Teaching kids to organize can be a challenge, but it is so important in the long run. Back when I was teaching, I spent the first month on teaching my students organizing skills. Because I didn’t have time for them to lose things. Or misplace them. Instead, they needed to learn skills that would serve them in their lives.
So we spent a month learning skills that would support them if they chose to use them. And I have to tell you that most of them did.
I taught a multi-age class of 4 and 5 graders. The following year, I had a student come back to share that one of my organizing tips is what helps her stay organized in middle school. I taught my entire class how to color-code their schedules. Because it will help them visually see what things they had to do.
We used blue folders and pens for math…because the math book was blue. And orange for social studies…because that book was orange. Reading was red because they started with the same letter. And yes, those are organizing tricks. Finding ways to match up what helps you with what you already have.
So that student ended up using similar colors based on her books to keep her schedule and assignments organized. And she said her teacher commented on her organizing skills because she was one of a few students who turned in an assignment.
This is why I know teaching kids how to organize actually works. And I want you to be able to teach your children these same skills.
Start teaching your kids to organize young
It doesn’t matter how old your kids are–you are going to start teaching them right now! The sooner you start, the better!! Here’s the truth: organizing is a skill. It’s not something you are or are not born with. It’s something that can be learned by your kids (and you!!), so start now.
Think of organizing as a life skill
Just like cooking and cleaning, organizing is a life skill. Another word for this (in the school world) is an executive functioning skill. They are the skills that adults execute on the daily. Back in the day, kids learned a lot of these skills in home ec. But they’re not teaching that in school anymore, so it’s your job. No, you might not teach them how to make a pillow, but you will teach them how to use the oven, do the laundry, and ORGANIZE!
For example, storing like things together. Clothing is a great place to start with this particular aspect of organizing. Keep socks with socks, t-shirts with t-shirts, underwear with underwear. How will you adapt your system to accommodate those categories? This is problem-solving! Another executive functioning skill.
Set expectations for organizing
These could include putting your clothes away when you’re done with laundry or putting something away when you choose not to wear it or clean up the mess they make. You shouldn’t be the one responsible for this all the time. Set the expectations for them.
Writing this down will make such a big difference for your kids. This will help your kids and maybe more importantly you. If you remember it, you’ll stop doing it for them (one of the 3 mistakes parents make when they’re teaching their kids to clean up).
Once you set the expectations, put into place routines that will help maintain the expectations.
Set routines based on the expectations
Maybe the expectation is that your kiddo’s bedroom has to be cleaned up before bed. So the bedtime routine is going to include tidying up his or her bedroom. In the morning, the expectation is to make the bed, make breakfast, and wake up. It’s important to create routines around the expectations so everyone remembers what they are supposed to do.
Use checklists, picture guides, and labels to teach kids to organize
We do this because I want teaching my kids to organize to be seamless and easy. When you write it down your brain remembers. Then, you stick it up in front of your face, and you know you’ll never forget it! This is essential for kiddos that have ADHD, anxiety, or processing disorders. The consistency, the repetition, the routine, and the visual are all key. By having all of that, you’re going to keep your kiddos in check.
If you’d like all my information about setting expectations in one place, you’re in luck! I created a freebie! I walk you through where to start with setting expectations, and I even give you the checklists. I know this stuff doesn’t always come naturally, so I want you to have all of these resources at your fingertips.
Make it fun and celebrate the wins
Finally, teaching kids to organize does not mean that you have to be rigid. Sometimes people think I run my house like a boot camp–not at all! We make it fun!! We put on music, we laugh, and when we finish a project, we celebrate! It always feels good to complete something, and we should encourage our kids to enjoy that feeling of accomplishment.
Celebrating wins is an important part of the process to teach kids. Too often grown-ups forget this step (maybe we never learned it), and it’s an important part of keeping momentum and motivation.