Organizing Lessons for Back to School


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As a mother of five grown children (and soon to be grandmother!), I can attest to the fact that organizing skills are a major factor in the success of our children in school and the quality of our life at home. The ease with which we manage every area of our lives – from getting ready to go to school in the morning to going to bed at night – can be significantly improved if we approach the tasks to be done in an organized manner. Unfortunately, we were not all born with an innate organizing ability, and more unfortunately, there are few opportunities to learn the skill. But it’s never too late – or too early – to begin learning!

Begin by having each child in your family choose “their color, ” and use it consistently. It will save lots of squabbles over whose notebook or umbrella is whose. Attach a pen with the ink color of each child nearby the family calendar (which should have lots of writing space!) We had four children playing soccer at the same time, but “soccer” written in red ink told me it was Jenny who needed a ride. Encourage your children to be responsible for their own schedules and commitments. Start by teaching your child to use an alarm clock and expecting them to use it.

Does your child have trouble deciding what to wear in the morning? Part of the problem may be too many choices. Eliminate anything from the closet that doesn’t currently fit, is not in season or in style. Then, spend some time with your child planning wardrobe combinations and list them on a sign on the closet door for a quick morning reminder. Last minute hassles over lost shoes? Identify a specific place for shoes – preferably near the front door! Children learn by example – how are you doing in that department?

If your children pack their own lunches for school, work out a system that suits each child. My daughter preferred to pack hers the night before, but my son – never more than ten minutes before the bus arrived! To eliminate Johnny taking Mary’s lunch, use different colored containers or labels for each child. Create a standard shopping list of lunchbox items each child likes and make sure to keep those items on hand. Put a list on the refrigerator with any special items that are available (e. g. , leftover steak from dinner last night). By the way, if Sara forgets her lunch and you drop what you’re doing to deliver it, you’re giving a message that she doesn’t have to remember. No child ever suffered seriously from missing lunch for one day! Send positive messages that encourage them to remember by including a love note in a lunch box with messages – “Good luck on your math test!”

One of the ongoing hassles of school days – regardless of the children’s age – are those papers that need signing by Mom or Dad (and frequently require checks!). Identify a specific place for only those items. A clearly labeled magnetic pocket on the refrigerator door is a great option. Keep some “Sign Here” Post- it? Flags nearby to help spark your memory or encourage your children to flag the documents to show you where to sign.

Completing homework is every parent’s primary concern. The first challenge is helping them to get their assignments home. Help them find an assignment book that is easy to use. Each evening go over assignments with your child to see that homework is complete! Creating a productive study environment is crucial, keeping in mind that everyone does not need the same environment to be successful. Some children work best alone in a quiet room, while others do better sitting at the kitchen table while Mom or Dad fixes dinner. Since computers have become a major factor in homework, develop family policies about who can use the computer when. Keep supplies and resources on hand to eliminate unnecessary last minute shopping trips.

Of course you couldn’t expect me to write an article on “back to school” without mentioning a filing system. Since research shows that the average person spends over one month each year looking for lost information, it’s never to early to start teaching kids how to file! (Bonus: If you use Taming the Paper Tiger software, you can “hire” your child to help you with your filing!)

Finally, notes of all varieties can be a wonderful way to communicate to your children – with one caveat. Years ago, I overheard my son say to my daughter one morning, “I wonder what I have to do today, there’s one of those yellow things on the mirror. ” I suddenly realized that it was important to give positive messages as well as parental reminders. Waking up to, “You did a great job cleaning up the kitchen last night, ” is a great start to good day at school!

© Barbara Hemphill is the author of Kiplinger's Taming the Paper Tiger at Work and Taming the Paper Tiger at Home and co-author of Love It or Lose It: Living Clutter-Free Forever. The mission of Hemphill Productivity Institute is to help individuals and organizations create and sustain a productive environment so they can accomplish their work and enjoy their lives. We do this by organizing space, information, and time. We can be reached at 800-427-0237 or at


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