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Back to School – Back to Chaos

Tips To Help Complex Learners Stay Organized

You remember it well – a backpack filled with half-eaten granola bars and lost permission slips, projects and assignments never turned in, the familiar frantic yell of “Have you seen my (fill in the blank)?!.” Your child’s disorganization affects nearly every aspect of their lives and by extension your life. For many parents of Complex Learners, back to school means back to chaos.

Back to School Back to Chaos

Disorganization can be more than just an eyesore. It can be a cause of anxiety and stress in both you and your child’s life. When children already struggle academically, as many Complex Learners do, organizational struggles just make it that much worse. These struggles can make your child feel like they’re set up to fail before they even begin.

Disorganization is common for many Complex Learners but there are ways you can help. So, as you’re preparing your child to head back to school, make organization a goal this year! Read on for ways you can help your child get set up for success this school year!


To help your child with their organizational struggles, you first have to understand the cause behind it. For many parents, it can be confusing to see your child able to remember to put things away one day and then struggle to find anything the next. Or work so hard on a paper or project to then forget to hand it in. But for many students with multiple learning differences, trouble staying organized isn’t a matter of effort or laziness – it comes down to executive function challenges.

Children with complex learning needs often struggle with executive function. While you may be able to organize, prioritize, and attend to the task at hand, Complex Learners really struggle with these issues. Organization is something that doesn’t come naturally to Complex Learners, no matter how badly they (and you!) wish otherwise. To help your child with organization, you have to understand what they are working against. Trouble with executive function means time management issues, struggling to start a task or grasping the steps needed to complete it, poor listening skills, and poor working memory. When implementing a new organizational system for the school year, it’s important to keep all of this in mind as you communicate with your child and prepare a plan.


Before you inundate your child with planners and calendars and visual timers, it’s important to have a conversation with them. Talk with your child about their goals for the upcoming school year and how staying organized can help them achieve those goals! Did they hate how it felt last year when they forgot their homework even though they worked so hard on it? Do they want to keep their desk clean all year long so they can find their study guides before the big test so they feel less anxious? It’s important to have your child understand what staying organized means, why/how they struggle with it, and why it’s important to have a system in place to help them. The more buy-in and understanding you have from your child the less resistance you’ll meet as you try to help them implement and stick with their plan. 

It’s equally important to set up strong communication with your child’s teacher and classroom team. Your child’s classroom team is your partner in your child’s education. They are just as determined to have your child have a successful school year as you are – work with them! At the beginning of the year, connect with your child’s teachers around your child’s organizational struggles and their goals for the year. Set up a clear communication plan for the year and talk about how to help your child stay organized. Your classroom team can work with you to develop a plan for both in school and at home. This could mean suggesting strategies to try at home like utilizing a “Get Ready, Do, Done” list or scheduling a weekly locker/desk clean-up for your child, or even providing your child with extra personal reminders to write down the assignments throughout the day.


Now that you’ve put in the leg work when it comes to organization for the school year, it’s time to get ready to put it into action. First, involve your child in the process. Have them work with you to develop an organizational system – often they have a great understanding of what will and won’t work for them!

Another way to help your child feel more invested in their organizational strategies is to have them pick out their own supplies. As you color code each notebook and folder to a specific subject (i.e. red for math, blue for social studies, etc.), have your child pick out a color for each subject along with an agenda for school and a calendar for home.

Next, with your child, designate a specific space for schoolwork at home, free of distractions and stocked with all the supplies they’ll need. At this designated space, assign a home for every item using labels and teach your child the mantra to put things away not just down.

As the school year begins, establish a schedule with your child to keep them on task and organized when they come home. First, they’ll have a snack. Then they’ll go through their folder with a parent to go over any documents sent home in their “For Home” folder. Next, they’ll review their assignments for the night and make a schedule of their work. Once their homework for a subject is complete, they immediately put it in their subject’s folder and back in their backpack. Once they’re done with homework due tomorrow, have them review their calendar for the week to make sure they’re on top of any upcoming tests and projects.

Additionally, as part of their bedtime routine, have your child check that their backpack is fully ready for the next day – this can help avoid any morning-of panic! It can be helpful to write down these steps on a whiteboard or have them laminated so your child can check off each step as they go through them. 

Establish routines that help you and your child stay organized like every Sunday morning as a family you review the calendar for the upcoming week. This can help your child understand what their schedule will look like and how that affects their routine. Will they not have any time on Tuesday to prepare for their test on Thursday because of hockey practice? Have them make a note in their agenda that they have to get their studying done on Monday and Wednesday instead. Will they have to remember to pack their study supplies on Monday since they’ll be going to Grandma’s house? Have them write a to-do list with everything they’ll need to complete their work.

For at least the beginning, you may have to supervise your child to make sure they are sticking with their organizational plan, schedule, and goals. While it’s important to check in with them, be sure you’re just supervising and not actually doing the work for them. As they look to you for guidance, be sure to lead by example in your own life and share with your child what you do to stay organized.

It takes consistency and commitment to start and stay organized all year long. Take it one week at a time and don’t be discouraged when there are bumps along the way – and there will be bumps! It’s up to you to keep your child staying positive and determined to try again. Don’t be afraid to utilize rewards to motivate your child to stick with it and remember to praise them any chance you get! Staying organized might not always be easy but it’s always worth it! What are you doing to help your child stay organized this school year? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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