Here are some questions for you:
- How many times do you have to ask your fourteen year old to get started on their homework?
- How many funky old sandwiches have you retrieved from the bottom of your ten year olds’ school bag?
- Has your preschooler ever been ready to leave when you are?
Organising your kids can be trying but helping them to develop these skills for themselves will make your life and theirs much easier. As with all aspects of parenting, our expectations of our children need to be developmentally appropriate (most four year olds have trouble sitting down to read a story the first time they are asked, let alone ticking off items on a to do list) but that doesn’t mean we can’t help our children to develop good habits early on.
Routines and Time Management
To start instilling organisational skills in kids early on (and to help keep all members of the household stay sane), establish simple household routines and stick to them. For example,
- in the morning we eat our breakfast, brush our teeth and then get dressed;
- in the afternoon we unpack our lunch box as soon as we walk in the door and then eat a healthy snack together.
For important routines like the morning rush and bedtime, you can even use fun visuals to help your child stay on track without constant reminders from you. Make a step-by-step checklist with pictures for each “to do”, for extra fun, stick these pictures to a poster with velcro and let your child peel each step off as it is completed.
If you are organised, they will be too, children learn through watching others around them. Maybe not quite as well organised as you are, but it will help! Organise yourself with the little things so that they don’t pile up, for example, as soon as a permission slip comes home – read it, sign it and put it back in their bag – job done! In this way you can lead by example and then compliment this by talking about time management. Use calendars, family planners, white boards or pin boards around the house and collaborate as a family on organisation. Using a weekly schedule which includes things like school, homework and extracurricular activities, will keep the family on track. Including “down time” and time with friends on the schedule will help to teach your child about balance.
Some Tricks of the Trade
Different strategies will work in different families but here are a few tried and true techniques to help your child to develop organisational skills:
Break down big projects or assignments into small, manageable chunks. Once this has been achieved, encourage your child to plan out when and how they will complete each “chunk”. This is also helpful for procrastinators as it takes away the feeling of being overwhelmed by an insurmountable task. Provide regular praise for having a go and completing plans.
Make it a game! There are lots of ways to improve organisation that can actually be fun. “Beat The Buzzer” is a great way to get things moving in the morning.
Help your child prioritise. Improve homework focus by encouraging your child to work out what needs to be done and turn it into a checklist. Crossing out or ticking off items on the list will be both rewarding and motivating.
Allocate places in the house for important activities like studying. This cuts down on time wasted looking for materials and will help them to mentally click into “homework mode”.
Use timers for anything that needs to be time limited, such as computer and TV time. This is also great to promote sharing and turn taking in activities in which everyone wants equal time.
Colour code books according to subject and match these with timetables and other relevant materials. This will help your child to find what they need quickly and remember where they need to be or what they should be doing.
Putting it into Practice
Talk about the new ideas you are introducing to help them become more organised and why this is important. Make sure that they feel involved in planning and timetabling so that they don’t feel that this is just another set of rules that are being imposed upon them. This will also be important in helping them to develop the skills for themselves rather than having you do it for them.
When you catch your child demonstrating good organisational skills (eg. being ready to leave on time, following a step in the new routine) provide them with some specific and meaningful praise about what a great effort they are putting in (eg. “thank you Ella for putting on your shoes and taking your bag to the car so we could be on time for school today. You are very good at that”).
Introduce new strategies one at a time and provide plenty of rewards and praise along the way. Remember that teaching kids to be organised can be fun and with a little creativity, the possibilities are endless!
Hannan, Tim. Learning Disorders in Children: Recent advances in research and practice. InPsych, December 2013