Teaching Executive Functioning and Organizational Skills to Your Child

Helping your child understand how to organize time and materials can help her succeed both inside and outside the classroom. Use these strategies to help her development of executive function skills.

Not all difficulties with executive functioning skills will manifest themselves as obvious academic challenges, but the organization of time and materials often figure in one’s ability to succeed. Children may need organizational supports if they have ADHD, NVLD, or other learning differences.

Five Tips to Support Organization of Time

1. Use a calendar.

Display a monthly calendar in a prominent place, and use it to provide your child with a sense of “big picture” time.

2. Practice approximating time.

Encourage her to estimate time in real life: How long have we been eating dinner? How long did her shower take?

3. Use a timer.

This will help her externally track her time, as she works on improving her estimation of time.

4. Manage homework together.

Use a daily assignment manager that lists: what the assignments are, when they are due, what materials are needed, and in what order your child will complete them (then, use this as a checklist). Initially, your child will need help with setting up this system.

5. Create new systems.

Be creative about how your child tracks her assignments: Some students have trouble keeping up with a planner. Allow your child to use technology (e.g., iCal, Any.do, Tasks, Google Calendar) to list her assignments.

Five Tips to Support Organization of Materials

1. Use the right school supplies.

If your child only has one class, a regular two-pocket folder may help (create an “inbox” and an “outbox”); if she has multiple classes and teachers, an accordion folder can be a lifesaver.

2. Use the right backpack.

Get a backpack with compartments: It is easier to stay organized if there’s a place for everything. Label sections, as necessary.

3. Create a backpack checklist.

Put it on a luggage tag on her backpack (with items like: lunch, book, accordion folder, and pencil case).

4. Keep track of progress together.

Do frequent (at least once per day) check-ins, in which your child may get a score for how successful she has been at organizing that day. Have your child graph these results (maybe while earning rewards, if she needs extra motivation). The graphing will also help her create a mental checklist. For instance, if you are tracking the number of loose pages floating in a backpack, and the number of loose pages floating in a binder, then she will know that removing loose pages is what organization looks like.

5. Take some pictures.

Provide visuals of what organization looks like: Take a photograph of her desk when it is “ready to work.” She can then use that photograph as a way of making the work space clean before she begins to engage with distractions. You can also do this with her backpack, her room, or her locker.

Supportive words for parents

Before you set up these supports, keep in mind these truths:

  • Behavioral change is gradual: Don’t expect a large change right away! Tracking is a great way to recognize and map progress.

  • Team approaches are best: It’s too much for you to do by yourself!

  • Fewer, accomplishable goals are essential: Keep in mind your long-term goals, while planning two to four shorter, more readily achievable ones.

  • Praise is necessary: Punishment may stop behavior, but it will not change behavior. Praise your child's effort and progress.

  • Children need to receive new strategies or approaches in order to change: Remember that saying about the definition of insanity being the act of doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result? Well, children will not change if you continue to provide them with the same stimuli. You’ve come to the right place for some new ideas! Implement them with confidence.

Further Reading on Noodle:

"Four Things You Can Do Today to Teach Your Child How to Be Organized"

"Are Executive Function Skills and Organizational Skills Different?"

"Back to School: How to Stay Organized"

Sources:

Dawson, P. & Guare, R. (2009) Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach their Potential. Guildford Press: New York.

Gallagher, R., Abikoff, H.B., & Spira, E.G. (2014), Organizational Skills Training for Children with ADHD: An Empirically Supported Treatment. Guilford Press: New York.

Goldberg, D. (2005) The Organized Student: Teaching Children the Skills for Success in School and Beyond. Touchstone: New York.

National Center for Learning Disabilities. Executive Function: Organizing and Prioritizing Strategies for Academic Success. NCLD.

Sklar, M.D. (2013) Seeing my Time.

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