Creating an Organizational System: A Guide for Parents

For students with executive function challenges, it always amazes me how quickly their organization falls apart. With the time and the stress we create by trying to find a document, redoing lost assignments, and/or finding a pencil for a test that begins in 30 seconds, most would think these students would become serious about creating and sticking to an organizational system. However, for most students and myself, this never crosses our mind, and we truly believe we have it “under control.” 

As a parent, the first step in helping our children develop an organizational system is showing them the freedom it will open in their lives. Anxiety will significantly decrease, and free time will increase when we know where our materials are and don’t have to redo already completed tasks. 

Creating an organizational system is not just about helping your child keep their school supplies in order; it’s about creating a structured environment that improves focus, processing speed, and managing tasks efficiently. 

The best organization system is the one the student chooses and updates daily. Let’s discuss examples of practical organization strategies that are very effective for previously disorganized students. 

Organizing Physical School Supplies

A well-thought-out physical organization system will help boost focus and efficiency while helping students feel more in control of their academic tasks. Here are our recommendations for an effective physical organization system for supplies and to transform a chaotic study area into a structured, conducive environment for learning and growth.

Creating an Effective Organization System:  Before diving into specific strategies, assess the current situation:

  • What organization system is your child currently using? 
  • Where is it working? Where is it failing?
  • Which day(s) of the week will be designated for organizing their backpack?
  • How will your child remember their organizational tasks (like a phone reminder or planner)?
  • Where will they remember appointments, practices, etc?
  • Where will they put assignments that need to be completed? What about assignments that need to be turned in?

Untapped’s Recommendations for Physical Organization:

  • Binders for AM and PM Classes: Many middle and high school students have seen the most benefit from having two large binders, one for morning and one for afternoon classes. This system creates an easy transition between classes and only one binder change per day (typically at lunchtime). We use an a.m. and p.m. binder because one binder becomes too cluttered, and a binder for each class has too many moving parts when we have a binder for each class.
  • Binder Contents:
  • Use dividers for each class. (Typically, the teacher will tell students what sections they need. If they don’t, 2-3 dividers for each class will do)
  • Keep a pencil bag and paper in each binder. 
  • Include specific materials required for each class (like graph paper, ruler, etc.).
  • Have a weekly reminder to check each binder and ensure it is full of supplies. Nothing frustrates a teacher more than a student who frequently comes to class unprepared.
  • Homework Folder:
    • A dual-pocket folder labeled “To Do” and “Turn In” can streamline assignment management. We use a homework folder because it can quickly be opened, and we can see what was not turned in that day that still needs to be turned in. 
    • Implementing a locker checklist can be a highly effective organizational strategy for parents of middle and high school students. Posting a simple checklist inside the student’s locker is a daily reminder of important tasks to complete before leaving school. This checklist could include essential items like “Ensure all homework is turned in,” “Collect any old clothes or sports gear,” and “Gather all necessary books and materials for homework.” This system promotes responsibility and independence in students and helps them stay organized and prepared for the next day.
  • Backpack: 
    • Establishing a routine for cleaning out a backpack is crucial, as it helps maintain hygiene and ensures that essential items, such as completed assignments that haven’t been turned in, are not overlooked. For instance, neglecting this routine might lead to unpleasant surprises like discovering an old, forgotten sandwich, which could create an unhygienic and disorganized learning environment.

Organized Workspace

Your child might not be as much of a procrastinator as you think. They may be trying to complete homework or study sessions in an environment that hinders their focus. Research shows that a clean workspace improves attention, mental clarity, and focus. Other aspects of a productive workspace include:

  • Natural light
  • Free from distractions
  • Homework supplies within reach

Dedicated Homework Station: Anyone who has taken Psychology 101 knows of Pavlov’s dog and the concept of classical conditioning, which mirrors the idea of creating a dedicated focus area. Just as Pavlov’s dogs were conditioned to associate the sound of a bell with food, designating a specific space for studying can train the brain to associate that area with focus and productivity. 

Not a day goes by that we don’t hear a college student complain that they can’t focus while working on homework in their bed and then can’t sleep at night. Your productivity space should be used solely for getting work done. 

