Grade-schoolers say, 'I'll pencil that in'

Kyle Churchill no longer asks his twin sister to remember their homework assignments.

That's because he has a new weapon: a shiny black day planner. "It's great, because if I forget my math homework, I can just look it up in my agenda," he says.

But there's something unusual about this setup. The Brooksville, Fla., native, who is penciling in people and assignments with all the enthusiasm of a newly minted corporate climber, is in fifth grade.

Smaller replicas of adults' overstuffed day planners are popping up in schools all over the United States. Ten years ago, less than a million student day planners were sold, according to Franklin Covey Co., a time-management firm in Provo, Utah. This year, the firm predicts some 50 million will find their way into backpacks and lockers.

Indeed, about a dozen marketers of student day planners have sprung up in the last decade, including School Mate, Time Tracker, and School Datebooks.

It's not surprising in an era when adults have graduated from weekly "to-do lists" to day planners and Palm Pilots. Mirroring their parents are young students who need to carve out blocks of time for soccer, music lessons, math tutors, and increasing amounts of homework. And organizational firms are sniffing an opportunity to bring efficiency into the lives of overscheduled young Americans.

An education in how to stay organized is welcome in many quarters - even if it's now starting in elementary rather than high school. The expectations for what children should accomplish at certain ages have increased in recent years, making organizational skills paramount. But some educators wonder about the direction of a society that has even its kindergartners carrying paste in one hand and a planner in the other.

"I'm not sure that we're not putting undue stress on young people," says Jan Allen, associate professor of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Many teachers, however, like the approach. "Kids are now expected to learn so much in a short amount of time, so [day planners] help teach organizational skills early on," says Carolyn Sunderland, a teacher at Kyle's school, Moton Elementary, where virtually all of the teachers have their students "use day planners religiously."

At schools where parent participation is a motto, the day planners provide teachers with documented accountability. And the day planners serve a dual purpose, in many cases replacing parent-teacher phone calls or conferences. Parents sign the day planner every night to show they've read the latest teacher comment and are up to speed on Junior's homework.

"Changes in the workforce, where a lot of parents are night-workers, or they both work, have made the old communication methods virtually impossible," says Moton kindergarten teacher Debbie Shivers.

With an eye to that, Franklin Covey - that's Franklin as in organizers, and Stephen Covey, as in guru of successful behavior - began to target new audiences. Parent-teacher communication is a big part of what it had in mind when it plunged into this market three years ago. "There has been a desire over the last several years [for teachers and parents] to communicate through the student in a way that has never been done before," says Charles Farnesworth, Franklin Covey's vice president of education.

But for Mark Kelly, who heads the Annunciation Orthodox School, an elementary school in Houston, the rise in day planners is a way to appease finger-pointing parents, who are holding teachers and schools more responsible now than they used to for their kids' performance.

Parents, Mr. Kelly says, are coming from a consumer and baby boomer mentality, "where they think they're entitled to certain things rather than having to earn them."

And parents are less willing to allow their children to fail, he says. "Kids need to learn from their setbacks, and parents want to protect them too much from that."

Others worry that no one's addressing the real problem: kids who are being loaded up with too much, be it play or work.

To Professor Alan Lightman, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, the answer is to get students to slow down.

"They're rushing around without having time to stop and process what they've learned, or where they're going." Besides, he says, colleges are interested in thoughtful students, not those with a laundry list of activities.

But many educators point out that regardless of how many commitments a child has, learning how to organize them at a young age is helpful.

Some students seem to agree: Kyle says he'll buy a day planner next year, even though it won't be required.

Time tips for families

*Be a model for good time-management skills.

*Get two planners: one for you and a student planner for your child.

*Set aside time for weekly and daily planning together.

*Help your child decide what is important to him or her and the family; write a simple mission statement - in both planners.

*Make sure school assignments as well as activities and appointments are entered in the planner.

*Explain how to check off finished tasks and move the unfinished ones ahead to another day.

*Use the student planner as a communication tool between you, your child, and teachers.

*Set aside a space in your house for your child to do homework. Include all necessary tools, such as pens, pencils, and scissors, so that he or she doesn't get distracted by wandering around the house looking for them.

*Teach children to keep their assignments and promises as you keep yours.

Source: Franklin Covey Co.

*E-mail steindorfs@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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