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Blog: Easy Organizing For Active Kids And Busy Parents
Benny's Book of Sorting: Searching for a Different Way to Teach Kids to Organize

Over the Thanksgiving break, my 7-year-old daughter Eliza and I purged her massive book collection. (Yes, sometimes my kids are not too thrilled with the fact that their mother is also their own private organizer-especially when it means extra chores for them.)  Nevertheless, her bookshelf was packed to the gills, and many of those books she had long since outgrown.
As we weeded through various editions of Arthur, Junie B. Jones, and The Magic Tree House series, I came across a book that had first belonged to me as a child:  Benny's Animals and How He Put Them in Order (A Science I Can Read Book by Millicent E. Selsam, Harper & Row, 1966).  I had forgotten all about this tale, but right there in the middle of our project I plopped down on the carpet to read it.
I was so excited!  A book about organizing for kids!  What a wonderful way to introduce sorting to my clients' youngsters. The kids may even start to grasp the idea of this first step of organizing without even realizing it is a teaching moment! The wheels were already spinning about the workshops I could hold based on this book, the copies I could re-sell for clients to use at home with their kids.  I decided to finish the book to refresh my memory and develop a workshop idea (and Eliza took a much-needed break from her own sorting and plopped down with a book of her own).
The story starts out with the young, precocious, and out of the ordinary Benny, who has to be the most organized child ever created.  Benny sorts EVERYTHING!  Big books are stored separately from medium books, which are stored separately from small books.  Pennies are in a pile with pennies, nickels with only nickels, and so on down the line.  Benny is SO overly organized, his mother even asks her husband, "Do you think Benny is all right?"  (It actually reminded me of comments my husband makes about ME when I go into hyper-organized mode at home!  So of course, I feel for Benny up to this point!)
After Father convinces Mother that Benny is just "neat," Benny comes home from the beach and wants to sort the treasures he has found.  After learning that shells come from animals, he sorts his collection (of course), putting like with like (all the scallops in a pile, clams together, etc.).  He calls this collection "Animals from the Sea."
Soon Benny's know-it-all buddy John comes to visit and questions whether these shells are actually animals.  After much discussion about what makes an animal and what makes animals different from each other, Benny's Mother gives the boys old magazines so they can cut out all the pictures of animals they can find.  Before you know it, the boys are sorting all of these pictures into different categories of animals.
At this point, I am convinced this book is an excellent teaching resource for explaining the exercise of  sorting like things with like things.  What a great way to impress this idea upon young kids learning to organize for themselves.  The boys put butterflies, bats and birds in the same pile because they all have wings.  Yes!  They developed a customized system that works for THEM.  That's what organization is all about.  It may not be the way someone else would categorize them, but if it is a good system for them, and they are able to keep things organized based on that system, that's all that matters.
But then Father has to botch it all up."These are sort of mixed up," he tells the boys.  Birds have feathers, bats have fur, and butterflies have scales-they CAN'T be in the same group, he claims.
Okay, I KNOW this is a science book and I KNOW that according to science these 3 creatures are NOT related, but come on!   These kids are learning to sort!  They figured out a common denominator that makes sense to them!  Don't bring them down, Dad!
To teach the boys a real lesson, Father takes them to the museum to learn how animals are scientifically sorted, first based on their structure and then further categorized from there.  They learned about relatives and ancestors and they leave the museum as mini-scientists-in-training.
In terms of teaching about animal classification, this book is very informative, and aside from the fact that they look up information in a book rather than on the internet, the 41-year-old book is still relevant today.  Moreover, it does introduce the IDEA of how to sort.  But my goal as a Professional Organizer is to let kids, and adults, know that there is no perfect, absolute way to organize.  If it makes sense to you, if you can easily keep track of your things and retrieve them whenever you need them, it doesn't matter if your bats and butterflies are in the same category or not.
So I am still searching for that perfect book to teach kids how to organize without them being aware of it.  It has to be out there, but now that Eliza's bookshelf is streamlined, I am sure it is not on HER shelf.  If anybody can recommend one, let me know.  Or who knows, maybe next week I'll let you know the publication date of MY children's book on organizing!
Coming Next Week:  I recently had the distinct pleasure of working with my new favorite client!  She was motivated, hard working, and willing, for the most part, to let go of unnecessary stuff.  And at the ripe age of 8-years-old, I even caught her explaining to her baby sister that things need to go back to their "home" when she's done playing with them.  Next week I will fill you in on my recent experience organizing a 2nd grader's closet, and share ideas on how to motivate YOUR young ones to become more organized.  Until then, have a great week!
Simply yours,

posted on: 11/30/2007 9:00:00 AM by Debbie Jordan Kravitz
category: Family

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Easy Organizing For Active Kids And Busy Parents

by Debbie Jordan Kravitz

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Debbie Jordan Kravitz is a Professional Organizer, Author, and Owner of Virtually Organized by Debbie LLC. She is also a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) and the National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization (NSGCD). Debbie's goal is to help her clients customize, organize and simplify their lives so they can spend less time searching for their things and more time doing the things they love.

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