Organize! for a Smart School Start

Use the dwindling days of summer to organize and prepare your kids for school. Whether sending them off on a bus or schooling them at home, not surprisingly, you can achieve a great deal by simply carving out a place for everything:

Study Space

Provide a well-lit, roomy desk or table (computer desks should be reserved for computer projects only) that is always cleared by homework time. Depending on age and level of independence, your child may need to work in the grand central kitchen or in a quiet bedroom.

Next to the study surface, use a rolling cart or stationary bookcase for all study supplies:

* Art materials
* Lined and graph paper
* Textbooks and reference volumes
* Notebooks and binders
* Assignment schedules

Clear, plastic storage containers work well to keep small-sized, like items together:

* Pens, pencils and crayons
* Erasers and sharpeners
* Paper clips and stapler refills
* Rulers, protractors and calculators (if applicable)
* Touch base with teachers for a list of essential items to have on hand for your child’s studies.

Virtual Homework

If you have a computer and online capability, you can save the space of bulky reference volumes, especially encyclopedias, by using online versions. Membership options vary in breadth of accessible information, and prices range from free to something less than even CD versions can cost if purchased every year. A bonus: the information they contain is updated frequently.

Use a chart to divvy up computer time between multiple users. Keep it next to the computer, scheduling in homework time versus email or game time to make sure kids meet priorities first. But keep an eye on current needs and be prepared to flex the schedule. Demand on computer time will vary by age of child and scope of the research project in progress.

Assignment Alignment

Help your child organize study materials by using binders or folders with subject labels. Teach them to place new assignments along with any instructions toward the front of the folder. Find a wall and install a calendar in the study area to keep track of longer-range due dates, sports events, library visits and field trips.

Art Department

Display a limited number of artworks on a bulletin board, or hang them from a clothesline strung along one wall. When the limit is reached, encourage children to choose which creations should be tossed or sent to Grandma’s refrigerator to make room for the new.

Frame very special pieces and hang them for décor in the bedroom. If choices become difficult when purging, start a folder in the filing cabinet to be culled at the end of the school year. One or two final selections should stir pride and good memories several years down the road.

Keep Up With the Chaos

Choose a central location where children can reference a chore chart. Schedule in daily ways for them to help you keep them organized. Include tasks — appropriate to each child's ability — like laundry, wiping up after snacks, cleaning rooms, washing dishes. But also have them tidy the study area when homework is done and prepare their backpacks for the following morning.

Conventional wisdom says morning sleepyheads should lay their clothes out the night before school. But is there a place to lay them? Install a hook on the back of the bedroom door, or designate a spot on a shelf or table that won’t be used for anything else (especially edibles that might turn sticky or stain fabrics).

Facilitate the Mad Dash

Create a by-the-door dispatch, where coats, hats, backpacks, shoes, keys, cell phones, dog leashes and papers in need of signatures can be grabbed on the way out or dropped off when coming in. Clear out the coat closet for this. Install hooks or wall pegs, and relocate a bureau or bookcase to a space near the entry. Use baskets and boxes to keep this area both attractive and functional. Not just for kids, this welcome-home station is a great place for incoming and outgoing mail, as well.

Keep a sturdy basket here for public library books that your child can scoop up whole, and use in the library as a “shopping” cart. Many libraries print tickets listing all borrowed items, along with their respective due dates. Keep it in the basket with the books. If some materials are renewed, record their new go-back date and check off any returned items. Designate a separate location in your home for school library materials — the study area may work well.

Consider an entryway cubby unit with holes to accommodate one or two pair of each resident’s most-worn shoes. Enlist kids to artfully label the compartments for their own shoes. They won’t have to search under all the beds to find them, and you’ll save your floors from a school day’s worth of dirt collected on those soles.

Get Started

When using new systems or resurrecting old ones, plan a fun training session to orient your children to the expected flow. Some ages may respond well to drills — complete with whistle and stopwatch — of the after-school routine. (Home schoolers may find the early morning routine more to the point.) Follow up with a pep talk to generate excitement for the coming year. Many kids may offer valuable ideas of their own for keeping their homework on track. As the academic ship sails, be willing to adjust all plans till a workable system emerges.

© 2006

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