Back in a Student Frame of Mind

East Side Monthly Magazine ·

It’s still summer, but the kids go back to school in just a few short weeks. According to local parenting expert and founder of Fireborn Institute Katherine Firestone, there are several things you can do right now to help ease your family’s transition to fall. These strategies fall into four broad categories: organization, time management, planning and future picture thinking.


It’s important to identify the organizational style of your child: Is he or she a Visual Organizer, a Comfy Organizer or a Sequential Organizer? Marcella Moran, author of the book Organizing the Disorganized Child, offers an Organizing Style Assessment on her website After assessing your child’s organizational style, Firestone recommends setting up a homework area and purchasing school supplies to match it.

Visual Organizers, for example, like to see all of their supplies at the same time, so having a desk with no drawers makes more sense for them. Comfy Organizers like to have everything within reach, and Sequential Organizers tend to build their own organizational systems; trays with labels may help both of these types keep things close at hand.

While parents are often tempted to buy backpacks with multiple pockets and compartments to keep kids organized, Firestone recommends fewer pockets, which help prevent objects from getting lost or misplaced. “And my favorite piece of advice,” she says, “is to buy plastic page protectors.” A binder full of page protectors allows a kid to quickly slide papers into it, rather than stuffing them into a backpack.

Time Management

August is a great time to start developing some routines that utilize music. For example, Firestone suggests creating a playlist to accompany a wake-up routine. Using the same playlist every day to accompany a specific set of activities, such as brushing teeth, getting dressed and having breakfast, allows your child to gauge whether he or she is on time or running late. This strategy helps your children learn to stay punctual while taking on responsibility for themselves.

You can create similar playlists for homework time; start now with summer reading and packets (use instrumental songs only, as words can be distracting). This helps your child learn how long 30 minutes is, for example, as well as how long tasks take to complete. This may help encourage persistence: “I only have one more song to go – I’m almost finished!”

For younger children, Firestone recommends the Octopus Watch, an icon-based watch that helps teach kids the concept of time. For older kids, “having an analog clock with a minute hand and a second hand is very useful for teaching about the passage of time.” Helping children estimate how long assignments (such as completing five math problems) take is helpful as they enter the school year.


Using a big family calendar, particularly a wall calendar, is a good visual reminder for your kids that helps them plan ahead for the week; you can use pictures or words, depending on the age of your children. You can even color-code with highlighters, if you have multiple kids in the family.

Talk to your child about the type of academic planner that might work best for school; try to match the tool with your child’s organizational style. For some kids, a small notebook to jot things down quickly may be better than an agenda book or planner – be realistic about what your child is capable of doing.

For young kids who may be having trouble getting ready in the morning, having clip-art pictures posted around the house can be helpful. For example, next to the alarm clock, tape a picture of a toothbrush. Near the toothbrush is a photo of clothes. On the closet or the bureau is a picture of a hairbrush, which leads to a picture of shoes, which leads to a picture of breakfast. At every transition point, there is a reminder.

Future Picture Thinking

“Future picture thinking is very important to being able to plan,” says Firestone. “If we can imagine our future self, then we are more likely to do the work now to become that future person.” If your child can’t picture what being ready for school looks like, then it will be hard for him or her to get there. Taking a photo of your child totally ready for school – clothes on, shoes on, hair brushed, backpack on, etc. – and posting it near the door can help the child take responsibility for him- or herself.

Finally, start modeling these behaviors for your child now. If your purse or desk is messy, let your child see you organizing it as you narrate the process. Exclaim, “Wow, what a mess! I think I’m going to take everything out and organize it, so I can find things more easily.” Put your own activities on the family calendar, so your child can see that you, too, write things down to remember them.

Fireborn Institute provides several free resources for busy parents: short informative videos (Fireborn Flickers), podcasts, parenting lectures and informal Fireside Chats. For more information or to sign up, visit

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