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Teaching children organizational skills

​​A lost lunchbox, some forms that never made it home from school, a room that seems to stay messy no matter how many times it's cleaned. Sound familiar? Kids are constantly trying new activities and seem to be on the go all the time, which can often result in messy bedrooms, lost items, missed deadlines, and frustration.

Organizational skills are important for children - not only for basic reasons like keeping a tidy room but also for helping with school work and navigating a busy schedule of extra-curricular activities, homework, and time for family and friends.

How to help your child learn to organize their bedroom (and keep it clean!)

Encourage children to clean up after themselves and put away their toys and games wherever they are, not just in their room. Tidying up after themselves is a good habit to learn.

Let them be part of the decision-making. Find a storage system that works for their bedroom and include them in the process. Using something your child has picked out themselves will make it more exciting.

Spend some time at the beginning helping them with the initial clean and organization so that they are familiar with what "cleaning your room" really means. Helping to designate specific areas for where everything goes will make it easier for young children when cleaning on their own. For example, using labeled or different coloured containers and having certain areas or shelves dedicated to different toys can make it easier for your child to keep tidy.

9 ways to help your child become more organized

Children learn to be organized at different times and different paces. Give your child lots of support at the beginning, but the goal is for kids to eventually be able to do it all on their own.

1. Help them understand.

Explain to children why it is important to be organized - understanding the benefits of an organized lifestyle will help keep them motivated. Give examples of the benefits that come from being organized. For instance, you can explain that being organized helps save time on doing homework, getting ready for school in the morning, and cleaning up their toys.

2. Use checklists and planners.

Encourage children to keep track of their activities, chores, and homework using checklists. Having something like a small whiteboard your child can keep in his or her room is a fun, engaging way for them to make a checklist of what they need to do that day or week. Buy a planner or big wall calendar that your child can use - let him or her pick out one that they like so they are excited to use it. For recurring tasks, try keeping a checklist in a clear sheet protector and have your child use erasable whiteboard markers to check off each task.

3. Establish and maintain a routine.

Give your child options so he or she feels included in the decision-making. For example, you can suggest some appropriate times to designate as "homework time" and then let your child choose when they would like to do it. Keep this routine consistent and make sure they stick to it.

4. Prioritize.

Teach your child to recognize the most important item on their checklist. You can create a number system for their homework based on what is due first, or list chores in order of what day they need to be done.

5. Prepare in advance.

Leaving things to the last minute just calls for chaos! Instead, encourage your child to lay out their clothes and pack their backpack the night before school.

6. Think from their point of view, literally.

It helps to get down to your child's eye level in order to get a sense for what height shelves or hangers should be at. This can also give you insight into possible barriers to your child's organization - if they are unable to reach something, they will not be able to put anything on or in it.

7. Give, give, and give.

It's so easy to build up clutter - it's almost as if it happens over night! Do a regular purge with your child, getting rid of any old, outgrown or worn-out toys and clothes. Another handy technique is to have a "one in, one out" policy, which limits the amount of "stuff" that collects around the house. Think of it as a more frequent, mini (and less overwhelming) "spring cleaning".

8. Be a role model.

The best way to teach children is to lead by example!

9. Lastly, make it fun!

For example, you can try "beat the clock" games to see how many items can be picked up in two minutes, or put on some music that you and your child enjoy.​

Sarah Dorman
Editorial Intern, AboutKidsHealth