, quarters change. It’s important to have these dates marked ahead of time.

Another question to ask on Open House nights is where to keep extra bags at school. For example, our football players have a special place to keep all their pads and equipment during the school day until it’s time for practice. If the bag isn’t going to fit in their locker find out what the expectation is for students.  

Lunchtime in middle school is often precious social time. Which is why teachers can find it effective to revoke this time as a way to motivate students to complete assignments or show better behavior in class. A working lunch doesn’t always need to be a punitive though. Encourage your child to talk about what lunch looks like for them. Everyday! It can change every day.

Parent Advice: Middle-schoolers should be responsible for remembering to take gym/sports clothes to school and to bring them home for washing.  Have your child create a checklist posted to the door they exit. It serves as a double-check that they have everything for school and after-school activities without you needing to remind them.

You may want your kids to plan out their outfit the night before or the beginning of the week. So far my kids have been pretty drama-free with clothing but I remember stressing out about school clothes. Pre-planning can help but it’s not a miracle-worker.  Sometimes preteen/teen hormones win.

Middle schoolers are old enough to be able to pack lunches on their own.  Just double check that it’s not filled with Doritos and Oreos!

Setting up lunch prep areas in the pantry and fridge with pre-portioned servings will help make packing lunches easier.  Your child can help prepare the portions at the beginning of the week. They are more likely to eat it if they’ve helped in the process.  

Homework Tips

Teacher Advice: Homework is a hot topic in many educational conversations right now. There are a number of schools that have created homework policies. Anything from expecting a specific amount per week to absolutely no homework should be assigned. My best advice here is to know what the homework policy is for your child. It might be a building policy or it might be that each teacher has their own. Be sure to pay attention to that first week of school papers or emails teachers are sending home. As an English teacher, I will plug here for reading every day, regardless of the homework assigned.

Reading 20 minutes every night can increase word power and this leads to a multitude of benefits.

A few questions to ask teachers: When is there time to complete unfinished assignments? Is this scheduled every day or does it need to be scheduled when needed? Some middle schools may still have study hall included in their master schedule. We do not. If students are behind on assignments and are not completing them at home they would need to schedule work time with that teacher. It might be before school or after school.

Parent Advice: Using a planning system will help your child identify time available for homework and plan out longer projects.  Just because they know they have time available, doesn’t guarantee they will actually do their homework. You still need to check in with your child about homework every day.  

It’s so important to have a distraction-free homework space.  Create a homework center at home, stocked with all the school supplies your kids need to complete homework.  Some supplies middle school students may need at home: pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener or extra lead for mechanical pencils, highlighters, colored pencils/markers, glue sticks, scissors.  

If you don’t already, have a rule that all school materials go back in the bookbag immediately after finishing homework. Don’t let their homework clutter the kitchen table or home office.  They will likely forget stuff at home if it’s not put away right away.

Interested in additional tips?  Check out How to Organize and Prepare for Back to School or Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

If you have any of your own advice that would help please share it in the comments. Good luck this school year!

 

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Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

Parents: How to help your middle schooler (and you) navigate this season

It never fails, when I tell people I teach middle school they respond with some version of Why? Their twisted up face recalls their own experience and for most, it’s not a good one. Middle school is a difficult season for many people. It’s one of the reasons I chose to teach this grade level; mine was pretty rough having to move during the school year. But middle school is really the last chance for kids to be kids before that pressure of adulting takes hold. It’s called the middle school for a reason, it’s a transition period. Transition means you’re having to do something for the first time and that’s tough. Besides middle school today is not like middle school in “our day,” so let me share a few ways to help make these years easier.

Middle school can be difficult years for students and for parents. Here you will find advice from a veteran middle school teacher to help your child survive these difficult years of school.

Responsibility Grows in Middle School

These years of transition call for a shift in responsibility. I’ve recently read several parenting blogs that have addressed this topic and how it’s a problem area for parents. Meaning we aren’t giving our kids enough responsibilities so that they grow up knowing how to handle important tasks or take care of difficult situations. I would have to agree with this because over the years I’ve heard many parents apologize for their child with, “It’s my fault they didn’t” fill in the blank. It’s not your fault parents! Teachers are very good at communicating their expectations, so your child knows what they need to accomplish they just chose not to do it. Help your child add responsibilities to their daily routines. Think about what tasks you do for them currently that you could one-by-one start making them responsible for. Especially tasks that are school related.

