Get Organized for Homework Success in Three Simple Steps

Piled art/school supplies on table
Homework is a source of stress for many households.  While the National PTA recommends no more than10 to 20 minutes per day per grade of homework, it isn’t unusual for students to spend whole evenings and weekends on it.  To make this big investment of time less stressful and more productive, we’ve put together a few tips.
Step 1
Create a distraction-free homework area. A clean, serene place to work helps students focus and follow through on assignments.
  • Designate a desk or table for homework, one with adequate light in a quiet area.
  • Eliminate clutter, which is distracting and increases the likelihood that important papers will get lost in the shuffle.
  • Keep basic supplies like text books, pens, pencils, and paper nearby to prevent students from becoming distracted while hunting down the things they need.
Try this Feng Shui strategy—position the desk facing the main entrance with a solid wall behind.  This set up helps to calm the central nervous system and can dramatically improve focus!  The day I set up my home office this way, my son came home and asked if he could sit at my desk to start a history assignment that wasn’t due for three weeks.  He was so focused on his work that he finished that evening and turned it in the next day.  He earned an A on the assignment and received the “Most Improved in History” award that year!
Step 2
Establish a routine. A fifth-grade teacher we know recommends setting the expectation that students spend one hour a night on homework whether or not they have any assignments.  That means there is no benefit to the students to rush through or “forget” the assignments.  If they really have no homework, they can use the time to read or play a teacher-recommended learning game on line.  You can set the time frame based on your child’s grade level and average work load.  If you aren’t sure, ask the teachers.
This routine can be enhanced when the adults in the household participate.  If at all possible, try to engage in a quiet activity, like reading, paperwork, or email, near your student while he or she is doing homework.  This can be a real game changer!  In organizing, we call this technique body doubling and use it to help clients stay grounded and focused on tasks they might otherwise avoid.  After all, no one likes to feel like they are all alone doing a dull task while everyone else is having fun.
Step 3
Make sure that assignments get to and from school when they should.  A few simple tools can help:
  • Designate a brightly colored folder with two pockets for homework.  All assignments are put in the left pocket when received and in the right pocket when finished.  This way students know where everything is and parents know where to look if they want to double check.
  • Designate one notebook or day planner in which all assignments and due dates get written.
  • If students have alternating schedules, try using different backpacks for even and odd days.  Fill each with the supplies, notebooks, and textbooks needed for the corresponding day.  The homework folder and assignment notebook can move from one pack to the next.
With a calm place to work, a routine to follow, and the right tools in place, homework time can be less stressful and more productive.  If problems persist, talk to your student to see if you can find out where things are going off track.  The solution may be as simple as a slight change in routine or may require help from teachers, tutors, or other support professionals.