When I was in middle school, I was a classically messy kid. I remember opening my locker to have books and papers rain down on my head in a comedic moment that was fit for the movies (though I was mortified at the time).
My backpack was always a wreck, and I constantly experienced panic trying to find assignments, pencils, and other needed items for class. Luckily, as I grew older I learned to organize my materials out of necessity.
I don’t know one kid who hasn’t had a messy backpack, binder, or locker at some point in their school career. The truth is, organization and executive functioning are skills that don’t often come naturally. These skills are essential to school success, but students are rarely taught how to organize their materials in class. This means it’s often up to parents and other trusted adults to teach students how to manage. If your child is having trouble keeping their backpack and binder in order, try these five tips to help them keep it in check and learn the valuable skill of organization as they manage their materials throughout the school year.
Limit the number of extra pockets
Pockets are helpful for organization, but having too many pockets can become a recipe for disaster when it comes to backpacks and binders. When kids have too many pockets to choose from when putting away their materials, they may experience overwhelm, or forget what pocket they actually need to use. This can lead to placing supplies in many different compartments and being unable to locate them when needed. Ensure your child has only enough pockets to hold their needed items and assignments. If you’re able, consider sewing up excess space in your child’s backpack to keep them from being tempted to spread out their stuff (you can always rip a seam open later if needed).
Limit the amount of supplies
Just like pockets, excess supplies can cause a problem for your child’s messy backpack or binder. Limit your child to the necessary supplies, and keep the extras at home. Instead of ten pencils, a pack of highlighters, and two erasers, try placing two pencils, one highlighter and one eraser in your child’s supply bag. Having fewer items will make it easier for your child to find what they need, know when they run out, and keep things tidy.
You know the phrase “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Utilize this concept with your child’s backpack or binder by making sure everything does indeed have a place and that it makes it back to the correct location every day. Go through your child’s backpack and binder with them to find the most logical place to keep each item (homework, social studies notes, pencils, snacks, etc.). After finding the perfect place, label where everything goes. Want to step it up a notch? Try color coding folders, dividers, and notebooks to correspond with each subject for easy recognition and placement.
If needed, utilize a “junk folder”
Sometimes even the most organized student gets papers they don’t know how to categorize, or runs out of time when putting their papers away. Instead of hurriedly shoving papers in their backpack or binder, help your child utilize a “junk folder”. This folder can be kept in a location that is easy to access, and can serve as a place where your student can slide papers when they don’t have time to organize. If your child utilizes a “junk folder,” help them set aside time each night to go through the folder to organize papers when they have a little more time to think.
Have weekly organization check-ins
Just like anything else your student is learning at school, they will need extra support as they build and perfect their organization skills. Set aside time each week to check in with your child on their backpack and binder situation. Help them run through a checklist to ensure their materials are tidy. Have them check pockets for trash or other unnecessary items, throw away or file old papers, and make adjustments on organization techniques as needed. As your child practices this skill with your support, they will become more capable of handling the organization on their own.
Though teaching your child to maintain organization can be difficult and may produce some groans and eye rolls, the long term benefits are well worth it.