Trying to get it all together

``I'm surprised we all get out the door every morning with shoes on our feet!'' a parent said with a sigh. She admitted that scurrying around with last-minute details each morning was a problem, and the lack of organization was beginning to have an effect on the entire family. A relaxed home atmosphere (especially when trying to get out the door for work or school) often seems out of reach for both parents and children. But youngsters are quick to pick up organizational skills. All it takes is a little daily teaching and prompting by parents.

With the new year just begun, now's a good time for parents and children to get organized. A few ideas are listed below to help you get started.

Establish routines. Children become confused with too many unscheduled events and procedures. If you set a regular course of activities for them to follow, you'll find they operate more efficiently.

``We're all ready for school 10 minutes ahead of time today!'' I recently announced to our children after embarking on our own quest for organization and routine. We used that ``leftover'' time reading one of their favorite books. Later, I realized that particular activity was conducive to our leaving the house in a happy frame of thought that day.

Prepare. The time spent in early preparations is well worth it. Many details can be taken care of the night before, leaving mornings freer. Setting out clothes, deciding on show-and-tell items, finishing homework, making plans to go to a friend's house after school, picking up toys, and packing lunches to store in the refrigerator are all activities that can be done before bedtime. Make a checklist of items so a child has a tangible reference. As chores are accomplished, they can be crossed off with colored pencil.

Use calendars and datebooks. Yesterday, today, tomorrow, and the day after that are difficult concepts for little ones to comprehend. You can help them look forward to events by getting each child her own calendar, or by assigning a different color marker for each child to use on the family calendar. This approach also helps youngsters learn about days, weeks, and months.

Learn to label. Unnecessary time can be spent in searching for things. Help children to organize possessions by introducing them to labeling. Instead of tossing school papers on a counter or desk, children can file them in folders they've labeled either with words or pictures. Even shelves or spots on children's dressers labeled ``books, shoes, games'' can alleviate hunting at the last minute.

Give child-size directions. As parents, we often view the world differently than our children. To a youngster, the statement ``get ready for school'' doesn't tell them anything definite or specific, even though to us it might mean ``Get dressed . . . brush your teeth . . . comb your hair.'' When we break down directions to a child's level -- small tasks that get the big job done -- children perform with more confidence and less confusion.

Make expectations known. Without standards and rules, children have trouble putting organizational skills into practice. They need to know what parents expect of them and the consequences when they don't follow through. Setting an example and being consistent with our own procedures and schedules do much in teaching children.

Keep looking for ways to improve. The only way to better organizational habits is to adapt to ideas for improvement when they come along. One little girl observed, ``We thought we had a good way to keep puzzle pieces separate, but then we found another way that was even better!'' It was only one small comment on one small procedure in their home, but the child's parents realized it was a big step toward organization.

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