My First Grader Is Disorganized and Forgetful. Is It Too Early to Worry?

By Ellen Braaten, PhD
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Q

My first grader is totally disorganized and very forgetful. His desk at school is a mess and he’s always losing things. Is it too early to worry?

A

Twenty years ago, I never got asked these types of questions. If I had been asked, I would have said, “Don’t worry, he’s only in first grade!” And while having a messy desk at this age usually isn’t cause for concern, the world has changed since then.

The short answer is that many first graders don’t yet have the ability to get and stay organized. Around third grade, kids are typically able to keep their desk clean and keep track of their things without losing them.

It’s true, though, that today’s first-grade classrooms require kids to be much more organized. And parents and caregivers have become more aware of the importance of organization skills.

In pre-K and early grade school, families and teachers act as tutors to help kids build organization skills. This happens by setting limits and giving clear guidelines for how kids are supposed to behave.

For instance, teachers might say, “We hang up our coats as soon as we come in every morning.” At home, you might say, “You need to take your plate to the sink after dinner.”

There are other ways to build organization skills at this age, too. For example, kids can use colored pocket folders for papers and assignments to keep their classroom desk neat. At home, they can use well-marked shelves and bins to store belongings.

Having daily routines helps kids know what’s expected of them. You can model organization skills by making a family calendar with chores, events, and activities. It also helps to de-clutter as much as you can at home.

If you try any of these strategies, see how your child responds. If they don’t help your child get more organized by the end of second grade, be on the lookout for related behaviors.

For instance, is your child very impulsive? Does your child have trouble following directions with multiple steps? It may help to find out what your child’s teacher is seeing in the classroom.

As I mentioned before, having a messy desk in first grade usually isn’t cause for concern. But it’s good that you’re keeping an eye on it. If your child continues to be disorganized, you’ll be ready to provide the best kind of support.

About the Author

About the Author

Ellen Braaten, PhD 

is the director of LEAP and codirector of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, both at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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