December Checklist

By Dr. Rick Bavaria

Middle School

We’re halfway through the school year! For kids in high school, that means it’s time for a semester change, which may mean the end of some classes. For kids of all ages, big projects are due soon, before the holidays. English book reports, science fair projects, social studies dioramas, math tests, lines memorized for the school play… You get the idea.


This school year, we’ve been making monthly checklists to ensure kids are successful and on track to meet all these due dates. This December checklist is all about “backward mapping,” or the ability to organize yourself by breaking big tasks into smaller ones.


Introduce the concept.

Backward mapping is one of the most important skills we can teach kids. It’s a gift they’ll use the rest of their lives. If something’s due on the 20th of the month, ask, “What do you need to have accomplished by the 5th?  The 9th?  The 13th?  The 15th?  The 18th?”


Go over milestones before the due date.

Let them tell you what needs to be done.  Not the other way around.  This can be difficult for them at first.  Listen without interrupting.


Put the milestones on the family calendar.

Let them do it. You watch.




You contribute.

When they’re done with their assignment, now’s the time for you to add your two cents’ worth. Guide them, remind them of anything they’ve missed. “You’re finished? Really? What about proofreading? That’s an important step, don’t you think? Remember how Ms. Rosebud took off points for careless misspellings last month?”


Talk about progress.

Daily. This shows them you’re actively involved. It also gives them an easy out if temptations come along from friends. “Sorry, I can’t go out this afternoon. My mom’s being a tyrant about this book report.”


Be patient.

Backward mapping can be difficult for kids. They tend to think only in the present. Working backward from some future date is not natural for them yet. Stay focused and cheerful, even if you’re not feeling cheerful, and look for reasons to compliment. Practice makes perfect.




Don’t forget, there may be more than one project due.

This makes backward mapping even more of a valuable organizational tool. “Okay, the book report’s coming along beautifully. Well done! Now, for the diorama.”


Build in some celebration time.

Let them experience the feeling of accomplishment. “Let’s take a little break for ice cream before we get to that diorama. You’ve really earned it.”


Appreciate the results.

When those projects come back with good grades, when the report cards are improved, show them how all this work paid off. Congratulations!