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    6 Steps to Help Teens Get Organized

    When the school requested a conference with the Goldbergs regarding one of their sons, all kinds of things ran through their mind. Late homework was probably the last thing they expected to discuss.

    “After the school conference we tested him and went through all kinds of processes to make sure we had him in the right school and in the right environment to do his best work,” said Donna Goldberg, author of The Organized Student: Teaching Students Skills for Success for School and Beyond.

    “We determined he was in the right place. Our son kept telling us that we didn’t need to do the testing, but we assured him we did. The following year, on his own, he made a goal to turn in all homework on time and not ask for extensions on anything. At the end of the year, he told us what his goal had been and he was very proud of himself for accomplishing it.”

    Goldberg's experience with her son led her to write the book and help students master organizational skills.

    “We teach children to tell time, but we don’t teach them how to manage it,” Goldberg said. “When I started this, schools did not require work planners. Now they require planners, but few students know how to use the tool to help them accomplish their goals for the year.”

    Encouraging your teen to start school with goals can help them succeed in the classroom and generally, in life. Whether they want to make the football team, turn in homework on time or be on time for school, learning how to organize is foundational to their success.

    “Just because parents are organized does not mean their children will be,” Goldberg said. “In many instances, I see parents who expect their children to learn organizational skills just by watching. Just modeling a particular behavior does not ensure that teens are learning it. We have to break it down for them step by step. In that process, parents need to remember that although a certain way of doing things works for them, that same system may not work for their teen.”

    Goldberg believes these six steps can help teens develop organizational skills:

    • Work to establish trust with your teen. Your don't allow your teen to rummage through your purse or briefcase without your permission. Instead of just going through their backpack, ask them to go through it with you.

    • Recognize success, no matter how small. Just because you want your teen to get organized does not mean he'll remember everything. Have a system in place, allow it to fall apart, and start again from where you left off.

    • Don’t bite off more than your teen can chew. Some teens can work on an entire organizational system quickly. Others need to take it slowly.

    • Remove the academic component from the equation. If the goal is to complete work on time but your teen made a terrible test grade, celebrate their progress for turning in homework on time. Discuss the grade another time. Deal with them as two separate issues.

    • Make sure everybody knows: this is a process. Organizational skills don't just happen, and it takes practice. There will be missteps along the way. But, as you consistently work the process, teens begin to internalize the system.

    • Keep everything in perspective and be positive. Stay focused on organization and remember that great achievements don't always show up on the report card.

    “I think many parents do not understand how difficult it is to be a student today,” Goldberg said. “Teens are inundated with information from the time they get up until they go to bed. It is very difficult to be organized when you are constantly transitioning. A child who does homework while messaging and texting can’t focus because he is going from one thing to another.”

    Remember that teens rarely plan to be inefficient. When a child struggles with organization, try different ways to help your child problem-solve the situation.

    When push comes to shove, most teens can come up with some excellent ideas. It requires time and energy, but you are teaching valuable, lifelong skills.

    For tips on parenting get our E-book "How to be a Guide for your Teen" Download Here

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    What Every Child Needs to Learn

    Did you know…

    • Babies can hear three months before they are born?
    • 80 percent of a child’s brain development happens in the first three years?
    • On average, the ratio of reprimands, warnings or scolding to praise or encouragement is 12 to 1 for children in low-income families?
    • A major study showed that by age 2, less-advantaged children were six months behind the highly-advantaged in language processing skills?

    During a visit to Chattanooga, Dr. Ron Ferguson, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and faculty director of the Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI) at Harvard, shared these facts as he talked about an initiative he launched in Boston. His goal is to help parents engage with their young children and reduce the skill gaps that become apparent between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds by age 3.

    “Looking at the research, I realized a lot of the gaps we struggle to address once children are older are evident by the age of 2,” says Ferguson. “We know we are never going to reach everybody through standard programs because capacity is limited, but imagine what could happen if everybody in the community felt a sense of ownership to do their part in helping children thrive.”

    The initiative focuses on five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles which are scientifically proven ways to promote brain development in young children. Moreover, the initiative is designed so every parent, caregiver, family member, friend or citizen can use and share it. 

