By Katherine Firestone
There is no one specific way to be organized. Your child does not have to color-code by subject (though, that is one good way to organize). He or she does not necessarily have to use a planner (though the teacher probably won’t appreciate I said that). And children don’t even need a clean room (though it can be helpful).
The key to being successful at organizing is finding a style that works for your child. There is no one-size-fits-all rule. To stay organized, you have to figure out your child’s style and plan accordingly.
Here are tips on how to first figure out your child’s organizational style, then set up a system that works for your family, so your student can stay organized throughout the school year.
Tip 1: Discover your child’s organizational style
Marcella Moran, president of The Kid Organizer and co-author of Organizing the Disorganized Child, identifies three 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 others. Yet 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 OK 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 per school subject (make sure they are the same color). Also, strive to ensure that your child’s workplace is always decluttered (because clutter is visually distracting). For a child who 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 think, “Wow — there is a spot for everything!” But what it actually means is, “Oh, no! There are more spots to lose my things!” 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 child 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 try. Let your child know that if those options don’t work, you can try something else. This will help them learn what works best much faster (and more happily) than insisting organization be done a certain way.
Katherine Firestone is founder of the Fireborn Institute, a non-profit that provides parents with clear, practical, and easy-to-remember strategies to help their children thrive in school (both socially and academically).
How to Find Your Child’s Organizational Style
By Katherine Firestone