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Unorganized and Messy in First Grade

Education Expert Advice from Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.

Q: My son's first-grade teacher has said that he is bright, scoring in the 99th percentile for reading and math. However, she says his work is messy, and he is unorganized. He doesn't exhibit these qualities at home. I have asked him about this and he says he doesn't like to write letters or make mistakes (and fix them).

I've observed the classroom and he, as well as many other boys in particular, seem to be aimlessly walking around. I'm not sure if he is bored or overwhelmed by the demands even if he is capable of the work. His math and reading have not suffered, but his teacher said she is concerned that they will in time. How can I help him?

A: Overall, it sounds like your son is doing quite well in first grade. While it is definitely not a plus that his work is messy and he is disorganized, there is no reason to think that he won't be able to turn things around with help before they become problems.

Few first-graders are truly aware of exactly what is expected of them at school. Don't nag your son about messy work. Instead, look over his work each day and applaud how much he does neatly. From time to time, you should point out the importance of his writing so others can read it.

It isn't easy for many first-graders to do neat work. Some simply don't have the small muscle skills needed for writing. This could be true for your son. Encourage him to spend time playing with action figures, small blocks, clay, and other objects that he would manipulate with his fingers to build this skill.

Organizational skills are not inborn. They need to be taught by both teachers and parents. Some classrooms are highly structured, which makes it easy for children to understand what they are expected to do at all times. It sounds like your son's classroom is less structured. He is probably uncertain at times about what he is expected to do.

Try to find out from his teacher exactly how and when your son is disorganized. Then ask her how the two of you can work together to give him better organizational skills. At home, give him the responsibility of organizing small tasks with minimal help from you. Good luck.

More on: Expert Advice

Peggy Gisler and Marge Eberts are experienced teachers who have more than 60 educational publications to their credit. They began writing books together in 1979. Careers for Bookworms was a Book-of-the-Month Club paperback selection, and Pancakes, Crackers, and Pizza received recognition from the Children's Reading Roundtable. Gisler and Eberts taught in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school. Both have been supervisors at the Butler University Reading Center.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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