Managing mountains of paper is a big challenge for parents and students during the school year. Parents start the year with emergency contact forms, school supply lists, school fee envelopes, and PTA forms that pile on top of each other and get overlooked or misplaced. Then add the student assignment books and test papers that need a parent signature and it can be tough to keep the chain of paper moving along in a timely fashion. The process can break down at the parent’s end before the paper even gets to the student. The student has to get all that paper as well as their own homework into a backpack, then out again once it reaches school. It is a miracle that anything gets turned in, let alone on time! The process can be further complicated if the student has an organization or memory weakness.
Successfully moving paperwork from school to home and then back again requires alternate strategies. An effective solution has to be simple and comfortable for the adults and children in the home to use it. Employing some aspect of the daily routine makes it more likely that family members will adopt the process, rather than dismissing it as another remedy soon to be discarded. Here is an example of a process that might end late or lost papers. Get a shallow 9x12inch box and label it with your student’s name; have one box per student. Line up the boxes in the homework area of your home. Each day before homework time, have your children empty their backpacks and put papers in their boxes. As your child is doing their homework, you go through the box and sign papers, fill out forms and read school announcements. When homework is finished, observe your child placing all the paperwork into their backpack. Help your child come up with a strategy so they will remember that something in the backpack needs to be turned in at school. A good visual cue such as a piece of yarn or string tied to the zipper-pull of the backpack will increase the likelihood that papers will be turned in.
Next, have a “Blast off” site for the items that each family member will take with them in the morning. A large piece of colored construction paper marking a spot near the door, a chair in the kitchen, or a place on the dining room table could serve as a child’s “Blast Off” site. After homework is completed and loaded into the backpack, have the child place their backpack in their assigned area along with other items, such as gym clothes or library books, which need to go out the door with them in the morning. Adults can model good organization and planning behaviors by doing the same with their briefcase, book bag, and keys. Preparing lunch and laying out clothes the night before will also reduce stress and aggravation in the morning. As a result of being more organized, family members can conserve their mental energy for the school or workday and begin in a less frazzled frame of mind. What a great way to start the school year!
Mary Ann Mulcahey, PhD, is a Program Coordinator at Springer School and Center (www.springer-ld.org) and a Clinical Psychologist.