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5 Essential Tools and Tips for Disorganized Boys

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.


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