Organization for School – My Top 10 Tips
“Mom . . . where’s my gluestick [pencil, pen, scissors, crayons, colored pencils, extra paper, etc]?”
“Mom . . . I forgot [can't find] my school supplies [lunch, notes, homework, permission slip, etc] today.”
“Mom . . . you have homework! Here! I need them done by tomorrow!” (as they hand me 20+ papers to read and sign . . . times 5 kids!) ugh. (why didn’t I homeschool? 5 kids in 5 schools! Yikes!)
“Mom . . . . .”
Have you heard all the above phrases before at your house? Have you heard them this school year already?
I have! . . . Frequently! Now – does that mean I’m not organized?
Am I organized for this school year?
Um . . . . I plead the 5th! Ok . . . sometimes, and in some ways (Ok – many ways) I’m not 100% organized. But who really is? I bet even Martha Stewart doesn’t always have it all together!
Hearing these phrases around here this week means – we are still working on getting back “into the swing of things” (school) here at the West house. It takes awhile sometimes . . . so don’t feel bad if you are still (ahem) searching the stores for gluesticks, 4×6 cards and BLACK dry erase markers (can you tell what I’m having trouble finding?!).
Why be organized?
I think my kids would ask this!
But honestly – there are times it feels like too much trouble to figure out a plan and implement it (yes – I do feel lazy some days!). But – I have found, that it’s actually MORE frustrating to spend hours each week looking for lost shoes, homework, library books, school supplies and more! So – by taking some time initially to think through a plan, and then implementing it – saves me a lot more time in the future! (now . . . don’t stress out . . . I’m not perfect at all of these either!)
10 Tips for school-year organization
There are a ton of tips that can be shared, and I know some of you have some GREAT ones (I’d love to hear them!). But here are some that might seem basic, but continue to encourage me when I get overwhelmed with homework, schedules, the craziness in the hours after school, etc.
Above all these tips (and every other one you hear) . . . just remember . . . KISS! Keep It Simple Sister! If you don’t – you’ll just get overwhelmed and will not want to keep it up, or do it to begin with!
1. Create a household schedule
Try to establish a regular dinnertime and bedtime as well as a routine for after school (put away coats, shoes, empty lunch boxes, etc), homework, chores and preparing for the next day. Post the schedule for all to see. Make it kid friendly (pictures instead of words) for those that can’t read yet.
We have a “no TV or computer” rule Monday through Thursdays during the school year. (yes – I’m the “meanest mom in the world!”) It’s too distracting for the other kids still trying to do homework – even if they are in separate rooms. Little kids have special radar and hearing designated to go off when a TV or computer is on! It’s just more pleasant here without it on. The evenings are then free to play board games, read books, tell stories, finish homework, etc. Plus – it really is better for them (and the family)! You can include other electronics in this if you want (cell phones, ipods, etc).
3. Keep a master calendar
I sit down at the beginning of the school year and put down all the dates (I have access to) for the school year on the calendar in our kitchen as well as the little calendar in my purse.
My husband and I will (verbally) “sync” our calendars once a month (one day I’ll be more tech-friendly to actually sync with his electronic calendar – but for now, I’m a paper and pen kind of gal when it comes to calendars!).
I also have a metal strip screwed on the wall (from IKEA – don’t know if they have them any more) under our calendar that I will attach temporary papers (permission slips, upcoming party info, etc) with magnets, as well as a magnetic “white” board beside the calendar to write down ideas (things to buy, do, remember) and attach things to. I’m a visual person – so I need to see these temporary papers, or they get lost and forgotten!
You can also use a different colored ink for each person on the schedule – to see at a glance, who had what going on. There are a variety of specially designed family calendars (that give separate columns, rows, etc for each family member) that you can use if you like. . . . But just remember to KISS!
4. Prepare for the day ahead
Before your child goes to bed, have him/her pack their backpack, books, forms, etc.
Pre-pack their lunch (or as much as you can. We usually make sandwiches in the morning so they are fresh) – or better yet – have them pre-pack their lunch! I quit packing lunches 2 years ago when my youngest was in kindergarten (that’s another story I’ll have to tell later)! I do keep 2 containers filled with lunch supplies (napkins, drinks, chips, fruit, etc) for them to grab out of, and they know what kinds of things to pack.
Laying out clothes, shoes and accessories will also save morning time.
5. Keep things close – preferably in arms reach
When working on homework in the kitchen, it was a pain to go to the playroom to get crayons or to sharpen pencils, the dining room to get scissors or a ruler from my secretary drawer, and the living room to get used magazines for cutting out pictures or articles, etc. So – I bought an inexpensive bookshelf for the kitchen and stocked a container with all the basic essentials – and it’s within arm’s reach from the table. No more distractions or time wasted by getting up to hunt for things!
6. Set a designated study time and place (and “atmosphere”)
This goes along with the household schedule info above. Experiment with what works for your family. For us, we found it best to get it done right away (as their minds are still in school mode, and because our evenings were varied with activities. This way it was consistent every day.). The kids get a short break for a quick snack, and talk about how their day went, then dive into homework.
I still have to pick up one child from private school, and last year the girls got home before we left to pick him up, but the boys got home after we came back. I found that if the girls did not get their homework done (or at least started and mostly done) before we came back, there were a lot of distractions (and frustrations on my part) to try and get all 5 of them to do their work at the same time (and give enough attention and help to those that needed it). So – we had to stick with our schedule of the girls getting it done before we left.
