Timely Tips

For success at school, help your middle schooler learn to manage her time effectively.

Know that your child is a tween, with increased academic demands bumping up against raging hormones, is disorganization inevitable? Will you be plagued with late-night study sessions, overdue assignments, and missed events? Not necessarily. With guidance, your middle schooler can learn to manage her time and set priorities. Your first step: Get her buy-in. She won't respond well if she feels she's being babied, so have her weigh in. What are her big challenges? How might she resolve them? Offer up these strategies as good options.

A Time and a Place for All Things

On average, your middle schooler will need to set aside an hour or two each night for homework. Doing it at the same time and in the same spot each day is important. Associative abilities are fairly well developed by this age, so having a time and place reserved for work will help your child focus. And a regular pattern can mean fewer complaints when it's time to start. Choose a time slot that suits his personality. If he needs to burn off steam in the afternoon, or is busy with extracurriculars, then he'll need to do homework after dinner. If he likes to chat online with friends after dinner, then homework time should come right after school.

At the beginning of the year (after back-to-school night is a good time), sit down together and discuss a homework plan. Ask him where he's most comfortable studying and when. Maybe he used to like to work at the kitchen table, but now needs the quiet of his own room — or vice versa. Your role: reality checker. Without dismissing his ideas, guide him toward a workable plan. Be open to further discussions once the school year is underway.

But remember that "rules are still important," says Patrick Akos, assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "You can involve him in the process but still set firm limits." Just as you might have with your preschooler, you may find that using a kitchen timer helps take you out of the enforcer role. If your tween is allowed 30 minutes of fun computer time before homework, let the timer alert him when time's up so you don't have to.

Most young teens will underestimate the amount of time needed to finish their work by about half. To help yours become a better guesser, have her note how long it takes to complete assignments in different subjects at the beginning of the year. Compare the actual amount of time to what she had anticipated. Then adjust homework time accordingly.

You might even need to give your middle schooler a remedial course in telling time, says Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School. Most kids this age can comfortably read time in the present tense: "It is 7:45 p.m." But they can't always place that information in a progression: "It is a quarter to 8." Planning for tomorrow is tough when language is limited to today. The best way to help: lead by example. Discuss plans and schedules in sequential terms. Emphasize priorities by using key words such as "before" and "after." Let him hear you thinking about time: "It will take me about an hour to mow the lawn. I need to start now so I can finish before it gets dark."

Natural consequences can also work, says Joy Sutherland of Collierville, Tennessee, who has two daughters, ages 11 and 14. "More than once in middle school my older daughter was up until 1 a.m. working on a project," Sutherland recalls. "She needed things she didn't have and she had to make do, so her work was not as high-quality as she was used to. She didn't want to do that again, and she started thinking ahead more. It drove the lesson home better than mom or dad saying 'Get a jump on this and work a little at a time.'"

Calendar Control

Today's middle school student is under a great deal of scheduling pressure. He may have class blocks that change each day, days that change each week, and a significantly bigger homework load — and that's just the academics. He'll also encounter new clubs, sports, social events, and digital distractions. So help him learn to pace himself.

Visual reminders often work well. Wendy Beckman, a mother of three boys in Cincinnati, Ohio, says that having separate calendars for each person and the whole family makes it easier for everyone to know what's happening. Using color codes or magnetic pictures, include all of each day's major activities — school, sports practice, dinner, homework, even TV and leisure time. As your child becomes accustomed to the schedule, slowly let him take more responsibility for filling in his own events. Make sure this includes planning for long-term assignments, as well. Show him how to block out some time each day leading up to an exam or the due date for a big project or research paper.

Time management is tough to achieve, even for adults, so be tolerant with your tween. "Remember two key words: patience and persistence," says Steven Evans, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. "When you start trying to teach these skills, you won't get an immediate response. It takes two to three months of monitoring and enforcement before kids show mastery, but they can do it — with your support and guidance.

Comments (0)

Rich text editor