How Your Child Can Develop Great Study and Organizational Habits


It’s a new year, which means we are all trying to develop habits that we can sustain for the next 12 months or longer.  As you know, this is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to helping our kids develop habits to help them succeed in school.

But rest assured, because this article will teach you and your kids how to keep New Years’ resolutions regarding studying and organization and actually develop sustaining practices that you can implement in your household.The result? Kids who you don’t have to nag about studying and staying organized.  If this sounds like a good way to kick off a new year, keep reading!

The result? Kids who you don’t have to nag about studying and staying organized.  If this sounds like a good way to kick off a new year, keep reading!

Making Habits Stick

The key to making habits stick is that you have to tie them to something you already do; otherwise, you’re relying on willpower.  And let’s face it: willpower doesn’t always work as well as we would like it to and it works even less with kids.

It’s unrealistic to expect your kids to sit down and study for extended periods of time, especially if they have poor attention.  Yet when kids don’t do something or don’t study as much or as hard as they need to, we often attribute this to a character deficit.  This means that the kids are often thought of as lazy or unmotivated.

But actually, that’s not what it is at all.

What’s really going on is that they haven’t incorporated what they need to do into a habit.  When habits are automatic, you don’t have to think about them—it’s like being on autopilot.  Truly having a habit means that the willpower side of the story gets kicked out the door because you no longer have to rely on willpower to accomplish what you need to.

Below you will find ideas for how your child can develop study and organizational habits and how you can help.

Use Small Chunks Of Time

Many kids don’t know how to take advantage of very small chunks of time, which is exactly when they have the opportunity to develop a good study habit.  Research shows that studying in small chunks as opposed to long stretches is more beneficial to remembering.

Let me show you what this study habit might look like.

Your child’s schedule is packed with school and extra curricular activities, but she has 20 minutes before practice or 15 minutes on the bus or car ride home.  These small gaps of time between school and activities is precisely when she should study.  Bus rides work best for high schoolers who play a sport and are in and out of the bus all afternoon and evening long. She may not be able to complete her entire study guide or review all of her notes, but studying in these small chunks of time will be most effective for her retention of information.  This is so because she will be repeating the information every day before practice and putting it into long-term memory by sleeping on it between studying.

Why will developing this habit work?

Because it’s tied to something she already does in her everyday routine: waiting for practice to start or riding home on the bus or in the car.

Connect Studying With Homework

What I’ve often seen is that kids don’t like to study for exams.  They will do homework, since it’s a concrete assignment with a due date, and is short enough to complete in one sitting.  However, since studying isn’t a set assignment, they will often procrastinate.

What can they do to stop the procrastination cycle and develop an effective study habit? Tie studying to homework, a task that they already perform each night.

Here’s how it can work: encourage your student to set aside 10-20 minutes for studying before starting homework each night.  Encourage your child to set a timer to hold himself accountable. After the timer buzzes, the student should move onto homework that is due the next day.  Soon enough, a routine will be set.

The key is to attach the new activity of studying to something the child does every night anyway, like completing homework.

Organizational Habits: Give Yourself Visual Cues

Let’s be honest, if you have cookies on the counter, sooner or later, you’ll eat them.  This is why willpower is not good enough to form a habit! But if there is fruit on the counter, you might not eat it, but at least you won’t eat cookies.

Surrounding yourself with an environment overflowing with visual cues and reminders of whatever habit you want to develop will help you stick with something long enough to incorporate it into your routine.

What does all this mean with regard to organization?

It means that you ought to surround your child with a home full of visual cues that prompt him to stay organized.  Here are some examples:

1. Place a calendar in a public family space

Making a calendar of weekly homework assignments and long-term projects is a great way to visually remind your child of when things are due and most importantly, when your child needs to start working in order to complete the assignment.

Placing this in a public family area that the child walks by repetitively each day introduces an organizational tool into his everyday environment, which means the chances of getting into the habit of planning ahead are high.  It also helps hold your child accountable for completing his work, since multiple members of the family can view his tasks.

2. Get a launching pad

Put a bin or box by the door your child will exit in the morning or a spot that she walks by multiple times each day—maybe even near the kitchen island. At night, all materials that need to go to school the next day, such as the binder, backpack, lacrosse stick, etc. should be put in the launching pad. The next morning, your child launches into a new day in an organized way!

Seeing the launching pad every day will signal to your children that they need to fill it up before they can unload it as they walk out the door.

3. Use labels and signs

Labels and signs are an effective way to conquer chaos.  Because visual reminders are far  superior than verbal ones, try placing sticky note labels near your child’s launching pad or homework desk when you want to remind him of something.

When you make a verbal correction, after about 12-15 words, your child has tuned you out.  So instead of saying “Did you clean out your backpack yet?” place a note on their homework desk with a reminder, not an order.

If you want to know more about how to help your child with their study space, homework help, and motivation, check out these other blog posts.

10 Ways to Enhance Your Student’s Study Space

Four Questions Parents Ask About How to Help with Homework

9 Study Strategies to Boost Grades and Motivation