Lost homework? 5 books to help develop kids' organizational and brain-based skills

Here’s some good news: If you're a parent who is frequently frustrated by your distinctly disorganized child, this struggle need not be permanent. Even kids who are particularly challenged by what can seem to be simple materials management tasks, such as turning in completed homework papers or keeping track of a lunchbox, can improve their organizational abilities. In fact, parents can help their kids to develop many of the abilities commonly useful for school, and the five books in this list can provide assistance in this work.

To begin, it helps to understand that for many bright children, the root of such problems lies not within obstinacy or a lack of motivation, but within the brain’s frontal lobes. Neuroscientists have shown that this part of the brain is responsible for executive functioning, an umbrella term that refers to abilities such as planning, organization and working memory, as well as self-monitoring and impulse control. It’s also been shown that the brain’s frontal lobes are still in the process of developing in children and teens, and much can be done to strengthen brain-based skills during this time. Kids who struggle an extra amount really need specific support and understanding, and for their parents, the first three books discussed here can serve especially well - each volume concentrates on providing practical strategies based on neuroscientific knowledge.

Late, Lost, and Unprepared: A Parents’ Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Dr. Joyce Cooper-Kahn and Dr. Laurie Dietzel

Written by clinical psychologists who have worked extensively with parents of children and adolescents with attention and learning problems, this volume makes it clear that just giving a child information on how to organize is insufficient. Instead, strengthening weak executive functioning is a process that “occurs over time and most often requires ongoing practice and support.” Nonetheless, these authors seemed to be very understanding of parental pressures, as well as frustrations, and I appreciate the book’s awareness of my time limits, as well as its commitment to humor. It’s also helpful that the book is divided into short chapters, allowing readers to focus in quickly on the tactics most relevant to their own situation.  

No Mind Left Behind: Understanding and Fostering Executive Control – the Eight Essential Brain Skills Every Child Needs to Thrive by Dr. Adam J. Cox

Also written by a clinical psychologist, this book completes similar work to the first in my list, translating advances in neuroscience into everyday assistance. Its terms are slightly different, since this author describes executive functioning and skills as “Factor Ex” and the “Eight Pillars of Capability," yet the mission is comparable, and the book also offers useful guidance.

Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary 'Executive Skills' Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential by Dr. Peg Dawson and Dr. Richard Guare

These authors, one a psychologist with an advanced education degree, and one a neuropsychologist, have over 30 years of experience working with children with learning, attention, and behavior difficulties. Perhaps the most well-known experts on executive function, they are good communicators, in tune with their specific audience – in this case, parents who want to help with special difficulties, yet are uncertain how to proceed. Their book offers comprehensive coverage of a complex topic, yet always remains accessible, a combination I value.

Organizing the Disorganized Child: Simple Strategies to Succeed in School by Dr. Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran

Written by a pediatric neurologist, along with a counselor/educational consultant, this book incorporates the same advances in neuroscience that form the basis of the books above, yet limits its scope to concentrate on problems with organization. Approaching disorganization from a different angle, these authors propose that parents need to think in detail about individual organizational styles and then create a system based on them. Extensive details are provided, such as a description of what specific school materials to buy for each individual style. For parents who like this model, this book has much to offer.

The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections by M.L. Nichols

This book is a general manual for facilitating a child’s education, with one chapter focused on problems with organization (Chapter 14, “Coaching Kids to Organize and Self-Advocate”).

If you are a parent who doesn’t know where to turn when yet another jacket goes missing, turning these pages can help. Here, you can find strategies that are a good match for you and your child, and some reassurance. Your frustration can become less frequent, and you are not alone.

Which book might work best for you?



My son and I have many of these traits in common! Thank you for these resources, Laura. I've put two of these books on hold already and can't wait to see if I can get some tips on helping him to get a bit more organized (and see if I can get a few tips myself!) -HM

Thanks for reading my entry. I think many of us struggle with these skills. :)