The Simple 6-Step Time Management Guide for Middle School Children

time management steps for school children

Takeaway: Middle school children are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of things they need to do. Luckily, time management strategies can be broken down into a series of simple, teachable steps and skills: (1) Identify problem areas, (2) List tasks & to-do’s, (3) Prioritise tasks, (4) Estimate the time needed for each task, (5) Break tasks down into sub-tasks, and (6) Create a schedule. Just spend a little time every day helping your child practise these steps and help her slowly take back control of her life. And if she needs more focussed attention, you could always consult an educational psychologist.

‘Time’ is a central part of middle schoolers’ lives, but they don’t always know how to manage it.

Children develop their concept of time gradually. If you were to tell your toddler that you’ll take her to the zoo ‘next Saturday,’ she wouldn’t quite know what you mean. But by middle school, she not only knows when Saturday is, but has the capacity to plan out the week leading up to the trip. However, having the capacity is different from mastering the necessary skills. And this is why middle schoolers struggle. They suddenly have more work than usual and are being pulled in many directions. They have to hand in assignments ‘on time,’ reach school ‘on time,’ finish tests ‘in time,’ and balance their ‘time’ between homework and play. ‘Time’ is such a central part of their lives, but they don’t always know how to manage it.

So, how can you help your middle schooler cope with her increasing responsibilities?

Thankfully, time management strategies can be broken down into a series of teachable steps and skills. The trick is to help your child consistently practise and hone these skills.

1. Identify commitments she’s struggling with

Your child needs to feel (not just understand) that time management will make her life easier and more fun. You can do this by sitting down with her and going over all the things she’s struggling with. Perhaps she regularly gets in trouble for not finishing her homework on time? Perhaps she gets extra stressed before tests because she doesn’t feel prepared? Maybe both football and guitar classes are too much for her? Once she’s talked about these worries, you’ll be able to tell her that there’s a way to deal with them.

2. List tasks and to-do’s

If finishing homework is a problem, maybe she needs to start working on it earlier? If tests are stressful, maybe it’ll help to reorganise the way she studies? If football and guitar are too much, perhaps she needs to choose one over the other? You want to help her translate these problems into a list of daily activities and tasks she needs to be doing. You’re trying to show her that she can control and change a lot of the things that bother her.

3. Prioritise some tasks over others

There’ll be things she wants to do — like meeting friends, playing computer games, and watching movies. And things she has to do — like going to school, doing her homework, and getting enough sleep. But can she do them all? Usually, no. And there’s a fun way to show her this.

  • Play The Rock Jar Game. Give her a jar, a bunch of large stones, and smaller pebbles. Ask her to fit in as many stones and pebbles as possible, but all the stones have to go in. Except, before playing, you’ve tried it out yourself. So, you’ll give her the right number of stones but loads of extra pebbles. She’ll soon realise that she has to put the large stones in first and then whatever pebbles fit around them.
  • Talk to her about her ‘shoulds.’ Point out that the big stones are like her school, homework, and sleep — they’re the most important and have to be done, no matter what.
  • Then discuss her ‘wants.’ Once the ‘shoulds’ are done, there’s space for the things she ‘wants’ to do, such as playing computer games and hanging out with friends. They are like the pebbles: there are many of them, but there’s not always enough space.
  • Help her prioritise her daily tasks. She’ll now need to pick and choose from her list of activities to decide what she can do each day and over the week. This process of prioritising can be exciting if she’s been feeling overwhelmed.

4. Estimate how long tasks will take

Part of prioritisation is learning to estimate out how long each task will take. So, there are a couple of things she could do to practise.

  1. Using the time tracker Get her to draw a table with four columns and a series of rows. Each row represents a 15-minute slot of time in her evening. The first column lists the times for each slot, the second is for her to record what she plans to do in each time slot, the third is for what she actually did, and the fourth is for her reflections. This fourth column is where the real learning takes place. For example, she might notice that her homework time regularly spills into her free time. So, you can help her start thinking about why that happens and what she can do about it.
  2. Guessing how long different activities take. If she’s a younger middle schooler, she might enjoy practising by guessing how long simple activities take — things like brushing her teeth, for example. Has she ever timed it? Wouldn’t it be a fun little fact to know?

5. Break up big tasks into smaller ones

So, she’s made her list of tasks, prioritised them, and estimated how long they’d take. But what about tasks that are too big to finish in one sitting? For these, she can practise breaking things up into smaller chunks. Say she has to read a book and write an essay about it. Here’s how she could tackle the project:

  1. Breaking up tasks: Writing a book report has 3 steps. (1) Read the book, (2) Think about what she wants to write, (3) Write the essay. And these have sub-steps, too. For example, to write the essay, she’ll have to structure it first. Then, write it. Then, review and edit it. Show her how intimidating tasks can be broken up into smaller, less scary ones.
  2. Breaking up time spent on tasks: She’s broken down big tasks into smaller ones, and now she can do the same with big chunks of time. For example, she could read the book in 15-minute sprints. So, read for 15 minutes, take a 5-minute break, then read for 15 minutes again, and so on.

6. Create a sensible schedule.

Now that she has a prioritised list of small tasks, it’s time to create a schedule. There are two kinds of schedules she can keep:

  1. The daily schedule. This is where she has broad chunks of time listed and what she plans to do in these chunks. Downtime and playtime are essential, though. The idea isn’t to optimise every moment of her day, but to show her how to get important things done.
  2. The monthly calendar. Here’s where she plans out the month ahead. You can make it a fun crafts activity by helping her make her own calendar. This will be a grid with squares for each day of the month, where she can list important events and due-dates. So, maybe Tuesdays are for football practice? And next Thursday is when her assignment is due? It all goes down in the calendar. Take it up a level by making a family calendar, too, so she can see her to-do’s up there with yours.

The key is to keep things simple and fun.

It’s unrealistic (and arguably, unhealthy) to expect adult-style productivity from a middle school child. Instead, we’re giving her the tools to manage her life better. So, let her play around with them, use what works, and drop the rest.

Does your child need more focussed help with time management?

The Ed Psych Practice offers consultation, advice, and problem solving for parents, nurseries, schools, and colleges.

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