Most, if not all, visuospatial learners (VSL) are accused of being hopelessly disorganized. However, in my experience, these right-hemisphere students (think “distracted teachers”) can actually find a needle in a haystack. My son, Matt, for example, whose room on any given day can look like multiple tornadoes have hit, never ceases to amaze me with his ability to locate the perfect piece of LEGOTM I was looking for.
It is important to note in the illustration above that, as long as each person is able to find precisely what they need, in a reasonable amount of time, neither method of organization of one is better than the other. This is an area where, “to each his own” is the rule. If someone (probably a teacher or parent) forced the child on the right to “organize” in the way that the child on the left did, they will probably never find another document again. Your new system, or structure, of organization would be completely foreign to you and you would not be able to imagine, or see, where your belongings were.
Organizing many VSLs is an obstacle. If your visual-spatial kids discover that they are losing important paperwork (like homework!), Toys, or money, they need to start developing and implementing some organizational system. However, the new method must be yours. It just won’t work trying to organize under someone else’s system (like a parent’s). If you think green binders are appropriate for all science work, for example, but green doesn’t make sense to your kids when connecting jobs 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 visit office supply stores and other places that carry a variety of products designed to help with organization. Color-coded envelopes, files, and pocket folders are perfect for storing specific papers. The colored cards are a great tool for taking notes, and the use of a day timer or a 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 come onto the market in recent years? These must be the inventions of the visual-spatial among us to help themselves and others like them.
Linda Leviton, a visual-spatial resource access team member and visual-spatial 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) the work in progress. If they are vertical, they need places to create piles. I bought one of those cubicle paper sorters and I have it next to my computer (with labels for each section) and this is how I do it. (L. Leviton, personal communication, May 31, 2004)
When we studied at home, each of my children used a Teacher’s Planner to record their daily assignments. In fact, tasks from different subjects were sometimes 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 children to choose one that offers enough space to write or draw important notes about due dates, expectations, assignment details, and other appointments. We also used these planners as checklists, which contributed to my children’s sense of accomplishment as they crossed off each task.
Linda Leviton also advised:
As for school work, I have a word for you … pockets. Forget folders and poking holes in things. They need something they can put papers in, and if you color-code the pockets, you have a better chance that the correct paper will go into the correct pocket. My preference is a folder with each class that has its own colored pockets (one on the front and one on the back) … the front is for current work or something to hand in, the back is for reference or previous work. Just don’t expect them to poke holes or get papers in sections that involve opening or closing something; 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 folder, lunch box, and bottle of water to school every day is to stack them all in place on the kitchen table. Then when you finish eating breakfast, you immediately take everything to the car. The few times you left one of those items somewhere other than the kitchen table, it didn’t make it to school.
Another tip for organizing visual-spatial children and helping them stay that way is to try to keep a consistent schedule from week to week. I know it’s really tough these days with so many competitive family schedules and extracurricular activities to choose from, but consistency should help your family organize and stay. Knowing that every Tuesday afternoon they have sports practice or that every Friday afternoon a lesson with a musical instrument, followed by homework, chores, dinner, television or computer time, can help you plan your day accordingly and find time for everything you need to do. .
A large calendar to record each family member’s schedule is also helpful. Use it to show everyone’s commitments, from sports practices to work schedules, field trips to long-term assignments, vacations, and other days off. I found that encouraging my kids to record assignment due dates three or four days before the actual due date has really helped avoid last minute nights. The additional built-in time leaves room for editing, project reviews, etc. and a more relaxed approach to the deadline. Having a master calendar also allows visual-spatial students (notoriously known for having a tremendous sense of space but a lack of sense of time) to see how far until Christmas, the last day of school, their birthday, or other events they are anticipating.
Teach your kids to use the computer to get organized! There are a number of programs that include calendars, ways to notify you of due dates (in advance), and can create memo files on certain assignments. 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 family life.
There are certain traps for visual-spatial children, traps their brains love to get caught almost unintentionally. The traps, specifically, are the computer and television. Due to the use of visual images, the right hemisphere is very attracted (some might argue that it is addicted?) To these boxes of entertainment. Consider creating a specific time during the day or week for computer and television use. If this is built into the family schedule, it is easier to understand why Mom enforces homework time at a certain time and does not allow the procrastination or distraction of television or the computer to become an argument. We use a timer in our home to eliminate conflicts over when the computer game or television program started. The timer is not arbitrary. The bell rings, the shift is over.
“A place for everything and everything in its place”: It is not an easy trick for visual-spatial children, but a technique that will last a lifetime. I rarely lose my car keys because they go to the exact same place every time I drive home. We have a small shelf reserved for library books only, so when the expiration date comes around, we won’t have to struggle to find them. I think it is important for children to keep their rooms as they would like, but they should be able to locate their clothing, sports equipment and other items in a reasonable amount of time. In our house, we also insist that there is no food in the bedroom (yuck!) And that there is a clear path from the door to the headboard in case we have to go to them at night; There have been too many episodes of nudity. feet into counting toys! Inexpensive containers, including shoe boxes and plastic food containers, are great accessories for sorting small toys. We keep a full closet exclusively for construction toys.
Advanced preparation is essential. Have your kids pack backpacks and lunch boxes the night before. Sometimes we even charge the car the night before to try to eliminate the morning hassles. The clothes for the next day should be selected the night before, Matt places his on the edge of the bed. Where we live, the climate changes frequently and without warning so we keep the car ready with extra light vests, 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 visual-spatial kids can probably get organized and stay that way!
© Copyright Alexandra Shires Golon (2004). De Golon, AS, RaisingTopsy-Turvy Kids: Successful Raising Your Visual-Spatial Child, Denver (2004): DeLeon Publishing.