Calendars, Clocks, and Confidence: Organizational Skills for School

When ADHD or learning disabilities are involved, organization challenges can go from tough to torturous — and the perpetually messy rooms, lost homework assignments, and missed soccer games can stress out everyone. Calm the chaos and build your child’s self-esteem by teaching organizational skills that last — starting with these basic rules.

An alarm clock, a tool for teaching time management to children with ADHD, drawn in chalk on a blackboard
An alarm clock, a tool for teaching time management to children with ADHD, drawn in chalk on a blackboard

What Organizational Skills Are Essential?

ADHD walks hand in hand with executive disorder challenges. As such, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder struggle more than their fair share with organization, prioritization, and time management. Organizational skills don’t come naturally, so you must become your child’s organization coach — helping her practice skills on a regular basis, and encouraging her to stick with the systems you create together.

Get started with these nine school organization tips to help your child build her skills — and her self-esteem, too.

Teach Time Management by Emphasizing Sequence

Make sequence clear to your child by giving him specific verbal cues — first, next, then, before, after — as you develop a routine. Ask questions: What comes next? Do you remember what you did first?

Reinforce sequence lessons by:

  • Giving your child a series of directions using these verbal cues — and make it fun (“First do ten jumping jacks, then write your name backwards”)
  • Having your child give you directions as well
  • Asking him to point out words that are related to time
  • Talking about future vacation plans or reminiscing about his last birthday party

Use Calendars

Use a weekly calendar to help a child with ADHD learn the days of the week as well as the concepts of yesterday, tomorrow, and so on. A monthly calendar is information overload; a week’s view is easier to grasp and can still be used to teach the concept of time management.

[Free Resource: 10 Solutions to Daily Disorganization Dilemmas]

Fill in everyone’s (parents’ and children’s) schedule each week — appointments, dinners, sports practice, and so on. At the end of each day, have your child cross off completed activities and discuss the next day emphasizing, “This is what we’ll do tomorrow, Friday.”

As your child grows, the calendar will help him develop other skills, like accountability. He can see when you will or will not be available to help with a project, and can plan accordingly and assume responsibility for himself.

Choose Smart Clocks

Analog clocks as opposed to digital clocks show that time moves and lets kids know where they stands in relation to the rest of the hour or day. Practice telling time with your child at home and ask her for a different way to say 6:45 (a quarter to seven). Reinforce time keeping ideas over and over so your child can gain ownership of clock time.

Practice Using Planners

Just like adults, children need a place to keep track of deadlines, appointments, and other information. Using a planner will help your child manage all she has to remember and also enter her class schedule, a friend’s number to call for homework clarification, and a detailed description of homework and due dates.

Help your child go over her planner regularly. With guidance, she can learn to write down all homework deadlines and avoid last-minute cramming and unpleasant surprises.

[Back-to-School Apps Every Student (and Parent) Needs]

Teach Prioritizing

Help your child practice prioritizing homework by figuring out together how many assignments she has to complete, which are due tomorrow, and which are the most challenging. Encourage her to start the most difficult homework first, when she’s fresh and energetic.

Manage Paper Flow

Students with ADHD need a system for carrying assignments and other materials to and from school. Figuring out a system that works for your child may take some time and experimentation, but keep trying, and listen — children with ADHD often come up with good ideas of their own.

Paper Management from Kindergarten Through Third Grade

For younger students, paper flow is about where to put loose papers like permission slips, handouts, and simple homework assignments. Three clear pocket-type folders in a binder work well. Label the pockets “Homework to Do,” “Homework Done,” and “Notices.” Your child should come home with all assignments in the “To Do” pocket and notes to parents in the “Notices” pocket.

Completed homework moves to the “Done” pocket, which should then be emptied the next day at school (this will help him make sure he turns in all assignments).

Paper Management for Older Students

An older child with ADHD can be overwhelmed by managing all of the papers that come with her more advanced work. Suggest she gather everything into one three-ring binder so she’ll have a better chance of getting everything home, finding it, and then getting it back to school. Suggest she color-code the dividers by associating a color with each subjects — green for science (nature), for example. Color-coding by association offers visual cues for quick access to materials.

Clear pocket folders can also work well for this group too — they’ll help them see the paperwork they need to remember to get done. If your student’s binder just gets messy and unorganized, try an accordion folder instead.

Make Finished Project Files

Set up a desktop file box with hanging folders by subject, and encourage your child to regularly transfer finished projects here. This way, if she needs to look something up or find a paper later on, it will be neatly organized by subject.

Offer Praise

Emphasize accomplishments and successes, and praise your child as you continue to work with her on new skills. A parent’s support and perseverance help make organizing a positive and effective experience for a child, one that will prove to be a lifetime asset.

[9 Secrets to a Super Effective School Planner]

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.