1. Use checklists.
Help your child get into the habit of keeping a “to-do” list. Use checklists to post assignments, household chores, and reminders about what materials to bring to class. Your child should keep a small pad or notebook dedicated to listing homework assignments. Crossing completed items off the list will give him a sense of accomplishment.
2. Organize homework assignments.
Before beginning a homework session, encourage your child to number assignments in the order in which they should be done. She should start with one that’s not too long or difficult, but avoid saving the longest or hardest assignments for last.
3. Designate a study space.
Your child should study in the same place every night. This doesn’t have to be a bedroom, but it should be a quiet place with few distractions. All school supplies and materials should be nearby. If your young child wants to study with you nearby, too, you’ll be better able to monitor his progress and encourage good study habits.
4. Set a designated study time.
Your child should know that a certain time every day is reserved for studying and doing homework. The best time is usually not right after school — most children benefit from time to unwind first. Include your child in making this decision. Even if she doesn’t have homework, the reserved time should be used to review the day’s lessons, read for pleasure, or work on an upcoming project.
5. Keep organized notebooks.
Help your child keep track of papers by organizing them in a binder or notebook. This will help him review the material for each day’s classes and to organize the material later to prepare for tests and quizzes. Use dividers to separate class notes, or color-code notebooks. Separate “to do” and “done” folders help organize worksheets, notices, and items to be signed by parents, as well as provide a central place to store completed assignments.
6. Conduct a weekly cleanup.
Encourage your child to sort through book bags and notebooks on a weekly basis. Old tests and papers should be organized and kept in a separate file at home.
7. Create a household schedule.
Try to establish and stick to a regular dinnertime and a regular bedtime. This will help your child fall into a pattern at home. Children with a regular bedtime go to school well-rested. Try to limit television-watching and computer play to specific periods of time during the day.
8. Keep a master calendar.
Keep a large, wall-sized calendar for the household, listing the family’s commitments, schedules for extracurricular activities, days off from school, and major events at home and at school. Note dates when your child has big exams or due dates for projects. This will help family members keep track of each other’s activities and avoid scheduling conflicts.
9. Prepare for the day ahead.
Before your child goes to bed, he should pack schoolwork and books in a book bag. The next day’s clothes should be laid out with shoes, socks, and accessories. This will cut down on morning confusion and allow your child to prepare quickly for the day ahead.
10. Provide needed support while your child is learning to become more organized.
Help your child develop organizational skills by photocopying checklists and schedules and taping them to the refrigerator. Gently remind her about filling in calendar dates and keeping papers and materials organized. Most important, set a good example.
Researchers at the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute published the results of a study they conducted in the January issue of The Journal of Neuroscience that relates directly to uncluttered and organized living. From their report “Interactions of Top-Down and Bottom-Up Mechanisms in Human Visual Cortex”:
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.
Or, to paraphrase in non-neuroscience jargon: When your environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus. The clutter also limits your brain’s ability to process information. Clutter makes you distracted and unable to process information as well as you do in an uncluttered, organized, and serene environment.
The clutter competes for your attention in the same way a toddler might stand next to you annoyingly repeating, “candy, candy, candy, candy, I want candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy, candy …” Even though you might be able to focus a little, you’re still aware that a screaming toddler is also vying for your attention. The annoyance also wears down your mental resources and you’re more likely to become frustrated.
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other physiological measurement tools to map the brain’s responses to organized and disorganized stimuli and to monitor task performance. The conclusions were strong — if you want to focus to the best of your ability and process information as effectively as possible, you need to clear the clutter from your home and work environment. This research shows that you will be less irritable, more productive, distracted less often, and able to process information better with an uncluttered and organized home and office.