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Does anyone else find that back-to-school season is a bit like New Year’s? Instead of “this is the year I’ll eat a vegetable at every meal” and “this is the year I will organize that hall closet,” I find myself with shiny optimism saying, “This is the school year I’ll be calm every day after school,” and, “This is the school year that my son won’t lose his water bottle every six days.” I’m old enough to know that shiny optimism turns into resigned reality soon enough, which is why I’m not buying expensive water bottles for my boy, but there is something to be said for goals. I applaud all of us parents, myself included, who try to start the school year organized and optimistic.
I sincerely think that teaching our kids basic organizational skills gives them a lifelong gift, right up there with love of books, respect for nature, and the importance of dental hygiene. Being organized looks different for each person, as my two very different kids have taught me, but having a general plan for a day or a project, respect for timelines, and the ability to prioritize are always useful life skills—along with learning how to not fight incessantly with your sibling, which is a skill neither my kids have learned yet.
As we head into a new school year, hopefully full of shiny optimism and big dreams, here are five ways to help your kids stay organized:
1. Have an after-school routine. Having a general after-school routine allows for you and your child to know what to expect each day. This does not mean you plan out each minute (goodness, no!), nor does it mean that there is no room for spontaneity or an unexpected after-school outing. An after-school routine simply means there is a plan for each afternoon. There is no gold standard, and it varies depending on your family’s after school activities and/or work schedule, your child’s temperament, and your child’s homework load. For my family, it usually looks like this:
- Car ride home: Eat Snack #1. (Why, yes, there are crumbs in my car, thanks for asking.)
- Come home and immediately wash hands (and hope that all school germs find their way down the sink).
- Empty out backpacks: lay homework on the kitchen table, lay papers for me on the counter, put graded/finished papers in their basket (more info below), and clean out lunch boxes and water bottles (assuming Kid #2 actually brought home the water bottle).
- Afternoon Snack #2: I have to limit this to 15-20 minutes, otherwise they treat the kitchen like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
- Homework: I know, kids should play first, right? But I’ve found time and time again that my kids do better getting the majority of their homework done right away, especially the homework that involves writing. Reading and studying can be delayed a bit.
- Play time/sports practice
- Reading, more studying if needed: The post-dinner, pre-bedtime phase is when my husband or I are available to quiz them or help study.
2. Create a homework station. Wherever your child does homework—whether it be at the kitchen table, in their bedroom, or even on the sidelines of a sibling’s soccer practice—have a container of school goods in easy reach. It doesn’t have to be fancy and Pinterest-worthy; a simple box of paper, scissors, crayons/pens/pencils, and erasers is perfect. Having the needed supplies within reach can make the difference in your child being able to focus on and finish their work in one sitting versus wandering around the house to find scissors and getting distracted by their Lego sets (not that I know anything about that).
3. Create a daily homework checklist. If your child has more than one assignment, have him/her list out the day’s work each day after school so he/she (and you!) can see what needs to get done. In addition to homework, any other daily jobs like chores, music/sports practice, reading time, and the like should also be put on the checklist. I like to have my kids tackle the least favorite homework early on (spelling words, I’m looking at you!) so we can get it over with while patience levels are at their highest.
4. Have a designated spot for school papers. I was lucky to attend an “Organizing Your Kid’s School and Art Work” presentation by a professional organizer while my kids were still in preschool. The woman’s talk was fantastic, and her tips have stayed with me for years, which is remarkable considering I can’t remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. She encouraged us to have a basket for each child in a central location (for us, it is the end table in the entryway) that all the graded/finished school work goes into immediately upon coming out of the backpack. The kids and I clean out the baskets periodically, generally once grading periods are over. It has saved us many times when trying to find previous tests to use for studying or favorite artwork that they want to show off.
5. Keep an organized notebook and backpack. If your child’s teacher or school has a specific notebook organizational system, help your child understand the system and use it. If there is no specified system, help your child create one. One method is to use dividers to separate class notes. Another method that works well is having separate “to do” and “done” folders to help organize assignments. Many more methods can be found by a simple Google search. Clean out notebooks and folders weekly or biweekly. Start a routine of cleaning out backpacks every Friday. Anyone who has had the complete joy of finding a disintegrating and decaying banana stuck to a school textbook or rank, three-day-old gym clothes on Monday morning can attest to the validity of routinely cleaning out backpacks.
As we shared in our recent post on Teachers’ Tips for Getting Your Kids Ready for Back to School, through August 28th, HEB has a Back-to-School Sweepstakes with a chance to win money for both you and your school. Make sure to enter!
Here’s to an organized and optimistic start to the new school year!