If you have children, you may wonder how to involve them in getting and staying organized. Here are a few ideas of what you can do by age.
PRESCHOOL (age 2-5)
Preschoolers are still developing basic skills, so the idea at this age is you lead, they follow.
- Set up the systems. Assign a “home” for all the child’s belongings (including clothing, toys, craft supplies, child-sized dishes, etc.)
- Label as much as possible. At this age, labels should be pictures (drawn or printed from the computer).
- Designate times throughout the day for putting items away, and include the child in the process (even if they are reluctant).
- Periodically cull through belongings and decide what to give away/trash.
- Monitor the rate at which new items enter the space – you are the gatekeeper!
The children can be expected to:
- Make their bed in the morning (once they are out of the crib… and it won’t be perfect)
- Return toys to any location they can reach (e.g. open shelving for larger items, open topped bins & baskets for smaller items)
- Hang clothing on hooks (including dress-up clothes)
- Put books in a basket or bin on the floor
- Sort toys by color or category (e.g. dolls vs. trucks)
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper
- Help put away groceries and dishes
ELEMENTARY (ages 6-10)
Kids are rapidly acquiring skills during this timeframe, and they will be able to do more each year. Remember to keep entrusting children with more responsibility, while being cognizant that every child will be a bit different.
- Talk with children about where to store new items when they come in the house (rather than just assigning a space)
- Adapt spaces to emerging interests and changing needs (e.g. homework, activities, hobbies).
- Introduce labels with words
- Provide incentives for maintaining a space well (e.g. checks on a chart, week-end rewards, etc.)
The children can be expected to:
- Make their bed each morning
- Put toys/school supplies/toiletries away where they can reach and access. (Older kids can remove lids, but since they can be a hassle, avoid them when possible.)
- Hang clothing and towels on hooks. Older children can use hangars/towel bars.
- Return books to a shelf, spine facing out (Keep library books in a separate spot)
- Put dirty clothes in a hamper, sort laundry into categories, carry laundry baskets, put clean clothes away
- Take paperwork out of the backpack and put it in a tray/location
- Bring lunchboxes to the counter, open them and throw away trash
- Unload groceries, load & unload the dishwasher.
MIDDLE SCHOOL (ages 11-13)
Middle school represents a shift from a space primarily filled with toys to a space filled with school supplies, electronics, and recreational supplies. By the end of middle school, your goal is for them to be the primary managers of their own things.
- Provide storage space for supplies the young person needs (bags for each activity, racks for sports racquets/sticks/skis, drawer space for dance clothes, etc.)
- Provide a workspace where the student can work on a computer and charge electronic devices
- Ask children where they are going to put any new item that comes into the space. If they can’t identify a sufficient space, offer to help. If they refuse to identify a space, consider removing the item until they are willing to find a home.
- Start enforcing the “one in, one out” rule. Teach them to understand that space is limited.
- Discuss calendar management and planning. Include them in a weekly planning meeting to overview what they have coming up in the week, including activities and school deadlines.
Young people can be expected to:
- Make their beds and maintain their room (or part of a room) according to a routine schedule (e.g. once a week)
- Put their belongings away in shared spaces
- Do their own laundry
- Be responsible for getting parents to sign any necessary paperwork.
- Take ownership of schoolwork deadlines
- Maintain a planner or assignment pad to track their responsibilities and commitments
- Own the responsibility for having what they need, when they need it.
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This is certainly not a comprehensive list, and NOT a list to make you feel guilty if you haven’t hit particular milestones. Consider it a tool and guideline (for more on what to teach teenagers before they leave home, click here.)
What organizing skills have you worked on at specific ages? What skills are you still trying to develop as an adult?