Children learn by observation and routines. Organizational skills and study habits are learned behaviors and can be taught to all kids. In preschool, one of the first organizational skills kids learn is to hang their coat in the cubby and to put their lunchbox in a certain place. Giving children routines and modeling organization can help less organized kids become more organized and prepare them for school. Start by teaching your kids to put their shoes, jackets, backpacks, toys, and art supplies in designated areas at home that they can easily access.
When children are in elementary grades (3, 4, 5) they start to learn how to independently organize their materials for school.
Children with ADHD/ADD may have more difficulty learning how to organize homework and plan out assignments because they have an impaired ability to coordinate thoughts and ideas.
Offering the external structure of a quiet place for homework completion with systems for organizing materials is helpful to all students, but children with ADHD/ADD especially.
Providing your child with a distraction-free, inviting and organized study zone will support the learning process and facilitate the goals you and your child are working towards.
A home environment with areas specific to certain activities plus introducing and maintaining routines can help kids keep track of materials. Here are my suggestions:
1. Create a quiet, consistent, distraction-free study zone. This means: no television, no siblings playing in space and away from areas where other family members may be.
2. Their study space should be for the explicit teaching of organizational skills. There should be a desk, a place for pencils, paper, pens, a large wall calendar, whiteboard or chalkboard.
3. Color code their school work, homework and materials by subject. Keep math in a blue binder, homework in a metallic or neon folder, etc.) And keep a color coded planner of upcoming tests/assignments.
4. Come up with a plan to effectively bring needed materials to and from school. Giving kids a routine where they organize materials that need to go to/from school the night before - cubbies or storage bins by the exit/entrance of your home - and checklists to help kids remember - even a sign on the door to exit the house that lists key items i.e.: "Lunch" "Backpack" "Library Book." It is also helpful to have these checklists in their cubbies or other key locations as well.
5. Have routines to remember to hand in assignments. Calendars, smart phone reminders - old fashioned ways like a string around the wrist or wristband that can prompt the child to to take their homework out of the backpack at school and at home. Ask that teachers email you about key homework assignments and have older kids email themselves as a reminder about their assignments.
Neuroimaging clearly shows that individuals with ADD/ADHD have different pathways of communication in the brain when compared with “typical” individuals. If you have any concerns about your child's attention speak with your child's pediatrician. Parents should talk with the child's teachers and see what the school can do to help the child, if initial interventions are not effective request more support, some preschool children benefit from having a "shadow teacher" who is a 1:1 teacher's assistant who can help prompt the child to stay on task as they mature (many kids who have shadow teachers in preschool can learn skills that allow them to function independently in elementary school) Research has shown that children with ADHD/ADD have the best outcomes with combined medical treatment and educational supports including explicit teaching around organization. Some children require 1:1 teaching around organization, and learn most effectively with a tutor or executive function coach.
Dr. Gwen Lopez-Cohen is a board certified Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with clinical expertise in anxiety, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders. Prior to her career in medicine Dr. Lopez-Cohen was an early childhood educator.