- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 30, 2003

Susan McGlohn’s calendar is about to get very full.

As summer turns to fall, Mrs. McGlohn — a Sterling woman who home-schools her three children, ages 13, 12 and 5 — will have to find space for three grade levels in her dining room-turned-classroom. She also has to fit in the karate and piano lessons, art classes and sports.

Mrs. McGlohn’s eldest child, Sarah, also will play volleyball on a private school team and wants to volunteer at a local hospital. But this year, as Sarah starts doing high school work, she will take on high school responsibilities. She will keep track of some of her commitments in her head. The others will be written down in a “Lord of the Rings” day planner.

“I can have a schedule and look and see what I have to do,” the teen says. “If I have a game, I can get my schoolwork done when I need to. I can cram it all in or get it out of the way first.”

Having a plan to tackle September and the changes that come with it is an excellent idea, says Julie Morgenstern, a professional organizer in New York City and co-author (with her teenage daughter, Jessi Morgenstern-Colon) of “Organizing From the Inside Out for Teenagers.”

It is hard to imagine the go-go mentality of the school year when families are lazing by the pool in August, but approaching September without a plan can mean chaos for parents as well as children, the organizer says.

“Sarah is starting to learn you have to make choices,” Mrs. McGlohn says. “There are only 24 hours in a day. But she is getting it that there are things you have to do and things you want to do. It’s gotten to where I don’t have to tell her to practice the piano. She just does it for a half-hour every day.”

Parents should map out what everyone is doing, what their schedules will be and what transportation issues need to be addressed, Ms. Morgenstern says. Children can and should take some responsibility for what they want to do, when they want to do it, and knowing how much time and effort is involved, she recommends.

“Teens are busier than they were a generation ago,” Ms. Morgenstern says. “It is not just information overload, it is opportunity overload. Some children feel obligated to do it all, or they are trying to build activities for college applications. If you plan it all out, you can ride the waves. If you don’t, you can get slammed.”

Ms. Morgenstern’s best advice for teens is to analyze, strategize, then attack. She recommends making a grid representing the week, marking the most important items (school, tests, time at practice, games or after-school jobs). Then work in transportation time and special events. See what is left and plan out the holes, she says.

“If you map it out and see you can do your math homework during a free period on Tuesday, then you can really plug in and schedule how you can spend your time,” she says. “Be sure to schedule in social time and downtime. You don’t want to overpack your schedule.”

Starting early

Ideally, time-management lessons will begin way before high school, Ms. Morgenstern says. Even first-graders can be responsible for getting dressed and getting backpacks loaded, she says.

“A lot of parents do those things for their kids,” Ms. Morgenstern says. “They think if they ask them to do something, it is going to create a battle. It actually doesn’t help them.”

Sharon Brown Hough’s children are 10, 7 and 5. Hunter, Heather and Parker, respectively, all have responsibilities that help keep the household, homework, after-school activities and social lives running smoothly.

The children have learned about time management from their mother. Ms. Brown Hough, a single mother, also runs a nonprofit organization from her home in Leesburg, Va. She juggles her children’s karate classes and horseback riding lessons, homework and caring for the family’s many pets while she is operating Birthday Blessing Inc., which distributes birthday presents to needy children.

“When I get a list of dates from the school, it goes straight into the calendar, even if the date is in June,” Ms. Brown Hough says. “What I have learned is to let them choose a sport, then add on one other thing, such as piano or Scouts. In September, the tempo just changes. Summer is a free-for-all, but in the fall, there is more structure.”

All the Hough children have built-in responsibilities, such as taking out the trash and feeding the animals. Even Parker, who is starting kindergarten, has “jobs” such as putting the flag in the holder by the front door.

“I’m responsible for my apple tree, too,” he says proudly, referring to a few seeds he planted out back.

Ms. Brown Hough increasingly has given Parker’s 10-year-old brother, Hunter, more control over his time and activities. She recently decided Hunter was organized enough to get contact lenses, which require a careful schedule of cleaning, wearing and storage.

“Hunter is responsible for managing his time,” she says. “There are a few rules. After school, there is homework and chores. Then he can play. He is also responsible for his own social calendar and lining up play dates.”

Hunter sums it up: “Homework, then friends. At the end of the day, we can watch TV.”

Tips for time

Stacy DeBroff is ready for the back-to-school crush. That is because she is following her own advice. Ms. DeBroff, whose children are 9 and 10, is the co-author of “Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer.”

“I think that September, even if kids are not changing schools or going through significant change such as starting middle school, is an inherently turbulent time for parents,” says Ms. DeBroff, who lives in Newton, Mass. “For the most part, even if kids are in camp in the summer, it is much less structured than school. Then, all of a sudden, there is this transition to a new routine.”

Ms. DeBroff recommends setting rules and schedules before the start of the new school year.

“The way you architect that can set the stage for the whole year,” she says. “For instance, if you say, ‘No TV on school nights,’ then there might not be arguments about it every night.”

Ms. DeBroff says she gears up for the school year by finding the biggest calendar she can and placing it on the refrigerator.

“I got rid of all the photos on the refrigerator door,” she says. “Each child has a different color pen, and they are responsible for writing on it.”

Ms. DeBroff is giving her children more decision-making power as they get older. For instance, she lets them vote in September for when homework will be done.

“They always vote for homework to be started at 5:30,” she says. “I hold them to it.”

The children also can decide what is in their school lunch. Ms. DeBroff makes a sandwich, but her children can grab extras such as fruit and granola bars from a shelf in the pantry and add them to their lunch boxes.

