Back to School Basics – My Five Essentials

planner-150x150Just a quick reminder about some of the basics that  are important for students heading back to school.  It may not seem like much but it can make the difference between your child using or not using the systems and when that happens, not using it can mean not doing well. So here are my top five favorites:

  1. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you have surely seen that I am passionate about planners. It doesn’t matter to me if your child has the greatest memory ever, if they don’t have it written down somewhere then for many of them, it just conveniently slips their mind. It can be electronic or paper as long as it is used. Most schools supply an agenda or planner but fail to help the students learn to use it effectively.  Deadlines need to be where they can be seen, not just written in on the day that they were given. That is one great advantage of using a smartphone app; it will remind you about that project that is due or that upcoming test if you set it to.
  2. Binders that open with one hand or rather one finger. Fill it with notebook paper (not those spiral notebooks that always get stuck) and plastic pocket divider tabs. Some schools require separate notebooks but it is really difficult to put four or five binders into a backpack. Your teen could probably use one and just clean it out each term. I would suggest a 1.5 or 2 inch binder. Label the dividers and leave an empty pocket divider in front for a quick stash.
  3. Homework space that is ergonomic to their size and well lit. I learned that not having your feet on the floor actually raises your blood pressure. The key is to make sure your child’s arms are bent at almost a 90⁰ angle when writing with feet flat on floor or on a stool. Light the workspace rather than the room. Overhead lights often cast shadows on the work area.
  4. Pens and pencils – the good kind. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get one of those cheap pens to write when the teacher is spewing out the homework. Buy more than you think they will need and every week have them check to be sure they have two pens and two pencils in their backpack.
  5. Create a launch pad area near the door where the backpack will live as soon as it is filled up with the day’s completed homework. Other belongings that are needed for the next day should also be there. It is helpful for younger children to have a picture checklist of what they need or a “here’s what I look like when I am ready to go to school” picture showing everything needed. Putting all necessities in the launch pad the night before allows even walking “zombies” to show up at school prepared.

Keys? Keys? Where are my Keys?

keysWhen was the last time you had to hunt for your keys? Were you late or just frustrated with yourself when you finally found them? Out of all the organizing tips I first learned (yes, it’s true I wasn’t born organized) this is the tip that has saved me the most time and aggravation – hang your keys on a hook near the door you use to go out. Sounds simple doesn’t it? What used to happen is that I would leave them in my coat pocket or pocketbook or drop them on the table which would then get covered with the mail and although they are a fairly substantial bunch of keys, they had the ability to become invisible. How else would you explain the fact that one minute they are not there and the next time you look in the same place – there they are?

Here’s what I suggest: create a launch pad area near where you exit the house that is large enough for all the important things you need when leaving. Place either a hook on the wall or place a specific basket there for your keys….and only your keys. You can also set up a charging station for your cellphone as that sometimes has stealth abilities also. The idea is to have a place for everything you need to head out the door. When you come back home, place things there, especially those keys and you’ll save yourself some time and aggravation.

I know the research says it takes 28 days to change a habit but “my research” says it’s more like 56 days. Oh, and set things in your launch pad area each evening so that you are ready to go in the morning without any hassle.

Here’s a flash from the distant past that adds a bit of humor to the drama of not being able to find your keys. Credit goes to Paul Peterson.

Come In: Organizing Your Entry

First the snow, then the ice and now the melting mess! The warmer temperatures (although I love them) have started melting the mounds of snow and uncovering layer upon layer of sand and salt. Is all this coming into your home? Are you tired of stepping over piles of boots and shoes as soon as you come in the doorway? Well, here’s some help for your entryway:

1.  First try to trap as much dirt outside as possible by using a large door mat outside your door. If you often enter your home through the garage, it’s a good idea to put a mat there too. This will trap some of the dirt. Place another large rug or mat inside your entryway door to catch more of it. Make sure it can handle wet boots or use a boot tray. Vacuuming and shaking the rug outdoors will keep that grit where it belongs.

