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'Ask the Learning Advisor -- Ideas for Raising Successful Children'

Helping the scattered student at home

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[JAN. 7, 2005]  Q:  My son has a hard time finishing his homework assignments on time. He's smart and motivated to learn. But his inability to "get his act together" keeps him from getting good grades. How can I help him?

A: Do you recognize this picture? It's 10 p.m. and he doesn't know where his math book is. Or he just discovered that his book, which he needs in order to finish his homework, is still at school. Take comfort in the fact that he's not alone. And there is help!

The best thing you can do is help him get organized for homework and schoolwork. Give him these suggestions to get started:

  • Use self-stick notes. Those yellow self-stick notes are a great way to make sure he goes home with the books he needs. Have him keep a pad handy. After each class, ask him to attach a self-stick note to a book if he needs it to complete an assignment. At the end of the day, it takes only a quick glance to see which books have to go home and which can stay at school.

  • Make a place for school stuff at home. Teachers can't grade homework that's not turned in. So create a place at home where he keeps all his school stuff -- a plastic crate or a decorated cardboard box large enough to hold his backpack. Put it in a place where he's sure to see it as soon as he gets home from school -- inside the front door or in his room are good choices.

  • Write down assignments. Has he ever started studying and not remembered whether he was supposed to do all the math problems or only the odd-numbered ones? He called his friend, talked for an hour but still didn't know what the math assignment was. The first secret to getting organized is to write down the assignments as the teachers give them. It helps to have all assignments written down in one place -- a school planner or an assignment book.

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  • Find a "study spot." Especially if he's having trouble getting organized, he probably needs to find one place to study regularly. When he sits at this place, he'll know it's time to get serious about schoolwork. Some kids have to sit at a desk. Others can't concentrate unless they're lying on the floor. Have him find his own best spot. But it should be:

    • Well-lit -- look for a good lamp.
    • Quiet -- turn off the TV and don't answer the phone.
    • Neat -- so he can find what he needs.
    • Well-supplied -- paper, pens, pencils and a few references.

It will take some work, but you can help him feel in control and ready to tackle his assignments. In addition, you will be helping him develop positive work habits that he will use for the rest of his life.

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For more information about helping children learn or to submit your own question to The Learning Advisor, go to All questions will receive a prompt answer by e-mail.

Copyright 2004, The Parent Institute.

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