Teaching Organization to Kids

As my kids move up in grades (5th and 4th, currently) it seems that more and more the things that they struggle with most are related to organization or time management, not the actual content they are learning. I find this particularly frustrating for several reasons:

  • The consequences seem inconsistent. Often it seems that there are no real consequences but then on occasion the consequences seem fairly severe. Just yesterday one of my daughters came home with an assignment that was turned in 8 days late at a penalty of 10 points per day, so 80 points off out of 100. But even with this item, I really have no idea how heavily this one assignment impacts her overall grade, so I’m not sure how severe this is. Oh, and just to be clear, she completed the assignment on time but then could not find it to turn in. After the graded assignment came home (the first time I knew anything about it at all), I discussed with her how she needs to follow through better in this situation, up to and including redoing the assignment.
  • It never seems very clear to me that any action is taken at school other than penalizing the grade and perhaps notifying the parents. Of course, I’m not there so perhaps there is action happening that I just don’t see. If so, it certainly doesn’t seem to be very effective for my kids.
  • Regarding notifying the parents, this touches on a larger problem I have. I feel that communications to the parents — at least impromptu negative communications — should fall into two categories: disciplinary or constructive. Disciplinary covers situations where unacceptable behavior is observed at school and there likely needs to be some sort of punishment from the parent. Generally, I would expect these to be social issues rather than educational ones. Constructive is where we seem to be having a failure. When I get a note home from the teacher that simply states that an assignment was turned in 8 days late, I have no idea what action to take. I don’t know if the teacher already discussed the situation with my daughter or has any plan moving forward. It is entirely possible that the teacher sees this as an isolated incident and is just giving me a heads-up so I won’t be shocked by the impact to her overall grade. This is the situation where I need a constructive communication. I need a clear statement of the problem, what actions have been taken already, what the plan is for moving forward, and what action I need to take. If the plan and my action are to work with the teacher (and student) to come up with a specific plan, that is fine.
  • Perhaps my biggest problem with the whole topic is it seems like the parents are expected to play a large part in getting their kids to be organized. But this presupposes that I have any idea how to do that and ignores completely the fact that I’ve never been organized myself and it is only through technology that I’ve achieved an acceptable level of organization. I’d be perfectly happy to pass on everything I’ve learned, but the school does not allow the kids to have electronic devices, so that obviously won’t help.

I’m expecting too much, aren’t I?

Also, it’s possible that I’m making too much of this entirely, as it isn’t like my kids have poor grades. Certainly my lack of organization didn’t cost me very much in school (or out of school, for that matter).


  1. #1 by Ken on November 13, 2008 - 3:03 pm

    Not that we’re in quite the same situation yet, but we’ve exchanged emails with our child’s teacher when needed. It may be worth just finding out if there’s some regular schedule to the homework and then you would be able to help with reminders.

    My guess is the notes are an attempt to make sure you’re involved: talking with your child about the issue, checking in with her on upcoming assignments and progress, helping her find ways to avoid a repeat of the issue. It could also just be a way to communicate why an assignment that otherwise may have been perfectly good received such a low grade and attempt to address potential parental complaints/conflicts (or at least bring them to light more timely).


  2. #2 by Ren on November 13, 2008 - 4:24 pm

    I don’t think knowing the homework schedule applies to this problem, though we sometimes have *that* problem as well. The bigger “getting homework done” problem is when necessary books or other material are left at school.

    I agree that the notes may just be informational, but I find that not particularly useful. Plus, if that is the case then I don’t think it is conveyed very well at all.

    Note that my complaint about communications from teachers long predates the organizational problems of my kids.


  3. #3 by Philip J Beyer on November 17, 2008 - 5:10 pm

    i suspect i’ll be in a similarly frustrating position in a few years for much the same reason as your final point. my organizational skills depend greatly on the tools i use every day, and it is only recently that i’ve started to develop a process that even works for me. i wonder why organization of the things you’re talking about isn’t also taught in school.

    hopefully my personal process will continue to improve. i’m going to work on it even more now that i’m starting to read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen.


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