A+ Back-to-School Organizing Basics

Creating a homework hub is a great way to
organize for kids to go back-to-school.
Photo: Maria Adcock

Guest Post by Kenneth McCall

The bell will soon ring on the first day of school, and that means it’s time to smarten up your daily routines and home spaces. Without an organized strategy for sorting handouts and permission slips, juggling activities and homework, and getting the kids dressed and on the bus, you’ll have one chaotic semester. Before the chaos ensues, here are seven ways to ensure your household’s performance stands up to even the toughest home-ec teacher.

  • Establish a homework hub. To choose the best homework station location, consider a few factors: How involved do you need to be with your kids’ work? (If you’re a frequent aid, a central spot such as the dining room may be best). Does your child perform best seated at a table or curled up on the couch with a lap desk? Where is your child least likely to be distracted by TV, toys, the computer and friends? Once you’ve picked your prime spot, make sure it’s well lit and has an adequate work surface. Stock it with age-appropriate tools — pens, pencils, a sharpener, erasers, paper, crayons, markers, a ruler, a calculator, a dictionary, and craft supplies — corralled into a portable bin or tucked inside a nearby drawer or cabinet. 

  • Create a welcome center. In the foyer, mud room, or hallway, provide space for your kids to shed their gear in an organized fashion: wall pegs for jackets and backpacks, lower shelves for shoes, and an inbox for school papers that need Mom’s attention. The first thing your children should do when they get home is pull any permission slips, report cards, flyers, and notes from their school bags and file them in the inbox — a surer thing if that container hangs directly beside the wall pegs.
  • Stockpile for emergencies. For those nights when your child has left a big project until the last-minute and you don’t have time to hit the office supply store, keep a reserve of presentation basics such as poster board, index cards, construction paper, and paint pens hidden in a hall closet or in an under-bed storage bin.
  • Set up a communication zone. This can be a kitchen corner or an empty office wall, as long as it’s a heavily trafficked spot (i.e.: right in your line of sight every day). Here, store your reference binder (see step 5); a scrapbook where you can tuck the kids’ artwork for safekeeping; a bulletin board for stowing receipts, notes, and other loose ends; and a large family calendar with squares large enough for several entries each day. Use the calendar to plan weekly meals, keep track of carpool, after-school activities, school holidays, etc. Want to take it one step further? Implement a color code system for each family member.
  • Complete your daily assignments. It’s up to the children to file their papers in your wall inbox, but it’s up to you to sort through them every night. Divide the stack into trash (drawings you don’t wish to keep, for example), items that need immediate attention (such as permissions slips and report cards), and those that need to be saved for future reference (class lists, schedules, etc.). You may want to keep pages from the latter category in a well-organized binder. Enter dates and details from any flyers, invitations, and announcements onto the family calendar. De-cluttering the inbox each evening will help to organize your morning mayhem.
  • Refresh your closets. Next to school supplies, new clothes can be the trickiest purchase to make come fall. Start by cleaning out items too small or too worn-out to make the grade. For functional fun, hold a fashion show — complete with music and a runway As the kids strut their stuff in last year’s looks, assess what should be tossed or given away and take note of what they already have and what they’ll need. Once their wardrobe is complete, make dressing simple for the younger set by grouping outfits into Ziploc bags (include underwear and socks), then stowing them in drawers. This lets your kid choose his look without any morning clothing clashes between parent and child. 

  • Polish your plans. Test your current routines a week or two before school begins to see where things might be smoothed out. That means waking up, making and eating breakfast, packing lunch, getting dressed, and scooting out the door before the bus’s scheduled arrival. (Since it’s still summer, use this as a jumpstart to finish your free-time to-dos — go to the pool, visit a museum, stop by a friend’s house.) With a bit of practice, you’ll know exactly what you can get done each morning, and just how much you need to accomplish the night before.

Kenneth McCall is an avid ski and hiker. When he is not engaged in outdoor activities he is a hands on managing partner at storage.com and builds websites and tools for homeowners and businesses needing storage including self storage in Memphis and around the South.

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