We then also had to institute a study “atmosphere” last year. Think – LIBRARY! I realized that the reason they were getting so distracted and taking forever to do their work – was because of all the chit-chat (and sometimes fighting, complaining, etc) going on. So – it had to become like a library until dinner, or whenever all of them were done with homework. When a couple of them were done – they could go talk quietly upstairs or outside – but they were not to disturb the others. It worked like a charm!
7. Have a system to deal with all the paperwork!
The rule of thumb I try to adhere to (but don’t always succeed) is OHIO – Only Handle It Once (this goes for mail as well!). As much as you can – try to deal with it immediately (read it, sign it, put back in backpack, etc) or throw it out. If it’s contains info you need for later (ie – a party, field trip, etc) – either write it down on your master calendar/schedule, or post/file/keep it where you will have access to it and will remember it (mine is on the magnetic strip).
Items that need to be kept longer (like teacher and school info, class syllabi, etc) can be stored in another way (mine is in my Household Manager/binder . . . YES – I’ll tell you about that sometime! I LOVE it! It gives the allusion that I’m uber-organized! It has also been helpful to my parents if they are watching the kids while I’m out of town . . .but again . . . I’ll explain more in another post). Just keep them handy and remember where you put them!
As for artwork and potential “special” papers you want to keep . . . that’s another topic that should have it’s own post! Definitely have a plan – otherwise you’ll get buried! (because every picture they paint/draw is a masterpiece to them . . . and us at times!) I have 4 more magnetic strips in our playroom to be able to hang and rotate artwork, certificates, awards, etc. And, of course, there’s the fridge . . . There are a ton of great ideas about what to do with all the papers/artwork! I’d love to hear yours!
8. Conduct a weekly checkup/clean-out
Encourage your child to sort through his/her backpack on a weekly basis and remove materials that don’t need to be there. . . .. Ahem! . . . I said . . . encourage your child to do this . . . If they are young – start teaching and training them to do this now! As they get older, do not take over the responsibility that is theirs to pull things out, to give you papers to sign, etc. My older kids will occasionally try to pull the “but mom . . . you didn’t sign my permission slip and it was due today!” My reply – “Hmmm . . . did you give it to me?” (or you can have a specific box or place they can put it for you to go through each night). Teach them how to do this. It’s good for them! Which leads me into my favorite tip . . .
9. Give your child the opportunity to learn to be organized!
I cannot emphasize and encourage moms enough in letting their kids learn how to do things and to make wise choices (and to come up with their own ideas and ways to do things). But in order for them to do that – they have to be given some control (and responsibility)! . . . (uh-oh . . . what did you just say Lori?!) . . . Yes I said it! Can you do that?
It can be scary and hard, as we not only want them to succeed, but we also don’t want to be seen as a “slacker parent” who isn’t involved. But I have to tell you – I had to bite my tongue and not laugh out loud when I saw some of the 3rd grade poster-board projects at my son’s (gifted) school last year. Yes – I know these kids are gifted . . . but not that gifted! I don’t think I could even make some of the fancy, laminated, graph-filled, computer-generated posters that they made! There’s helping . . . and then there’s doing.
Give your child space to learn – in school, with projects, and with organization. Ask questions more often than telling the answers, and let them make some choices (guided by you still). i.e. – instead of “Did you pack your lunch? Set out your clothes? . . .” etc. You can ask – “Are you ready for school? What do you still need to do to get ready? . . . . Then what? . . . Ok. Great!” You can even then say – “Do you need help, or can you do it yourself? . . . Well, let me know if you need help. I’m right here.” And then let them do it! If they get distracted – instead of saying “Hey – please finish packing your lunch [backpack, putting out clothes, etc]” try “How’s it going? Almost done? Will you be done in 5 minutes, or do you need a couple minutes longer?” . . . . Get the idea?!
Ask questions, give simple choices, and let them learn to make wise choices! (I will blog more about this topic in the future – as I’ve seen huge improvements in my kids in taking responsibility in different areas. We’ve still got a ways to go . . . .but we’re getting there!) They may not like having to take responsibility, but they will enjoy having the ability to make their own choices (again – guided by you!). They will be “pros” at making wise choices by the time they leave for college (let’s hope and pray they do!).
10. Last, but not least . . . Get a good night’s sleep!
This goes for ALL of you . . . parents and kids! Have a consistent schedule and routine for bedtime – yes – for ALL of you. (Don’t do what I am doing right now . . . trying to get caught up at midnight when the alarm will go off way too soon! You know the saying – “If mama ain’t happy . .. ain’t nobody happy.” Well . . . if I wake up cranky . . . guess what? It really doesn’t start the day off right for all of us!)
So – get the kids to bed early, address all their issues before they go to bed (ie – snack, drink, potty, story, etc), remember to give them choices (“Do you want to brush your teeth first, or read your book?”), and once they are down . . . have a plan/schedule for you to unwind, slow down and get to bed at a decent hour. Everyone is different – so I can’t tell you what your evening should look like . . . but find what works for you.
Your best prep for any day starts the day before! Instead of looking at your day as starting in the morning – look at it as starting the evening before. A little pre-planning and reviewing the next day’s agenda, to-do’s, writing down all the thoughts that would spin wildly in circles in your mind all night, sending a few quick emails to tie up loose ends, etc – and then getting enough zzzz’s, will increase your chances of starting your day off right!
And being rested will help you to think more clearly – thus be able to stay more organized and find creative solutions for the disorganized areas of your life still!