From the Mailbag: Paper Planners for Everyone?!

I often get questions in my inbox, and while I am (sadly!) not able to answer them all, I am happy to answer a question from the mailbag and share my response in hopes it helps others. Enjoy!

Hi Ana!

That Crumpled Paper has been such a positive influence on my son and in our family! I’m so grateful. In the small town that we live in, only the kids with IEPs are required to carry and use a planner, starting in junior high. I couldn’t figure out why my son and the high school boys refused to use them. It’s because of the stigma! My son was getting a zero once a week in 8th grade and I insisted that he start using a planner. He got tears in his eyes saying he would lose all his friends because they would think he is [in] “Special Ed.” I spoke to the principal about it and he acknowledged the stigma, but has no plans to change anything, which is very frustrating. Are you aware of any research on the effectiveness of planners that I could share? With him, with the school board, with other moms? It seems crazy. My son did acknowledge that some super brainy girls carry them too! I appreciate any suggestions.

Dear “Paper Planners for Everyone,”

Thank you for your note – and I am so glad to hear that you found my first book, That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, so helpful. It is truly rewarding to hear that eight years after the book came out, families are still finding it to be a useful resource.

There are actually two parts to your question that I think are important to answer. The first is related to the shame and stigma associated with qualifying for special services or special education. In fact, it is that shame and stigma that prevents many kids from utilizing the services they need in order to reach their full academic and personal potential. So this situation presents you with a teachable moment.

Your son’s reaction is certainly not unique, especially in an age where we place so much (and perhaps too much) emphasis on academic excellence through numerical markers of success and not enough emphasis on the importance of social and emotional learning and caring about others. We all – parents, educators, and students – play a role in reducing stigma and shame around needing social, emotional, and academic support. There’s nothing wrong with a student having learning differences or needing additional time to process or comprehend information, and I hope we can all work together to start a conversation on compassion, empathy, inclusion, and understanding. The next time your son says he is concerned that others would think he is in special education, you might respond by asking him why that would matter, perhaps initiating a greater conversation on inclusive kindness toward others with differences.

In terms of paper planners, there is evidence to suggest that writing down information by hand can help improve retention. Evidence from a recent study and others suggests that writing by hand engages the mind and can help children pay attention. One of the reasons highlighted in this article from Scientific American is that reading on paper allows us to create mental maps that anchor meaning to structure, and this anchoring helps us retain the information better.

In my office, I frequently see how effective it is to provide a structure of time and space for students to write all their assignments, activities, and appointments in a written planner. For many students, the act of writing down everything in one place is stress-relieving, as it allows them to take things out of top of mind and put them on paper. It also helps students begin to problem solve around managing their time – for instance, if a student has two exams on Thursday morning and knows she has a track meet that will go until late on Wednesday night, she might begin preparing in advance to help her budget her time and energy.

In schools, I’ve also seen the benefits for teachers who encourage, require, or offer incentives for paper planner use. By giving students five minutes to write down all their assignments everyday, or twenty minutes every week to “regroup” and sort through their loose papers, teachers are more likely to get assignments turned in on time and are less likely to have to track down missing or forgotten work. A little structured time goes a long way, particularly for middle school and high school students.

A parent recently shared that her kids’ elementary school requires students to use a paper planner starting in third grade (the school asks for some cash as part of school supplies to cover the cost and then distributes the planners to all students). They’re strongly recommended at the middle level, too, and the school sells them at registration (the planners are printed with the school logo and some school-specific information).

I’ve found that the best planners are those that are simple and offer opportunities to manage and track appointments, assignments, and activities, schedule time, and set goals.

I hope this helps!


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Good night, sweet prince: A tribute to Mason

Fall 2010.

If you’ve visited my office over the past fifteen years, chances are that you met Mason, my beloved wire-haired terrier mix who was immortalized in this 2008 New York Times article. When he and I first met, I was in my early twenties and was living in an in-law unit above a garage in Menlo Park, CA, trying to figure out what to do with my life. 

Fast forward fifteen years, and what a ride it has been. Those who knew Mason knew how important he was to me. He impacted the lives of so many students, friends, family members, and caregivers who frequently asked about him, and I thought it best to compose an tribute—because what a life he lived! (Special thanks to Amanda Jones for her amazing photography)

Mason passed away peacefully at home on the afternoon of March 28, 2018, surrounded by his family, who loved him dearly. In his fifteen-plus years on this Earth, his gentle spirit brought so much joy to so many people of all ages.

Spring 2017.

Though his early story remains unknown, Mason was rescued from a high-kill shelter in California’s Central Valley and brought to Pets in Need in Redwood City, CA, in early 2003. Not long thereafter, he chose his human companion with a mix of the forceful determination and quiet fortitude he became known for throughout his life—in essence, he refused to leave her lap, and she realized she had no choice but to bring him home.

In their first year together, Mason experienced such severe separation anxiety that his human person brought him nearly everywhere. They also moved apartments twice in the span of three months to find the right living space (and then never moved again).