Organization & Time Management in Middle School

Here are two places where you can really help your child gain more responsibility. Keeping papers organized is a major issue with most middle schoolers, they don’t know how to do it. Many of their elementary teachers did these things for them in order to keep order in their classrooms. Now that students are traveling between classes this could be different for every class or there may not be a system for students to use at all.

Start by showing them how you organize. Not all the details but think of a place where you have a system and show them how that works for you. Everyone is different, so brainstorm with them ways that could work for them. For me color coding separate folders works. Some kids like to have one place for everything and prefer the zippered binders with an accordion folder system.  However, they choose to do it is fine, as long as there is a system. During the Open House at your school talk about how to organize their locker. There are so many accessories for this, but simple is also good. Load books left to right, pull from the left place back on the right and the books will rotate through the day. Stacked is not a good idea!

Parents: How to navigate the middle school years

Managing their time is also a major pitfall for many middle school students. They are naturally becoming more social and now have the opportunity of extracurriculars that they didn’t have with elementary school. Our building provides students with a planner to write down all their assignments and activities. Keeping up with this is something we as teachers try to oversee, but it really helps when parents do as well. It will also keep you informed of what they are doing in school. Again, show them how you do this. Even if you keep a calendar on your phone it helps when they see that this is a lifelong skill and there is value to learning how to manage our time. There is nothing worse than seeing a student’s organizer with the word ABSENT written across all the squares. They now have nowhere to write what they actually missed on that day. This is also an indicator that they don’t understand the use of a planner or choose to use it for its true purpose. Once they do use a planner for its true purpose they may need help executing the follow through. It may be written down, but are they completing the tasks and making time for the activities they listed? Helping them find a routine for school-related tasks can be helpful. Remember it’s all about showing them what it can look like and then let them take responsibility for these tasks. If it starts to fall apart, revisit why it’s not working, and then look at ways to make changes to help the system work again.

Be involved vs. over-involved

Technology has given teachers so many new, easy ways to communicate with parents that were never there in the past. Some teachers embrace this and some let the district or building make communication. Either way look for how you can stay up to date with what’s happening in your child’s classrooms. Please read the newsletters! This is a great time for everyone in the family to sit down with their planners and write down important events. Schools are also posting grades online in a way that allow parents and students access. Make sure you know how to access these sites. There are often options for adding additional contact information and for alerts when your child has missing assignments or low grades. THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO TAKE CONTROL. Here is a perfect example of how you can help your child gain more responsibility. This is not the time to do it for them. Ask them questions. If they don’t know the answer help them prepare a conversation to have with their teacher. Let them go to the teacher before you do. This is what they need! They need that opportunity to take care of a situation on their own, but if they haven’t done this before it’s good to practice at home first. Roleplay, you be the teacher and let them ask their questions. Even the most approachable teacher can still be intimidating simply because they are the teacher. Keep in mind our end goal as parents are to grow and encourage capable adults.

Add Value to Their Middle School Experience

School today looks a whole lot different from what we experienced, but this is not a bad thing. Often times I see parents struggle with this, it looks so different they throw their hands up and choose to disconnect with that part of what their child is doing. Middle school is often the time that parents stop attending open houses or conferences or really talking to their child about school at all; until there is an issue. Many teachers have embraced the way technology allows parents to peek inside their classroom on a daily or weekly basis. When you ask your child about something you read or saw from these opportunities it adds value to what we as teachers are doing in the classroom. Kids translate that as you care about what’s happening there and recognize the importance of school. When you ask “how was school today?” the common answer will be, “good.” When you start the conversation with, “tell me more about that immigration project you worked on today,” a one-word answer is a lot harder to give.

Middle school is full of new things, but those things don’t have to be negative. Let’s give kids a joyful memory of middle school. I know that’s my goal! Are you a parent of a middle schooler? Share in the comments what has worked for you and your child. Are you a middle school teacher? Tell us how you help parents and students navigate this changing season of childhood.

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