The Hidden Power of Accordion Folders (and More School Organization Truths)

School organization systems to fix the four most common problem areas for kids with ADHD: organization at school, time management, organization at home, and technology.

Open drawer filled with yellow files in organized home
Open drawer filled with yellow files in organized home

Many kids with ADHD just don’t make it home with their homework, or back to school with finished assignments. They need a system to organize their traveling paper. Two great organization systems are the binder system and the accordion system, but if a spiral notebook for each subject helps, go with what works.

The Binder System

The key to a successful binder is lots of pockets to hold loose papers. An effective binder has the following:

1. A clear pocket in front.
2. Tabs with pockets to hold loose papers, or a clip-in pocket folder.
3. A first section labeled “Homework/To Do.”

Homework should start in the front, clear pocket and then move to a “Hand In” pocket inside, so kids always know where to find assignments. When the “To Do” pocket is empty, homework is done.

The Accordion System

Purchase a 13-pocket accordion folder.

1. The first two pockets are homework “To Do” and homework “Hand In” sections.
2. Designate each of the remaining sections for a subject.
3. Empty out papers from old units.

Getting and Staying Organized

To get kids organized, sit down and say, “Let’s go through your…”, binder, or backpack, or folders. Then, organize paper-by-paper, section-by-section to put back what was misfiled. Sunday nights are a good night to organize and set the tone for the work week, until the kids can internalize the routine and do it themselves. After the organization is in place, use the PACK system: Purge, Accessorize, Categorize, Keep it up.

If homework is still not getting turned in, try finding another solution like scanning and emailing the assignment to the teacher the night before. If homework is still not coming home, teach kids to take time at the end of each day to compose themselves, go through homework assignments, and determine what needs to come home. Or, try a buddy system to have a friend at school help.

[Your Free Guide to Solving Disorganization at School]

Keeping Lockers and Cubbies Tidy

Part of the traveling paper problem is that disorganized lockers and cubbies too easily become black holes. Kids can’t bring it home if they don’t know where it is. To fix messy lockers:

1. Give everything a home.
2. Take a picture or draw a map of where it goes.
3. Repeat, repeat, and repeat until it sticks.
4. Don’t judge. No raised eyebrows while organizing.

Parents need to show kids how to do it, and explain in words. They won’t understand just by osmosis.

Time management refers to the ability to prioritize commitments and schedule them with enough time to accurately gauge how long it will take to get each accomplished. It’s a difficult feat for students living in a digital world, where time can be an abstract concept. To tackle time management, start by teaching the concept of time:

1. Bring back analog clocks.
2. Use the Time Timer to help older kids learn to concentrate in 15 minute blocks.

[Keep Track of Time with 6 of Our Favorite Gadgets]

Once kids understand the concept of time, help them figure out how to manage it.

Use a schedule for young kids. For teenagers, use a good planner that lets kids track short and long-term assignments, and block out study time. In the planner, have kids:

1. Use flags to call out long-term assignments.
2. Write down when the kids will take each step for the project and what they’ll do in the planner.
3. Copy down assignments posted online in their planner.
4. Guess how long they think they each task will take.
5. Mark in extracurricular activities, and plan schoolwork around them.

Parents should check kids’ work, and teach them to add extra time to plan for a sore throat or a surprise test.

The fewer things kids carry, the more organized they are. To keep kids organized at home:

1. Have a desktop file box with a file for every single subject.
2. Put the papers for past units in the folder at home instead of in the backpack.
3. Try to keep the units in the order they were taught.
4. Create a portable office — a moveable box with supplies to do homework.
5. Supervise homework time.
6. Help kids figure out what to keep and what to toss.

Make sure that children understand that it’s a process. They’re not going to be perfect overnight. They’re going to have lots of oopses, mistakes, lost jackets, and everything else along the way. Parents have to keep it in perspective, encourage them, and remain positive. Truly, a sense of humor goes a long way.

Trying Out Technology

No iPad app works as well as a planner, but there are other ways to use technology for organization and planning. An Excel spreadsheet can be a great way to track assignments, and the Livescribe pen can be useful because kids can tap it when there is something they need to understand at home. Recording the class doesn’t work. No one is going to come home and listen to every recording full of classes.

Parents should organize the computer by subject and unit. Then, when kids have to go back and study, at least they can find where all the notes and homework are for that unit. Try programming the computer to read back the text kids type to help them find errors. Program the computer to announce the time every hour, on the hour, so it’s not always mom doing the nagging.

[7 Ways To Enhance The Study Space]