Getting kids organized: 8 lessons from the classroom

How do teachers do it? There's a lot we can learn from the classroom, especially when it comes to getting kids organized—and staying sane.

Photo: iStockphoto Photo: iStockphoto

Kindergarten rooms are full of toys, books, easels, instruments, play areas, learning centres, and of course, kids! Well-run centres are inspiring examples of organized spaces that are conducive to creativity and learning. How does a space so full of people and things stay ordered when children’s bedrooms and playrooms end up chaotic and cluttered?

Here are eight essential strategies straight from the classroom to help sustain sanity at home:

1. Hone your zones Have you noticed kids’ classrooms have specific areas for each type of activity? Determine the activities kids will enjoy in each room at home. These activities drive the furniture and storage— don’t forget the storage!—required. For example, in the bedroom, your child might enjoy a reading nook; so, you'll need a comfy chair, light source and book shelf or basket. Groupings make it easy to know where things go and set natural limits based on the space available.

2. Fostering flow If something is physically awkward to accomplish, it likely won’t get done. Indeed, you’ll notice kids moving smoothly through a well-planned classroom. At home, paths need to be clear and comfortable to move through, and equipment should be easy to use. Look at the way children move in a space and pay attention to what I call “speed bumps” that might get in the way. Examples include dresser drawers that stick, toy chest lids that are too heavy, and hampers with lids on. The extra effort required to overcome even these small hurdles can be too much. This concept applies to adults, too! If your junk mail is piling up by the front door, consider bringing a recycling bin there. It might be easier to do that than change your natural behaviour.

3. Easy-access storage
Kids’ classrooms have an abundance of shelving and open containers strategically placed at kid-eye level. When choosing storage furniture and accessories, carefully consider the nature of the item to be stored, the storage space and how often the item needs to be accessed. Be sure to group like items together to make finding them easy. Use the smallest container possible for greater manageability, especially for small hands. Add extra shelves, or look for containers that stack to maximize use of storage space. Choose containers robust enough to stand up to use.


4. Respecting rules Teachers play a wonderful role in helping kids develop good habits by teaching basic organizing practices and setting limits. I was thrilled with my daughter’s teacher this year because she realized many kids were distracted by the numerous items in their pencil cases. The teacher provided each child with a pencil box and guidance regarding what could be kept inside. It kept the desks uncluttered and minds more focused.

5. Regular routines Devoting time for both activities and clean-up keeps classrooms from becoming cluttered. At home, dedicated tidy-up time may be missing as you dash out the door to the next appointment. Consider employing a regular put-away time complete with songs to make it more fun. Soon enough kids will know cleaning up is a necessary part of play.

6. Essential editing Teachers are a creative bunch, and with creativity there often comes an appreciation for (and attachment to) resources and their various uses. To keep a classroom clutter-free, teachers must continually curate their collections. The same applies at home, as kids grow and interests shift, it’s easy to accumulate more toys, crafts and books. So, keep age- and interest- appropriate items, and let go of items kids outgrow. Note that it is harder for kids to make decisions when they're presented with too many choices. Reduce or rotate toys to keep them interesting and less overwhelming.


7. Colouring your way Classrooms are colourful places. Colour adds not only interest and energy to the environment, but it is also a helpful organizing tool. Colour is far easier to recognize than words—no matter how old you are. Use colour as an organizing tool to help kids know where things go. Employ bins of the same colour for related toys, choose coloured stickers for different levels of books, store Lego® blocks in bins with colour-matched labels, or colour-code storage bins by child.

8. Enriching responsibilities Were you ever given the job of taking care of the classroom pet or erasing the blackboard? Remember how it made you feel? It’s important to give kids their own responsibilities at home, too; it helps them develop competence, confidence and pride. While it can seem faster to clean up after your kids, they'll learn more when you guide them to put things away properly. My kids have learned that it’s more fun cleaning up with a friend than handling it alone after a playdate, so they now wisely ask friends to help before they leave.

This article was originally published on Feb 10, 2014

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