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‚ÄčIs cleanliness next to intelligence? It sounds a little far-fetched, but there may be some truth in the idea. We are not saying that your child's impeccable hygiene means that he or she will graduate at the top of the preschool or kindergarten class. Still, if sloppy habits and atrocious organizational skills plague your young child's every move, these poor practices may hinder him or her in an education setting.

You may want to invest in decreasing future learning problems by using practical methods to improve your preschooler's organizational and thought-processing skills. These skills will help him or her to stay on-task, avoid distractions and remember routine instructions.

Here are some practical and fun ways to help clean up your child's messy organizational skills.

Clean up your communication:

  • Clear the area of any distractions (TV-watching, game-playing, vacuuming) while you are talking with your child. Get your child in the practice of paying attention to you by setting the stage, modeling what you want and consistently setting clear expectations.
  • Get on your child's eye level when you are speaking to him or her.
  • Look and listen to your child's body language. If he or she is fidgeting, frowning, slumping, sighing, whining, etc., clean up the behavior so he or she can listen.

Listening skills are a must in any school environment. The above subtle behaviors may seem minor at home but, if done frequently in school, they could hinder your child's ability to learn.

If your child is too fidgety, angry or distracted to follow instructions, do one or more of the following:

  • Take a break.
    • Example: "Sit here for a minute. We'll try it again when you can be still."
  • Remove your child from the distraction.
    • Example: "Come with me to the other room. I want to show you something."
  • Use a calm voice tone and redirect his or her attention.
    • Example: (Parent whispers) "You are talking back. Take two deep breaths and calm down."

Organizational training:

Create fun, brief activities that your young child will be willing to do. These activities should teach him or her how to organize thoughts and actions. For instance, have your child help you make a snack. Read parts of the instructions from the recipe aloud. Ask your child to repeat each simple instruction. Then ask what should be done first, second and third to complete the task. Encourage and use visual prompts to help if he or she forgets.

Example: Say to your child, "Stir the batter for two minutes. Let's say it again together! - What do we need to do first?" Mom points to the egg timer: "What do we need to do next with this spoon?" - The point of the activity is not to make a snack but to work on organizing thoughts and actions. If the cake doesn't rise, success may still have occurred.

Remembering instructions and processing events are important skills for children to develop, especially in a school environment. Your child will receive all sorts of instructions that require things such as standing on the red circle after putting toys on the shelf and before sitting down to get a snack. You would be surprised at how many negative phone calls you might avoid by encouraging these skills with simple activities.

Read more fun ideas on how to encourage your child's memory and processing skills in upcoming articles and in Common Sense Parenting of Toddlers and Preschoolers.