My son is very disorganised. His teachers always report that he has an untidy desk tray and never keeps his table tidy. He often gets in trouble for forgetting homework, even though I remind him to take it in. He doesn't seem able to improve. He's in Year Six now, and I'm worried that he won't be able to organise himself in high school, with all the different lessons and homework schedules. How can I help him?
Firstly, you need to help your son to recognise the importance of developing good organisational skills in both his school and home life. Crucially, he has to be the one to organise himself. If you do it for him, he will never learn to use this part of his brain - like a muscle, it needs regular exercise to get it working and performing well.
Organisation is about creating and using systems.
Parents can help to provide children with the scaffolding to succeed by using checklists and timetables. Begin by sitting down together and devising a schedule for the week. Mark down the days for handing in homework and for activities at school, such as PE, library and music, when he needs to take certain equipment. Also make sure to include any regular after-school activities so he has a clear overview.
Stick it on the wall or fridge so it is easy to refer to. If he is able to create it on the computer, he can change and add to it as necessary.
To prepare for the next day, make sure your son packs his own school bag the night before to avoid a panic or rush in the morning. Try to use helpful questioning strategies such as, 'What do you need to do next?' Also have a routine for unpacking the bag and a place to put things like homework books, lunchbox and school letters. Clothes should be laid out for the next morning to ensure a smooth and stress-free start to the day.
Time awareness is another important aspect of organisation. It can help to have a large clock on the wall to refer to, and this will add an understanding and awareness of what is happening around him.
It is important to give your son responsibilities at home, such as tidying his own room and helping to clear the table. Initially, this may be a battle, but he needs to learn to take responsibility for himself and his share of the household chores.
A reward system can be helpful as an incentive to take some initiative. For a younger child, this could be a sticker chart, but for your son, this could mean extra time on the computer or doing something else he enjoys.
Establish regular routines at home for meal times and bedtime; this will help him to stick to patterns of behaviour and make sure he goes to school well-rested. Keep a large calendar on the wall listing the family's commitments, including major events at home and at school.
Most important, set a good example yourself.
Inform the teacher of the strategies you are putting in place, and ask if this could be followed up at school. Ask the class teacher to be strict about keeping personal areas tidy. A messy work area can be quite distracting and often leads to a messy mind.
High school will certainly be more demanding on your son's organisational skills. Negative feedback from different teachers for forgetting homework or being untidy could affect his self-esteem.
To avoid this, provide an easily accessible shelf for him to line up his subject books and work folders. Separate completed assignments and 'to do' work.
Help him to organise worksheets and notes in a binder using dividers or colour-coded notebooks.
In general, boys tend to struggle with organisation more than girls. This can sometimes be due to a lack of maturity.
It is not too late for your son to improve these skills - help him to see the move to high school as a clean slate where he has the opportunity to prove he can do it.
Julie McGuire teaches at an international school in Hong Kong