Making School Time Easier for Middle Schoolers

Making School Time Easier for Middle Schoolers

Transitioning from elementary school to middle school is a huge leap for students as there are more responsibilities and skills to be picked up and used. The student has to be responsible for packing his own school bag, writing down notes in the lectures, making a note of projects and submissions and being on time for school activities. A few students can transition very smoothly and have no challenges in independence at all; versus, a few students who struggle with this transitioning.

This transition requires many skills like good working memory (ability to recall past, understand present and future), ability to understand time and time management, and planning and organizing their day. These skills are called Executive Functions.

Let us understand what Executive Functions are-

Just like how we have traffic control police on the roads controlling the vehicles in different directions, our brain needs the executive function skills to process information correctly, plan an output, manage time, control impulses and organize and schedule tasks based on priority. Executive function is the mental/cognitive processes that help us to prioritize, plan, focus attention, remember instructions and perform multiple tasks at a time. This skill is very important for the smooth functioning of a student as well as through the adult life.

Some of the Executive Functions are Time Management skills, the ability to Plan and organize, sustaining attention, being flexible, etc.

When a child faces challenges in school, there might be a possibility that some of the above-mentioned skills may be impaired, which might affect a child’s ability to manage and organize themselves to achieve goals. They may seem more disorganized than other kids around them or might take a long time to complete their morning routines, get overwhelmed when packing their school bags, forget their lunch box or water bottle in school while returning back home etc.

The following can be considered as red flags for executive function difficulties-
Having trouble in-

  • starting or completing tasks
  • managing their time
  • organizing their materials and surroundings- messy bag, messy table, messy room
  • keeping track of their belongings
  • recalling or remembering instructions
  • following directions or sequencing steps of an activity
  • do not prefer changes in routine
  • sustaining an activity or a task for longer duration; gets easily distracted
  • controlling emotions in challenging situations
  • low self-esteem

Considering the above challenges, we still can help our kids to function well and improve their organizational and time management skills through the following strategies-

  • Establish a routine– In order to remember all the tasks that need to be accomplished, it is important to establish a routine. Create weekly and daily routines with your child and allow him/her to set the routine and prioritize tasks needed to be accomplished.
  • Use checklists– It is important to break down tasks for kids for better functioning. Create checklists with them for the morning routine, after school checklist, before going to bed etc. This will help in reducing anxiety about tasks and will give a structure to their day. For every task accomplished, tick them off on the checklist. This will give the satisfaction of achievement for the day.
  • Use sticky notes, planners or notes on their phones or laptops to break down tasks when required, and make a note of assignments, projects, and homework with the due date of submissions.
  • For students who have just entered middle school, use daily or weekly reward charts for encouraging them to complete the tasks on time using the above strategies. However, pre-decide the reward with the student (extra video game time, movie night, pyjama party night out with mates) and make sure you do not get into negotiations later. Reward charts might not work for older students in middle school.
  • For older students, you can establish consequences for their tasks. For example, if he manages to complete his assignment or homework within the decided time frame; as a consequence, he will have time to play with his video game or watch television or any activity of his choice.
  • Packing their backpack- make a timetable for each day on a separate sheet of paper and write down the books needed for that particular day. On the side, leave a little space to tick the books the student has already packed. This way the books will not be missed.
  • Organizing the backpack- use a backpack which has multiple compartments and label each compartment with the things that can go in that. For example, compartments for books, files, pen pouches, lunch boxes etc. so as to make it easier for the student to organize and find things quickly.
  • Another small name card can be made and attached to the bag of the student like a mini checklist to remember to carry other things like a lunch box, water bottle, and pen pouch without missing any.
  • Use file binders to save project assignments and reports in one place. Use folders of different colours with big headings of the subjects on top of it for easy access to the students.
  • Now that most of the schools have developed an online learning model, it is important to store online files and assignments in an organized manner. Help your boy/girl with arranging each assignment as per the subject by creating different folders on the laptop and naming each folder to get easy access whenever required. Make sure to walk the student through the process and guide them whenever required.
  • Time management skills- for learning time management, use timers. Set a time for completing a task (start with an easier activity, then move to a challenging one) and use a timer while performing the task and let students try to complete the task within the given time frame. You can also take it to the next level where two of you compete to complete a task and use a stopwatch to check the time each one of you took.
  • If the student tends to get distracted due to outside noises, using noise-cancelling headphones will help him stay focused, thus, completing his work on time.
  • Mindfulness activities have been proven to improve attention and organizational skills. Practice basic mindfulness activities with the student daily.

These were a few strategies that might help your child if he/she has challenges in paying attention in school or has other difficulties with planning and organizing their tasks and the day. You do not have to use all the above-mentioned activities. Choose the ones that will be relevant to your child. Do make sure your child is consistently following the strategies every day and give a few weeks to see results. Try them out and let us know how effective they were for your child in the comments below!