Success in school often depends on how well a student manages to organize everything from demanding schoolwork to a dizzying array of after-school activities to technological distractions.
That’s a lot to ask of a child and of busy parents.
These days, a new breed of experts is stepping in to help: professional organizers for kids.
“Nine years ago, when I started Order Out of Chaos, I had to explain to people what a professional organizer was. Now, it’s not what’s an organizer, but who’s your organizer?” says Leslie Josel of Mamaroneck, N.Y., who offers to help kids manage everything from elementary school to dorm life.
“As parents, we walk into the house and say, ‘Go get your soccer cleats,’ ‘Go get your dance things,’ ‘Do your homework,’ ” says Josel. But organization is like a muscle, she says, “and if you’re the one spewing all those instructions out, the only one working out that brain muscle is you. You’re ending up nagging instead of training.”
She has ways to help parents help their children become better organized for school.
Ask children before they head out the door what they think they will need for the day.
“After a while, it becomes as much of a habit as brushing teeth or putting on a seat belt,” Josel says.
Come up with systems for paper and time management at home and at school.
“If it takes your child more than two steps to do something, they’re not going to do it,” she says.
Many of the hundreds of professional organizers nationwide are mothers or former teachers who have helped children deal with “executive dysfunction,” the technical term for the problem. Some earn certification from groups such as the New Jersey-based National Association of Professional Organizers or the St. Louis-based Institute for Challenging Disorganization.
Often, professional organizers are hired to help children who have special needs, but they are increasingly invited to speak at parent-teacher associations and community groups to offer general tips.
“Academic tutors help with science or math … but the study-skills part of the picture has been a no-man’s land,” says Kathy Jenkins, who runs the Richmond, Va.-based company The Organizing Tutor.
Here are some tips from her and other experts:
At home, each student in the household should have a “launching pad” and portable storage system. A launching pad can be a bench or box by the front door or their bedroom that holds everything that goes in and out of the house: books, backpacks, cell phone, soccer cleats.
“For this population, the more time they spend looking for something, the less remaining stamina they have to do what they need to be doing,” Josel says.
The portable storage station should be a clear box with everything needed to get homework done.
“It’s essential to have one box per student, not one per household,” Josel says. “An elementary student might have glue and colored pencils, while a middle schooler might need a Spanish dictionary and a calculator.”
Boxes should be labeled – but not by parents – with the child’s name and a list of contents.
“Have your child fill the box and label it. It’s part of the ownership process,” Josel says.
Boxes should be portable because although some students work happily at the same desk each evening, for others, “it really helps if you change workplaces not only every day, but for every study subject,” Josel says.