Q: My son is now in the 4th grade, but last year he had a really rough time remembering homework assignments. Since the school year is just starting, I was wondering if you could provide me with some ideas to make sure he does not fall into the same trap again.
A: Aside from completing homework, turning in assignments, and passing tests, organization is an important factor in academic success. A child can know the material and have the ability to obtain good grades, but work needs to be turned in to prove that. Most children want to do well in school and do not want to get in trouble, so giving them tools can go a long way.
A planner or assignment book is a great way for any child to get organized and can help parents track what is going on as well. When introducing a planner to your child, take time to talk to them about how to incorporate it in their daily routine that seems doable and realistic to them. Children have enough going on at school that a tool to help manage things should not add more stress. Perhaps it makes sense for them to sit down first thing in the morning and make note of any assignments indicated on the board into the planner or at the end of the day as they are packing up to go home. Consistency is key to making something automatic, so emphasize that over battling about what time you think is best for them. By having a planner, the burden of remembering multiple things is reduced. Instead, when they go home they only have to remember one thing – look in the planner! In addition, taking a collaborative approach to problem solve this reoccurring issue with your child shows them you are on their team and want them to succeed.
As this new method is in the experimental phase, it can be helpful for you to check-in with them about each subject to potentially help jog their memory in case they forgot to write something down. Many schools put assignments online, so you can also cross reference what your child has written down to what is posted. Otherwise, there is the option of asking the school for help. For instance, your child’s teacher can check the planner at the end of every school day to ensure all information is accurately noted.
For children that remember to write down assignments and complete them, but forget to turn them in, a little something extra is needed. The goal here is still to make whatever approach that is agreed upon automatic. For example, deciding on a specific folder that is only for completed assignments that need to be turned in. Your child then only has to remember to look in that folder versus searching the entire backpack for a worksheet. Similar to keeping up with the planner, you can check-in after homework time every day to make sure the completed work is in the correct folder. If that still does not help and your child still forgets to turn in the work, consider asking the teacher for help. By having a designated folder, you can let the teacher know where to look.
At the end of the day, the responsibility to complete and submit homework is not yours. Your role is to equip your child with skills, provide support, and be their cheerleader! If doing these things is ineffective and your child still struggles with organization and remembering, it could be helpful to meet with a child psychologist for assistance in finding strategies that work for your child, or to decide if psycho-educational testing to determine the presence of focus issues is warranted.