Organizational SkillsIdeas from NYU Child Study CenterSeptember 2006Discussions 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.
If your child demonstrates major problems with organization that are interfering with school success and contributing to
conflict about school assignments, consider these ideas:
•Check with your child’s school. Many schools have added courses in organization and study skills to their
curriculum, especially at the middle-school level. Additionally, your school may be able to offer a brief form of
tutoring to overcome problems.
•Private tutoring in organizational skills is also an option. However, be careful. An extensive review of
educational and psychological literature shows that instruction in organization is an area that has received very
little evaluation. Many practical, reasonable ideas and methods have been proposed, but there is little data to
support their effectiveness.