If you are the parent of school-aged children, then the following conversations (often shouted from another room) will sound familiar to you:
“Please put your backpack away honey!”
“In a minute mom…”
“Time to start your homework!”
“Aww….five more minutes dad!”
Many kids struggle with the transition from school to home. The temptation to throw school bags down, kick shoes off and make a beeline for the couch is incredibly high – even for us adults after a long work day.
Crafting a smooth transition as your kids arrive home after school is hard. And while there is no perfect answer, it is worth spending time to make it work better. And then tweaking it and tweaking it again until you get a series of steps that work for your family.
This organizing process is key for two reasons:
- First, it helps kids to mentally prepare for homework time if there is a consistent habit being performed every time they walk in the door. According to Benjamin Gardner et. al in his article Making health habitual: the psychology of ‘habit-formation’ and general practice “Habits are cognitively efficient, because the automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks.” In other words, creating habits frees up brain space for other things.
- Secondly, it greatly minimizes stress in the morning as kids are getting ready to leave for school. And while kids may struggle to get on board in the beginning, when they see and feel the difference of experiencing less morning stress, they will begin to enjoy these new habits. Most importantly, they will begin to connect current choices with future outcomes.
The skill of organization has lifelong benefits.
Teaching the skill of organization to your child is incredibly important for their lifelong success in the real world. Many kids, especially ones with executive function challenges, never really learn how to be organized on their own as independent young adults. They will thank you later – when they realize how much easier life flows with good organization skills!
I know it is extremely tempting to do things for them (eg: organizing and sorting the backpack, tidying shoes away, etc), but teaching them to do these things on their own is so important – perhaps *gasp* even more important than doing their homework itself.
Here are our 6 favorite ideas for organizing this transition:
- Create an organized “Landing Zone.” When I first begin to work with a new client, they often have several landing areas, or places where things pile up. This can be by the front or back door, but also near the couch or dining table – often wherever homework gets done. One of the first things we do is to create a landing zone located as close as possible to where you come in the door. That area will then be the hub for everything that comes in and out – ideally, things should NOT migrate into the house beyond the landing zone.
- Designate a home for every single object in the landing zone.
Consider every object that
comes or goes and create a home for it. That means coats, shoes, hats and other outdoor gear. No one needs more than one or two pairs of shoes in this area – others can go into the closet or in individual rooms.
Backpacks also need a home. We recommend creating an individualized hook for each child to hang their coat and backpack. A fun project is to have younger kids create their own name tag to go over their hook.
- Create an organized homework station. Organization of school items is most successful when a family creates a localized area where all homework and school-related paper and projects reside. This can be as dialed in and intense as you want it to be. Have your child help create the station and have some fun with it. You will get more buy in from your student if you involve them in the process.
For those wanting help to create their own homework station, please stay tuned! Our next blog will be detailed description of what you need to get started.
- Use a timer to quantify break time before homework time. Most kids need a break when they get home from school to unwind. Clarifying how much time they have to do this and keeping that allotted time the same each day will help to set expectations and prepare your child for the future. Any timer will do, but we like the Time Timer, which allows your student to see time passing. Placing an analog clock near the child and teaching them to use it is also a good way to help the child see time passing. The timer should be set for a precise amount of time and this should be done every day without exception (unless there is no homework).
Consider giving them a second option of starting their homework right away, and doing away with the timed break. Once they finish, they have until dinnertime to relax.
- Hold a family meeting to communicate the new organizational habits. This communication is key to maintaining the work on your landing zone and new habits for coming in after school. Every member of the family should be aware of where things belong in the area. Knowing where things go and what will happen next is actually a huge relief for kids, as they are used to these expectations at school. This helps to remind them that they may still have school work to do, and will also make their lives much easier the next morning.
- Be a model for what this transition should look like. Place a peg near your kid’s backpacks for your own purse or bag. A hook for your keys and a designated area for your phone and incoming mail will help set an example for them. Walk the walk!
Sitting down and do your own work nearby while they are doing their homework, will create a work environment for all. It may not seem like it, but your kids will notice you doing these things. A big part of setting the norm for these expectations is to follow them yourself. Showing kids that their parents are also trying to be more organized will help model for them what that looks like in practice.