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The Informed Parent

Helping Kids Get (and Stay) Organized

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Sep. 02, 2002

“Get in there and clean up your room!” said Andrea’s mom. Andrea heard the annoyance in her mother’s voice.

“I tried. It’s just too messy,” Andrea whined.

Many parents have had similar interactions with their children. Sometimes it seems as if kids and messy rooms go hand in hand. While most children would like to be more organized, it is a skill that needs to be learned. And getting organized is only half the task. Staying organized also requires learning. Taking the time to teach your youngsters the skills of getting and staying organized will serve them both at home and at school.

Getting Organized

The more structured you are, the easier it will be for you to assist your child in getting organized. If structure is not your strength, you will need to learn the skills you hope to teach your child! The following suggestions will be helpful in the task of organizing a child’s bedroom or playroom. They should be done as a child/parent team.

  1. Take time to sort. Sort through toys, craft items, and clothes. Discard broken toys, unusable craft materials and outgrown clothing. Keep two large trash bags available--one for trash, the other for items you will donate to charity.
  2. Invest in transparent plastic containers or get sturdy boxes for sorting through toys. Shoe boxes work well for small items. Larger toys can be contained in copy paper boxes found at such stores as Kinko’s or Office Depot. For a personal touch you can paint or cover the boxes with contact paper. Label them so that the child knows what is in each; word labels for older children and pictures for younger ones.
  3. Store crayons, paintbrushes, pens and pencils in cylindrical containers. Plastic cups and yogurt or ice cream containers work well.
  4. Use wall shelving or an inexpensive bookshelf for books, collections, trophies and pictures. Keep the shelves that hold items the child will be using at eye level.
  5. Group like-items together. For example, have all the craft materials together; the Legos, blocks and Lincoln Logs in the same place. The dolls and stuffed animals in a different area.

Staying Organized

Once the room is organized, a child usually likes the way it looks. The room is attractive, and it is easy to find the desired playthings. Often a child keeps his room tidy for a few days, and then it falls into messiness again.

Teaching the child the following skills helps him keep his bedroom or playroom in a tidy and manageable state:

  1. Rotate toys. Most children have more toys than they regularly use. Work with your youngster to decide which toys to keep out and which to put away. Store the toys that have been rotated out in a closet or the garage. After several weeks, retrieve them and store others. Children often appreciate toys more when they haven’t played with them for a period of time.
  2. Use a card table or other small table in the child’s room or in an agreed upon place in the family living quarters for puzzles in progress, structures built with Legos or blocks, or for Lego play stations. This keeps the toys off the floor, in one place, and more accessible for play. Make sure the table is an appropriate height for the child.
  3. Keep storage units for toys and books low enough that the child can easily reach and return all his playthings.
  4. Keep a dirty clothes hamper in the child’s room. If he has to take his clothes to a hamper in another room, he’s more likely to toss them on the floor.
  5. When the room gets messy, and it will, assist the child by guiding him in the steps necessary for cleaning up. For example, say “First pick up all your blocks and put them in the block box. Let me know when they’re all put away and I’ll help you with the next step.” Acknowledge the child for completing the task and guide him in the next step. By doing one task at a time, the task becomes manageable. If a child is only told to clean up his room, he rarely knows where to start.

Keeping the play space organized assists the child in knowing where his toys are, allows him to use more of his toys, and is visually more attractive. While organization is a valuable trait to develop, it’s important for parents not to go overboard in demanding neatness. Play that engages a child’s full attention demands freedom and often looks messy. The goal is not to have children so concerned about neatness that they are afraid to make a mess. The desired outcome is to teach the child organizational skills that will serve him in all life’s endeavors.

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