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9 Tips for Using a School Planner Successfully

Children with ADHD who use a planner are more organized and earn higher grades. Here’s how to help your child use this essential tool for school.

Pick the Right Planner

The ideal paper planner will be thin, with a spiral binding to prevent pages from falling out, and a weekly page layout. A monthly planner may be overwhelming and unwieldy. Avoid bulky planners and leather covers. Make sure you choose one with enough space for writing down assignments: The younger the child, the larger their handwriting. Finally, look for a planner that has a pocket or sleeve attached at the back so that papers to and from the teacher can be kept together.

Keep the Planner at Your Child’s Fingertips

Experts recommend that students keep their planner in the front pocket of their book bag or a binder that they carry to their classes. It should take no more than two small actions—reach and open—for your child to retrieve his planner. Have him keep a pen in the spiral binding to avoid the “pen hunt” that often causes kids to stop using a planner. Use a binder clip to mark the current page, so he can access it with one flip.

Review What to Write Down

Explain to your child when she should write in her planner, usually during transition points during the day: the time in each class to record assignments and due dates as they are announced—she can use “texting” language so she doesn’t fall behind—at the locker as your child packs up at the end of the day, at home to track the homework assignments she needs to do, and before bed, ensuring that all of her assignments are in her backpack.  

Have the Teacher Check the Planner

Many ADHD students swear they wrote down their assignments only to find that they left out critical details. One ADHD student wrote down that she had reading homework, but forgot to note the questions that were to be answered. Encourage your child to write down assignments word for word and ask his teacher to look over the planner before he leaves class.

Schedule Fun Stuff and School Stuff

Using a planner can help your child develop skills that ADHDers usually find challenging: juggling responsibilities, allotting time, planning ahead. Have your child schedule extracurricular events—concerts and martial arts lessons—and activities with friends in her planner as well as academics. It will get her to take the long view and to learn to spot and avoid time conflicts.  

Customize the Planner with Add-Ons

Parents can place sticky notes of various sizes and colors in the planner to remind your child about special school events or tasks—asking the math teacher for help with last night’s homework, say. A notation about Thursday’s piano lesson may include a prompt to practice everyday for 15 minutes. Parents can paper-clip to the planner a checklist of books and materials your student needs to bring home each day.

Use the Planner to Sharpen Long-Term Planning Skills

All kids, especially those with ADHD, have difficulty with long-term planning. When your child has a big test, or is assigned a complicated project, use the homework planner to break it down into manageable mini-tasks. If he’s been assigned a report, mark the due date with a colored marker and work backward, allotting a day for selecting a topic and so on, and enough time to write a rough and final draft.

Throw a Planner Meeting

A meeting at the beginning of the week—Sunday evening usually works best—works miracles in improving the use of a planner. Everyone in the family grabs their planners or calendars to discuss the week ahead. Parents can start by telling family members about their weekly schedule—everything from deadlines at work to carpool plans. This sets the stage for children to respond with their plans. It drives home the importance of thinking ahead.

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