As caregivers and teachers, one of our many roles is to help kids learn organizational skills that will help them succeed in school and beyond! Organization, time management, and planning skills are important for all children, adolescents, and adults, and especially so for those with executive functioning difficulties. Here are some tips that can help build these skills.
Introduce a Calendar
Even little kids can have a planner! Introduce calendars and planners at a young age to teach children about time and planning. Involve your child in making a special calendar or visual checklist. As your children get older, encourage them to write things down in their calendar/planner, as this will save working memory space.
Routines, routines, routines!
Establish routines and stick with them! Routines provide consistency and predictability in children’s lives.
Here are some tips for making effective routines:
- In making your routine, consider mixing preferred activities with less preferred activities. For example, for a more artistic and creative child, consider a schedule like: arts & crafts, math homework, free play.
- Be sure to preview the day with your children in the morning and use countdowns and warnings leading to transitions, especially for younger children.
- Unstructured time is an important part of any routine! So be sure to build in time for that too.
- For older children, leave time at the end of the activity for processing and reviewing work.
Giving children chores can help them learn about responsibility. Additionally, helping with chores teaches kids regulation and focus. For example, chores that involve sorting or categorizing (eg, sorting socks and shoes) can help develop your child’s attention and arranging skills, and these classification skills are the building blocks of important math skills. Even preschool-aged children are able to run simple errands using working memory, sustained attention, and persistence.
One way to help children develop sustained attention is by describing what they are doing, almost as if you are a sportscaster giving a play-by-play describing their behaviors. It is also important to incorporate breaks at regular intervals—elementary aged children can only focus for about 20-30 minutes at a time, and teenagers have a maximum attention span of about 40 minutes. Consider chunking work into more manageable parts. Additionally, using timers can increase children’s awareness of time.
Collections like rocks, leaves, or stamps can teach kids about sorting, classifying, and arranging—all important building blocks for organizational skills.
As children are learning new skills, it can be helpful to put a reward system in place. Young children may need external motivators to highlight the importance of these strategies. For example, provide your child a sticker for writing in her planner. Older children can also benefit from tangible rewards. Most important for all children is rewarding with positive attention and encouragement!
Prioritize a warm caregiver-child relationship
Like many things, new skills are learned best in the context of a warm, trusting caregiver-child relationship. Be sure to provide lots of love and encouragement and praise behaviors using positive attention.