Parenting is a humbling experience. You follow your instincts, do your best and hope you’re doing an OK job. And just when you think you’re on the right track…the phone call comes. My phone call came from my son Noah’s sixth grade teacher informing me that my child hadn’t handed in a single piece of homework all year. I was in shock. Noah spent hours in his room each night! And this was in the days before kids had computers in their rooms, which meant he wasn’t instant messaging, playing computer games or surfing the internet. He didn’t have a television or even a phone in his room—what could he be doing for hours on end? I felt like a terrible mother—why hadn’t I asked to see his homework? Why didn’t I know how he spenthis time? And why wasn’t he handing anything in?!
It turned out that Noah was, in fact, doing his homework. When I investi-gated I found nearly a semester’s worth of completed, ungraded assignments buried in the dark recesses of his backpack. This made absolutely no sense to me—why would someone go through the trouble of doing his homework and then not hand it in? Thus began my journey into the world of the disorganized student.
…Life is painful for students who don’t meet the expectations of their parents, teachers, schools and peers. Some kids suffer from learning issues and others from disorganization. Whatever the obstacle, its effects are devastating to a child’s self-esteem. I survived in school for two reasons. First, I had a mother who was non-judgmental and accepting, who stood up for me and was available whenever I needed her. When she recognized that she wasn’t equipped to handle my challenges alone she sought help from professionals. In the days when there was no such thing as a learning specialist she found tutors to help me learn to read. Her tenacity became my model when it was time for me to help my own kids. Second, I was extremely organized. I developed excellent organizational skills as a way to maintain some control over the things I was learning and didn’t understand. Being organized not only helped me get through school and adjust to living with dyslexia before it was a known diagnosis, but it enabled me to become a school librarian and put me in the position to help other students succeed in school.
When I received the phone call from Noah’s teacher I realized how different a student Noah was than I. I had always assumed everyone knew how to be organized and now I was seeing for the first time that it wasn’t true. Noah’s backpack weighed more than he did and looked like it was better equipped for a cross-country trek than a cross-town bus ride to school. His homework got done and often managed to make it into his backpack, but that was where the train derailed: his assignments never saw the light of day again. At the age of eleven, Noah was missing deadlines, always searching for school-supplies, running late between classes and, as a result, starting to fail some of his subjects. I began making connections between Noah’s organizing habits and his academic performance, and we worked out a system together that enabled him to not only keep track of his homework but to make sure he handed it in.
As a middle school librarian I saw that Noah wasn’t the only one hitting these bumps in the road. Each May I would chase down library books that were taken out in October. The kids who had taken them out always had the best intentions and plenty of excuses—“I’ll bring it in tomorrow,” “It’s somewhere in my room,” “I swear it was in my locker last week!” I began to realize that these same students ran into trouble in sixth grade when school became departmentalized. Their names came up in faculty meetings year after year as the symptoms they had exhibited early on with their overdue library books now manifested themselves in overdue assignments, missed homework and deteriorating grades. The root of the problem had nothing to do with the students’ intelligence or motivation to do well in school; it had to do with their lack of basic organizational skills.
…Learning to be organized is a process. It requires dedication, a little optimism and a lot of support. It’s a skill that needs to be taught, practiced, and honed, and there isn’t a child (or adult) who can’t benefit from the lessons in this book. Use the assessment questions provided in each chapter to pinpoint the place in your child’s academic life where the system breaks down and discover insightful ways to rebuild each element, from the backpack to the bedroom. There are countless ways to make things fun and efficient, and as many unique solutions as there are students who need them.
In this book I offer the tricks and tools I’ve gathered over the years, many of which came from the wonderful students with whom I’ve worked. You’ve taken the first step towards helping your child create an organized life. With time, patience, an open mind and the desire to help you can teach your child an invaluable lifelong skill. I wish you the best of luck as you embark upon this journey.