Naturally nervous and shy, Mason was happiest with his human, and his youthful prance and wide smile often caused people to stop as they were walking down the street—or, occasionally, yell out of cars—to inquire about Mason’s breed (mutt) and background (unknown). He’s so cute! He looks so happy! He’s smiling! Look at that prance! were all familiar refrains.

For nearly fifteen years, Mason came to the Green Ivy offices in Los Altos, CA, where in early years he would sit patiently by a few favorite students, occasionally jumping in a lap or two. He was especially good at identifying quiet students who might benefit from animal emotional support, and would sometimes leave his bed and sit quietly by their chair for the duration of their session. In later years, he mostly slept quietly in the back office.

Throughout his life, Mason attracted fans and friends from around the world. Doctors, nurses, caregivers, former Green Ivy students, and family friends remarked on his extraordinary life force. His sense of dignity and grace were compromised only by the presence of skateboarders, road cyclists, and the two min-pins on the third floor of his apartment building. Because of his likely abusive beginnings in the Central Valley, it was often difficult for him to warm up to strangers, but once someone became a trusted friend, it was a lifelong friendship.

Fall 2015.

In early 2010, Mason’s human person decided to get an exuberant, social terrier named Sallie, who was found in a dumpster in Redding, CA. Mason was immediately both doubtful and reluctant. Dubbed the Ambassador of Joy, Sallie had a spark of enthusiasm that gave Mason newfound confidence and renewed vitality, and the two of them would often prance together in unison down urban sidewalks, through city parks, along coastal beaches, or on trails in the Presidio. They had an adopted-sibling rivalry and love based on having polar-opposite personalities.

In October 2015, Mason was diagnosed with congenital heart failure and given a prognosis of six to twelve months. With a mixture of good medicine and excellent care, Mason was one of less than ~2% of dogs to recover, and he lived another two and a half years, moving through heart failure, kidney failure, and bladder cancer with remarkable determination. He routinely blew through medical timelines and more than once fought his way back from the brink of death.

March 2018.

Mason lived a life of simple happiness—he didn’t chase balls or toys, and he quietly kept a stuffed pig by his side. He seemed outwardly stoic and reserved, and enjoyed staring out the apartment’s corner window to track the neighborhood’s happenings or sleeping on one of his many dog beds. He loved his regular routine of 7 am walks at Crissy Field or 9 am walks at Lafayette Park, followed by afternoon jaunts to the Fairmont rooftop garden. He will be sorely missed by so many, but by no one more than his human person.

There were so many amazing people who made Mason’s life better by being in it, and we would be remiss not to thank them for their kindness and support. Special thanks to Tender Care Vet Hospital (thanks, Dr. Kate!), Sam’s Clinic (thanks, Dr. Hawley!), Sage Vet Centers (thanks, Dr. Ullman, Dr. Roberts, Dr. Sogame, and the entire incredible staff), Lotus Vet Care (special thanks to Shanti, for providing incredible hospice care), Dr. Justin Williams, Amanda Jones (who captured some of our favorite portraits!), Charlotte Richardson, Joan Mapou, and Mason’s many human and animal friends. Mason’s gentle spirit led such a wonderful life, and it is with such gratitude that he was able to comfortably receive pet hospice care at home in his final days.


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On the Road Again!

I am heading out on the road this week (first stop: Mill Valley, CA to talk about the culture of perfectionism), and thought it would be a good time to share some of my recent work, especially as we’ve moved past the flurry of the first few weeks of the year and now are trying to be focused amid lots of weather delays and rapid speed news cycles.

As I was preparing for the book release of Social Media Wellness, I interviewed lots of teenagers – because who better to talk about social media than teens? Some were featured in this fun video, and I used the advice of other teens to write Washington Post piece, “What Kids Really Want their Parents to Know About Social Media.”

These days, many parents wonder if their kids are addicted to their phones, so I wrote about a piece entitled “Is Your Kid a Phone Addict?” for the NYTimes.

Finally, as we head into the second semester, many of you might be wondering how to curb digital distractions.  I shared five strategies along with some tips with NBC’s Education Nation. Essentially: make it all about them, create plan, recognize the importance of YOUR attitude and approach, be consistent, and gamify it (managing distractions can be fun!). Personally the best thing I’ve done for myself is put my inbox on pause – I only check emails three times a day, and have managed to get back to people much more quickly and get more rest (hint: if using gmail, download Boomerang).

I am headed to Atlanta, Philadelphia, NYC, Memphis, Dallas, and Raleigh-Durham – and also have a number of events in the Bay Area. I would love for you to tell your friends or those who might be interested. Some of the events are closed to the public, but all of the information can be found in the events section. 

Finally, my fall 2018 speaking schedule is starting to fill – if you know of any organizations who might be interested in hosting, please feel free to have them get in touch.

Hope to see you on the road!

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