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, and consistent but most importantly, they improve efficiency and reduce stress. Systems of the organization are specific, labeled, and consistent across all 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. An organization checklist for students, in addition to clearly defined outcomes, are crucial resources and expectations that can be easily incorporated into their lives at an early age. 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 more readily 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 loss. To relieve this stress, it’s important for parents and educators to offer assistance in the form of enhanced organization strategies for students.
Building effective organization skills for students creates a sense of order around these simple, repeatable and meaningful processes. When practiced consistently, those processes foster new habits and empower the student to feel 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 (monkey see, monkey do). The more we instill organization skills in students in elementary and early adolescence, the easier it becomes for our children to naturally apply them later as an adult.
General organization tips for students & get started
- Know your age groups. Most young learners do not have the intrinsic drive needed to be organized. Fostering organization for students at a young age begins with tangible and easy-to-follow step-by-step processes that need to be modeled. Positive reinforcement for completing those desired organizational behaviors is essential at this point in their development. As they get older and these systems become inherent within them, the very act of staying organized becomes the source of reinforcement.
- Very young learners can prepare for the process of organization just by sorting and matching. Laundry—lights and darks. Silverware—unloading the dishwasher. T-Shirts—keep versus give away. As humans, we find comfort in patterns that are fundamentally inherent in the act of sorting and matching. These are two influential organizational activities for students at a young age. This practice will help organize the mind and prepare it for more complex jobs in the future.
- Kids need to categorize academic work by class (math, language arts, social studies, etc). Although it might seem obvious to organize materials by subject, a major deficit that we encounter with many students is their inability to structure their materials in a way that works for them. Either they have too many notebooks and dividers or not enough. As they matriculate into higher learning, students need greater attention to detail and if their materials aren’t organized to meet those needs, grades will suffer. Be cognizant of their backpack and the disarray that might be in it. If it looks like a mess, take some time to figure out a better way to structure their school materials.
Teaching organization strategies for students across specific age groups
Organization Tips for 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 pairs 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 organizational systems.
Organization Tips for Lower Elementary: Lockers, desks, and bedrooms are great teaching venues for organization systems. Using bedroom chores as organized activities for students is a helpful tool to set 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 help – it sets a common expectation that can be understood by both the parent and the child.
Organization Tips for Middle School: The volume of things in need of organization grows in proportion to children getting older. With this, kids can often lose sight of the value in their things and rely on their parents as a crutch for keeping it all in order. Organization systems will need to be applied to your child’s new assortment of gadgets (computer/phone, etc), athletic equipment, books, instruments, the list goes on and on! It’s important that they practice packing items the night before, whether that be their backpack, baseball bag, or saxophone case. Avoid the scenario where you are called out of work because Timmy forgot his basketball jersey for the game! 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 7:30 am, 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 organizational systems.
Organization Tips for 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. There are technological solutions to organizations that are useful and easy to navigate. Organizational apps for students like MyStudyLife and myHomework are useful tools to help your kid keep track of their assignments and upcoming projects/tests.
Organization Tips for College Students: As a parent, it can be hard to reconcile the fact that you’re no longer there to keep track of your kid’s academic progress, especially if the organization was somewhat of a struggle for them. While you can’t be there to physically guide them in the right direction, colleges and universities typically have excellent academic resources and study opportunities available (as they should for what they cost!). These, in addition to the apps listed earlier, are excellent organization tools for students. Encourage your kid to seize full advantage of these resources and take interest in their academic workload. You do not have to be overbearing by keeping track of their every assignment, but checking in every once in a while can be a good gauge of how things are going.
Self-management skills are not to be underestimated. Eventually, students will be living on their own and require a solid foundation for the organization in order to succeed during that transition. Teaching organization for students 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 shine—on their own.
At Effective Students, we specialize in cultivating better organizational tools for students from all backgrounds, giving them the habits and resources they need to succeed academically and achieve their goals. Are you curious about what an Academic Coach can do for your child? Contact us for more information on Effective Students courses and get started today!