Color Coding Techniques for Organizing Children with ADHD

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Q: “I’m at my wit’s end trying to set up organizational systems for my 13-year-old daughter. Checklists and charts don’t work for her. She says she doesn’t like them and they take her too long to read. They are therefore completely ignored and none of its tasks are accomplished. I also have to remind him where all his stuff goes in the house. Any ideas on what I can do to help her be more organized at home and at school? Thank you.” —WitsEndMom

Hi WitsEndmom:
Have you tried color coding techniques to help your daughter be more organized at home and at school? In my work as an ADHD family coach and at home with my own children, I have had great success using color coding systems (especially for young children) for to-do lists, school supplies, and reminders. .

Color coding improves memory

Here’s why it works.

Color plays an important role in improving memory performance.1 A 2013 study in the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciencesrevealed that color increases the chances of environmental stimuli being successfully encoded, stored, and retrieved.2

When we organize information – to-do lists, calendars, shopping lists – into color blocks, our brains can process the information faster, increasing our chances of completing tasks.

But science aside, color coding is a fun and easy way to help kids get organized and stay organized!

[Self-Test: Does My Child Have ADHD?]

Color Coding: Next Steps

Here are my top eight color coding tips:

1. Color code your child’s chores. Use sticky notes in different colors to help your child know when to complete specific tasks like school homework or household responsibilities. You can also use the color of the sticky note to indicate the urgency of a mission or responsibility. For example, anything highlighted in green, written in green pen, or on a green post-it note means “Go!” or absolute priority.

2. Color Code to Distinguish Lecture Notes from Home Study Notes. Some of my students find it helpful to separate what they learned in class from what they learned while studying or revising at home. Maybe your daughter can take class notes with a blue pen and use a black pen for notes taken at home. This system can be helpful if she has a question about the material she is learning. She will know where she learned it and can quickly relay that information or question to her teacher.

3. Color-Coded School Supplies. Ask your daughter to designate a color for each of her subjects. Then use that specific color for each binder, folder, notebook, etc., needed for that class. If your child uses a homework station, follow the color scheme of the storage bins for classroom-specific supplies. For example, let’s say blue is the designated mathematical color. Then the calculators and rulers are placed in the blue container to accompany her blue math notebook.

4. Use colorful wristbands for reminders. Once your daughter has assigned a color to each topic, buy her a set of colorful bracelets. (Inexpensive varieties are easy to find online.) She can wear them to remind her to turn in an assignment or if she has assignments in a specific class.

[Read: The Daily Habits of Organized Kids]

5. Organize your daughter’s activities by color. Use large bins of different colors to store sports and extracurricular materials (dance in red, tennis in blue, etc.). This will keep everything organized in one place and easy to grab when you head to a lesson or game. You can also personalize each bag with the name of the activity directly on it. No more hidden tap shoes with the lacrosse stick.

6. Color-Coded Napkins. Ask your daughter to choose a color for her towels. Sew colored bows to the edge of white towels or buy towels in that color so she can identify them instantly. It helps tremendously when it’s time to do or put away the laundry.

7. Color-coded chargers, cables and cords. Chargers, cables and cords were always disappearing in my house – until I color-coded them per child. No more theft of chargers! It’s a win-win!

8. Use colorful bins to store your belongings. Ask your daughter to assign different colors to her things (hair care and makeup can go in a white bin, photos in blue, etc.). At cleaning time, she will know what is going on in each specific color bin. Knowing where everything is will take the guesswork and agony out of cleaning up!

Color Coding for ADHD Brains: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel of Order Out of Chaos will answer questions from ADDitude readers on everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone rooms and mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!


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Sources

1Wichmann FA, Sharpe LT, Gegenfurtner KR. (2002, May). Contributions of color to recognition memory for natural scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology. Learning, memory and knowledge. https://doi.org/10.1177/10870547221085502

2Cuba Bustinza, Dzulkifli MA, Mustafar MF. (2013, March). The influence of color on memory performance: a review. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23983571

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