• Helping Your Child Develop Organizational Skills

    It is important for parents to support and facilitate the instruction that their children receive in school. Students whose parents are involved in their education do better at all grade levels. However, there are many skills that children may need to learn at home in order to flourish in school. A thirst for learning, persistence, and effective social interaction are sets of behaviors which are learned at home and can distinguish between successful and unsuccessful students at all levels of intellectual abilities and academic aptitude. In addition, children may benefit from lessons designed to develop organization, time management, and planning skills.

    In work completed at the NYU Child Study Center, we have learned that children vary in three areas that seem important in managing school and home routines. Students vary in how well they: (1) manage materials and papers for school and home; (2) use time to complete tasks and respond to scheduled events; and (3) plan their actions to reach goals for school assignments and home activities.

    Discussions with educators suggest that organization, time management, and planning skills may be crucial for success. In some situations, a child who does not have a clear set of routines for completing school tasks is hindered even if the child possesses all of the necessary knowledge for the tasks. For example, a child that has not established a procedure for writing down assignments may find that s/he is unable to complete homework assignments because required papers such as worksheets or reading materials have been left in the school locker. Parents find that many conflicts at homework time often result because children have not written down the complete assignments, they do not know how to complete the steps needed for the assignment, or they have not taken the correct actions to assure that they have the papers that they need.

    It seems that establishing routines for day-to-day school tasks is a goal of great significance.There are many ways children learn to organize their materials, time, and actions. Some children may develop organizational skills by watching others and thinking of a way to take care of their supplies, manage their time, and select actions that are needed. Still other children may gain the skills by being told what methods to use. A smaller number of children may need to receive direct instruction and practice for varied periods of time in order to adopt effective routines for organization.

    According to our research, this latter group of children consists of more boys than girls, and includes many youth with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and learning problems. Our clinical experience suggests that problems in organizational skills may emerge in the middle of elementary school and can persist throughout the school career, even into college. What can parents do to facilitate the development of organizational skills?

    Consider these ideas that are based on our experience and general principles of learning.

    • Demonstrate appropriate use of routines to manage the supplies you use in your life, such as your house keys, car keys, and important papers. Discuss how you manage your time, so your child learns how long tasks take and what you do to fit those tasks into your schedule. Include your child in discussions of family activities and routines, so s/he can learn that foresight is useful.

    • Help your child develop a way to transport materials back and forth from school. Consider books, papers, and other items such as lunch, money,and the school bus or subway pass.

    • Make homework a part of your regular evening routine. Consider how long it should take. If you are not sure, ask your child’s teacher for an estimate on how much time should be spent on homework and studying.

    • Discuss long-term projects such as book reports with your child. Children may not know what steps to take and how to complete assignments that take several days or weeks.

    • Develop ways to store school supplies and your child’s toys and equipment.

    • Determine a work area for school activities and stock it with needed supplies.


    Written by Richard Gallagher, Ph.D. and the staff of the NYU Child Study Center.