Success in school often depends on how well a student manages to organize everything from demanding schoolwork to a dizzying array of after-school activities to technological distractions.
That's a lot to ask of a child, or even of busy parents.
For those with disposable income, a new breed of experts is stepping in to help: professional organizers for kids.
"Nine years ago, when I started Order Out of Chaos, I had to explain to people what a professional organizer was. Now, it's not what's an organizer, but who's your organizer?" says Leslie Josel of Mamaroneck, N.Y., who offers to help kids manage everything from elementary school to dorm life.
Many of the hundreds of professional organizers nationwide are mothers or former teachers who have helped children deal with "executive dysfunction," the technical term for the problem. Some earn certification from groups such as the National Association of Professional Organizers or the Institute for Challenging Disorganization.
"Academic tutors help with science or math ... but the study skills part of the picture has been a no man's land," says Kathy Jenkins, who runs The Organizing Tutor.
Some tips from her and other experts:
Managing their stuff: At home, each student in the household should have a "launching pad" and portable storage system. A launching pad can be a bench or box by the front door or bedroom door that holds everything that goes in and out of the house: library books, backpacks, cellphone, soccer cleats.
"For this population, the more time they spend looking for something, the less remaining stamina they have to do what they need to be doing," Josel says.
The portable storage station should be a clear box with everything needed to get homework done.
"It's essential to have one box per student, not one per household," Josel says.
"An elementary student might have glue and colored pencils, while a middle schooler might need a Spanish dictionary and a calculator."
Boxes should be labeled - but not by parents - with the child's name and a list of contents. "Have your child fill the box and label it. It's part of the ownership process," Josel says.
Study tools: Although organizing systems vary with the individual's learning style, some frequent recommendations for students are:
- Use a planner that includes after-school activities as well as homework assignments.
- Use reinforced binder paper, Jenkins says, so papers don't fall out or get crumpled because one hole is ripped.
- Vertical, clear-plastic student envelopes can hold a textbook, notebook and papers so that nothing is forgotten. They're easily pulled from backpacks or lockers, can be color-coded, and are easy to carry between classes.
- A binder with attached accordion file can be used for all subjects or for each subject. They come in various colors and have room to file papers in a hurry, so they don't get lost.
- For time management, organizers often recommend a timer and a vibrating watch.