“Mom, I Lost My Coat AGAIN!” 4 Little Life Hacks to Help Your Little Person Stay Organized

Photo by Marlon Richardson / Stocksy / 821531
Photo by Marlon Richardson / Stocksy

By Cheryl Flanders

“Mom! Have you seen my coat?”

Yup, your six-year-old has lost her fourth coat in four months. In fact, you’ve just started buying coats two at a time—because, well, you’re obviously going to need them. Sigh. If it’s any consolation (which it’s probably not), a lot of kids her age have trouble keeping track of things like coats, water bottles, school work, and even backpacks.

Your child isn’t willfully refusing to remember. It’s just that he’s still developing his executive function skills—and while as a six-year-old he’s gained a lot of ground in honing those skills, planning ahead and staying organized are two higher level abilities that take a little longer to develop.

It may seem pretty simple to us as adults—most of us will automatically place the car keys on a hook as soon as we walk in the door, or have an inner calendar reminding us of all the important things we have to do each day. But children must literally learn how to plan ahead and keep everything organized.

The good news is that you actually can help your child learn how to stay organized—and there’s a good reason to do so (other than the money you’ll save not buying six coats every year). Being able to organize her things also helps her learn to organize multiple pieces of information, like word meanings, story characters, and plot lines—essential elements for reading. Similarly, knowing how to organize information (such as by color, size, or shape) makes learning math a lot easier.

Luckily, there are plenty of skill-building opportunities (and life hacks) that can teach your forgetful child the basics of organization and help him understand the value behind them:

1. A family calendar. If you don’t have one, try setting up a calendar where everyone can see it, and integrate it into your family’s daily life. Try using different colors for each family member so schedules stand out.

2. A backpack makeover. Start with a backpack that’s right for your child. If it’s too cumbersome, she may set it down and forget it, but if it’s too small, there may not be enough space to organize things. Next, get organized—think pencil cases, labeled and color-coordinated folders, the works—and start helping her discard trash and organize items in her backpack on a routine basis. Hey, something to add to that family calendar!

3. Sticky-note checklists. Is he constantly forgetting things at school? Write him a reminder on a large, colorful sticky note and attach it to one of his folders. Start with easy, one-step directions—like “Grab your coat before leaving the classroom.” Once he’s got the hang of it, add another reminder or two.

4. Pizza box portfolios. Ask your favorite pizza place for some empty pizza boxes. Label them to store important papers or art projects your child has completed or is working on at home. He can even decorate them (and they stack quite nicely)! The beauty of this idea is that it forces him to lay his papers flat instead of in crumpled balls of disorganized chaos. As a bonus incentive? Have a pizza party for a job well-done!
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