Helping Kids Get Organized

We have a guest post on our blog today from Roxanne Turner.  Roxanne is a Board Certified Life Coach with extensive training in ADHD and executive functioning, focusing on the process of getting things done. Today she writes about Organization: Helping kids learn how to organize.

Organization! By; Roxanne Turner
When I was little, my favorite thing about school was getting new supplies at the beginning of each year. I loved the new pens, folders, notebooks and getting to figure out how I was going to organize my stuff throughout the year. Each semester offered an opportunity to make changes.  Alas, I was in the minority.  To say most kids struggle with organization is an understatement.  It is a skill that must be learned and practiced.

Knowing their assignments, when they are due, and the resources needed to complete them is over half the battle to being successful in school.  Being organized is the key to that part of the puzzle.  Most kids know how to do the work, but struggle keeping track of everything or knowing where to start.  As parents, our role is to provide the support our kids need without doing the work for them.

So where do we start?  First, kids need to relate to the concept and understand what’s in it for them.  Initially, being organized takes time and effort so we need to reframe the concept so they understand the benefits:  Homework gets done faster, more free time for activities such as sports or video games, less frustration, etc.

Next, tap into how your student organizes things they are interested in such as music, video games, Apps, etc.   Organization comes more naturally when we are passionate about something so leverage that to draw parallels to school work and find tools that work for your student.  Have a conversation with your student to discover what they like about how they organize their things and what works for them.

With my son I gained some interesting insight when organizing his closet. First, I learned he had a strong aversion to hangers so we went out and bought a dresser. This worked much better for him but as he started to put his clothes away I stared in confusion as he put his underwear and socks in the bottom drawer, then his pants/shorts in the next drawer, and finally shirts in the top drawer. This was backwards from how I would have done it but he explained, “I put the clothes in as I get dressed, makes more sense to start from the bottom up.” Once he had the right tool (dresser), putting away and organizing his clothes in a way that made sense to him was no problem.  That information was useful when it came to organizing his school papers.

There are three different kinds of organizational styles: visual, spatial, and chronological.  Here are some clues to what your student’s style might be:

Visual Organizers:

  • Did you see my back pack?
  • When doing homework puts all the items out in front of them


  • Do you know where I put my backpack?
  • Clears off the area when doing work


  • Do you know when I last had my back pack?
  • Stacks homework in a certain order before or after completing an assignment

With a basic understanding of the style or combination of styles your student demonstrates, you can provide more effective solutions. Visual organizers like color coding and other visual cues. Spatial organizers need to have all supplies within reach when doing schoolwork, and a clean work area that “feels good” to them. The chronological organizer can remember sequential steps in some sort of order and keep stacks of paper on their desks that may appear messy.

There is no magic cure for the chronically disorganized. To begin to develop a system, it starts with questions like:  “What do you think about three ring binders?” “How about color coded folders, one color for each class?”  “Do you want a dedicated homework folder, one side for homework to work on and the other for homework to turn in?“

Once you have some input from your student regarding what they like and don’t like, now you get to experiment with different tools and work together to create that daily/weekly 5-10 minute routine to maintain their systems. If time is not being invested consistently, it makes it difficult to see what is and isn’t working. It takes time but stick with it. Small gradual changes at first translate to big changes over the long haul.

Through these conversations, your student will be providing their input and increasing their personal investment. Keep in mind your system may not work for them.  You can use your system as a starting point but if they say no to your ideas, that’s ok and will usually get them thinking about what might work for them.   When you head off to the store, have them take the lead. Don’t be discouraged if they grumble, mumble, and possibly roll their eyes at first. Just provide a friendly reminder about what’s in it for them. A good one to use is that it will get you off their back.

Finding the right solution for your student is an evolution as you and your student reflect on what’s working and what’s not.  The final step for you is to ensure repetition and consistency.  Studies show that it takes 66 to 264 repetitions (Dr. Phillippa Lally, psychology researcher at University College London ) to develop (good) habits.  Don’t expect to have a conversation, setup some tools and see your student become organized.  It will take constructive reminders and follow up (no yelling or accusations) to make it stick.  Be patient, they will get there.


Book reference: Organizing the Disorganized Child by Martin Kuschner, M.D. & Marcella Moran, M.A., L.M.H.C

Roxanne Turner, PmP, BCC (CCE Board Certified Coach)

Photo by Luke Palmer on Unsplash