Ruly Bookshelf: That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week


Last week was a huge event for our family. We welcomed a wonderful boy! Our son is tiny and cute and his arrival requires that my husband and I update our parenting skills to learn more about raising boys.

Ana Homayoun’s book, That Crumpled Paper was Due Last Week: Helping Disorganized and Distracted Boys Succeed in School and Life, was a timely read. Ms. Homayoun is a former financial analyst for a major Wall Street firm turned educational organizer. Her specialty is helping junior high and high school age children, particularly boys, organize their time and energy to do better in school.

Why the focus on boys? Certainly girls have many of the same organizational challenges when it comes to school. Ms. Homayoun gives a couple of data points here:

“Scientists have discovered in recent years that the brains of men and women seem to be wired differently; women can more easily handle language-based multi-tasking—writing notes while listening to someone speak, for instance—while men are superior at spatial-based multi-tasking, which comes in handy in sports and videogames, but is rarely any help in the classroom. . . .”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

She also indicates that since boys end puberty as many as three years later than girls, differences in brain maturation rates also account for why boys struggle with school more often than girls. While the book focuses solely on the needs of pre-teen and teenage boys, the advice can be easily translated to girls or even adults.

First, a few things not to do . . .

1) Don’t take it personally. If your son is disorganized or not doing well in school, don’t assume that this is a reflection of your poor parenting or example.

“I meet a lot of parents who feel personally embarrassed and guilty about their son’s poor academic performance, detachment from school, and general malaise. Yet by complaining about their son’s shortcomings, they are actually (unwittingly) creating a more toxic environment. The parents who come into my office assuming the worst of their child (“He never gets it . . . he’s always doing this”) are often the ones digging their children—and themselves—a bigger hole, complete with the emotional baggage that makes it more difficult for their children to become organized, responsible and accountable.”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

2) Don’t get too involved.

“Some moms who come into my office are terrifically organized—nearly perfectly so . . . and they wonder why their sons are so disorganized. Part of the problem is, of course, that with Mom so on top of it, these sons have never been forced to develop such skills on their own. When confronted with the need to organize themselves, they consequently react with frustration and, finally, give up on organization altogether.”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

3) Don’t pay your child for grades.

“To help your child grow and develop as a student and a person, he needs to feel comfortable making mistakes and growing within his own abilities. By bribing him, you are setting the bar where you think it should be instead of allowing him to develop the intrinsic motivation that, who knows, could likely have him one day exceeding your wildest expectations.”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

4) Don’t complain about your son’s shortcomings in his presence.

“By humiliating him, you’re telling him that mistakes and failure are synonymous; they’re not. If they were, we’d all be getting Fs every day of our lives.”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

Ms. Homayoun then outlines 8 different personality types typically associated with disorganized boys. (Again, I think you can apply these personality types to just about anyone. I certainly found myself among the types.) The reasons for disorganization can vary from the “Over-Scheduled Procrastinator” to the “Sincere Slacker.” Different organizational techniques may be required to address each personality type.

Ms. Homayoun emphasizes the need to set goals with your student and gives child-appropriate questions to ask to help develop these goals. Ms. Homayoun encourages the whole family to get in on the act and post their goals in a public spot. Regularly, the family should check in with each other to see how everyone is doing with their goals.

“In coming up with these goals, students are taking two very important steps: They’re establishing a clear purpose and path for accomplishing what they want to accomplish, and they’re beginning to view being organized as an important part of finding their own personal pathway.”

–Ana Homayoun, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week

For those excited about purchasing school supplies, Ms. Homayoun also has a chapter on specific organizational techniques. A few tips (and some examples from amazon.com) . . .

  • She prefers binders, one for each subject, including subjects that don’t generally have a lot of paperwork, like music or P.E. Her argument is that everything generates at least some paperwork and you need a slot to put that in. Within each binder, create five tabs: notes, homework, handouts, tests/quizzes and paper.
  • She prefers “reinforced binder paper” to prevent paper from tearing at the holes.
  • Since creating flash cards is one of her recommended techniques for studying, she recommends that you purchase recipe card or index card boxes to store the flash cards in for easy access.
  • All students need a planner and she recommends planners that provide one full page for each school day (surprisingly hard to find!).

Wilson Jones (W362-14W) 3-Hole View Binder, 1-Inch Rings, 11 Inch by 8 1/2 Inch, White at amazon.com.

Pendaflex Oxford Blank Index Cards, 3x5 Inches, White, 1000 cards at zmazon.com.

Plastic Index Card File Box, 300 3"x5" Card Capacity at amazon.com.

Academic Year Daily Business Planners - July 2011 at amazon.com.

Avery WorkSaver Insertable Tab Dividers, 5-Tab Set, 1 Set at amazon.com.

Ms. Homayoun’s expertise in the school environment really shows. She has chapters on learning differences, separation/divorce and chronic illness. She discusses the impact of technology on this age group, including cell phones, Facebook and online learning management systems. She suggests ideal study areas in the home–notably not in the child’s bedroom– and homework and test strategies.

For more from Ms. Homayoun, see the video clip below:

This book was a great read both for parents who have children in middle and high school as well as those, like myself, who have many years until that time. It was helpful to get a preview of the organizational skills kids need as they progress in school and has challenged me to come up with simple ways to begin developing these skills in my children now.

Do you agree that boys struggle more with school organization than girls? What techniques have you found especially helpful for organizing boys? Please share in the comments.