We're in the thick of homework season. Kids are getting serious, whipping out those No. 2 pencils -- or turning on the computer -- to do projects, studying and real work. Here are some of the best ideas, products and resources for getting out from under that pile of work:
* Organize your study area with two musts: a calendar and an assignment book. Keep a calendar by your child's homework area to keep track of projects and long-term assignments. (That science fair can sneak up on you.) Try mounting a reusable two-month or three-month wipe-off calendar.
Your child also needs a portable form of date-tracking: an assignment book. They come in all forms, from the cheap spiral notebook styles to the personal organizers with leather covers and refillable pages. The key is to get into the habit of writing down homework assignments.
* Get a CD-ROM encyclopedia. Remember when "encyclopedia" meant a collection of heavy books that cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars and were outdated within a few years? These days, encyclopedias come on CD-ROM and go for less than $100.
The recently released Microsoft Encarta Reference Suite 2000 contains four major CD-ROM reference guides: the encyclopedia, the Encarta Interactive World Atlas, the Encarta World English Dictionary and Encarta Online Deluxe, an online version of the encyclopedia. The set of four costs about $65 after a company rebate.
* Turn to online homework helpers. There's more to the Internet than junk e-mail and advertising; it's probably the fastest, easiest way to get information children might need to complete homework assignments. Try these two Web sites that specialize in getting students homework help:
The www.homeworkcentral.com site lets students pinpoint information by helping them narrow their topics. The site is divided into age groups, and the search engine is designed to serve academic purposes. For instance, if you type in "George Washington," you'll get information about the first president -- not a list of every site with the word "George" or "Washington" in it.
The www.schoolwork.org site offers many categories, then provides a fairly comprehensive list of Web sites that contain specialized information about each topic.
* Keep those papers in place. There's always that book that won't stay open or that piece of paper that keeps disappearing. Eliminate frustration with products that keep flyaways in place. Try an adjustable bookstand that props up your textbook -- and keeps it open to the right page; The Container Store has a version for $35. Or use a book weight that'll weigh down the page you need.