Virtually every parent wants their child to be more organized. Whether it’s planning ahead for important school assignments or just keeping their room tidy, kids who possess effective organizational skills have a greater ability to self-manage—offering some considerable stress relief for their parents in the process.
Ultimately, teaching our kids to be organized and follow what we refer to as organizational systems starts from an early age and “grows with” them into adulthood. Students need to walk before they can run—navigating the rigorous organizational demands of high school ultimately starts with the simplicity of learning to pack your own suitcase as an early adolescent.
Want to learn more about organizational systems and how Effective Students can help your child become more efficient? This article provides a high level overview to help you get acquainted with this important area of executive functioning.
What are organizational systems?
Effective organizational systems are repeatable, simple, consistent but most importantly, they improve efficiency and reduce stress. Systems of organization are specific, labeled and consistent across areas.
Students benefit from visual supports and organizational systems that improve automation, similar to what you might find in a company or well run household. Some common examples may include a designated area in your home to store laundry (other than the floor) or locations for sports equipment. Other examples are certain bills to be paid or chores to be done. When kids understand and have a picture of how to organize, they can more easily follow through and evaluate themselves without any parental intervention.
Why organizational systems are important for students
Students today often experience anxiety. Sometimes the stress can be attributed to their teachers using a wide variety of organizational systems—each one different from the other. In many academic settings, students must check 4-5 locations just to “find” their assignments. The shift to remote learning has only exacerbated this issue for many students, stirring up feelings of hopelessness, inadequacy and feeling lost. To relieve this stress, it’s important for parents and educators to offer assistance in the form of enhanced organizational systems.
Building effective organizational systems creates a sense of order around these simple, repeatable and meaningful processes. When practiced consistently, those processes foster new habits and help the student feel more in control of their situation. More control often translates to a better ‘self regulated teenager’ —one who experiences less stress at home and has more success completing homework on time.
How to build effective organization systems
As a rule of thumb, kids will do what we teach and model for them to do. The more we instill organization systems in early adolescence, the easier it becomes for our children to naturally apply them later as an adult.
General advice & getting started
- Learning with young students begins in the concrete (tangible) but as they get older in the abstract (intabeable or ideas). This begins as sorting toys but grows into filing concepts or facts away when more academic detail is required.
- Very young students can learn the process of organization just by sorting. Laundry—lights and darks. Silverware—unloading the dishwasher. T-Shirts—keep versus give away. This practice with sorting can help organize the mind.
- Younger students need to categorize academic work only to a certain level, by class. As they matriculate, students need a little more detail—but not too much. This process is consistent until a student is in an AP class or in college.
Teaching organization systems across specific age groups
- Primary K-3: If you’re going out of town, why not have your kids learn to pack their own clothes? For instance, give them a list: 5 pair of socks, 5 t-shirts, 1 bathing suit, 1 nice shirt/shorts outfit, 3 gym shorts, fishing gear etc. Have the child lay everything out and double check the list with them. They can then pack their own clothes and feel much more independent. You’re shifting the burden to them and teaching them to inspect their work by checking a list. Finding low stakes tangible activities for your child can help build the foundation for effective organization systems.
- Lower Elementary: Lockers, desks, bedrooms are great teaching venues for organization systems. Using a bedroom as an example, it’s helpful to set the expectations with your child on what their room should look like to qualify as ‘organized’. Clean it with them, take a photo and post it on the back of the door. Draw arrows pointing to possible weak areas to remind them to double check those spaces when they clear. You see those issues as a parent, but kids often don’t. Having a visual reference of what their room should look like helps – it sets a common expectation that can be understood by both the parent and the child.
- Middle School: Organization systems can apply to your child’s computer, room, athletic equipment and instruments (for example, you can reinforce better organizational habits if you avoid bringing it to them at school if they forget). They can practice packing items the night before (a backpack for example), baseball bag, or musical instrument. Being prepared leads to a better performance. At this age the motto ‘their stuff, their responsibility’ helps. We can always give grace and lend a hand but sometimes, natural consequences are instructional. One of our students was never ready to leave the house in time for school. His sister in high school drove them. After he’d been notified she would not wait the next day past 7:30am, he wasn’t ready in time and she left without him. The next day, he was sitting in the car waiting for her. Natural consequences matter when it comes to absorbing the importance of organization systems.
- High School: What students practice in middle school, we expect them to master a little more in high school. Perhaps they redefine the way they organize—that’s fine as long as it’s a system that can be defined and followed consistently. At this age, we are looking for self directed organization skills. If the high schooler doesn’t present these abilities, perhaps an academic coach would help.
Self management skills are not to be underestimated. At some point, students will be living on their own and having practiced the skills to do will ease that transition. Teaching organization takes time and practice. Being perfect is not the point. The goal is to teach systems of efficiency that improve productivity and focus, reduce stress and help your child to shine—on their own.
At Effective Students, we specialize in cultivating better organization systems in students from all backgrounds, giving them the tools they need to succeed academically and achieve their goals. Are you curious what an Academic Coach can do for your child? Contact us for more information on Effective Students courses and get started today!