    Here are the principles:

    • Maximize Love, Manage Stress. Infants thrive when their world seems loving, safe and predictable. When you express love and respond to their needs, they learn that they can count on you. Showing love and responding helps children learn to manage their feelings and behavior. Feeling secure in their relationships gives them the confidence to explore, learn and take on life’s challenges.
    • Talk, Sing and Point. From birth, babies are learning language. Initially, speech is just sound to a newborn. Day by day, they learn that sounds have meaning. This process depends on how much people talk to them. Talking, singing or pointing to what you are talking about provides clues to the meaning of your words. You are providing important information to their brains about how language works. As your child develops, talking with them and answering their questions teaches them about the world.
    • Count, Group, Compare. Becoming good at math begins long before a child enters school. Even infants are wired to learn simple math ideas, including small numbers, patterns and making comparisons. You don’t need to be a math teacher to prepare your child to be a problem solver. You can do fun and simple activities now to build math and thinking skills.
    • Explore through Movement and Play. Movement and play are good for children’s bodies, their coordination, strength and overall health. This is how children explore and learn, too. Each stage of development brings new opportunities for learning. For example, an infant might explore by touching, grasping, chewing or crawling. A toddler might explore by walking or climbing. Young children are like scientists, curious and excited to explore.
    • Read and Discuss Stories. Reading with young children consistently prepares them to enjoy reading and to do well in school. It is never too early to begin reading! Stories expose children to words and ideas that they would not otherwise experience. Books teach children to use their imaginations, and what they learn about people, places and things can be important building blocks to future success. Reading together creates lasting memories.

    Research shows this type of support for early brain growth is a key to stimulating the start in life that all infants and toddlers deserve. It is also the foundation of kindergarten readiness.

    Imagine what the greater Chattanooga region would be like in 2026 if, as a community, everyone practiced these caregiving principles with the children in their sphere of influence. In the meantime, plans are already in the works to reach as many families as possible. The great thing is, everybody can be part of this initiative to close the achievement gap and help all of our kids get off to a great start.

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    Making the Most of Family Time

    Sara and Jonathan Emanuel have five children between the ages of 3 and 13. At one point, their kids participated in cheer, dance, baseball, swim, tennis, Indian Princess and Girl Scouts.

    “In our home with children involved in this many activities, not to mention school and church youth group, we never had a moment that wasn’t filled,” says Sara. “I got to a point a couple of years ago where I hit a wall and didn’t want to do anything because I was so overwhelmed. I felt like I was being hit, rolled and turned like waves on the beach.”

    Sara and Jonathan began seriously discussing some much-needed changes. Close examination made them realize they were neglecting the things they believed were most important.

    “We wanted to recalibrate our family, which meant some big changes,” Sara says. “We made the decision to homeschool for a period of time – we also decided to pull back from all of the activities. For our family, it was probably the best decision we have made.”

    Because Jonathan has job flexibility to work while traveling, the Emanuels decided to head out for an extended summer trip.

    “Three years ago, we took our camper and drove to the furthest southern point of the Keys and stayed for a month,” Sara says. “We camped, cracked coconuts, biked all over the place and stopped at every place on the way there and back we thought would be interesting for the kids. We were studying biology and marine life so it was perfect. Lots of museums and other places to visit that fed right into what they were learning. The kids didn’t have Wi-Fi most of the time, which provided a welcome break from electronics. They read books and played board games purchased from McKay's. I am pretty positive I played Go Fish 1000 times in one week that summer.”

    Last year the family camped all around the Ozarks for three weeks. This year they had planned to go to Canada, but had issues with the camper. After a quick fix, they will head to Washington D.C., instead. They plan to visit historical sites and camp in the Virginia mountains for several weeks along the way.

    “It was a very tough decision to pull back, but if we had it to do over, we would definitely make the same decision,” Sara says. “I went from an attitude of ‘as long as my kids are breathing and aren’t hungry then I have done my job’ to long walks with them where they asked thought-provoking questions. The stress level in our family went down tenfold and the fighting between our kids diminished significantly.”

    The Emanuels realize this wouldn’t work for everybody. They do believe, however, it has made them purposefully examine their family’s activities. Instead of doing what everybody else was doing, stepping back helped their family remember what really matters to them.

    “Both my husband and I came to the realization that once this time with our kids is gone, it’s gone,” Sara shares. “You can’t be afraid to do what is in the best interest of your family – no matter what everybody else thinks. Instead of being exhausted all the time, we are more engaged with our kids. Jonathan takes two of our kids to weekly boxing lessons and that’s something the three of them do together. Sometimes we head out to the lake to throw the football and wander around. I love that we are not ‘go, go, go’ all the time. Both of us see a huge difference in how we communicate with each other and the amount of play that actually goes on. It feels like we are all more loving toward each other.”

    In his book, Take Back Your Kids: Confident Parenting in Turbulent Times, Dr. William Doherty says that while families have pursued worthwhile activities for their children, they have lost family time. Without consciously focusing on maintaining internal bonds, choices lead to hyperactive, emotionally-depleted families. He encourages parents to make family time and family activities a high priority.

    When the Emanuels were courageous enough to step back, they discovered what they were missing. Is your family missing out, too?