COUNTDOWN TO SCHOOL KICKOFF

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Retail & wholesale advertising suggests the new school year kickoff is just days away with limited time remaining to make those last minute purchases of backpacks, binders, pens, pencils and all the various fresh new supplies. I know as child I loved the look and smell of those neatly arranged colorful crayons in my very own Crayola box. A new first day of school outfit always got my children excited for their first day on which they woke early and dressed without nagging, slipped their well stocked heavy backpacks on without complaint and traipsed happily off to the school bus in their spanking new sneakers.

By the end of the first week, enthusiasm began to diminish exponentially in the weeks that followed. The alarm rang too early, the backpacks were too heavy, the lunches “sucked” and the bus ride made them nauseous.

I believe one root to the declining attitude is routine, what kids often refer to as BORING.  7 AM alarm, bus, school, home, snack, homework, dinner, showers, bed. All to begin again the next day. So what can we parents and educators do as partners to keep the enthusiasm alive?While every day cannot be the first with all the fresh new supplies and the excitement of new teachers, we can try to help prevent the boredom associated with routine.

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Here are my 5 tips to happy school days.

  1. Set Goals. Ask your children to set 3 goals for themselves (one academic, one social and one athletic) to be achieved in the first quarter of the year (approx. 10 weeks). Mark the date of the end of the first quarter on your calendar, so they can see the end in site. These goals need to be realistic but challenging. While working toward straight A’s may be unrealistic, improving grades from the previous year in just one subject may be quite doable. Just as joining a social club may not fit every personality, finding one new friend may be just right for another. And while everyone is not athletically gifted, everyone can add one form of physical exercise to their daily activities. Think about these goals with your children and how each one might be achieved. Have them write these goals down, seal them in an envelope and tape the envelope to the inside of the their binders as a reminder. At the end of the quarter open that envelope. See how well they did and set new goals for the next quarter.
  2. Refresh supplies & save work.
    Every week or two, clean out those backpacks stuffed with loose papers, gum wrappers and broken pencils. Discard the unnecessary clutter. Replace those once beautiful crayons with a fresh box and those pencil stubs with new ones. Give your child a fresh clean folder to save favorite work and a special place to keep it.
  3. Change up the morning routine. At home try breakfast in bed, or special breakfast 4ibogkpbtday, a surprise sleep in a bit longer day and drive the kids to school. At school plan special days: pajama day, dress as book character day, inside out day, riddle days with solutions revealed at lunchtime.
  4. Change up the after school routine. Think about after school special treats: ice cream, bowling, skating, library visit, movies, etc. Make it a surprise or something to look forward to. Whatever will keep your child excited.
  5. Reward! Discuss what’s being done to help achieve those goals. Reward even the smallest steps forward. Reminder: There is nothing children want more than to please their parents and to be loved unconditionally. Recognize the challenge of achieving their goals and show them your pride in their efforts.

THE CONTINUING JAKE PULLMAN STORY

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Chapter 5

Today after two chimes of the doorbell, I watched through the front door glass panel as Jake raced down the stairs and slid across the polished wood floor to let me in. Probably finishing that cleaning he was to have completed before my arrival today. But glad he didn’t want to disappoint me, I kept my thoughts to myself and mirrored back his smile.

We settled ourselves back at the kitchen table where the same old papers remained and a few more had been added to the neglected stack. Jake answered my routine questions with the usual fine, good, yeah. Basketball game tonight, homework was already done and his new homework folder was working well.

Familiar with the old adage, When something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, my invisible antenna raised. “So let’s have a look.”

A few tattered papers peeked out the top of the green folder Jake pulled from his binder. Stuffed in the To Do side was a large packet with the details for a new long term science project. The Finished side held three math worksheets, one finished, two untouched. I chose to start with the science project, which Jake claimed to have received without any instructions. “The teacher just gave it out and said she’d explain it later, but there was a fire drill and when we got back to the class, we had to go to lunch.”

Hmm, really. For warned of Jake’s challenge with forthrightness, I thought we might be playing Truth or Lie, but if so, I credited his creativity and put my doubts aside.

Knowing long term projects with pages of instructions can be overwhelming to students, I wanted to ameliorate any angst by scanning the packet, looking for key elements and breaking it down into small doable sections with intermediary self-imposed due dates – thus introducing the second element necessary for success – Time Management. While Jake found this to be most unnecessary, his resistance was no match against my insistence.

The directions read, each student was to pick a scientist from a list provided, research their biography and at least one major accomplishment. They were to share the results of their research with the class through a PowerPoint or personal interview with the scientist. Presentations were to begin in three weeks.

We ran down the list of scientist’s names and Jake marked his first, second and third choices in preparation for class the next day. Then we moved over to the month-at-a-glance calendar and marked the project due date. We agreed to divide the time for research in two parts, biography and accomplishment – leaving one week for each phase. We added those dates to the calendar. This left Jake one more week to work on the presentation, which he had already decided would be a PowerPoint. He was quite confident the plan left him “more than enough time” to complete the project, while managing daily homework, test preparation and basketball commitment. I had some reservations, but hoped with all my heart he could do it.

