At one time or another all of us have had the experience of looking for car keys, scissors, homework, our place in a book that was set aside with no bookmark, etc. doing this when short on time builds stress, starting a cycle of negative self-talk and erratic behavior, resulting in being unprepared, flustered and late again! Stop and ask yourself how often does this happen? How do you feel when it happens? How would your life improve if you didn't have to spend time and energy looking for things, berating yourself, apologizing for being late, and pulling yourself back together so you can engage in the task at hand? Don't lose hope. You can hone these skills, even if you have spent most of your life struggling with these challenges.
In my Executive Function Skills (EFS) work I define organization as "Everything has a place and everything is in its place." So what does this mean? Organization requires a set of tools and behaviors that provide the framework or structure in which we function. Organizational tools provide the place or space for things before, during and after we use them, so everything has a place. Repeated organizational behaviors become the habit of using those tools reliably and consistently so you can be sure everything is in its place when you need it.
Organization applies to time as well as space. Many people schedule specific time each day for important activities like exercise and meditation, returning emails and phone calls, working on specific projects, etc. Again, this organization comprises tools (e.g.; calendars and daily agendas) and behaviors (e.g. consistently using the calendar or agenda). Organization builds the foundation upon which all other EFS skills develop.
Students with weak organizational skills struggle to engage in the full depth of their school work when they spend their time and energy on the basics of remembering their assignments and locating their materials and tools. As students progress to higher grades these challenges compound, leading to increased stress, low self esteem, and dislike or apathy toward learning.
So how do we as parents and educators model, teach, and support the development of organizational skills in a Waldorf school?
Early childhood teachers establish habits of having children put away the toys and dolls after play. Within a few months, all of the children know where everything belongs (and will quickly call our attention to missing or out of place items). This simple rhythm fosters a sense of trust in their environment and in themselves, as well as a desire to contribute to this sense of order. Kim John Payne teaches, in Simplicity Parenting, to de-clutter our child's physical environment and schedule. This creates space for unhurried, creative play, essential to developing the healthy, balanced physical body.
In lower and middle grades organization bridges the environments of school and home. Children start with taking notes home to parents and bringing Scrip orders to and from school. Starting in fourth grade they begin recording simple homework assignments in their student planners and transporting papers in folders or binders. At home, parents can periodically check in with their children to reinforce the consistent use of these organizational tools. Forming healthy habits is optimal at this stage of development of the child's etheric body.
A high school student whose organizational skills operate at the habitual level can focus his or her energies on developing higher skills like critical thinking associated with the development of the astral body and the frontal lobes. All of the other Executive Function Skills depend on this foundation.
Organization is a learned behavior that becomes habit when used consistently. That is not to say that there is only one way to organize; there are as many different approaches as there are people. The two keys are to find an approach that matches the individual's needs and style, and the inner motivation to work on building consistency in applying the chosen approach.
Here's a homework assignment: this month choose to shift one small thing that doesn't work well for you (a cluttered room, a spice drawer, a closet, a place for your keys, scissors, homework, mail...). Reimagine it as a neat, orderly space in which the tools are easily accessible when needed and out of the way when not. Notice how you feel when you reach for that item and it is right where it is expected to be, don't worry about the times you back slide. It takes time to create new behavior patterns, so when that negative self talk begins, shift it from "I knew I couldn't do this" to "I am doing so much better," and remind yourself of your goal and why you chose it. Organize the space and keep it that way for a month. After the habit forms (and the stress of making a change diminishes) assess how you feel. Are you happier or more energized when using the space? Do you create more or better work? Let me know what you discover. Comment below to share your thoughts and questions.