At a glance
Organization affects learning in four key ways.
Trouble with organization affects kids’ ability to store and retrieve information for learning.
Math can be particularly hard to learn for kids with organization challenges.
When kids have organization challenges, opening their backpacks can be a frightening experience. Crumpled assignments and tests, school announcements from two months ago, even a missing house key — it’s a mess! Many people think of organization skills as the ability to keep things in order. But people also use those skills to keep their thoughts in order to retrieve and use information effectively.
Kids who struggle with organization have trouble handling information in an effective and logical way. They often have difficulty setting priorities, making plans, sticking to a task, and getting things done. These skills become increasingly important as they move through different grade levels.
Here are four ways kids use organization skills to learn.
1. Organization and following directions
Following through on directions requires kids to do two things: focus on what needs to be done and come up with a game plan to do it. Both of these require mental organization and planning.
Kids with strong organization skills can often follow directions without even thinking about it. They can plan steps to get something done. But when kids have organization challenges, they may not be able to see the progression of steps contained in directions or even know where to start.
2. Organization and learning to read
Kids use organization skills in subtle ways when first learning to read. Imagine that kids have a mental filing system where they store the uppercase and lowercase versions of a letter together with the sound (or sounds) that letter makes. Learning requires connecting sounds to letters. Whenever they see a letter, they can pull out the sound that goes with it from their mental filing system.
The filing system becomes more complicated when kids start recognizing sight words (common words kids memorize by how they look) and need to match them to images of what they stand for. If kids struggle with organization, they may have trouble retrieving the necessary information to connect letters to sounds and groups of letters to the things they stand for.
3. Organization and literacy learning
Literacy, which is the combination of reading, writing, and grammar skills, requires a number of organization strategies. For kids to read books and write, they have to keep track of many things at once: characters and their relationships, plot, sequences of events, supporting details, and the main idea. Nonfiction requires keeping track of subject-specific vocabulary.
If kids struggle with organization, they may not be able to gather all that information and organize it. And if they have to stop and look up words while reading, they may not be able to pick up where they left off.
4. Organization and learning math
Kids must use organization skills to learn the rules and procedures of math. Math also involves organizing information based on relationships, such as sorting things into groups by size, color, or shape. As math gets more abstract, many kids with organization challenges have trouble keeping up because they can’t create their own categories for sorting the information.
Kids also need organization skills to solve word problems using clue words (such as fewer than to mean subtraction) to help sort through information. If kids have trouble with organization, being able to store and retrieve rules and facts can be challenging.
Ways to help
Kids' organization challenges might make learning harder for them, but there are strategies that can help.
- Parents and caregivers: Try doing a backpack makeover and using checklists and other tools to help kids get organized.
- Educators: Learn more about accommodations to help kids stay organized and improve planning skills.
Organization skills allow kids to come up with a plan and follow through to get work done.
Tools like checklists and planners can help kids get more organized.
Organization challenges can make learning harder, but not impossible.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.