Back to the table and the two math worksheets. Truly a master of creative excuses, I stopped Jake 30 seconds into the continuing fire drill saga and suggested he get out a pencil and see how much he could complete before my timer rang in 20 minutes.

I was impressed by his ability to stay focused and let him work an additional 10 minutes to complete both worksheets.

“Good job,” I rewarded him as he returned the finished papers to the folder. “Now there are those boxes upstairs awaiting our attention, right?”

“Right!” Jake raced ahead and took the steps two at a time. Proudly swinging open the unobstructed door, he shouted, “Tada!”

Wow, I was truly amazed. The stench of rotting food and sweat infused athletic clothes remained, but the bed was covered now only by a rumpled blanket and a pile of colorful pillows. For the first time, I could see the entire floor. “So your carpet is blue.”

Apparently not yet reading my response, Jake studied my face before joining me in laughter. “Great job! Stage one complete.” I suggested we move on to step two and asked if he could guess what that was. Knowing Jake’s penchant for being right, I suggested he use his nose before answering.

He inhaled deeply and shook his head with uncertainty. As though he’d lost his sense of smell, he looked at me with raised brows and answered with a question. “The trash?”

I helped him lug the box down the stairs and out to the garage trashcans. Back upstairs I opened a window to exchange the lingering odor with some fresh air before we stripped the greying sheets from the bed and took them to the laundry room. Although clearly pleased with the progress, my next suggestion that we remake the bed was met with wide eyes and vehement shaking of his head. “Come on,” he raised his voice, “that’s the maid’s job.”

“Not today,” I said leaving the room in search of the linen closet. I returned with a fresh set of sheets and a stack of neatly folded colorful pillowcases. “Sniff,” I said putting them under his nose. He did, but only the look on his face spoke his discontent. He stood in the corner of the room and watched as I shook out the fitted bottom sheet and spread it across the bed hoping his responsibility or shame might kick in, but the only movement he made was setting his arms akimbo. Not the message I was hoping for. I looked up and as gently as I could I said, “Jake, I am not the maid, and I did not create the mess. If you’ll recall, one of my goals was to lead you to independence.” His arms unfolded but his feet held firm to the floor. I continued making the bed, and chose my words with care. “Before you can have a staff take care of your unwanted chores, you must earn the privilege and appreciate what it is they do for you.”

Finally his eyes met mine. “You mean, I won’t always have to make my bed?”

I nodded. “Just earn the privilege.”

Jake was unsure his parents would agree and I really wasn’t sure either, knowing how poorly they’d followed my first and only requirement, once a week family dinner. But I must have offered the right words of encouragement because he opened the top sheet and spread it across the bed. I bit the inside of my cheek and swallowed my words watching him make perfect hospital corners. He caught me staring though and smiled, “Boy scout camp,” he explained.

We stepped back to admire the work. Jake looked proud but refused to admit it. With another job well done, I would have loved to cart the box containing the “elsewhere items,” mostly dirty dishes and silverware, to the kitchen, but instead I called on another successful mantra of mine – Always leave while you’re having fun. Jake was happy and I was too. Time to pack up. The box would be there when I returned.

THE JAKE PULLMAN STORY CONTINUED

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CHAPTER 4 – Our First Session – Organization

I arrived 5 minutes early, excited to get started with Jake. The doorbell chime was followed by none of the chatter I heard on my initial evaluation visit, only silence. I waited and rang again. Still nothing. A bit disappointed, I reached for my cell phone and dialed Jake’s phone. Yes, he has his own cell phone. An issue I might have to address at a later time, but now I just needed to find him. I knew his parents were at work and the little brothers were not home either. Through the side glass door panel I could see Jake come through the basement doorway with his phone in hand and a warm smile on his face.

“Sorry,” he said pulling open the door. “I already finished my homework, so I was down the basement.” I knew this was code for playing video games but chose to reserve that conversation for a later time as well. I wanted to begin on a positive note.

“Great,” I told him. “Let’s get started then.” I suggested he bring along the backpack he was about to step over and headed toward the kitchen.

“Okay, but I told you I already did my homework,” his voice trailed behind me.

Glad he had picked up the bag without  further discussion, but I made another mental note. On the table were the same papers I’d pushed aside three weeks earlier with some additional junk mail, children’s drawings and old school work scattered about. No indication of a family dinner enjoyed there yet. Another note to self.

Like Mary Poppins with her bottomless satchel, I began slowly pulling out supplies while trying to maintain a casual conversation, but with each new item, Jake wanted to know, “What’s that for?” I just smiled and held up a hand encouraging him to wait while I kept the conversation going.

Finally, after sufficient enticement, I was ready to begin. I explained to Jake there are three essentials to building success, Organization, Time management, and Focus Time. Today the plan was to direct our attention to Organization.