2.  Many families remove their shoes at or near the doorway. This really cuts down on the amount of sand and grit in the rest of the home. Having a shoe rack, boot tray or basket to contain the shoes gives them a “home” and keeps them together. The easier it is to put the shoes in a spot, the more likely the children are to do it. Assign a spot for each child and watch what happens.

3.  Once inside the door, the hats and gloves (or mittens) are the first things off. In schools, children use cubbies and lockers to keep their things together. Why not use the same idea at home? Cubbies or shelving units with baskets for each family member or as Donna Smallin (Organizing Plain & Simple) suggests use a clear pocket hanging shoe bag. This makes it easy to keep things together and to quickly find them.

4.  The simpler the process the more likely it will be done. To hang a coat on a hanger in a closet is a five step process. Think about it. Open the closet door, get the hanger, put the coat on the hanger, hang it on the rod and then close the closet door. Hooks work so much easier. I like the two or three prong hooks with rounded ends. Our hook rack is on the wall by the door. It’s quick and easy and keeps the coats off the kitchen chairs. Sure, they could all be hung up in the closet, but why work harder just so it looks neater? I learned early on that my kids did not care how “nice” I wanted the house to look.  I realized it was much more important for the house to function so that it could support the people living in it.  I cannot guarantee it but from what I have seen, easy beats complicated every time.

5. Since the entryway is also the “exitway”, it is important to have the other things you need when leaving your home like your keys, bag and cell phone nearby. Creating a place for these “necessities” is often referred to as a drop zone, landing pad or launch pad area. You may already be using an area as a drop zone without even realizing it. Look around. Do you see books or DVDs waiting to be returned, or is there always a pile on the first flat surface inside the door? Then this is probably a good place to set up a real system to handle the things that are temporarily being stored there. See our blog dated August 6, 2008 titled, “3 Tips to Organize for Back to School for more information on setting up a launch pad with children. Put the systems in to place and watch the clutter disappear. Your home will then function for you and your family and that’s what it’s really all about.

Need help organizing your papers? Come to the Tackle and Tame Your Mountain of Paper Workshop on Thursday, March 19, 2009 at the Norwell Middle School Community Room (328 Main Street, Norwell, MA). Starts promptly at 7pm. Please register to attend this free workshop by emailing your contact information to

3 Tips to Organize for Back to School

School house building 

It’s back to school time. Are you ready or are you dreading the start of a new school year? If your last year was filled with stress and disorganization, then take a deep breathe. We have three home projects you can quickly do while you wait for the supply lists to come from the school. With a system for handling papers, a launch pad area and a family calendar in place you will start the year off on the right track.


1. Set up a system for handling the incoming and outgoing papers. Using a simple in/out box system for each family member helps reduce the hunt for that permission slip or the emergency contact form that needs to be sent back. Help children empty their backpacks daily and put papers that need to be signed or seen by a parent in the parent’s box. Once signed it is returned to the child’s box or put back in the backpack. If possible, set this up near the door that is used most often. Office type in/out boxes come in plastic, metal, bamboo, and fabric covered cardboard. Pick something that makes you feel good. If you’re short on flat counter space use the wall and hang a literature rack, or Pendaflex has a hanging file with 4 poly pockets.


2. The launch pad or landing pad area is probably already established. It is the place where things get “plopped” on their way in the door and also when they are waiting to go out the door.  Why not make it more efficient and create places for those things you use daily? Have coat hooks for children (at their height) and a place for their backpacks, shoes, musical instruments, library books and/or sports equipment bag. A key rack and place for your cell phone, pocketbook and/or briefcase will save you time and energy too. With everything in one place, and set out the night before, there is less chance of forgetting things and you and your children will start the day off feeling confident.


3. Central calendar

Having one main calendar for the entire family to use to post appointments, practices, and special events helps avoid overbooking and/or missed appointments. Let each family member use a different color marker on the calendar and be sure that all family members are included. If you use a planner or pda be sure to input the new information so that you are up to date. Pick one day a week to review and plan the upcoming week. Sundays work well for many busy families.

With these three systems in place you will save time and energy. Check back for backpack and study area tips. What is your biggest challenge or best tip for the school year? Please let me know.