Dear Dr. Fournier,
My children both seem to suffer from the same puzzling behavior. Both are relatively neat and organized in their daily lives and habits. They maintain clean rooms, and are prepared to leave when we need to pile into the car for one reason or another.
I don’t understand how they can do those things and yet are unable to organize their schoolwork the same way. What is the missing piece?
There are a number of programs out there that promise to organize lives that are headed by parent coaches, or life coaches, or what have you. The reason for this newer phenomenon is simple: organization and management are not innate!
Based on your email, you seem to be ahead of the game in many respects. You have assigned chores, scheduled activities and appointments to make sure that the family runs smoothly and on time. However, the children still depend on you and your spouse as their parents to help them learn how to grow up within these boundaries. Due to your effective organization and planning in your home, your children learned without necessarily being required to set their own rules.
At school, your children encounter a new animal. The environment is different, and the expectation is that your children already have the pre-skills necessary to deal with learning new content. Unfortunately, if a child who has relied on a parent-manager at home may not have the self-management skills to ensure the work is initiated and completed on time.
What to Do
It’s time to be clear with your children about the differences between home and school, and what the different expectations are. Praise them for all of the areas in the home where they make contributions.
Your goal is to pinpoint contributions that require them to think through a process and not simply follow your instructions. When they open their bookbags and laptops to get to work on their homework, they must understand that there are stages to the completion of the process, not simply “finished” or “not finished”.
Just as when they clean their rooms they must designate a starting point, so too must this method make the transition to managing homework. They must assess the work that they have to complete, and organize it by task. When I tell this to parents, on occasion I get some eye rolling, with thoughts of how this is even possible when the children will not even do the simple things. However, I am proposing that they simply arrange the tasks by order of importance based on the amount of brain power that will be required for the subject.
For content that requires the most thinking or learning, it is to be done first, when the children are still fresh and can absorb it better. This would include assignments like reading new chapters or writing essays. Second tier assignments involving creativity or collaboration are to be completed after all thinking and learning assignments. Finally there is the “doing” work: the worksheets, the busy work that schools require but is simply more practice on doing something that they already know how to do. This can be done last in the order because it does not require new learning.
This is just one step of a group of steps in getting children to concentrate on the process of doing homework, but it is a valuable one that will begin to create order out of chaos. Give it is try with them, and let me know how they respond.
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