Moving my supplies to the side, I asked Jake to show me his completed homework. He didn’t know I had already checked the online assignment board and was up to date with his progress. He pulled his broken zipper binder from his overstuffed backpack and began rummaging through a variety of miscellaneous papers stuffed haphazardly inside, all the time trying to assure me, or himself, what he was looking for was there. Finally, he paused remembering he’d left the homework paper inside his math book which was in his locker since the work was done at school.

“Uh huh, (silent note to self) and the vocabulary assignment?”
“Oh, I just saw that. Wait.” And he began rifling through the papers once again. “Yup, here it is!” He proudly held up the wrinkled, illegibly written paper with no name, date, assignment title, nothing.

“And how do you know that’s it?” I couldn’t help but ask. Remembering Jake’s struggle with penmanship from the writing sample he had written for my evaluation, I reserved comment on legibility until I was ready to focus on that.

“Cause I just did it.”

I slid a green two pocket folder in front of him and shared my favorite mantra: “Organization is the key to success. Say hello to this green folder. It’s going to be your new best friend, so take good care of it and take it with you wherever you go in school and back home again.” This was to be his homework folder. All handout assignments were to go inside the left pocket and finished work inside the right pocket. With some reluctance he accepted the idea and labeled each pocket, In and Out. Then he filed his vocabulary assignment on the right side and chose to keep the folder in the front pocket of his binder that he brought to every class and home every day.

Encouraged by his good decision making, my reward of praise was accepted with a broad proud grin on his face.

Next, while unfurling a large, blank month-at-a-glance calendar, I reminded Jake of my mantra: Organization is the key to success. I wanted him to eventually hear those words in his sleep. With some guidance from me, he was able to fill in the calendar noting sports practices and games, appointments, tests and a long term projects. I noticed signs of writing fatigue – the stretching of fingers between adding new words to the calendar. Another mental note of something to address at the appropriate time, but not now. We chose a good place to hang and the calendar where he would see it every day and be able to add to it as new items arose.

“Great job!” I high-fived him, and his smile told me we were building the necessary bond to help make my plan successful. Jake was happy to take a short break before I introduced our final activity for the day. We played three rounds of Jenga, and although he was good, he was not yet able to beat the “Jenga champion of Bethesda.” I like to play fair and make students rise to a challenge, and I think Jake appreciated that too.

Last item for the day. I asked Jake if he’d mind helping me get some things from my car. Happy to help he followed me outside and together we dragged three large cardboard boxes up to his bedroom. The door was closed and he was reluctant to open it. I assured him I was ready for the worst, and it was a good thing I was. The room looked like a hurricane passed through with the windows left open! Clothes, papers, books, dishes encrusted with dried up pizza filled the floor. The bed was buried beneath an avalanche of clothes and sports equipment, and I wondered where he slept, but again reserved comment. Instead I asked him to repeat my mantra which  he instantly fed back to me through some laughter.

Organization is the key to success. Guess I got a ways to go.”

“Sure do, but that’s what I’m here for. We’ll begin at the door and you can do a little each day until everything is in order.” To start, all he had to do was separate the items into the three boxes. One was for items to keep in his room, another for the things that belonged elsewhere in the house, and the third was for trash. That seemed doable to him and we started the task together. Once we had a path down the center of the room, we looked back to study our progress. Once again I congratulated him. But now it was his job to get the rest cleared before I returned on Thursday (3 days later). He was fairly confident he could manage on his own and was even excited to surprise his mom when it was all done.

Finally, we returned to the kitchen, added RC, code for room cleaning to the calendar each day. I made some written notes including items to be addressed at later meetings (cell phone, video game time, family dinners, binder, backpack, written assignment headings, and handwriting) And I  packed up my materials while Jake packed up his and set the backpack beside the front door, ready to go the next morning.

It was a good day. We had made good progress and parted friends.

ELIMINATE THE CLUTTER & PAY BILLS ON TIME

ELIMINATE THE CLUTTER & PAY BILLS ON TIME

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Overwhelmed with piles of mail? Annoyed by interest on late bill payments?

 This week I received a request from a woman trying to manage her piles of mail. I assured her she was not alone. According to the National Association of Professional Organizers we lose one year of better spent time searching for lost items, and Harris Interactive reports 23 % of adults claim to pay interest on late bill payments.

If you recognize yourself in these statistics, read on and begin to free yourself from  mail clutter and unnecessary interest payments.

Step 1: Purchase three stackable 9″ x 14″ trays, a file box and a home paper shredder. Label them Bills, ShredFile. (Shredding is for mail unnecessary to save, but includes personal information.)

Step 2: Set aside a few minutes each day to focus on the mail.  Discard the junk mail, open and sort the remainder into the appropriate trays.

Step 3: Select one day each month to pay bills. After payment is made, mark it paid and date it before moving it to the file tray.

Step 4: Select another day each month (after bill paying day) to file and shred.

Enjoy! Soon you’ll no longer be excusing the stacks of papers cluttering your counters and table tops, bills will be paid on time and friends will be asking for your organization advice.

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Please send me your questions, comments and any topics you’d like me to address.

Next post: Thursday, October 15