Ask the Experts

Dear Organizing Coach: How Do I Teach My Son to Manage His Schoolwork?

The forgotten homework. The always-messy desk. These school organization difficulties so commonly plague our kids they should be classified as ADHD symptoms in the DSM-V. Here, our coach offers a few simple rules to (finally) conquer these familiar trouble spots.

Q: “My son struggles to keep his room at home and his desk at school organized. When he remembers to complete his homework, he forgets to hand it in. The school does not let him submit papers electronically, and ‘to-do’ lists don’t work. My son either forgets to check off items as he finishes them, or he checks off a task without completing it. I’ve tried asking him for ideas that might help him stay on track, but he hasn’t come up with any. How can I teach my son to manage his schoolwork? Do you have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) organization strategies for kids?” —ADDMom


Hi ADDMom:

Before we dive in, I need to ask: Does your son know HOW to get things done? You said you have “to-do” lists for him to move through his routines. Personally, I have never found checklists particularly helpful. Eventually, they become clutter. I much prefer directions! Let me give you an example.

Let’s say one item on the “clean up your room” checklist is “pick up LEGOs.” Instead of just writing that, let’s give him step-by-step instructions that go something like this: “LEGOs on the floor > LEGOs in the bin > Bin on the shelf.” Want to have some fun with it? Take photos of your son doing each step and post those so he sees how to move through his routine. Visual prompts and support help us remember what we need to accomplish.

Now here are a few tips to help manage the forgotten homework assignments.

Clear is king! If your son can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Clear, transparent folders, dividers, and binders are natural, visual reminders of the physical locations of his resources.

[The ADHD Homework System That (Really) Works]

If it takes more than two steps… he’s not going to do it. Think un-fussy and streamlined. One idea that works well for young students is one master binder. Purchase a zippered binder that also contains an accordion folder. I like the ones by Case-IT that have two sets of rings. The pullout accordion is where all the papers, handouts, and tests are kept — no hole punching required. Label each section in the accordion by subject.

The three-ring section is where your son should take notes during class. Again, label each section by subject using clear double-sided pocket dividers. Label one side of each pocket “homework to-do” and “homework done.” This takes the guesswork out of where homework will live each night AND gives your child a visual reminder of what needs to be accomplished!


Organization guru Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

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