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PARENTING : Order Out of Chaos : Getting children organized isn't always easy. It requires some help from grown-ups, but it sure makes life easier.

August 26, 1994|ROBERTA G. WAX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Roberta G. Wax writes regularly for The Times.

When Jason started junior high school last year, he couldn't seem to get organized. Book reports were late because he couldn't get the reading done in time; term papers meant last-minute dashes to the library for research, then staying up to write till after midnight.

This year will be different, vows his mother, who declined to give her last name to protect her son's privacy. All schoolwork will be noted on a big calendar above his desk; gym clothes will go into the washer Friday afternoon so they will be clean on Monday, and she will no longer rush him to the library at the last minute. At least, that is the plan.

Getting children organized is not always easy--especially if parents are a bit, shall we say, scattered. It takes some work on the parents' part, but it certainly makes life easier.

Organization is a skill that can be taught to children as young as 4 or 5, according to West Hills educational therapist Maralyn Soifer, but parents must set an example.

"It's hard for a kid to be organized if the parent is not," said Soifer, who teaches "How to Write a Report" through Pierce College Extension. "If you have a chaotic home environment, if checks bounce because you forgot the deposit, if you forget to fill out trip slips, your child will do the same."

If, on the other hand, parents run a tight ship, youngsters can be expected to follow suit.

Agoura mom Amy Berns, a former elementary school teacher who is now an Oxnard school psychologist, can't function in chaos, so she trained her boys, Steven, now 14, and Michael, 12, when they were toddlers to put away toys before bedtime and before going out to play.

"We can't leave the house now until beds are made, dishes are in the washer and everything is straightened," Berns said.

One tip that works for Berns is "doing certain things on certain days." For instance, Tuesday her family takes out the trash; Wednesday is laundry day, etc. "That way everyone knows what they have to do."

Berns, who is serving this year as president of the Las Virgenes School Board, said because of her own tight schedule, "My time is limited to help with school projects." Her boys take it on themselves to start on assignments as soon as they get them, use weekend time to finish them, and they often turn in work early.

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For some students, procrastination can be as much of a problem as being disorganized, said Karen Stern, a Van Nuys marriage and family therapist who teaches an adult course called "Organize Your Life" through Pierce College Extension.

Stern said youngsters also need to be taught how to structure their time. "They put off things they don't want to do, and they think they can get stuff done in less time than it really takes."

Sometimes, Stern said, instead of trying to intervene, parents must stand by and "let natural consequences occur." These may include receiving a bad grade or missing a party.

"Organization is closely tied to motivation," Soifer said. "If a child is motivated to do an assignment, they can figure out how to get it done."

The problem, Soifer said, is that most youngsters get overwhelmed -- they don't know where to begin. "They have all these things to do and don't know how to prioritize. Sometimes just giving them a place to start is helpful." Organizers, calendars and "to do" lists are all good ways to keep things straight. Whatever the system, keep it simple, Soifer advised, and figure out what works best for each individual. "The idea," she said, "is that this can work for your whole life."

For example, one junior high girl she counseled had a small binder for each class. Each binder, labeled on the spine so she could easily pick the correct one from her locker, was divided into three sections: tests, homework and classwork, with an assignment sheet at the front of each binder.

Danielle Fest, a junior at Granada Hills High School, uses a notebook-sized organizer to keep daily, weekly and monthly lists of school and social plans. "When I have big projects due," she explained, "I figure out the number of pages I have to read, the number of days I'm going to work on it and divide it. I write down how many pages I'm going to read that day, then I make myself read that amount."

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Lindsay Rubin, 10, was having trouble getting her fourth-grade homework done last year. But the slim, easy-to-read book "How to Be School Smart" (Elizabeth James & Carol Barkin, Morrow, N.Y., $6.95) gave her valuable tips.

"It shows you how to make a chart so you can fit in all your homework," said Lindsay, who now uses a calendar to keep track of school projects.

Some teachers help by posting test dates or daily and weekly agendas, handing out preprinted assignment books or calendars, or offering study classes. Granada High's Success Program assists students in preparing weekly assignment sheets that are initialed by teachers and parents, and also offers various on-campus tutoring and monitoring services.

At home, Stern advises students to find "a quiet place to study with appropriate supplies and an orderliness to where they are kept."

A stacking crate system, file cabinets, bookshelves, even boxes can be used to keep work and materials organized and accessible.

"There's a certain amount of security in knowing where things are," Stern said. "People don't realize how much time they waste when they're not organized."

Organizing Tips

* Make contracts listing responsibilities and commitments for schoolwork and household chores.

* Make a schedule apportioning time for studying and chores.

* Keep an assignment sheet in your school notebook.

* Make a time-management chart to pinpoint wasted time and inefficiency.

* Practice good study skills such as outlining, taking notes and making use of small amounts of time.

* Don't procrastinate.

* Plan ahead what to wear to avoid dawdling over wardrobe choices.

* Periodically clean out desk drawers, files, closets, etc.

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