As my son has progressed from elementary school to middle school, the stress and hardships of keeping him on task with his school and homework assignments has gotten more and more difficult, his grades have suffered, and we both have felt the frustration of it all. This is typical for children and their families who struggle with ADHD.

Making it home from school with the assignments written down and the correct books in their backpack may seem simple to us, but it is actually a huge task for a child with ADHD. They lose papers either on their way home from school, at home, or en route back to school. Or they often forget to do their homework altogether because the energy it takes to recall one or two (if not all) the instructions, understand the assignment, and focus on the tedious task of getting it completed – with all the other distractions around – tends to prove too overwhelming.

Last year we had struggled to the point that I could take it no longer. I worried about how my son was going to cope in high school and college, at the rate we were going he would drown in this academic storm. So I threw myself into research mode and found some ideas and developed a routine that would help him remember his assignments and be able to find the papers he needed to complete them, no more “out of sight, out of mind.”

Although these ideas are for a child with ADHD, these ideas can be implemented (from one degree or another) for any child who is having difficulty in school. It all boils down to organization and tactics to remember the important information. It’s very easy to be overwhelmed at school. Especially in middle school, where there are numerous teachers with different teaching styles, harder subjects and all in different classrooms. There are lockers, backpacks, binders and books to be in charge of with less supervision, not to mention higher expectations and responsibilities.


•  First of all, you need to make a routine: Let your child help in setting up these routines so that they feel validated, but also be firm and have boundaries. With your child’s input, find out what works best for them: Do they want a snack first? A snack is good to re-energize, and a drink can be refreshing which can prove helpful before tackling homework.

Do they want some down time, get a break from study mode? If so try letting them do something else before delving into homework for about 30 to 45 minutes. Although I would avoid electronic/computer games and save those for an “after homework is done” reward.

How do they want their homework station set up? The ideal homework situation is to find a place in the home (preferably not their bedroom, it’s too isolated with way too many distractions there) at the kitchen table, or a desk in a nearby quiet room.

•  Enforce a consistent start time: This helps in building homework habits. Have a timer on hand, so that  they can keep track of the time, I find it serves as a reminder when they might start trailing off into other distractions.

•  Stay close by: Many kids work better if there is an adult close by to give aid or answer questions when needed. Also you will be able to tell if there is studying going on or not.

 Take breaks: Short breaks can help a child stay on task instead of becoming bored and having difficulties with concentration.

•  Have fun afterward:  Children learn quickly when they know fun (games, TV, playing outside or going to a friends house) is just around the corner and is a reward for getting their homework done.

While my son is in his classes I cannot be there to direct his attention and remind him of the instructions that were just given out. So we devised some organizational tools for him to utilize.

I wish that I had a “before” picture of what his backpack and binder looked like. It was a mess, papers just stuffed in no particular order. Papers from the previous trimesters that were no longer important were mixed in with his present studies. I even found a disgusting moldy sandwich once! Ewww!

•  Organize their backpack: Help your child go through their backpacks regularly (in my case every day!) as often as you deem necessary, maybe after their homework is done. Go through the paper the has accumulated with them and ask if it’s needed or not. You will most likely find an important form you needed to read or sign! This is vital to finding assignments that have been lost in the mix in a timely manner before it becomes a zero! Have them take out anything that doesn’t belong there (toys, etc.) And make sure there aren’t any food items to get moldy later 🙂 

•  Color Coding:  This is helpful in keeping material and papers in their proper folders or binders. Color code notebooks, folders, book cover, even colored pens if you want. Match each color to a particular subject. Buy a separate folder that closes to use for homework papers. This folder will provide a consistent place for homework papers and keep them from falling out or getting stuffed, lost and forgotten in the mass of papers. 

This year my son was bent on having one single binder for all subjects, which went against my wishes, but I realize if you want to something to stick and work, you have to let it be “their idea” 😉 So we got him one binder, with the understanding that if by the end of the first trimester things aren’t going so well, we might need to revamp some things which might be the big binder.

•  Have a place where your child can write down last minutes notes, or homework assignments. My son is able to bring his laptop to school and use it there, so we tried to get him to put assignments and other important information on it. Or entering information on his cell phone (you will want to talk with the teachers to make sure these are okay for you child to try with out getting in trouble.)

These ideas may work for some, but they didn’t work for my son. So this year I found these really neat color coded sticky notes with a protective plastic cover to put in his binder at the front. We color coded the sticky notes to match some pocket dividers that close for each subject. So (in theory) when he needs to make a note of an assignment or pertinent information he can jot it down on the proper colored sticky note and stick it to the inside of his binder, so when he comes home he will have his reminder of what he needs to do.

[In] Place System at OfficeMax (click here)

Ultimately finding the right ideas and system that works for you and your child is to live by trial and error. Have patience and compromise (to an extent) and be willing to try new ideas, or tweak them just enough to work with your child’s personality and yours.

**  It is very important to remember  it’s all about constant reminders and consistency, especially at the beginning of the year and at the change of each trimester. You will need to remind them of the routines you have developed and how they are to work, how the pack back and binders are to be used, and on how if these tactics are used correctly and consistently they will be successful.

**Making lists is very helpful, make a list for before school routine and after school routines. I even have a list in picture frames located by the TV, computer and Wii on things that should be done before they can use either one of these. It keeps me sane from from the question, “Can I play _____?” I simply say, “refer to the list and then come see me.” It’s great!

Good luck with this new school year, and stayed tuned because as we come across things that pertain to school we will post them.

7 responses »

  1. That’s a pretty awesome set of organizational ideas. I actually wish I were still going to school so I could feel that organized. That’s ok ill log it and the genius list idea (really love that idea! ) for when Hannah’s older 🙂

  2. Thank you for this information! I am struggling this year with my 10 year old son.. Middle school & 5th grade has led to some nasty fights. I just had his ADHD test and am awaiting the report but I am confident of the results. He is such a wonderful boy and is loved by all. I will definately print your page and take it to the store ~ you suggestions are WONDERFUL and I finally have some hope. Along with some dietary changes, I believe my Salvatore will have a much more calm life!!!

    • I’m glad the information has given you some hope! I am finding that I’m still struggling to find what works best for my son. And I am constantly reminded that consistency is KEY!! Being consistent with your planned steps to get him organized and going. You cannot let it slip even once or you end up at the beginning again. I wish you luck!!

    • I believe they are the brand I mentioned in the post (it’s been a long time, it’s hard to remember!) But I bought it all at Office Max, and the brand was:

      [In] Place System at OfficeMax. If you go to the post, you can click on the information I have there.

      I hope they still sell them, it’s been over a year.

  3. Hi…this looks great! It seems the system is still available, however; can you share how you set yours up in the binder and other additions if you have them outside of the binder?

    • Hi, just saw your comment, we’ve been away for the past month, and I have gotten to where I am blogging less now, so I apologize for not replying until now.

      I got sheets of paper to go with the different subjects and color coded everything that went with a subject. The sticky notes in the lower picture was to write any home work or other information for that particular class. The colors of the folders more or less matched the sticky notes. I didn’t go so far as matching pencils/pens and those sorts of things, but you could. Having highlighters that matched each subject might come in handy. You could also go as far as covering any books for each subject in the same matching colors.

      I was more interested in just getting my son to have a place to put all his loose papers that were constantly getting lost, buried and crumpled because he would just shove them in his backpack.

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