There is not one specific way to be organized. You do not have to color-code by subject (though, that is one good way to organize). You do not necessarily have to use a planner (though your teacher probably won’t appreciate I said that). And you don’t even have to have a clean room (though, a clean room can be helpful).
The point is in order to be successful at organizing, you have to find a style that works for your child. There isn’t a one size fits all rule. To stay organized, you have to figure out what your child’s style is, and plan accordingly.
photo: Fireborn Institute
Tip 1: Discover Your Child’s Organizational Style
Marcella Moran, President of The Kid Organizer and co-author of Organizing the Disorganized Child, has identified 3 organizational styles: visual, spatial, and chronological/sequential.
Visual organizers need to see everything. If anything is stored in a drawer, it’s forgotten because it can’t be seen. Visual organizers tend to be the ones color-coding everything.
Spatial, or “comfy”, organizers like for everything to be within reach. Beds are often a favorite place for this kind of organizer to work because they are comfortable and large enough to fit everything that is needed. Dining room tables or a desk with a rolling chair are also good options.
Chronological/sequential organizers “organize in a way that makes sense to them” – but they often just look messy to other people. But if you move something, they will be upset because now you have messed up their system and how will they ever be able to find that again? This is why it’s sometimes okay to be messy – messy rooms for these organizers may actually be organized.
You can have more than one organizational style preference. For instance, you can be a visual and a spatial organizer – someone who likes to have everything within reach and who forgets about things that are tucked away in drawers.
Tip 2: Embrace Your Organizational Style
Once you’ve determined your child’s preference, embrace it to set him/her up for organizational success!
For visual organizers: Try one binder and one notebook (make sure they are then same color) per school subject. Also, strive to make sure that your child’s workplace is always decluttered (because clutter is visually distracting). For a child that is visual, use an academic planner with a bold exterior for easy spotting, and get rid of drawers!
Both Spatial and chronological/sequential organizers tend to like one big binder for all subjects.
For spatial organizers: Try 3-subject notebooks, so they can have more subjects in one place. Spatial organizers also tend to like to move while they work – sitting on the bed, lying on the bed, lying on the floor… Moving from room to room between subjects can help keep them focused too.
For chronological/sequential organizers: Try accordion folders for organizing handouts. If your child is this kind of organizer, they tend to have a ton of random papers, so mesh trays and labels can be helpful to keep papers in one spot! Stackable containers filled with whatever your chronological/sequential organizer deems necessary are another good option.
Tip 3: Use Page Protectors to Keep Your Child’s Backpack Neat
Loose papers are the downfall of every organized backpack. It is so much easier to stuff handouts and returned papers and quizzes into your backpack instead of hole punching them. Even if they come hole punched and you diligently put them in your binder, they rip out easily and end up messing up your backpack anyway. And who actually uses reinforcers? Certainly not me.
Page protectors to the rescue! It takes very little time to put your paper into your page protector and then it stays there forever. Have some empty page protectors ready in your child’s binder for organizing returned papers and handouts right away!
Tip 4: Minimize Backpack Pockets
Often we look at a backpack with lots of pockets and we think, “Wow – there is a spot for EVERYTHING!” But what it actually means is, “Oh no! There are more spots to lose my things!” So when hunting for a backpack, find one with as few pockets as possible.
Tip 5: Find a Planner Your Child Will Use
If traditional planners aren’t working for your child, try having him/her write down homework on sticky-notes (in a sticky note wallet). You can also encourage your kid to keep a small memo pad in his/her pocket to write down things throughout the day.
At home, they can transfer their homework notes to a large weekly calendar. (Try two Elmer’s Weekly Calendars – one is not enough). It feels awesome throwing away a sticky-note once you’ve completed an assignment.
Organization is a trial-and-error process. Help your child discover his/her organizational style by giving him/her some options to start using. Let your child know that if those options don’t work, you can try something else. This will help him/her learn what works best for him/her much faster (and more happily) than insisting organization be done a certain way.
Katherine had a hard time in school because she suffered from undiagnosed ADHD till her junior year of high school. What made her successful during this time was the support system she had around her. After college, she worked as a teacher, and saw that parents wanted to help their kids at home, but didn’t know what to do. She started the Fireborn Institute to give parents ideas on how to help because success at school is enhanced at home.