One of the most significant underlying executive function problems for children in school is poor organization skills. While the impact of undeveloped organizational skills may be obvious in terms of academic performance (e.g., organizing a writing assignment), the impact on social and emotional development and adjustment should not be ignored. Here are a few tips to help develop your child’s organization skills.
- Organizing his/her room. This is the first training ground for organization skills, but don’t assume your son or daughter intuitively understands what “clean your room” means. They may need some technical assistance.
- A Place for Everything / Everything in Its Place – Identify with your child where everything in his room belongs. You may want to pick up some small plastic bins or cubbies to help with the process. It may be helpful label spaces at first; Clean clothes, dirty clothes, books, toys, video games, Pokémon cards, Legos, CDs/DVDs, etc. If your child is not yet a reader, use a graphic or a photo to show where everything should go.
- Use checklists to organize the process. For example:  Put dirty clothes in basket.  Make bed.  Put books on bookshelf.  Put toys in toy box.  Put DVDs in case and on shelf, etc. Checklists are also good for other chores, especially those that have more than one or two steps. For example: Take out the Trash:  Remove bag from trashcan.  Tie or secure bag.  Put bag in outside trash barrel.  Put cover back on outside trash barrel.  Put new bag in inside trashcan. Of course the checklist might be limited to one or two words (or a picture) for each step, and it may be necessary to do a little refresher on the process from time to time.
- Organizing for School
- Use checklists. Checklists are just as useful in helping your child organize for school as they are in getting those household chores done. Help your child get into the habit of keeping a “to-do” list. Use checklists to post assignments and reminders about what materials to bring to class. Itemizing the processes of morning routines and/or homework into a checklist will keep the process moving and eventually (hopefully) become a regular (problem free) part of their day. Your child should keep a small pad or notebook dedicated to listing homework assignments. Crossing completed items off the list will give him a sense of accomplishment.
- Organize homework assignments and class projects. Before beginning a homework session, encourage your child to number assignments in the order in which they should be done. S/he should start with one that’s not too long or difficult, but avoid saving the longest or hardest assignments for last. For long term class assignments, help your student to break the assignment up into small, manageable, working chunks. Set time lines for each chunk, so that they are not trying to complete the entire assignment the night before it is due.
- Designate a study space. Your child should study in the same place every night. This doesn’t have to be a bedroom, but it should be a quiet place with few distractions. All school supplies and materials should be nearby. If your young child wants to study with you nearby, too, you’ll be better able to monitor his progress and encourage good study habits. Doing homework and/or studying in front of the television is not a good idea. However, some students do well if they can listen to music while working on their homework.
- Set a designated study time. Your child should know that a certain time every day is reserved for studying and doing homework. The best time is usually not right after school — most children benefit from time to unwind first. Include your child in making this decision. Even if she doesn’t have homework, the reserved time should be used to review the day’s lessons, read for pleasure, or work on an upcoming project. A good rule of thumb is 10 minutes for each grade level (i.e., grade 9 = 90 minutes). It may be helpful to schedule in short breaks (e.g., when you finish your spelling sentences you can take a five minute break). Include a “stopping time” in the designated study time. For elementary students, if they do not finish homework within the designated time, have them stop working and let their teacher know. Don’t let a battle over homework compromise family time.
- Keep organized notebooks. Help your child keep track of papers by organizing them in a binder or notebook. This will help him review the material for each day’s classes and to organize the material later to prepare for tests and quizzes. Use dividers to separate class notes, or color-code notebooks. Separate “to do” and “done” folders help organize worksheets, notices, and items to be signed by parents, as well as provide a central place to store completed assignments. For some students, keeping a set of text books at home helps. If the school cannot accommodate such a strategy, used texts are often available online.
- Conduct a weekly cleanup. Encourage your child to sort through book bags and notebooks on a weekly basis. You may have to help them at first. Old tests and papers should be organized and kept in a separate file at home.
- Create a household schedule. Try to establish and stick to a regular dinnertime and a regular bedtime. This will help your child fall into a pattern at home. Children with a regular bedtime go to school well-rested. Try to limit
television-watching and computer play to specific periods of time during the day.
- Keep a master calendar. Keep a large, wall-sized calendar for the household, listing the family’s commitments, schedules for extracurricular activities, days off from school, and major events at home and at school. Note dates when your child has big exams or due dates for projects. This will help family members keep track of each other’s activities and avoid scheduling conflicts.
- Prepare for the day ahead. Before your child goes to bed, he should double check his schoolwork and pack his backpack. The next day’s clothes should be laid out with shoes, socks, and accessories. This will cut down on morning confusion and allow your child to prepare quickly for the day ahead.
- Provide needed support while your child is learning to become more organized. Help your child develop organizational skills by photocopying checklists, schedules, class calendars, etc. and taping them to the refrigerator. Gently remind her about filling in calendar dates and keeping papers and materials organized. And if they have a good week, don’t forget to give them and “attaboy” or “attagirl,” and maybe some small treat. Most important, set a good example.