5 essential tools and tips for disorganized boys
Is your son disorganized, distracted, and struggling in school? Learn the best tools and tips to help him from Ana Homayoun, author of the book "That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life."
Why boys are lagging in school
We recently spoke with Ana Homayoun, the author of the book That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life. She holds a master's degree in counseling psychology and is the founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting.
Boys are falling behind. Only two-thirds of boys in the U.S. earn a high school diploma – a 7 percent lower graduation rate than girls, according to a June 2010 Education Week report.
The gender gap extends to college, where for every 100 women enrolled, there are just 77 men.
"We've found that boys are struggling, not only academically, but also in their self-esteem," said Ana Homayoun, author of That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life. "They're two to three years behind girls in terms of puberty and that really affects their performance in school."
Many parents can relate to the helpless feeling of realizing their child has, once again, forgotten to do a homework assignment. Homayoun's book focuses on tangible tips and tools for helping preteen and teenage boys become more organized. By learning the basics of being organized, managing their time, and focusing on appealing and attainable goals, boys can get back on the path to completing high school and going on to college or other endeavors.
5 tools for getting boys organized
Getting organized can seem like a daunting task, but Homayoun says it really comes down to one simple tool: a binder.
"I talk with kids a lot about having things in one place," she said. "Having a binder for every subject and keeping things in one place really reduces the anxiety of not knowing where something is."
While there are a lot of fancy school supplies out there that seem more impressive to parents and kids, Homayoun recommends these simple supplies:
- A binder for every subject. "In their mind and physically, they can separate out what they're working on. It saves time."
- Five tab dividers for every subject. "Use them to separate notes, homework, handouts, tests/quizzes, and paper. It helps you avoid that overstuffed front pocket of a binder."
- A standard hole punch. "Have a big one at home and a smaller one for your child's backpack so they can punch holes and put things in their binder. Some kids will use it at school, some won't. Every kid is different."
- A written planner. "I work with teens, especially preteens, on using a written planner for their assignments. A lot of times, kids will forget about things if they use an online or handheld planner."
- A kitchen timer. "This is for kids to time themselves, working for 20 to 40 minutes, taking a break, then coming back to it. Every kid is different in terms of how long they can focus on their work before needing a break."
- In her book, Homayoun acknowledges the uphill battle in using these tools. "Let's face it – most kids would rather get their wisdom teeth extracted, sans anesthesia, than organize their binders and backpack with their parents (and probably vice versa). But the key to academic success lies with these tools and how they're used."
By using this binder system, she said, if a student needs to go to the library to work on a project, they only need to grab two things: their textbook and binder for that subject.
The ideal environment for doing homework
Texting. Facebook. Video games. A steady stream of entertainment (and distraction) is right at kids' fingertips almost 24/7.
"We as adults tend to forget how many distractions kids have these days," Homayoun said. "An ideal work environment is free of technological distractions. No cell phone. No computer."
But for some kids, sitting alone in a quiet room for an extended period of time will make them more likely to make paper-clip animals than to complete their homework, she said. "Not every kid needs utter silence. Know your kids' style. Some kids like to be in the kitchen because they know their mom is close by."
A large table or desk (one from Target or IKEA will do) with room to spread out books and papers is the ideal spot for doing homework, while the bedroom – especially on the bed or facing it – is the least ideal location because it should be a place of rest, she said.
Your child's style and circumstances
Adults sometimes inadvertently lump together struggling students, but it's important to recognize the different traits and tendencies of individual kids, Homayoun said.
"Nobody likes labels, but sometimes it's useful to give names to groups of traits if only to help identify problems," she writes in the third chapter of her book, "Identifying Your Son's (Dis)organizational Style." She breaks down eight categories that disorganized and distracted boys tend to fall into, ranging from the Overscheduled Procrastinator – who easily finds excuses to put off school work because he has so many after-school interests and obligations – to the Seemingly Satisfied Underachiever – who just doesn't see the point in applying himself academically.
Take a look at the eight categories, and see what traits your son possesses.
"This is the #1 chapter I get comments on," Homayoun said. "Parents say, 'I'm not the only one out there. It's really helpful to understand why my son struggles and how to help organize him. It's not one-size-fits-all.'"
Homayoun details in her book how to help tailor your child's time-management skills, and his homework, essay-writing, and study methods to fit his particular style and strengths. For example, she explores whether audiobooks are okay for kids who struggle with reading comprehension, and she offers advice on effectively using flashcards – by mastering five at a time rather than trying to absorb every fact in the stack at once.
Homayoun also highlights tips for finding academic balance when kids are struggling with certain tough circumstances in life, such as illness, learning differences (such as ADD and ADHD), psychological issues, and their parents' separation or divorce. It can be surprisingly easy to overlook how these circumstances affect kids' performance in school, she said.
What makes him tick?
In addition to finding study methods and academic goals that fit him, your son will also benefit from setting life goals that appeal to him, Homayoun said.
"It's very hard to encourage kids with school, grades, and college," she said. "Really you want to motivate kids to find what they're passionate about. Finding success outside of school is imperative."
She has worked with one student who went on to become a professional drummer, and another who went on to play in the NBA.
"The kid who's now a drummer – when I asked him, 'Okay, let's set some goals,' he said, 'Oh, this is awesome.' A lot of times, kids will exceed any expectation you put in front of them, if you get them in the right mindset," Homayoun said. "My goal is for all kids to be engaged in their life. Once that happens, it really ripples to everyone around them."
Purchase "That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life."
For more homework advice, visit familyeducation.com.