Starting Kindergarten with Strong Organizational Skills

Your kindergartener is still working hard to refine her organization skills. Help her get (and keep) her act together with these tips to improve executive function.

Your Organized Kindergartner, Squared Away For Success
Your Organized Kindergartner, Squared Away For Success

Kindergarten is a wake-up moment for many kids with ADHD. Suddenly, they run into demands to “sit still and listen.” Many encounter rules for the first time. Not only do they need to learn the rules, they also need to make new friends, learn new skills, get along with students from other backgrounds, and work in large groups.

Parents are shocked by that first phone call from school. At home, their child is manageable, but children with ADHD often lag behind their peers by as much as 30 percent in mastering life and social skills. Structure and support will prevent them from stumbling — particularly when it comes to organization and its accompanying executive functioning gaps.

What Teachers Can Do

MAKE ORGANIZATION TIME. Provide direct instruction on the board or on index cards that students keep at their desk for completing homework assignment sheets. Plan time for students to fill these out and monitor completion.

[Free Download: 10 Solutions for Disorganization at School]

TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME. Give directions in a step-by-step way, one or two steps at a time. Pair oral direction with visuals, such as gestures, written words, pictures, or icons. Check for understanding by having students repeat or demonstrate what they will do.

HAVE STUDENTS CHECK IN WHEN THEY ARRIVE. Collect homework as soon as students enter the classroom. Have students complete a backpack check at the beginning of the day to be sure they have all the items for the day, and one at the end of the day to make sure they have everything they need to do homework.

MAKE A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING. Post a daily schedule and refer to it throughout the day for each activity. Organize the physical environment so that there is a specific place designated for each activity. Most teachers think of learning stations as being appropriate for kindergarten, but they work for hands-on and critical-thinking activities in intermediate grades, too.

INCLUDE “AUSTRALIA” IN YOUR CLASS. Kids with ADHD need a place to escape to blow off steam. Be sure to have a quiet area in your class — a tent, an area drawn on the floor in the shape of a country like Australia, or a bean bag chair in a quiet corner — for students. Clarify ahead of time what students can do there — read, draw, or rest.

What Parents Can Do

TAKE A TRIP TO SCHOOL. If possible, visit the school with your child before the new school year starts to locate his/her classroom, the bathrooms, auditorium, and gym. If your child travels from class to class, walk her through the schedule.

MAP IT. With your child, make a map of your child’s backpack and have him practice packing each item in its place. Have a special space or pocket for notes from his teacher. Explain to your child that you will check this pocket every night for information about field trips and other events.

GIVE A REMINDER IN THE MORNING. Even though mornings are frenzied in most homes, parents should grab a moment — holding their child’s full attention and eye contact — to impart a key message or two about things to focus on that day. Supplement the spoken message with sticky-note reminders posted on your child’s assignment book.

MAKE A LIST OF STEPS FOR GETTING READY IN THE MORNING. Use short, simple text and add pictures. If you have a camera, take a picture of your child successfully engaging in each step.

[The Secret to No-Nag, Never-Late Mornings]

DESIGN A “HOME OFFICE.” Designate a special place where your child will complete homework each day. This can be the kitchen table or a quiet spot away from media in the dining room. Make a list of all the materials your child needs to complete homework assignments, and be sure they are on hand and stored in accessible places. Plan a homework period into each day. Demonstrate study behavior by engaging in quiet activities, such as making a grocery list or reading a book, while your child is doing his homework.

GET THE BIG PICTURE. Post a large calendar, listing all the family and pertinent school events. Use color-coding for each family member. In the morning or evening, review the events for the day.