At a glance
Organization affects learning in four key ways.
Weak organization skills affect kids’ ability to store and retrieve information for learning.
Math can be particularly hard to learn for kids with weak organization skills.
If your child has organization issues, opening her backpack can be a frightening experience. Crumpled assignments and tests, school announcements from two months ago, her 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 so they can retrieve information and use it effectively.
Kids who have weak organization skills struggle with 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 your child moves 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 if your child has weak organization skills, she 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 version 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 your child struggles with organization, she 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 your child struggles with organization she may not be able to gather all that information and organize it. And if she has to stop and look up words while reading, she may not be able to pick up where she left off.
4. Organization and Learning Math
Kids have to use organization skills to learn math because it’s a very organized subject. There are rules and procedures to follow all along the way. 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 issues have trouble keeping up because they can’t create their own categories for sorting the information.
Organization skills are also needed to solve word problems using clue words (such as fewer than to mean subtraction) to help sort through information. If your child has organization issues, being able to store and retrieve rules and facts can be challenging.
The Good News: There Are Ways to Help
Your child’s lack of organization might make learning harder for her, but there are strategies that can help. You could try doing a backpack makeover and using checklists and other tools to help her get organized. You can also talk to your child’s teachers about accommodations that could help your child 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.
Weak organization skills can make learning harder, but not impossible.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.