Organizational skills are very important in learning for children and adults of all ages. When they are lacking, a person struggles in unstructured tasks or in completing work independently and efficiently. Usually, a child develops better organizational skills as they age, being able to meet age-appropriate expectations. Still, children with even the best of organizational skills may struggle with major transitions, such as the transition from elementary to secondary school.
Other children have difficulties in organizational skills. Some can learn to overcome these as they mature, while others lag further and further behind. I am an example of the latter. In elementary school, I aced most classes, compensating for my lack of organizational skills by my high intelligence. In secondary school, I still did well because I had learned to read faster. I could therefore read the material being tested once at the last moment and still get a decent grade. Academically, my organizational skills didn’t get the better part of me till I was in college, when one reason I dropped out was my inability to plan my work.
Organizational skills are part of executive functioning. If a child struggles with organizational skills despite adequate parenting and teaching intervetnions, it might be that they have a learning disability or attention deficit disorder, but some kids have executive functioning difficulties without a learning disability or ADD/ADHD.
Here are some tips for encouraging the non-disabled child to develop their organizational skills. Some of these strategies will work to an extent with children with executive functioning difficulties too. At the end of this post, I will give some tips for dealing with kids with executive functioning difficulties specifically.
1. Use checklists. Help your child develop a to-do list. That way, the child will be able to visualize what they stll need to do and what they’ve already done. Have your child carry a notebook with them for writing down assignmnets and household chores. Have the child check off items that have been completed. You may need to monitor that they don’t check off unfinished tasks. You can have your child use step-by-step checklists for cleaning their room, too.
2. Use calendars and schedules. On a calendar, you will put all family members’ important appointments. It depends on you and your child how detailed a calendar needs to be or can be. On a weekly schedule, you list each family member’s household chores.
3. Buy your child a planner. Have them choose one that suits them or buy one for them that appeals to them. The child can put activities into their planner, but you’ll need to help them get their planner in sync with the family calendar to avoid conflict.
4. Involve your child in cleaning and cooking activities. Particurly cooking is a fun way to learn organizational skills. A child will need to learn to read a recipe, check steps they have already completed, assemble the right tools and ingredients, etc. Involve your child in meal planning too, challenging them to help you write a shopping list. Cleaning, while not as fun, is a necessary task that also requires organization.
As I said, many of these strategies will work for a child with executive functioning difficulties too. They may need more support while learning to organize their day. Here are some tips for helping a child with EFD to learn to become the best organizer they can be:
- Use written and/or visual step-by-step guides for chores and assignments. Incorporate as much detail as the child needs – I needed every step almost literally spelled out.
- Have specific tasks on a specific day of the week. Don’t have too many tasks in one day. For example, Monday is for cleaning the child’s room, while Thursday is for organizing their backpack. That way, the child will get into the habit of performing these tasks.
- Discuss new or unexpected situations with your child and help them prepare for what might happen.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Often, children with EFD have trouble learning to automate a skill, so you may need to help them, instruct them and supervise them for a longer time than you would a non-disabled child. Use the same schedules, reminders etc. for the same tasks over and over again.
It is very important to realize that your child with EFD is not being lazy, but they have a disability that makes it harder for them to organie their work. You may need to provide more support for them to complete their chores or homework than you would a similar-age non-disabled child.