How to set up your child’s paper planner for back-to-school success

Set up Your Child's Planner for Back to School Success - - Choose the right planner and get it ready ahead of time so your child can easily fill it in and do their homework

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‘Tis the season for back to school! Backpacks are packed with sharpened pencils, outfits are coordinated, hair is trimmed. But has your child set up their paper planner or agenda book for a successful start to the year?

Unless your school doesn’t do homework, most students should start learning to use some kind of planner or agenda book in about third grade. Ideally, in third and fourth grade, teachers are telling kids exactly what to write and where.

By fifth grade and continuing through middle school, students should begin to take over the responsibility of identifying and writing down assignments. Setting up the planner ahead of time can be a huge time saver! Here are some things to think about at the beginning of the school year.

Pick the right planner

Your school might issue a planner. The one they pick may be a good fit for your child or it may not. Some obstacles to planner use are:

  • Boxes and lines are too small/close together
  • No place to write non-homework information
  • Gets left at school or lost
  • Hard to find the right page

Look for a planner that fits your child. If they have messy handwriting, you might want to invest in something from an office supply store that has more room to write on each day. This one and this one have plenty of lined space. 

For students who need a little more structure and support to develop their executive functioning skills, I really like the Work-Smart Academic Planner. It leads students through a process of setting goals, identifying challenges, and explicitly organizing their time to meet their goals. Of course, the kids who need this support most will need help working through the process.

Or find or create a template that works better and print out a few copies and stick them in a folder or binder. You can always tweak your customized planner pages when you see what works. Download my sample planner page at the bottom of the post to get you started.

The bonus in creating your own planner is you can pre-type weekly things like vocabulary quizzes, soccer practice, or other activities. 

This is also a great option for kids who lose things. Print a few pages at a time on the brightest paper you can find so it’s easy to find even if it’s between things. At worst, they lose a week’s worth of notes and start fresh tomorrow with a new blank sheet.

Set it Up

You could set up the paper planner week by week. That lets you add and change things as the year goes on, like when a sports season ends or the teacher changes the due date on a weekly assignment. But I will almost always forget. And I know a lot of kids who will forget, too. 

So my preferences it to set up a batch of planner pages at once. Sit down with the school calendar, sports schedule, family calendar, some colored pens or pencils and a big bowl of popcorn and get started! Look at the next 1 or 2 months of events and set up those pages. 

I prefer that students do this themselves, because it helps them internalize the information. But if handwriting is an issue, or your child won’t do it, give them another role, like reading you the items and telling you where to put them.

  1. Decide on a system. If you have color-coded notebooks (and I hope you do!) match your planner notes to those colors. If not, you might want to make after school appointments one color, days off from school another, and leave the homework assignments in whatever pen or pencil your child writes with in class.
  2. Write in any days off from school, after school practices, games, and appointments. You may want to add an extra visual cue, like using a yellow highlighter to label appointments that happen during school time, or adding stars around soccer games to help your child remember to pack his uniform. Some planners come with special stickers for different types of events. You can also get tiny stickers of your own to make things eye-catching. I like these tiny little ones.
  3. Use color to write or emphasize the name of each class that gives homework. If you used a planner that isn’t designed for students, you will have more work ahead of you. Divide the space for each day into blocks by drawing lines. Label each block with the name of a class. Write in colored pen or underline each class name in color. I am about to buy a new set of these pens. I keep them with me at all times when I’m working to color code my planner or notes.
  4. Use a binder clip or a flap of cardstock (a manila folder works) taped to the front cover as a bookmark, so your child can easily turn to this week’s page when writing assignments.

Send the Tools to School

Help your child decide what they will record in the planner. For example, some students are way too brief, and by the time they get home, they don’t remember what “worksheet” means in the math block. Other kids write way too much and run out of space or time to fit in all the information. 

This is where a system of writing notes on the papers themselves can come in handy. Then the planner just needs to say “math worksheet, 9/3” and all the information is there on the worksheet.

Send your child to school with the tools he needs: colored pens or pencils, planner, sticky notes for putting details about an assignment on the assignment itself. 

Revisit the System in a Few Months

Next time you sit down with your child to set up more planner pages, flip back through the last few months. What is working? Is the homework getting written down in a way that is helpful to him? Is he remembering all his assignments? Prepared for soccer practice? Getting good grades on tests?

If the answer to any of those is no, it’s time to revisit the system. If he is missing assignments, where’s the breakdown? Did he forget to write it down? Forget to check it? Do the wrong page number? If he’s not doing well on tests, is he writing down the test date and making a note to study on the days leading up to it, or just writing the test down once? 

Think of the planner as a living document. Setting up the planner for back to school is an important step, but not the only step. Help your child reflect on whether this system works for them and why or why not. They may need something digital, like Google Calendar, or something simpler, like a blank notebook where they write down all the assignments and cross them out when they are done. 

If your child is resisting this process and arguing with you about it, (hello there, middle school parents!!) you may find they have more success going over the system with another parent or caring adult in their life, or with a tutor. Kids sometimes resist help from their parents that they will accept from someone else. Unfair, I know, but true! 

Do you have a favorite paper-based planner? Do your kids embrace planners or avoid them? Comment below!

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