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Staying organised for school: Ways to help your child

By Renee Irving-Lee, Children’s Book Author © 2019 Learning Links

 

Being organised is a complex, yet essential life-long skill required to function in our everyday world. When a child can stay organised for school, it contributes to their increased independence, efficiency, self-confidence, higher academic performance and a deeper understanding of the job to be completed. Some children are naturally gifted organisers, while others need some considerable extra support.

Being organised is an important executive functioning skill and involves the child being able to manage their thoughts, actions and emotions to get a task done. It is important to understand that being organised involves several high-level thinking skills which include:

  • Knowing what you want to achieve
  • Knowing where to start
  • Understanding the sequence of events that need to occur for the task to be achieved
  • Sourcing materials or resources to carry out the task
  • Persistence to carry out the task without distraction
  • Ability to achieve the task in the required timeframe

Understandably, this can leave some children feeling overwhelmed and often then leads to procrastination, distraction, refusal or substandard completion of a task. By isolating which skills your child finds challenging will help determine the best solution. For example, is it that they don’t know where to start? Or is it that they don’t know the sequence of events needed?  Or are they ok with those things but find it challenging to have the persistence to carry out the task?

Depending on your child’s needs, here are some tips that may help to support them to stay organised for school.

Intrinsic Motivation

First of all, it is important to understand that the best way for a child to be intrinsically motivated, is for them to have a sense of ownership over the process and to feel like they are driving the ship. When a child feels like they are in control, there is more of a drive from within to complete the task. Many frustrated parents set up timetables, reminders, calendars and external reward charts without any collaboration with their child.  These type of well-meaning, parent driven attempts to help the child be more organised usually end up failing miserably because the child doesn’t feel included in the process.

Brainstorm with your child reasons as to why it is important to be organised.  Ask them what positive emotions they get from being organised? If they can’t answer these questions on their own, you may need to gently guide them to answers such as “I will feel good about myself when I have achieved the task” or “I will feel calm when I am organised and prepared”.  To give them a sense of ownership over the process, it is very important though that child feels like they have come up with these answers themselves.

Starting Small

For those children who are extremely disorganised in many different areas, it can be very overwhelming to just suddenly overhaul everything in their life.  Try by supporting them to be organised with one thing at a time. If you start with too many things, it feels too unachievable.  If they can first master to organise just one small thing in their life, it will give them a sense of accomplishment, improve their confidence and feed their motivation to want to organise more areas of their life too.

Start with an Enjoyable Activity

Children that are naturally disorganised tend to be indifferent with any attempts that support them to be more organised at school.  To combat this, start with an area or activity of their life that they already enjoy.  For example, they may really love soccer.  What strategies can they put into place to organise training days, game times, game bag preparation, after game storage and washing of gear? Once they have that in place, how can they then transfer those strategies into part of their school life – perhaps organising homework or school routines?

Role Model

Children learn best from the people they love.  Do you role model behaviours that you want them to replicate to stay organised for school? How can you organise your home to best support your child and family?

Break Down the Sequence of Events

Breaking down tasks can make them seem less daunting.

For example, if your child is overwhelmed with too much homework, they may procrastinate, have a tantrum, or do less than required before declaring the job done.  You can help them break the task down by supporting them to ask these questions and engage in the following self-talk:

  1. What am I supposed to do?

What ‘exactly’ does it mean to complete my homework E.g. write out spelling list, read one book chapter and answer the 10 math questions on page 12.

  1. Where should I start first?

Where is the best place to start? I need to know my spelling words for activities in the classroom during the week, so I will start with my spelling list.

  1. How can I break it down into smaller chunks?

Once I have done my spelling list, I will do 2 maths questions each night, and then I will read the book chapter over the weekend.

  1. Do I need any equipment/ or help from someone else?

Yes, I need my Maths book, my reader, homework book, desk, pencil, ruler and eraser.

  1. When do I need to achieve this by?

I must have this done by Sunday night because homework is due on Monday Morning.

  1. How will I stay on task?

I will check off each task as I complete it on my homework sheet.

This kind of questioning and self-talk can be used with all different types of tasks from doing homework, packing their school bag or cleaning the bedroom.

Consequences

It is important for children to understand the consequences of their own actions.  This is hard for some parents, but it is vital to let them live and understand the consequences for not being organised.  For example, if you arrive at school and your child has forgotten their hat because they skipped a few steps in the morning routine, it’s really important that you don’t go back home and get it for them.  They may miss out on playing outside that day, but it is a significant life lesson in responsibility, accountability and consequences.  There is no incentive for them to be extra careful and double check they have everything before school if they know their Mum or Dad will run back home and bring back anything that they forget.

Routines

Children crave routines and structure. Routines provide a sense of security and order in their complex and hectic worlds. They empower children and allow them to constructively manage themselves and their environments. Routines are an excellent way for children to get organised because if performed on a regular basis, they become a habit and jobs are just done automatically without thinking about them.  This also reduces confrontation with parents and results in a calmer, happier household.

Consider establishing routines for:

  • Homework/assignment completion
  • Before school
  • After school
  • Afterschool activities
  • Preparation for the next day
  • Packing up after play
  • Outdoor play
  • Bath time
  • Mealtimes
  • Screen time
  • Cleaning up and chores
  • Greetings and saying goodbyes
  • Bedtime

Organisation Aids

Organisation aids can be extremely effective tools to help children get organised, but only when they are used in a purposeful and meaningful way.  The best organisation aids will be ones that allow children independence to do the tasks on their own and the ones that best suit your child’s age, interests, needs and learning profile.  Some of these aides could include:

  • Daily/weekly checklist
  • Visual schedule
  • Calendars
  • Storage tubs/containers
  • Specialised storage areas
  • Watch with a timer or alarm
  • Apps
  • Wearables/Smart Watch

Bedroom/Personal Space

A child’s bedroom is their own personal sanctuary. Having a tidy and organised room will help them to be more efficient when getting ready for school, allow them more time to play and provide a calm retreat when needed. Some tips for the bedroom include:

  • Have a place for everything so the child knows exactly where items are supposed to be stored.
  • Use visual labels for storage so the child can easily see what goes where.
  • To avoid clutter, keep the room with as minimal things in it as possible. This may mean packing some things up in boxes and storing elsewhere, rotating toys or even a major toy cull.  The less clutter means, the easier it is to keep tidy.
  • When your child gets a new toy or item for the bedroom, begin conversations around where it will be stored. If the room is becoming over cluttered, also have discussions about whether there is anything in the room that can be donated or given to someone else. Try to get them into the habit of thinking about if one item comes in, then another item must go out.

School Organisation

Shelf for school bags

Before and after school routines can run a lot smoother if there is a dedicated area in the house for:

  • School bags
  • Library bags
  • Homework folders
  • Permission slips
  • Rain jackets/Umbrellas
  • Hats

When a child feels organised for school, it can give them a great sense of empowerment. An empowered child is a happy, successful and confident life-long learner.  Helping your child to become more organised is not always an easy task but with dedication, persistence and a positive attitude, the process can be a lot more enjoyable.

Where to go for more help

Common Sense Media: Are there apps that can help my kid with organization and routines?

Raising Children Network: Routines for Family – How and why they work

 

For more ways to support your child’s learning, check out our range of Fact Sheets.