The coat lands by the front door, followed by a backpack, lunch box, school papers and homework, before the shoes in a heap put a period to the child’s arrival home from school. As many parents can testify, children are by nature disorganized. 

“Organization is not inherent,” says Valerie Ottinger, owner of New Outlook Organizing in Melbourne, Fla. “Some people are born more organized than others, but we all have a learning curve when it comes to organization.”

Complicating matters for children is the fact that organization is an executive functioning skill, which means it’s a cognitive ability housed in the frontal lobe of the brain. Since children develop their frontal lobes at different speeds, the pace at which organizational ability comes to fruition can be varied. 

“It’s very developmental,” says Ann Dolin, president of Educational Connections, Inc., in Fairfax, Va. “Some kids don’t get the organizational skill set together until second grade or beyond.”

But that doesn’t mean organizational skills cannot be taught. In fact, it’s vital for parents to teach children how to make order from chaos. “I believe organization is one of the most important skills to develop,” says Dena Wood, co-owner of The Trigger Memory System. “It’s necessary in every aspect of our lives. We’re keeping track of assignments and due dates, work projects and business contacts, or budgeting and carpool information. We have to be organized. The more organized we are, the easier these tasks become.”

Plus, organizational skills are easier to learn as a child. “It’s very hard for people to all of a sudden learn to be organized when they have been disorganized their entire life,” says Rachel Paxton, who runs the website Christian-Parent.com. The good news is that parents can teach their children good organizational skills, which will benefit them in the short term and long term.

The Learning Curve

By recognizing that organization can be taught, parents can develop a plan for helping their children become better organized. “Many children struggle with being organized because they are not taught important organizational skills by their parents,” says Paxton.

Here are some ways you can help your kids bring order to their lives.

Develop routines. Children thrive on structure, and having routines for things like the morning and bedtime will help them stay on track. “Often this can be done through example,” says Wood. “Explain that you always throw away the prior day’s newspaper when you bring in the current issue so that you don’t end up with a big, heavy pile of papers. It’s very helpful for your children to realize that you are constantly putting thought into being organized.”

Spell it out. Children need specifics—the more instruction given for a task, the better. “Vague instructions such as ‘clean up your room’ are not helpful to the naturally disorganized child,” says Wood. “Break the task or process down into specific steps that allow your child to see that they are on track and moving forward.”

For example, write out every step for household chores on index cards or in a notebook. Ottinger recommends taking “after” photographs, such as of a properly cleaned room, so the child has a visual aid.

Give a helping hand. Have or create specific places for toys, school stuff, coats, shoes, books, etc. For example, in the winter, put a bin or basket under the hall table for hats, scarves, mittens and gloves. Hang hooks near the front door for backpacks and coats. Make sure you have enough storage space for toys (or downsize the number of toys if you have too many).