Organizing By Age

Family in a house. Organizing by Age.
Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

If you have children, you may wonder how to involve them in getting and staying organized. Here are a few ideas of how you can facilitate organizing by age of your children.

PRESCHOOL (age 2-5)

Preschoolers are still developing basic skills, so the idea at this age is you lead, they follow.

Adults can:

  • 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.

Adults can:

  • 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.

Adults can:

  • 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.

*     *     *

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?

16 thoughts on “Organizing By Age”

  1. What an amazing list and guides to help children and parents hone these life skills. It can often feel easier to “do for” the kids rather than to teach them the skills. But investing in your children in this way can empower them as they grow and move out into the world.

    I remember asking our kids before they left for college if there were any things we hadn’t taught them they wanted to learn. They both said they wanted to learn to do laundry. I taught them before they left the nest and included some written instructions too. Now they are experts with that and a zillion other things.

    1. I do think it helps to be mindful in teaching children organizing skills. For some it may come naturally, and there will likely be push-back from others, but in the end, they will be happy to have the skills.

      Laundry was a “7th grade” chore in my house. One took right to it, the other put it off as long as possible each time LOL. Each child is their own unique person, even from a young age!

  2. I found that with my own kids, they knew if they waited long enough, mom or dad would do it because we are Type A people. =(

    So, I needed to have patience when delegating or assigning tasks. Another thing that helped was giving them a “when it needs completing” date or time. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Each kid is different, so try different ways to see what works best for your own kid.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…How To Reduce Academic Stress For Middle SchoolersMy Profile

    1. That is so true! Every child will need a different approach, which is tricky for parents who have more than one!

      I learned that whenever I introduced something knew, I needed to expect that I would have to be present for awhile until the new system was learned and adopted. The “go clean your room” thing never worked over here LOL!

  3. I’m really impressed and can see how this would be so helpful, especially with parents going through this with a first kid. I’ll admit, there are a lot of things here I never did. When I was first out of the crib, I was about 20 months; I don’t think I could reach the bed without being lifted up, let alone make the bed! I never did laundry, except for occasionally folding towels, until college, but I was always responsible for my room and overseeing all my homework and school paraphernalia. I think I learned everything by osmosis from watching my mother, but except for cleaning up after myself, she wasn’t eager to have me mess up her systems. 😉
    Julie Bestry recently posted…How to Organize Support for Patients and Families in NeedMy Profile

    1. I actually think that happens a lot with parents. It definitely is harder to teach kids, and let them do it “less than perfectly,” and have them underfoot, than to do just do it yourself. Some children love to emulate Mom and/or Dad, but other kids are perfectly content to never lift a finger. In some cases, the parents themselves are not organized, so they aren’t living in a way that is particularly “emulate-able.” Each family is different, but this can be a starting place for those parents wanting to help their family be more organized. 🙂

  4. I like the way you shared what the adults need to do and then the children (by age grouping). As a former preschool/primary school teacher it always amazed me that some children didn’t have any tasks or chores to do at home. The sooner children learn how to do some of these skills the better off they are. I think parents need to think differently about assigning chores. They need to recognize they are empowering their children to be independent by teaching them the life skills involved in household chores.
    Diane N Quintana recently posted…Small Steps Towards ChangeMy Profile

    1. I completely agree, Diane. Not only do they acquire a skill, but they also build confidence. It’s so important for children to feel that they can do things!

  5. This is a very helpful resource for parents!

    Preschoolers can absolutely start learning organizing skills. They usually love to help around the house and often have jobs/responsibilities in a preschool classroom. Starting kids off with age-appropriate organizing tasks helps to build their organizing muscles as they get older and more independent. It’s never too early to start teaching kids to sort, put things back where they belong, and make decisions!

    1. It really isn’t ever too soon. I agree that sometimes it is the littles ones who have the greatest interest. Why not take advantage of that, right?

    1. It’s always amazing the organizing skills they learn at school and daycare! Somehow they just fall into line, rather than pushing back against Mom. This is a great reminder that the kids CAN DO IT!

    1. I definitely agree with the donation station idea. Having an established place for items you no longer use, need, or love helps everyone in the family circulate items out.

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