Help Your Middle School Student Get Organized

Tips to Manage the Transition From Elementary to Middle School

Getting your middle schooler organized
Getty Images/A© Hello Lovely/Corbis

Once your child reaches middle school, getting and staying organized becomes more important. Gone are the days of one classroom, one desk, and one teacher. Enter the world of changing classes, different teachers for each subject and having a locker for the first time.

Use these tips and suggestions to help your child get organized for middle school.

Lead by Example

Are you following the, "Do what I say not what I do" approach when encouraging your middle school student to get organized?

Does your child see you rushing around every morning as you try to get out the door on time? Are your countertops so cluttered that you have difficulty finding papers and documents when you need them?

Set a goal to get more organized yourself so you can set a good example for your child. Monkey see monkey do, they will do what you do.

Different Classes and Different Teachers

The biggest change between elementary and middle school is that your child will most likely change rooms for each class and have different teachers for each subject. Since change goes against the grain, even children who've never had trouble with school in the past may experience some difficulties.

Here are some talking points to help set their expectations:

  • Talk with your child about what to expect;
  • Explain that each teacher will have a different way of doing things;
  • Talk about how your child will now carry everything they need to each class;
  • Discuss how important it will be for them to stay organized and what you're going to do at home to help.

Learn to Use a Smartphone

Independence happens once your child hits middle school.  Children connect by texting each other and it's a way for you to stay in touch with your child while at their friend's house.

 Most parents don't have house phones anymore plus you have a sense of security when they are walking around town.

By the time they enter school, be sure your child is comfortable using their smartphone.  Consider giving your child a smartphone for their elementary school graduation or make them earn it over the summer before they enter middle school.

Provide the Right Supplies

Most middle school teachers require the same basic school supplies:

  • A binder
  • Set of indexes for the binder
  • Notebook paper
  • Folders (multi colored)
  • Pens and pencils

Purchase binders with a see-through front pocket and an inside front pocket:

  • Insert colored sheets of paper into the front pocket with the name of each subject. Do the same thing to the spine of the binder.
  • Match the color of these title sheets to the color of the folder for each class. This will make it easier for your child to see they have everything needed for each class.
  • Encourage your child to put all completed homework assignments in the inside front pocket of the binder for that subject. Your child will always know where to find their homework. Believe it or not, most zeros for failure to turn in homework is not because the child did not do the assignment, but because they couldn't find it.

    The individual teacher will typically provide instructions for the different index headings. If not, consider using:

    • Class outline
    • Class notes
    • Class work
    • Homework assignments
    • Projects

    Work with your child to make sure all papers are placed in the right section of the right binder on a regular basis.

    Find the Right Backpack

    Think of your child's backpack as their briefcase. It's what they will use to carry all necessary school items back and forth each day just like you use your briefcase to carry all necessary work items back and forth each day. While appearance is important, function is even more critical.

    At any given time, your child will need the ability to carry multiple binders, folders and school books in their backpack. You need to select a backpack that is big enough and wide enough to hold all of that without straining the zipper.

    The ideal backpack has:

    • Multiple compartments - one for books and one for binders, folders, and notebooks;
    • Multiple zippered pockets - for pens, pencils, erasers, index cards, and calculators. Use one zippered pocket for personal items such as hand sanitizer, tissues, and contact solution.  
    • Thick and sturdy padded straps - your child will be carrying around a lot more than he did in elementary school, and his backpack will be a lot heavier. A sturdy one is a must.

    An Organized Locker

    For most students, lockers appear on the school scene for the first time in middle school. While your child will probably be excited by the thought of a locker, in reality, it's just one more potential hiding place for books, assignments, and clutter.  And, it's an area over which you, the parent, exert little or no control.

    What can you do to help?

