14 December 2009 09:34 AM

Neatness Counts

by Dr. Rick

Neatness still counts in school.  Sloppy may be “in” for clothes, where “distressed” jeans cost more than “new” ones, and people at airports and even church look as if they don’t have mirrors in their houses, poor things.  It’s evident in speech, where “you guys” has replaced a perfectly good plural “you.”  And it’s taken over manners – just check out malls and other public places.   But neatness still counts for homework and other work handed in for school.  At least it should. 


Neatness can improve school grades, especially on homework.  It can improve the homework routine.  It can save you time.  According to Neatness Counts, the average person loses one hour a day or two weeks per year looking for lost things.  “Removing clutter” is the number two New Year’s Resolution, after “Losing Weight.”  If being neat is so difficult and damaging for adults, think of what it means for kids.


Neatness even affects the way others perceive us.  A 2002 University of Texas study shows that we form impressions of others based on features of their personal environments – the neatness of their rooms or their desks at work, for example. We see slobs as less efficient, creative, and organized. 


I’m not talking about obsessive, fuddy-duddy, unrealistic neatness here.  (I’ve taught adolescents.  I know.)  Just a common-sense recognition that the habits that lead to reasonable neatness – organization, attention to detail, respect for ourselves and our work – are the habits that lead to success in school and beyond.  Best to learn them early.  That’s all I’m saying.


Have a child who could learn neatness?  Who doesn’t?  Here are a few tips to consider.

  1. Use best handwriting.  Encourage your child to use his best handwriting on school assignments and in-class writing.  Show how it’s so much easier for someone to read a neatly written paragraph than a hastily scribbled one.  If the teacher can read it easily, she’ll be more apt to grade it favorably.  Typed papers need to be neat, too.
  2. Check for errors.  Show him how to check for misspelling, bad grammar, and missed words.  Teachers can spot a rush job a mile away and grade accordingly.  Show him how important it is to proofread an assignment before turning it in.  It shows that he’s taken pride in his work, a value that will help him later in life.
  3. Read out loud.  Encourage your child to read his finished assignment aloud. Slowly.  Better yet, you read it, word for word, to help him listen.  Does it make sense?  Does it say what he wants it to say?  Can it be said better?
  4. Slow down.  Teach your child that haste makes waste.  How much time do we all waste cleaning up tasks and assignments that could have been done right the first time?  Show him that taking his time and not multitasking will save him time and effort in the long run.
  5. Organize.  “A place for everything and everything in its place” is an old but still-useful adage.  Neatness helps your child to organize.  It allows him to find what he needs when he needs it.  Help him to clean out his notebook, de-clutter his home study area, and his school locker.  Don’t forget his backpack.  No telling what’s in there.  From time to time, give a pop-quiz on neatness.  “Let’s see that backpack, pal!”
  6. Set neatness goals together.  Some kids take to neatness and order.  Other don’t.  For the ones who need reminders, come up with some neatness goals together.  Better organized notebooks, planners, and study areas, for example.  Come up with some reasonable rewards and consequences.
  7. Monitor those goals.  Make sure he understands that they are important for you, too, and that you want him to be successful.
  8. Check homework periodically.  Every night if necessary.  If it seems messy and sloppy to you, it will to the teacher, too.  Praise good work.  Make him do it over if it doesn’t pass your muster.
  9. Be a good role model.  You don’t have to live in a museum, but you don’t have to live in shambles, either.  If you’re always looking for something amid clutter and chaos, chances are he’ll learn that this must be normal.  Don’t do that to him.
  10. Don’t give up.  Neatness may seem like a quaint habit in today’s hectic, anything-goes world, but there’s no denying its value in school, work, and daily life at home.  Set him up for success.

What works for your child?  Share your thoughts and anecdotes with us by clicking on “Comments” below.


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