Time is relative for kids learning organizational skill

March 03, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Your child's practice has ended. You tell him he can play with his friends for five minutes. Then you start talking with a friend who's picking up her daughter. Twenty minutes later, you're walking to the car.

The next day, you tell your child you have to leave in five minutes. When he's not ready, you wonder why he has no concept of time.

It's a scenario Donna Goldberg sees far too often: Well-meaning parents with bright children who lack time management and organizational skills.

"We don't teach that behavior. We just assume that they're going to be organized," says Goldberg, director of The Organized Student,


And, sometimes, we're not the best models.

We shouldn't make excuses. Yes, we are multitasking, but try to remember fourth grade.

Students have been taught how to tell time and are required to keep track of it. Curriculum moves from "learning to read" to "reading to learn." The emphasis on writing shifts from the mechanics (how to make a capital "H") to the meaning (writing to communicate).

Then there's middle school and the move from classroom to classroom. Pack up, get to the next class and unpack quickly.

Add to the equation after-school activities and it's no wonder some homework assignments never make it out of the black hole, er, backpack.

"Today's kid is truly overwhelmed. Today everybody has computer printouts, Xerox packets - not just a textbook," says Goldberg, a former school librarian. "If you don't have good paper management skills, you're not going to be successful.

"That's why I have children carry as little as possible."

Goldberg, who teaches organizational skills to students, recommends working on paper flow issues.

How do papers go back and forth to school? What do you do with papers that are not needed on a daily basis? Create a filing system at home. If your child does not need a paper, it should not be in his backpack.

Buy your child an analog watch (one with a big hand and a little hand) rather than a digital watch. This not only will be good practice but will give the child the sense of passing time.

"What you can't practice you can't use," says Goldberg, the mother of two sons.

Where does the child write homework assignments?

Many schools require children to carry a planner. Look for a planner with days of the week on top and the subjects listed vertically, the way each day of a calendar is set up. If the days of the week are listed vertically and the subjects listed horizontally, that may be confusing to some children.

"If schools and parents understand this, it really makes sense," Goldberg says. "It's not in comparison to what a child has seen all his life. Why not pick a planner that looks like a calendar?"

Then the child can see how an assignment from one subject affects one from another subject.

For younger children, Goldberg recommends a refrigerator magnet calendar, a precursor to a schedule.

She also suggests having an organizational plan for homework time.

A child shouldn't be jumping up to get markers, rulers, eraser. Create an art box where these things can be stored. When homework is completed, all the supplies can be put back in the box.

You'll find that children will work for longer periods of time if their supplies are handy, Goldberg says.

This also works for teens who want to sprawl out on the floor to do their work.

Sometimes it's the simple things that will help you complete tasks and get where you're going on time.

The night before, clothes should be selected, and the backpack packed and placed by the door.

"Being organized is about being able to break something down in small components," Goldberg says. "These are skills for not only doing well in school but well in life."

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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