As a Mom of a preschooler, I was overwhelmed when my mentor asked me what I was doing to help organize my preschooler and my preschool. All I could think of is, “How do I organize a hurricane?” I knew I didn’t want a rigid schedule but knew I needed some structure in our lives. Do you ever feel that way?

In working with preschoolers and their families over the past 27 years, I have talked with thousands of parents and I have yet to hear anyone say that their preschool child was born organized. Some children lean towards being organizers (I have one of those) and some children, no matter what we do, lean toward being unorganized (I have one of those). Then there are children who fall somewhere along the organizational spectrum. Chances are good if you have more than one child you will have different levels of organization in your homeschool.

Preschool children learn by doing and they cannot learn if you don’t let them become part of the organizational process. I know it is faster and easier to do it yourself rather than to train your child how to put away toys/books/clothes but in the long run you will save yourself time by partnering with your child to organize! Starting a toddler on sorting toys and clothes teaches them a valuable skill and helps them to learn so many things. When you sort toys by color—you are teaching the names of colors to your child. When you sort by type you are teaching your child to classify things. Often we don’t think of organizing as a part of the education process, but it is!

Homeschooling is one of the greatest gifts you can give your preschool child! Who knows your child better then you? In a homeschool setting it is easy to implement developmentally appropriate practice (DAP). DAP can be defined as a practice that meets children where they are and enables them to reach goals that are both challenging and achievable. Putting DAP to work in organizing your preschool and preschooler may mean that your 3-year-old sorts and puts away their own clothes while their same age friend only carries laundry around.

Because you know your child, you can focus on child centered learning where your child has experiences that they learn from. DJ Schneider Jensen, author of Monday Memo: Creating Change in Early Childhood Education, One Message at a Time states, “Developmentally appropriate practice and child centered learning are proven to be excellent ways to teach children,” (Page 10) and, “DAP means that what we do is aligned with where children are developmentally, not where we ‘expect them to be’” (Page 29).

All children, especially preschoolers, need SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time limited). It may be that your goal for your 3-year-old is that they keep their school area toy free when they are not actively playing. You must break this goal down for your preschooler into specific parts so they understand that it is their job to put things away where they belong when they are done with an activity. You need to make it achievable by giving them the tools to reach this goal—maybe toy bins or shelves. At first you will actively clean/organize with them, and as they learn the routine they move into being able to do it on their own. Your role is to guide your preschooler into learning this routine. Some children will learn this quickly—some will not.

What are some things you can do to help your preschooler and your preschool area become organized? First and foremost, you must model the behavior you are hoping your child learns and accept that it may be that your child is not developmentally ready to learn to sort all their toys by themselves. This is where being a student of your child comes in. Involve them in the work of sorting their toys. It would be dishonest for me to say I like cleaning and putting away laundry. What I do like is a clean house; therefore, I clean and put away laundry. I don’t complain out loud about doing this work because I want to model the behavior I would like my child to learn—working without complaining.

Consider your home environment and what you can do to make organizing easier for your family. Do you need a bookshelf with tubs or baskets for daily supplies or do you need a cabinet where you can close the door when you are not using it? Think about what would make becoming organized easy for your family and look for ways to purchase or barter the supplies you need. Some common organizational tools are bookshelves, cabinets, tubs, and bins.

Do you or your preschooler need a structured routine? If so, set up a daily schedule of activities but keep in mind that while many preschoolers flourish with a regular routine, some do not. Again, be a student of your child and you will get clues from their behavior if your routine is helpful or not working.

Copyright 2018, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.