Back to School Organization

By: Laura Van Zandt, MS, OTR/L

With many of our children returning back to school, I thought this would be a good time to review some strategies to help with school organization. Kids need organization skills in order to function during their school day as well as to get their homework done efficiently at home. If your child struggles with a messy desk, overstuffed backpack, keeping homework and classroom assignments organized, or lost and missing parent/teacher communication slips then hopefully you can find some tips and tricks in this blog. Remember every child is different and what works well for you or another child may not necessarily work well for your own child.backpack

  • Most importantly develop routines and stick to them as closely as possible. Some children might benefit from additional support to help learn the routine such as checklists, picture schedules, and/or social stories. Younger children might also benefit from turning the routine into a fun song.
  • Create backpack organization systems. Look for backpacks that offer multiple compartments to denote separate spaces. A backpack with at least two compartments is highly recommended. Use a zippered pouch (clear is the best) for pencils, erasers, calculators, etc. in the backpack.
    1. Please check out my previous post on backpack safety.
  • Place a laminated checklist clipped to your child’s backpack zipper that lists what needs to be brought home each day. This one from Understood.org is great. 
  • Go through the backpack on a regular basis with your child until he/she gets the hang of keeping it organized. Gradually give your child more responsibility and continue to check in even when you have turned in all the responsibility to your child.
  • Create a simple schoolwork folder system. A simple 2 pocket folder often works best. Use a bright sticker to place on one side for “KEEP AT HOME” and another bright sticker for the opposite pocket for “BRING BACK”. If your children are older, you can create a color coded system that corresponds to each class. Books and notebooks can use prefabricated book covers or you can use colored paper to create book covers in a variety of colors.
folder
Picture from caffeinatedconclusions.blogspot
  • Depending on the age of your child you might start to create a really good binder system. The best ones have a locking rig. Some binders have a clear plastic cover which can be used to create large labels on the outside for different subjects (if you are using a different binder for each subject) or you can use it to hold assignment sheets.
    1. If you are going to start a binder system, then you should invest in a few more organization assistants. Things like subject dividers, a zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch are really helpful. You can organize each subject section the same. Label each subject divider tab and then include an empty sheet protector immediately behind for important handouts. Behind the sheet protector you can include a folder which follows the same simple schoolwork folder system idea above.
    2. A different option could also be to continue to use the subject divers, zippered pencil pouch, sheet protectors, two pocket three-hold punched folders, and a portable three-hold punch; however, instead of using the simple schoolwork folder system idea above with the two pocket folders, you can create one global folder that is in front of the binder where your child put homework for each class in front. At the end of the day, when at home, you can then sit with your child and help organize their homework when completed back into each individual subject folder.

pencil org..jpg

  • Some children might do also better with an accordion file based system. One suggestion for organized would be using the front section to keep your child’s homework planner or global two-pocket folder homework folder. Each additional pocket would be labelled with the different subjects and might include a separate pad of paper for that subject. I like to avoid loose sheets of paper as much as possible with an accordion system as I find they tend to slide down.
  • Create an organization system for lockers. Some children like to create a container system where they use separate containers for different belongings which are labeled with pictures on the outside to know what goes inside each bin. You can also add a picture to the locker for a visual cue for where each item belongs which the locker to further help keep things organized. Shelves are also helpful to better divide the space.
    1. lockerTo help you and your child determine the most logical and efficient way to organize the locker and backpack, here are some helpful questions (source: The Organized Student)
    2. What is your child’s schedule like? If the schedule is consistent, you can probably just separate the locker into two sections, morning and afternoon. If it changes every day, you might want to organize differently
    3. What extracurricular activities does your child participate in and what supplies/equipment is needed?
    4. Does your child keep supplies and equipment in a locker at school or do they travel back/forth between school and home on a regular basis?
    5. How many books is your child required to keep track of throughout the day
    6. Does your child’s school offer a second set of textbooks on loan?
    7. What type of storage and accessories does the locker already contain?
    8. Does your child have time to go back to his/her locker between classes?

 

  • Create a homework station at home. Include all necessary school supplies such as pencils, pens, crayons, markers, glue, scissors, paper, etc. You can use everyday items (mason jars, muffin tin) to help organize items. Containers available at any office/home good are great ways to help organize. You can attach labels made from a label marker or also just use post-its and adhere using clear tape. Every item has its own place and it is easy to spot. Ask your child’s school if it is possible to get a second set of textbooks to eliminate the need to bring books back and forth between school and home. Mark off spaces for items like books and pencil box using painter’s tape. If your child is older, you might think about creating a “desktop file box” which is described in a lot more detailed in The Organized Student book.

 

  • Help your child learn to breakdown assignments into manageable chunks. One example includes folding worksheets into sections that can be completed before moving onto the next section.
  • Invest in some telling time systems. It is often helpful to breakdown into the concept of telling time, daily time, weekly time, and monthly time. I prefer to use analog’s watches or timers for this as you can see the passage of time which is missing from digital systems. When first learning to tell time and gauge time, create from fun activities to experiment with by guessing how long it will take and then compare guess to actual. It might be useful to have several timers. One for the global amount of time your child/you think he/she needs to complete the assignments and an individual one to break down individual assignments into manageable chunks and to add a spot for a quick break. If you can find an analog clock that also allows for a quick glance to see the time digitally, that might also help.clock
  • Finally, if you have read any of our previous posts on executive functions or attended our executive function client group, then you might be familiar with the group Cognitive Connections. They developed an app that allows users to create a time marker to get ready for work, a timer marker to check in during work, and a marker when the work is planned to end. There are tones activities when the time reaches each marker. This could also be a good choice for some children.
  • The key to any organization system is be flexible to your child’s unique organizational style and needs as well as be consistent and offer check-ins until your child has mastered the system. Even when your child has mastered the system, continue to offer periodic support.References and Helpful Resources:
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