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Getting Ahead of Disorganization


When I was working in the classroom, often I could tell early in the year which students were going to face difficulty with keeping materials organized. Small clues like papers poking out of lockers, over-stuffed pencil cases, or items left behind on desks hinted that organization was not a strength for particular children. In my present work I talk to parents who are well acquainted with signs of their children's disorganization at home —messy backpacks, missing papers, cluttered desks, and hard-to-locate school supplies.

To be clear, losing track of one's possessions is not a moral failing. So many things that are out of a child's control can contribute to disorganization. Reasons for disorganization can range from not having learned good routines for materials management to having a learning difference that interferes with executive functions.

If you know that organization is a challenge for your child, there are ways to get ahead of it before things get too messy this school year.

  1. Schedule regular times for cleanups. If organizing is not on the family calendar or written into the homework plan book, it becomes a forgettable, invisible task. Not everything needs to be done at once. Loose papers in the backpack can be sorted one day, the math binder can be cleaned out the next day, and the language arts notebook and pencil case can be addressed on a third day. I recommend weekly cleanups so that the task never takes too much time or feels too overwhelming.

  2. Create checklists to guide the cleanups. The eventual goal is for your child to be able to file papers, throw away trash, and replenish supplies on his own without supervision. This can, however, initially feel overwhelming to a child who already finds organizational tasks daunting. If you create checklists to help guide the process, it will create a routine, set expectations for what needs to be done, and prevent the task from feeling too overwhelming. A backpack clean-out checklist might include reminders like: return food containers to kitchen, put athletic clothes in laundry hamper, place school memos and permission slips on Dad's desk, return loose pencils to pencil case. A binder organization checklist could include prompts like: file away any loose papers in pockets, organize handouts in date order, make sure all papers are in correct section, show parents graded assessments from this week, refill lined paper. Checklists can go anywhere highly visible, like on a home message center, posted over your child's workspace, or clipped into the front of a binder.

Good luck! May this be the tidiest and most organized school year yet!


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