Handing in homework. Finishing a report. Remembering the clarinet for band practice. From a tender age, children are expected to organize their environment and manage their time. But learning to prioritize and plan requires memory and focus-weak spots for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). To compensate, they need systems and cues to bring them out of clutter and help them take control.
Organization can be a big challenge for children without AD/HD, too. These tips will help you get your child organized for school and teach her strategies for managing assignments and deadlines.
- Bring order to your child's room. Separate ongoing projects, finished work, and school and art supplies into labeled bins, folders, file cabinets or an under-bed box. Provide a shelf for books and a bulletin board for reminders. Give your child a stapler, a three-hold punch, and big binder clips.
- Post reminders. Give your child a pad of sticky notes, and encourage him to post special reminders on mirrors, doors, and elsewhere.
- Give your child a daily planner to keep track of deadlines, appointments, events and so on. Encourage her to keep a daily to-do list, and teach her to prioritize by dividing tasks into two groups: IMPORTANT (do it now!) and LESS IMPORTANT (do it anytime). Go over the next day's schedule together every night.
- Prepare for the next day. As your child packs his book bag each evening, make sure that homework is in its folder and that everything he'll need — violin, sneakers, lunch money — is ready to go. On weekend, help him go through his backpack to remove old work and see if he needs any new supplies.
- Keep extra supplies on hand. Kids with attention problems tend to lose things, so fill a supply cabinet with pencils, rulers, tape, binders and other essentials. Post a checklist in the cabinet that your child can mark when she takes an item.
- Reserve a shelf or cabinet by the front door for items that your child takes to school every day. Label it with colored stickers, so that glasses, wallet, and bus pass can be easily found. Hang a hook underneath for a backpack or sports bag.
- Buy school gear that encourages organization, such as a backpack with multiple compartments. Help your child categorize his school materials — notebooks/binders, workbooks/texts, pens/pencils-and assign each category its own compartment. A three-ring binder, with colored tabs for separate subjects and inserts with pockets for notes, works well for many students. Buy paper with reinforced holes to reduce the risk of losing pages.
- Keep an extra set of textbooks at home. That way, your child won't have to remember every book every day. Make the extra books part of the IEP, or request them from the teacher at the beginning of the term.
- Structure your weekends. Many students with ADD panic on Sunday evening because they didn't accomplish everything they should have. Creating a weekend routine with scheduled free time and study time helps prevent a meltdown.
- Offer praise. Being organized isn't easy for your child. Let her know you're proud of her efforts.
Here are three bonus tips for middle and high school students:
- Avoid locker litter. Work with your child to decide what he needs in his locker, and get rid of the extras. If necessary, make the space more efficient with additional shelves, hooks for sneakers and a gym bag, and a hanging organizer for small items. Plan a cleanup schedule-perhaps weekly or before a school break. If your child doesn't have time to stop at her locker between classes, get her a book bag on wheels.
- Make sure assignments come home. Help your child line up someone in each class who can be contacted, if necessary, to get the homework assignment. If your child has trouble copying the homework assignment in class, have her read it into a small cassette recorder.
- Enlist the teacher. Many middle and high school teachers assume that their students already have organizational skills. If you child still needs help in this department, let his teachers know which strategies have proven effective.