Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: The Crumpled-Up, Lost, Forgotten Homework Problem

Yes, you CAN help your student become organized enough to get all of his papers home each night. How? This all-in-one system, designed by our organizing coach, is easy to create and easy to manage — even for children and teens with ADHD.

Q: “How can I help my teenage son to get more organized? He is a gifted student but his disorganization is causing his grades to fall. His homework, notes… nothing is in place. He also realizes that this is a problem and it is affecting his self-esteem.” —Worried Mom

Q: “My 12-year-old son refuses to even try to be organized. He always has homework and important papers crumpled up in pockets in his backpack. There is a social studies project due 2 weeks ago that we just found out about.” —LivermoreMom

Q: “My middle schooler struggles with his organization of homework and assignments, which end up missing by the end of the day. He then decides to carry all of his books which then go missing. Help!” —Erika

Hi Worried Mom, LivermoreMom, and Erika:

Your question is among the most common — and commonly frustrating — for parents of children with ADHD. Over the years, I have seen so many students struggle trying to manage notebooks, folders, binders, spirals, and more. (And don’t even get me started on the terrible, unsustainable practice of hole punching!) Most students need a simple and manageable system to organize their school papers. So here are my general rules of thumb.

  1. Clear is king! If your student can’t see it, it doesn’t exist! Clear, transparent folders, dividers, etc., give him a natural way to receive visual reminders of his priorities and the physical locations of his resources.
  2. If it takes more than two steps… your child won’t do it. Think un-fussy and streamlined. One idea that works well for students who need to keep each subject in a separate binder is the SamSill DUO Accordion Binder All In One. Each binder comes with a loose-leaf section for taking notes AND a 7-pocket accordion file for housing homework, tests, etc. And since it is available in 10 different colors, she can easily color code all her subjects. Win Win!
  3. Pair like with like. In other words, ditch the homework folder. They are dumping grounds where important assignments and papers are easily misplaced. Group materials by subject. Math homework goes in the math binder. Science lab in the science folder.
  4. Simplify supplies! I can’t stress this enough. Buy multi-function items or simply limit the number of pens and pencils your student has in his desk drawer. Less stuff to manage means greater

Which is why I recommend that my students create an all-in-one “Master Binder.”

[Free Guide: Solving Disorganization at School]

First, purchase a zippered binder that also contains an accordion folder. I like the ones made by Case-It that have two sets of rings. This set-up allows your student to customize the binder in a way that works for her schedule. Think “A/B” days, morning/afternoon classes, etc.

The pull-out accordion is where all the papers, handouts, tests, etc. are kept. No hole punching required. Label each section in the accordion by subject name (English, Math, Science, etc.).

All papers will be filed behind the corresponding subject tab and the most recent papers always go in the front. Make sure to schedule weekly clean outs, as papers tend to build up quickly.

The three-ring section should be used for notes your student takes in class. Again, divide this section by subject by using clear two-sided dividers for each subject. Label one side of each folder “homework to-do” and “homework done.” This takes the guesswork out of where homework will live each night AND gives your child a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished!

[The Great Paper Challenge]

Finally, papers that need to be referenced regularly should be inserted into plastic page protectors and placed in corresponding binder sections. So for example, your child’s multiplication chart should go in the math section; her English vocabulary words in English.

The central goal of a master system like this is: Help your student become organized enough to get all of his papers home each night. This all-in-one system is easy to create and easy to manage. Extra bonus? A master binder answers once and for all the question, “What do I need to get from my locker?”

Our Editors Also Recommend:

Free Download: 10 Solutions for Disorganization at School
Organization Tips for Middle Schoolers
The Messy Bedroom (and Backpack and Locker) Cure for Kids with ADHD

Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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