Your kindergartner has lost two sweatshirts and his winter coat…in the span of four weeks. The conversations usually go something like this:

“Where’s your coat?”

“I don’t know. I can’t find it.”

“Where did you last have it?”

“At school.”

“Is it still at school?”

“I don’t know.”

As you look at current sales ads (again!) for children’s clothing, the big question in your head is, “Why can’t my bright, happy, full-of-life six-year-old keep track of his outerwear?

If it’s any consolation (which it’s probably not), your child isn’t the only one who can’t keep track of her coat, her sweatshirt, her backpack, her school papers, her pencils, or her lunchbox. Many school-agers fall into this black hole of organizational chaos.

The ability to plan and stay organized is an important executive-function skill. But because we’re not born with these skills – your child will have to learn them. Without them, there could be some challenges…like keeping track of time, completing schoolwork, making decisions, or remembering to grab a sweatshirt or backpack left on the playground.

Your child also needs those planning and organizational skills to learn. For example, kids must keep track of many things at once before they can learn to read or write – things like word meanings, story characters and plot. Math also involves organizing certain information into color, size or shape.

Often, a child who is constantly losing or misplacing things is a child who needs support getting organized. Here are a few ideas for helping your child survive the scary land of the lost things:

  • The family calendar. A large calendar, posted where everyone in the family can see it, will let your child know that organization and planning is a part of daily life. Consider using different colors for family members so schedules stand out.
  • A backpack makeover! Start with a backpack that’s right for your child. A backpack that’s too cumbersome will be set down often and forgotten. One that’s too small may not have enough compartments for your child to get organized. Label color folders for papers going to and from school. Set a consistent time with your child to go through her backpack to discard trash and organize items in compartments and folders.
  • Sticky-note checklists. Ask your child what tasks she needs help remembering before she comes home from school. Write one or two agreed-upon tasks on a large, colorful sticky note. This can be a two-stepper like, “Look for your sweatshirt in your classroom and put it in your backpack,” or simply, “Put your homework in the blue folder.” Attach the sticky note to a folder in her backpack.
  • Pizza box portfolios. Ask your favorite pizza place for some empty pizza boxes. Label and use them to store important papers or art projects that your child has completed or is working on. The beauty of this idea is that it forces him to lie his papers flat instead of in crumpled balls of disorganized chaos!

Helping your child get organized will help prepare her for life and school in a positive way. It may also help save on your school clothing budget!

About the author

Cheryl Flanders, M.Ed.

Cheryl is a seasoned educator and writer, having worked in the field of education for over 25 years. Cheryl has taught high school and college courses and has also served as an elementary school principal. Most recently, Cheryl retired from her full-time position as Manager of Teacher Preparation for the corporate offices of KinderCare Education in Portland, Oregon. There she developed training for over 25,000 early childhood teachers that KinderCare employs nationwide.

Cheryl and her husband now reside in Boise, Idaho, where she is a mom; a grandma; and an active author, speaker, and early childhood consultant. Having suffered the loss of a child three years ago, Cheryl’s passion is to use both her personal and professional experiences to provide hope and inspiration to families and teachers working with young children. She believes that the best vehicle for helping children… is to look through their eyes.

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