Mission: Organization

Transform your middle schooler from a backpack pack-rat to a planning pro.



Mission: Organization

As a middle schooler, your child will be expected to take greater responsibility for her schoolwork: daily assignments, tests and quizzes, and long-term projects. And this comes at a time when her focus may be more on friends and socializing than worrying about whether she's ready for a math test on Friday. How can you help her make sense of it all so she can focus on learning? Try this step-by-step guide:

  • Make time to discuss getting organized. Call a family meeting or initiate a discussion at the dinner table when the entire family is present (older sibs can share some been-there-done-that advice and empathy). Entice your preteen with his favorite snack or meal!
  • Assess the organizational system used at school. Typically at the beginning of the school year, teachers ask students to use certain organizational methods, such as keeping their work in a binder. However, that system may not work for your child. Find out what she doesn't like, and look for alternatives that are acceptable to the teacher.
  • Enlist your child's help. Don't insist that he get organized your way. The idea is to help him discover a way that works for him. Too much "guidance" from you can cause conflict. Offer him some options (better yet, brainstorm some ideas together), and let him analyze the pros and cons of each.
  • Come up with a plan. Consider some combination of these strategies:
    • A clean start. Take a look at your child's desk or workspace. Is it covered with all of last year's papers or artwork left over from kindergarten? If so, purge! Help her make decisions about what to keep.
    • An assignment notebook. He can't remember his homework without writing it down, so your first step is to make sure he does that. You can use a planner that helps children prioritize by showing a week's schedule across two pages.
    • The right paper-tamers. Aside from the planner or homework notebook, your child needs some way to corral the loose papers she carries back and forth to school each day.
    • Great gadgets. If a notebook is too low-tech for your young gadget guru, try a handheld electronic organizer. If he struggles with handwriting, find out if he can take a tape recorder to school.
    • Daily duties. For some kids, a 30- to 45-minute work session every day is essential — no matter what homework the teacher has assigned. If he insists he has nothing to do, give him the newspaper to read and write about.
    • The little-by-little approach. Be sure your child understands how to break a big project down into pieces so that it's not so overwhelming. Using a calendar, show her how to work backward from a due date and set interim goals. Ask her how she'd go about earning the high score on her favorite video game — what steps would she need to take to get there?
  • Don't criticize. Once you've got a system in place, keep touching base. If things get sloppy again (which should not surprise you!), don't pass judgment. Just help him get back on track without comment. It takes time to learn this, along with a healthy dose of patience and persistence from you.
  • Clean out the backpack regularly. Have her do it, say, every Sunday. Don't do it for her, but sit nearby. If you come across a test she did poorly on, don't comment. The session will revert from backpack cleaning to grades and very likely go downhill from there.
  • Keep a family calendar. Along with soccer practice and Mom's book club, keep track of big tests and the due dates of special projects. Seeing the bigger picture will allow you to help your child plan her time more effectively.
  • Call for reinforcements. If you've tried everything and your child still resists, seek outside help. Your child may respond better if your role changes from coach to cheerleader.
Attention and Focus
Independent Thinking
Getting Organized
Self Control
Age 13
Age 12
Age 11
Middle School
Time Management and Organization