Let's Get Organized!

Follow these ABCs and 123s to help your child be more organized and achieve academic success.

By Francie Alexander




Several parents have asked about how to help their children be better students:

  • "I have an 11-year-old girl and I would like some tips that would help me get her to be more organized at school with assignments and items that need to come home, etc."
  • "How do I get my son to be more organized with his school assignments? He does the work, but when it's time to turn it in, he has no clue what happened to it."
  • "My 9 year old is making terrible grades. When we make her redo the problems she missed on her homework, she completes them all correctly and easily." Here's what I recommend for these parents — and anyone struggling with a disorganized child.

Start with the ABCs of organization:

1. A place for everything. Kids spend too much time looking for materials. Put together a small "Home Study Kit." It can be a box or plastic tote. Have paper, pens, pencils, and a dictionary ready to go at homework time. Try notebooks and folders color-coded for each subject.

Be focused. Being a student is your child's job now. Studying needs to come first when scheduling time and planning activities.

Calendars. Planners and calendars are useful tools for making school the top priority and helping students stay focused. Try to post a large calendar in a central place. If you have more than one child, use a different colored marking pen for each one. Let your child fill in key school dates (e.g., paper due, spelling test, book report due). Then you can check in on progress. You can also include important family plans on the same calendar so kids can prioritize and plan ahead.

Encourage your child to keep a small, personal to-do list. He may also use colored pens to keep track of subjects or important deadlines. He should also set interim targets such as "Do outline for paper" when working on a big project.

One of the big advantages of this approach is that you child will learn what it takes to get a project done. Most kids simply don't know how long it takes to read a book. So, if your child writes "read for fifteen minutes" and then records the number of pages read, she will know if the book can be read in a week. Really productive people know about how long it takes to get a job done. Learning how to manage time is a skill that will last a lifetime.

2. It's like riding a bike. When your child learned to ride a bike, you provided training wheels. You stood or ran right there and offered a steadying hand when necessary. Think about organization the same way. While your child is learning to get organized, check in as often as possible. Then provide a "gradual release" by checking in weekly and then monthly as your child gets older and becomes an independent, confident learner.

3. Time's up. As kids get older, they need a watch or clock for managing their time and learning how much time it takes to complete a task. I like the Time Timer, which is a clock that promotes better time management. A big, red dial graphically shows how much time is left, so it constantly reinforces the sense of elapsed time. You are your child's most important role model. Share your own organizational tips and plan with your child. Here's an idea just for you: Get one of those wonderful large magnetic paper clips for each of your children. Get different colors and label each one. Encourage your child to leave papers with grades, newsletters, and papers to be signed in these clips. Then you can follow the simple rules for organization:

  • Do: Sign and review papers; file as necessary or put in your child's backpack to be returned to school
  • Discard: Read and recycle the newsletters, unless your child is featured!
Attention and Focus
Getting Organized
Age 9
Age 13
Age 8
Age 10
Age 12
Age 11
Time Management and Organization