Tried and True: The Benefits of a Paper Planner

Does your child struggle to manage time or keep track of due dates at school or with life in general? A paper planner might just be the essential tool he or she needs to stay on task, especially if your child struggles with executive functioning skills.

At SOS4Students, we find many students try to make a go of school without a functional planning system of any kind. That’s a clear recipe for disaster.


Schools used to distribute paper planners every year, but many have stopped, leaving it up students to buy one or to rely on their smartphones or the school’s online homework platforms. 

In our experience, such an approach does not work. When students are taught first how to use a paper planner effectively, they benefit greatly compared to using a smartphone, tablet, or online system from the outset. The key is to start building a strong foundation of planner use in late elementary school, reinforcing the practice through middle school as activities and responsibilities increase.

To help you decide on whether a paper or digital planner would work best for your child, let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks you should consider.

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Why Relying on Smartphones Often Doesn’t Work

As a distraction, smartphones are far too tempting, especially for younger students. Further, students generally are not supposed to be using their phones in school. This is a major issue.

  • Sometimes teachers do allow students to take pictures of the classroom board, but that doesn’t help students plan or prioritize the information presented there. They simply end up with multiple photos of whiteboards on their phones and no plan of action to visualize.
  • Unless they are using an app designed to help organize tasks and deadlines, such as Todoist, students tend to create unwieldy “to-do” lists on their phones, with little organization and no indication of deadlines.
  • Many students make the mistake of thinking they can keep track of everything in their heads without recording it somewhere. When they use their phones, keeping track of what they need to do and by when often gets lost in all the digital overload.
  • There is a learning curve to using Google Calendar or Outlook effectively as homework planners, and schools rarely take the time to give instruction.
  • Google Classroom, however, is being widely used and can be taught quickly so that students can integrate assignments with their calendars, so there is some hope!
  • Many middle school students are just learning how to use smartphones, and few are very good at self-regulation. Many parents don’t feel their 6th-graders should need to have phones for school. Most prefer waiting until 8th or 9th grade. 
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Summer is a great opportunity for students to work with an SOS4Students coach to prep for the next school year, review and change habits that have been counterproductive, and/or target skills that need to be tweaked or built from the ground up. You can go online right now to pay for and schedule sessions with one of our coaches. Coaching is offered at our offices in Montclair Village (Oakland), Walnut Creek, and online. Register

Benefits of Paper Planners

SOS4Students believes paper planners make the most sense for all students, especially middle schoolers.

  • Students can keep paper planners on their desks open or bookmarked. It gives them something immediate, flexible, and tangible, which is essential to forming good planning habits.
  • Planners can be basic or stylish, and they can allow creative or visual learners to highlight, use stickers, or use washi tape to provide visual cues as to what’s important. (Many of our students love the planners offered by, which offers them an outlet for personal expression.)
  • Paper planners don’t offer distractions.
  • Paper planners make it easier to break up projects into more manageable chunks, especially for younger students.
  • Students can add stickies to their paper planners with extra information about an assignment, and many planners have extra to-do pages as well.
  • Paper planners also benefit students with dysgraphia who can first take pictures of the classroom board and then go back to their planners and write in their homework at their own pace, without the pressure of having to get it all down quickly at the end of class.
reading Recommended Reading

I came across this article, 8 Paper Planners That Will Change Your Life. It talks about how the right paper planner can make a world of difference in keeping us organized, on time, and productive. It’s a fun, quick read, with lots of good information, especially for families, students, and adults living with ADHD.

When to Use Digital Planners

High school and college students can benefit from using digital planners, especially when they use specific apps or platforms. To be most effective:

  • Students need to learn how to use their digital planning apps, and they need to use them consistently.
  • Students need to be proficient in using Google Calendar (or similar) without prompting. It should become second nature.
  • When a parent makes an appointment that involves the student, he or she should send an electronic invitation to the student so the student can add the event to his or her calendar.

And the Decision Goes To . . . 

There are many benefits to using digital platforms, especially as we depend more and more on technology. However, when it comes to planning, middle school students should build a foundation of good planning habits first by using a paper planner. As they become savvier with their own time management and planning, they can eventually transition to digital platforms.

We're Here to Help

If your teen is facing time management problems, SOS4Students can help. We offer a number of Summer Workshops that focus on writing, note-taking, organizational skills, and study strategies for both middle school and high school, and our Summer Coaching is tailored to meet the specific challenges of students, such as reading comprehension, time management, organization, note-taking, writing, and more.

Signing up for an SOS4Students Workshop or Summer Coaching is easy and can be done online. Our workshops tend to fill fast and start dates will be here sooner than you think, so act now.

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