Organizational Skills for Visuospatial Learners

Most, if not all, visuospatial learners (VSLs) are accused of being hopelessly disorganized. However, in my experience, these right-brain students (think “distracted teachers”) really can find a needle in a haystack. My son, Matt, for example, whose room on any given day can look like it’s been hit by multiple tornadoes, never ceases to amaze me at his ability to locate the perfect piece of LEGOTM he was looking for.

It is important to note from the illustration above that as long as each person is able to find exactly what they need, in a reasonable amount of time, neither one’s method of organization is better than the other’s. This is an area where “to each his own” is the rule. If someone (probably a teacher or parent) were to force the child on the right to “organize” the way the child on the left has done, he would probably never find another document again. His new system, or structure, of organization would be completely foreign to him and he would not be able to imagine or see where his belongings were.

Organization for many VSLs is an obstacle. If your visual-spatial kids find that they’re losing important paperwork (like homework!), or toys, or money, they need to start developing and implementing some system of organization. However, the new method must be your own. Trying to organize under someone else’s system (such as the parent’s) simply won’t work. If you think green folders are appropriate for all science assignments, for example, but green doesn’t make sense to your children in connecting assignments to science, then they can’t use that system. They must create their own meaningful strategies that they can understand and remember. Here’s how to help them get started:

Be sure to check out office supply stores and other places that sell a variety of products designed to help with organization. Color coded envelopes, files and pocket folders are perfect for storing specific documents. Colored index cards are a great note-taking tool, and the use of a Day-Timer or Palm Pilot to record due dates and appointments are all tools available to the visual-spatial learner. Have you ever wondered why so many organizational products have appeared on the market in recent years? These must be inventions of the visuospatial among us to help themselves and others like them.

Linda Leviton, visuospatial resource access team member and visuospatial learner, writes:

VSLs are horizontal or vertical organizers… if they are horizontal, they need a long table (preferably not deep) to take out (and leave out) work in progress. If they are vertical, they need places to create stacks. I bought one of those cubbyhole paper filers and I have it right next to my computer (with labels for each section) and I do just that. (L. Leviton, personal communication, May 31, 2004)

When we homeschooled, each of my children used a Teacher’s Planner to record their daily assignments. In fact, sometimes homework for different subjects was recorded in different colors. There are several varieties of planners available, including those that show a week at a glance or a month at a glance. You can find them at local teacher supply stores. Encourage your kids to choose one that offers plenty of space to write or draw important notes about due dates, expectations, homework details, and other appointments. We also used these planners as checklists, which added to my kids’ sense of accomplishment as they checked off each task.

Linda Leviton also advised:

As for school work, I have a word for you… pockets. Forget folders and put holes in things. They need something they can stuff papers into, and if you color-code the pockets, you have a better chance of getting the right paper in the right pocket. My preference is a folder where each class has its own colored pockets (one front and one back)… the front is for current work or something to turn in, the back is for reference or previous work. Just don’t expect them to punch holes or get papers in sections that involve opening or closing anything; stuffing is what they do best! (L. Leviton, personal communication, May 31, 2004)

Matt’s personal method of making sure he remembers to bring his homework binder, lunch box, and water bottle to school every day is to stack them in their place on the kitchen table. Then, when he finishes his breakfast, he immediately carries everything to the car. The few times he has left one of those items somewhere other than the kitchen table, they didn’t make it to school.

Another tip for organizing visual-spatial kids and helping them stay that way is to try to keep a consistent schedule from week to week. I know it’s really hard these days with so many competitive schedules in a family and extracurricular activities to choose from, but consistency should help your family get organized and stay put. Knowing that every Tuesday afternoon you have sports practice or every Friday afternoon a musical instrument lesson, followed by homework, chores, dinner, TV or computer time, can help you plan your day in consequence and find time for everything you need to do. .

A large calendar is also helpful to record each family member’s schedule. Use it to show everyone’s commitments, from sports practices to work schedules, field trip days, long-term assignments, vacations and other days off. I’ve found that encouraging my kids to record homework due dates three or four days before the actual due date has really helped prevent last-minute sleepless nights. The built-in extra time leaves room for editing, revising projects, etc. and a more relaxed approach to the deadline. Having a master calendar also allows visual-spatial learners (notoriously known for having a tremendous sense of space but lacking a sense of time) to see how far it is until Christmas, the last day of school, their birthday, or other events they are anticipating. .

Teach your kids to use the computer to help get organized! There are a number of programs that include calendars, ways to notify you of due dates (in advance), and can create note files about certain tasks. They are likely to use and depend on a personal computer for the rest of their lives. Introduce them to the computer products that are available to help them organize their schoolwork and home life.

There are certain traps for visual-spatial children, traps that their brains love to get almost unintentionally caught in. The traps, in particular, are the computer and the television. Due to the use of visual imagery, the right hemisphere is highly attracted (some might argue addicted?) to these entertainment boxes. Consider creating a specific time during the day or week for computer and television use. If this is built into the family schedule, it’s easier to understand why Mom sets homework time at a certain time and doesn’t let procrastination or the distraction of the TV or computer turn into an argument. We use a timer in our house to eliminate conflicts over what time the computer game or TV show started. The timer is not arbitrary. The bell rings, the shift is over.

“A place for everything and everything in its place” is not an easy trick for visuospatial children, but it is a technique that will last them a lifetime. I rarely lose my car keys because they go in the exact same place every time I come home. We have a small shelf reserved just for library books, so when the due date comes, we don’t have to scramble to find them. I think it’s important for kids to keep their rooms the way they’d like, but they need to be able to put away their clothes, sports gear, and other items in a reasonable amount of time. In our house, we also insist that there be no food in the bedroom (yuck!) and that there be a clear path from the door to the bed in case we have to check on them at night; there have been too many bare feet on toys episodes to count! Inexpensive containers, including shoe boxes and plastic food containers, are great accessories for sorting small toys. We keep an entire closet exclusively for construction toys.

Advanced preparation is essential. Have your children pack backpacks and lunch boxes the night before. Sometimes we even charge up the car the night before to try to eliminate morning problems. The clothes for the next day must be selected the night before, Matt places his at the foot of the bed. Where we live, the weather changes frequently and without warning, so we keep the car prepared with extra light jackets, sometimes a complete change of clothes, and always snacks.

With a little practice and trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t, your spatially-minded kids can probably get organized and stay that way!

┬ęCopyright Alexandra Shires Golon (2004). De Golon, AS, RaisingTopsy-Turvy Kids: How to Successfully Raise Your Visual-Spatial Child, Denver (2004): DeLeon Publishing.

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