Ms. DeBroff also has created a binder for each child and filled it with ready references such as the class list, lists from previous years and the soccer team roster. She highlights the names that are most important for each child.

“That way, at any time they can look up their friends to call,” Ms. DeBroff says.

Ms. DeBroff is a big believer in a central location for everything. For instance, the homework center in her house is in the kitchen. That way she can be involved — or at least nearby — for her children.

The central homework location is also on Ms. Morgenstern’s list of organizational tips. She also recommends that parents catch up on their own work at the same time to set the tone.

“Make it everyone’s study time,” Ms. Morgenstern says.

In Ms. DeBroff’s house, there is a central place for things that need to go to school (backpacks, permission slips and so forth) and a basket for each child on the steps for a sort of a household lost and found.

“When I find things that belong to them, I put it in the basket,” she says. “Little things like that make a difference. It sets a rhythm of expectations and reduces the stress level.”

Surviving September

Ready, set, go — the new school year is here. These are some tips to make the transition into fall a little smoother:

• Decide how many after-school activities your child will take. Some families place a limit on the number of activities. Discuss choices with your child.

• Think about what schedule for your child will best fit his needs as well as the needs of the rest of the family. Leave time for play and downtime.

• Make sure you have received written confirmation of your child’s enrollment in each program, along with a calendar of key events and days off.

• Inquire about the equipment and uniform requirements for each activity.

• Find out how much parents will have to commit to each activity. Will there be extra rehearsals? Are parents expected to work as coaches or scorekeepers?

• Think about transportation logistics. If you have children in different schools, how will their bus schedules match or conflict?

• Figure out whether or not your child will walk to school. Go over the route with him. Arrange for neighborhood children to walk together.

• Decide whether you will be driving alone or carpooling. Make a telephone list and schedule for everyone in the car pool. Develop a contingency plan in case of illness or vacation. Find out if the school needs a special release notice for members of the car pool. Communicate specific requests, such as using booster seats or not letting children sit in the front seat.

• Remind your child that school is his job, and therefore it is very important. Being considerate of classmates, cooperating with teachers, following school rules and completing assignments are all part of a job well done.

• Plan ahead to reset children’s bedtime and wake-up times. Begin transitioning to an earlier bedtime. Get your elementary school children an alarm clock to help with morning wake-up and take the burden off you.

• Get a large family calendar with big blocks and assign each family member a colored pen to use so you can tell at a glance who has to be where.

• Start a list of important names and numbers. Among the entries: school main office, nurse’s office, teacher’s phone number, car-pool numbers and coaches’ numbers.

• Work backward to figure out exactly when your child needs to be awake and out the door in the morning. Calculate how long eating breakfast, dressing, brushing teeth and fixing hair take. Factor in how much transition time your child needs between waking up and starting into that routine.

• Think about what you can do the night before to make mornings go more smoothly. Can you pack backpacks and lunches the night before? Lay out clothes to avoid morning fashion battles.

• Make a designated space by the door for things that have to go to school the next day. That includes backpacks, lunches, permission slips and musical instruments.

• Pick a planner and live by it. Decide if you are a paper or Palm Pilot person and use your planner every day. Middle school and high school students can use their own planners in conjunction with yours.

Source: author Stacy DeBroff; professional organizer Julie Morgenstern.

More info:

Books —

• “Mom Central: The Ultimate Family Organizer,” by Stacy DeBroff and Marsha Feinberg, Kodansha Publishing, 1998. This spiral-bound planner has tips for keeping moms and children organized, as well as places for notes and schedules.

• “The Family Manager’s Everyday Survival Guide,” by Kathy Peel, Ballantine, 1998. Organizing expert Kathy Peel has tips for running a household in the same manner one would run a business.

• “Confessions of a Happily Organized Family,” by Deniece Schofield, Betterway Publishing, 1997. This book has ideas for keeping parents’ and students’ lives running smoothly.

• “Organizing From the Inside Out for Teenagers: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Room, Your Time, and Your Life,” By Julie Morgenstern and Jessi Morgenstern-Colon, Owl Books, 2002. Professional organizer Julie Morgenstern teamed with her teenage daughter to write this book for teenagers. Their basic advice is to analyze, strategize and attack to manage time and space.

• “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” by Sean Covey, Simon & Schuster, 1998. This book, by the son of Stephen Covey, who wrote most of the “7 Habits” inspirational books, offers real-life stories of teens who have overcome obstacles and succeeded. There also are a workbook and a journal teens can buy to help get organized.

• “Lee Canter’s Managing the Morning Rush: Shaping Your Family’s Morning Routine,” by Lee Canter and associates, 1995. This planner will help families get out the door in the morning.

Associations —

• National PTA, 330 N. Wabash Ave., Suite 2100, Chicago, IL 60611. Phone: 800/307-4782. Web site: www.pta.org. This national parent-teacher group has many articles and tips on making the transition to a new school, connecting with teachers and managing homework.

Online —

• Organized-living.com (www.organized-living.com), the site of California-based HandyGirl professional organizing, offers tips, articles and products for getting organized.

• Mom Central (www.momcentral.com) is the site of Stacy DeBroff, author of several books on organized moms and children. The site offers many tips, articles and solutions.

• Professional organizer Julie Morgenstern (www.juliemorgenstern.com) has tips, books and an idea exchange on her site.

• Professional organizer Kathy Peel has written 17 books that visitors can order from her Web site (www.familymanager.com). There is also a “daily hit list” organizer to download.

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