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Organizational Tips that Work: Helping Your Student Stay on Track

When it comes to kids and organization, it is helpful for parents to remember three things:
We have been learning and adapting systems and processes to stay organized for our entire lives. It’s important to remember that our kids need time to learn what works for them and what doesn’t.
Staying organized isn’t just a school or classroom requirement; it’s a life skill.
Kids need your help with organizational coaching that is ongoing, consistent and leaves room for them to adapt/change as they grow.
Here are some ideas for how to help your child at different stages of growth.
Preschool
Yes, even your preschool-aged child can learn organizational skills! Helping out at home in ways that are playful and fun can establish a foundation for the need to be organized.
  • Sorting socks by color and size
  • Playing “pretend” house where the mommy (your child) teaches the baby/doll where to put his/her shoes and coat when she comes in the door
  • Establishing daily routines (such as in the morning we walk our big brother to the bus stop and get a snack; after lunch, it’s time for a nap; in the evening we play the toy clean-up song and run around putting toys away). Making it fun is important at this age.
Elementary School
Involving your child in choosing organizational systems is a great way to get them excited. They can take a trip with you to the store and purchase small bins, folders, bulletin boards, etc. to help organize their room. Letting them choose folders, binders, and notebooks for school also allows students to take ownership of their routines and systems.
Other ideas include:
  • Unless directed otherwise by your child’s teacher, let your child choose colors that correspond with each subject (e.g. red for math, green for science, and purple for spelling).
  • If separating homework and worksheets from school is difficult for your child, simplifying this routine into an at-school folder and an at-home folder may help. This guides your child to think about what he needs to thrive at school and what he will need to do when he gets home.
  • Teach your child how to make his or her own checklist. Providing a special notebook just for lists helps some children feel more in control of their day. You might develop a checklist for getting-ready routines that stays near the bathroom mirror and a different checklist for “what goes in my backpack” each evening so that your child is not scrambling before school to get it ready. Your child can use checklists for homework assignments, chores, and even ideas for the next playdate with his/her friends.
  • Homeschool students need to understand that just because school and home are the same, there is still a need to keep schoolwork organized. Talk with your student about strategies like putting away a subject after they are finished; keeping schoolwork organized by subject; and having a mess-free space to work.

Middle School

In middle school, students are often faced with the challenge of planning for long-term projects. Some kids are naturally better at this than others. Here are some ways to help.

  • Schedule a meeting on the same day each week. Spend 20 minutes talking with your child about his/her assignments for the week, any school projects or tests coming up, and then make a plan together. Using a student planner or a whiteboard calendar is a great tool for helping your child plan to do a little work each day. That way, that there is not a last-minute dash to get the project done.
  • Enforce a clean-out time each day after school. This is hard to do when juggling work and sports, but even if you are home late after practice and coordinating dinner, it’s an important way for students to keep their school bags organized. Watch as they go through their backpacks, pull out loose worksheets, put them in their proper notebook, etc. This also helps you find out about surprise field trips or assignments that may have been missed in the weekly meeting.
High School
Even if high school seems like the distant future right now, it’s good to know that you can still shape your student’s organizational systems at this age. However, if your student has a system that works for him or her, don’t change it just because it isn’t your preference. This is the time to allow your student to own up to his mistakes, take responsibility for how he learns best, and use the tools that fit his personality and schedule.
One way to allow such ownership is to check in periodically. Every two weeks, make a note on your schedule to take your teen out or enjoy a few minutes at home together. Talk through how he feels he is doing in school, what his challenges are, and brainstorm together some solutions.
  • If your child uses a smartphone, teach her how to use the calendar app and other planning apps. Scheduling apps such as Asana, Trello, and Evernote may be helpful. If staying on task is a challenge, guiding your child to use the timer on his phone or an app like AntiSocial might work well.
  • When it comes to phones, having a clear and enforced technology contract with your teen will coach her in how to set limits for herself. Spend an hour together to write some mutually agreed-upon guidelines that will keep her from spending unnecessary time on her phone. Having an evening cut-off time for phone usage, a policy for after-school priorities and even phone-free morning routines can keep teens less anxious and focused on one thing at a time. Bark is an app that can be helpful in setting such limits.
  • Help your student to develop a “go” box so that when she is in a hurry, all the necessities are there: phone, keys, wallet, sports equipment, etc. Similar to adults, students at this age need to learn to take responsibility so that they can self-manage well when they are outside your home in a few years.
Learnwell North Georgia has a unique model for middle- and high-school students. If you are local to the North Georgia area, it may be worth planning ahead, even if your child isn’t there yet, to see what we offer.
Not local to North Georgia? Try our at-home model for parents who homeschool their children in grades kindergarten through seventh.
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