Establish a specific place in your home exclusively for homework and studying. This area should be well-lit, quiet, and free of distractions. Use labels to organize various supplies like pens and notebooks. 

Note- Some families will not have the luxury of dedicating one space to home to productivity, so do the best you can. For example, this corner of the apartment is used for homework. 

  • A well-defined and organized space reduces stress and mental clutter, making it easier for students to concentrate and complete their schoolwork. 
  • When it comes to work completion, students who typically struggle can eliminate some friction when working in a space they enjoy. 
  • A dedicated space signals the brain that it’s time for focused work, creating a mental and physical boundary between leisure and study. This helps develop a routine, making the transition to study mode smoother and more efficient.

Digital Organization 

In the digital age, mastering online organization is as important for students as organizing their physical resources. Students are increasingly being assigned work, completing work, and turning in work online.  This shift demands a new skill set: digital organization. Think of a backpack crammed with unsorted papers – this chaos can easily be replicated in a student’s digital space, like Google Drive. Whether tech-savvy or not, many students navigate their digital files without a clear organizational system.

Key Questions for Setting Up a Digital System:

  • What’s your child’s current method for managing digital files?
  • When will your child routinely organize their Google Drive/One Drive?
  • How will they differentiate between ongoing and completed assignments?
  • How are old assignments/tasks archived? 

Strategies for Effective Digital Organization:

  • Subject-Specific Folders: 
    • Encourage your child to create individual folders for each subject. This approach ensures neat and easily retrievable digital documents like a physical binder system. 
    • Store finished assignments in these folders while keeping active projects in a more accessible spot.
  • Email: Whether your student likes it or not, email will be a part of their academic life.  Teach your child to declutter their inbox and periodically unsubscribe from non-essential emails. This step minimizes mess and highlights important messages.
  • Bookmarking Essentials: Let’s make it as easy as possible for our students to access their important documents and web pages. Encourage your child to bookmark frequently visited websites and weekly plans. This saves time and keeps crucial resources at their fingertips.
  • Weekly Digital Cleanup: Allocate a time for your child to sort through and organize their digital files. This habit prevents clutter, maintains order, and guarantees they work with up-to-date materials. Ensure they are archiving old files to keep their digital space less cluttered and easier to navigate. If this is done weekly, it won’t take long

These skills are not optional but essential for academic success in the digital era. Guiding your child in establishing and maintaining an organized digital system will pave the way for efficient learning and career readiness.

Cleaning Routine: The homework space won’t be inviting if it’s covered in old assignments or snack wrappers. Encourage a weekly routine where your child tidies up their study area. Frame this through the discipline equals freedom lens, explaining that taking a few minutes to organize their space can lead to a clearer mind and more efficient study sessions. 

This proactive approach saves them many hours that might be spent redoing work in a cluttered, distracting environment. By instilling this habit, you empower your child to take control of their academic success and personal organization.

  • Incorporating this task into a routine ensures it becomes a habit rather than a chore. 
  • Regular cleaning and organizing help maintain an inviting and functional workspace. It also teaches time management and responsibility, as maintaining an organized space requires discipline. 

Having physical and digital organizational systems is more than just a tool for academic success; we are helping create a lifelong system. As parents, your involvement in developing and maintaining these systems is key. By working alongside your child to implement these practices, you aid their current academic needs and equip them with skills that will serve them well beyond their school years. 

Remember, organization is not just about order; it’s about empowering your child to take control of their environment and, by extension, their learning journey.

Every child’s journey is unique. It’s essential to remember that with patience, persistence, and a plan, you can help your child overcome executive function challenges and succeed in all aspects of life. It’s all about taking one step at a time and remembering that progress is just that. Progress.

Parenting a child who struggles with executive function can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to navigate this journey alone. Let Untapped help!

For More:

The Case for Finally Cleaning Your Desk

Motivation is Overvalued. Environment Often Matters More

The secrets of capturing and guiding attention

Organization Systems for Today’s Students

Help Students Retain, Organize and Integrate Knowledge

Creating Organizational Systems that Work

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