My son, Nathan, is 7-years-old and in the second grade at school. Second grade is a big deal, because for the first time each student has his or her own desk to store his or her books and papers. No more shared tables like in first grade.
I volunteer in his classroom once a week, and one of the things I have noticed is that some of the kids’ desks are immaculate: books stacked on one side, papers and notebooks stacked neatly on the other side, pencil in front in the little pencil slot. At the same time, some kids’ desks are extremely messy: books and papers (mostly crumpled and wrinkled) are shoved in every which way. The Messy Desk kids often can’t find their assignments or the work they are supposed to be working on (I know, because I’m the one trying to dig through their desk and find their stuff for them when they tell me it’s lost.)
Here’s an additional interesting piece of information: At least for the writing/reading groups (which is the subject that I volunteer to help out with in the classroom), there is a higher percentage of Tidy Desk Kids in the most advanced writing/reading group.
So my question is: Where did these Tidy Kids learn to organize their desks? Why don’t all of the desks look messy? My son’s desk is among one of the tidy ones. But believe me, I never sat down and told him, “Son, if you ever get yourself a desk, stack the books here and the papers here.” Somehow, he just knows to do it.
Some organizers I have spoken with think the Tidy Kids have simply learned organization from their parents who modeled it for them. As one of four siblings, each of whom have very different levels of organization, I can say that just because a parent models it, that doesn’t automatically mean the siblings will absorb it equally or at all.
If some kids are just innately organized, is there a correlation between academic achievement and being organized? A friend (hi, Kelly!) mentioned that we learn language through innate categorization skills that our brains develop as toddlers. If some toddlers develop super amazing wiring in these areas of the brain, could that be the link between being organized and doing well academically in school, particularly in the areas of reading/writing?
Here’s another piece of information to throw into the mix: In a 2010 study by Tolin, Meunier, Frost and Steketee, researchers asked their hoarding clients when they first became aware of their hoarding issues. Slightly over 50 percent became aware between the ages of 11-20. But 13.5 percent became aware between the ages of 6-10. With Hoarding Disorder now officially listed in the DSM-V as a mental disorder with a suspected prevalence of 2-5 percent of the population, could it be that some of these Messy Desk kids are manifesting the very first signs of this troubling disorder?
Kathleen Crombie, a highly credentialed and well-respected expert in the field of hoarding disorder, chronic disorganization and ADHD, believes that we all need to work with children at an early age to start teaching them organizational skills, and that teachers and even daycare providers can play a key role in this instruction. (Although with such limited time on teachers’ hands, maybe it would be more realistic for professional organizers to volunteer their time to teach these lessons in the classroom a few times a year.)
So this all swings back to my original question: Are some children’s brains wired to be more organized while others are wired to be more messy? Is their a correlation between early childhood organizational skills and academic achievement? If some children’s brains are wired to be more messy, does that mean that left unchecked, this messiness could turn into full-blown Hoarding Disorder for some? If so, can teaching organizational skills with a focus on those kids with the messy desks stave off a future diagnosis of Hoarding Disorder?
As the field of professional organizing grows and with the understanding that Hoarding Disorder is truly a mental illness, I’m sure we will see more research conducted into all of these issues.
In the meantime, tell me what you think. Feel free to give me your opinions on my questions above, share some anecdotes about you or your children or add to my list of questions in the comments below.
Image courtesy of Suddenly Susan WordPress.