    • Most lockers have two compartments - a top shelf for books and other school supplies and a longer compartment with a hook to hang coats, jackets, and backpacks.
    • The top shelf - suggest to your child that they use the top shelf for books and binders only. Show them how to put the books on the shelf with the spine facing out. Your child will have very few minutes between classes; so, you'll want to encourage them to make quick stops at their locker. Having the book and binder titles facing out will make it easier to grab and go.
    • Skip the locker accessories - you'll see all sorts of locker organizational tools (bins, shelves, and hooks) in office supply stores. These items also fall into the cute but not functional category. The reality is that lockers have limited space, and these will only add to locker clutter as opposed to eliminating it.
    • Scheduled clean outs - look at the school calendar and pick several times during the year when your child completely empties and brings home everything in their locker: at the end of each grading period, right before winter break, or at the beginning of spring break. You may need to send an extra tote bag for this purpose. Once everything is at home, you can help your child sort through it and decide what needs to go back to school and what can either be tossed or stored at home. A fresh start is a good idea for lockers that have gotten out of control.

      At some schools, lockers are optional. During the course of the school year, work with your child to determine if a locker is necessary or just an organizational hindrance. After the first six weeks of school, the novelty of a locker wore off for my children and they decided to simply carry everything in their backpacks.  They found they simply didn't have time between classes for a locker stop.

      Homework, Projects and Due Dates

      Initially, your child may be overwhelmed with getting multiple assignments from multiple teachers. He also may be faced with having more than one test on a particular day or more than one project due on the same day.

      Help your child stay on top of assignments as follows:

      • Not all schools provide daily planners at the middle school level. If yours does not, purchase one for you child. The best planners include a monthly view and a weekly view. The weekly view should include a column for each day with a list of subjects or class periods down the left-hand side.
      • Encourage your child to use only the planner for recording assignments, tests and project due dates.
      • At the beginning of each week, sit down with your child and review his planner. Look ahead to see what tests or projects are coming up. Help your child develop a plan for studying or working on his project a little each day.
      • Check in daily with your child to make sure he is sticking to the plan.

      To be honest, I dreaded projects when my children were in middle school and wondered why they were necessary. Then, I realized that project management is a critical skill in the work world. Teaching your child how to manage school projects will make him a more valuable employee later in life.

      Extracurricular Activities

      Your child will more than likely experience before-and-after-school activities for the first time in middle school:

      • School-sponsored sports;
      • Extra band rehearsals;
      • Student government; and
      • Other clubs and activities.

        Extracurricular activities are yet another time when disorganization can rear its ugly head:

        • Your child suddenly remembers when you're half way to school that he needs his trombone today;
        • You spend 15 minutes in the morning searching for your child's soccer shoes only to discover they are still in the car from the day before;
        • Your child comes running into your room at 11 pm because he just remembered he has to be at school early tomorrow morning for a student council meeting.

        Check in daily with your child about what he needs for the next day. A great time to do this is right after dinner. You can review his daily planner and his homework assignments at the same time. Prompt your child with the following questions:

        • What's on your schedule for tomorrow?
        • Is there anything that requires you to get to school early?
        • Are you coming home right after school or do you have to stay for practice or another activity?
        • What about the rest of the week? Has anything been added to the schedule that I don't already know about?
        • What do you need for each of these activities?

        Make a list of what your child needs for tomorrow's activities. As part of your bedtime routine, ask your child to run down the list and make sure everything he needs is pulled together and sitting by the door. Your child will tend to want to wait until morning to pull everything together. Do not allow this. Make sure everything is packed and ready to go the night before.

        Monitor Results

        Many schools have a parent portal that you can access to track your child's progress.

        If not, most teachers are willing to email progress reports to you on a weekly basis or bi-weekly basis.

        Review them and look for:

        • Missed homework assignments;
        • Low quiz scores;
        • Poor test scores.

        Oftentimes, these issues point to an organizational issue and not an academic one. Stay in close communication with your child's teachers and use the above tips to help your child get organized.

        While initially it may require that you spend some significant time with your middle school student, it will be time well spent. Once your child masters some of these organizational skills, you'll find it less necessary to be involved in his daily schedule.