Aby Garvey is already thinking about back to school supplies. She has to. School starts early -- before Labor Day -- in Edwardsville, Illinois, and her son, Collin, will be entering fifth grade and her daughter, Kailea, will be in third grade. Luckily for her kids, Garvey is a professional organizer. Like many professional organizers around the country, she applies the tools of her trade to making her children's school year run as smoothly as possible. Here are some tips to get your family's school year get off to a good start, courtesy of Garvey and other organizer moms from around the country:
Create a homework station-and stock it up! Garvey's kids, ages 10 and 8, do their homework at the kitchen table. So the kitchen is where she stores the extra "age-appropriate school and craft supplies like pens, pencils, erasers, paper, extra notebooks, markers, glue stick, and other basics" she buys at the start of the school year when those items are on sale. "These supplies, along with a ruler, calculator, dictionary, and pencil sharpener are stored in a cabinet in our kitchen eating area, turning this space and our kitchen table into homework central," says Garvey (http://creativeorganizing.typepad.com). Since the cabinet is next to the kitchen table, "dinnertime clean up is a breeze for my kids." Not enough space in your kitchen? You can also store homework essentials in a small plastic caddy with a handle, allowing children to work anywhere in the house.
Create a command station. Pick a central location – a place near your entranceway or where you put your mail usually works best, says Brooklyn organizer Amanda Wiss (http://www.urbanclarity.net), who expects plenty of paper when her 3-year-old enters pre-school this fall. "You’ll need both a flat surface to sort papers and space for a large master calendar," she says. "Centralize the information so that everyone’s activities for the month can be seen at a glance." She suggests giving each person a dedicated inbox, so they can easily find what's theirs. Create homes for the important inflow - like "bills to pay" and invitations, which get added to the master calendar. Have a central binder with current information about school and after school activities. And don't forget the trash can--it could be the most important element of your command station!
Focus on Your Entrance. Dirty shoes, clothes, backpacks and duffel bags tend to gather in the entrance or mudroom, so Costa Mesa, California organizer Gail Gray (http://www.afreshstarttheblog.blogspot.com/) suggests assigning a hook to each child to hold their bags and jacket. "Make a routine to have the kids unpack their backpacks and duffel bags as soon as they get home," says Gray, who has two boys, ages 10 and 6. "Homework goes to the homework station (Tip #1), important papers go to the in/out box at the command station (Tip #2), lunchboxes go to the kitchen and dirty clothes go to the hamper."
Organize your routine with fun daily checklists. Amanda Wiss uses checklists to teach her 3-year-old how to get ready for pre-school. For the morning, she includes: brush teeth, take vitamin, eat breakfast, get dressed, put on shoes. "Charlotte is exceedingly proud of herself for doing all the things on 'her list,'" she says. Older kids can have more advanced checklists that include completing homework, practicing a musical instrument, setting the table, putting out an outfit for the next day–anything you’d like your child to consistently complete. Update lists to incorporate new activities and goals.
Make lunch easy. Aby Garvey has turned the daily task of making lunch into a teachable moment. "I store all of our lunch-making supplies—napkins, spoons, thermoses, sandwich bags, peanut butter, bread, chips and other small snacks—in a bin in my pantry, with the lunch-boxes stored close by," she says. "When it’s time to make lunch, the whole lunch-making bin gets pulled out of the pantry and sits on my counter, giving me quick and easy access to everything I need to make lunch." Since her kids know where all the supplies are, they can get in on lunch-making too. No pantry? Create a lunch making zone by storing everything you need to make lunch in a kitchen cupboard or drawer.
Clean out bedrooms. Go through your children's bedrooms and throw out damaged clothes and toys. Clothes that don't fit can be saved for younger children or donated (do same with toys that aren't used anymore). "I always include school age kids in de-cluttering and organizing their rooms. It gives them ownership," says Amy Tokos (http://askanorganizer.wordpress.com), an organizer in Omaha, Nebraska. "After years of doing this with my kids, my older girls actually ask me to help them with their room. You want to make sure that they have some of the basics like a lamp, a place to keep nightly reading, and a supply of pencils and pens."
Give older children more responsibility. Prairieville, Louisiana organizer Angela Whittaker recommends taking your children shopping for school supplies and talking about how they'll use the supplies as you pick out items together. "My eighth grader wanted notebooks and folders with various automobiles on them this year," she says. "I agreed to buy them only after he decided which car would represent each subject." Having him participate in the process makes it easier for him to remember what papers to put where when he's in class, she says. "Having the 'organizing' be their idea and solution is the buy-in they need to own it when it's time to implement."
Don’t forget the car and garage. The car and garage seem like strange places to organize for school, but with two boys who have busy after school schedules, Gail Gray needs to be able to find practice gear, backpacks and snacks easily. You'll probably need extra school supplies (if kids are doing homework between events) and a trash bag for all those snack wrappers and soda cans tossed as they run to practice. "The faster you get them out the door or out of the car, the more time they have to work on homework, chores and actually playing!" And don't forget reading material for you, if you're waiting for practice or rehearsal to end.
Remember to set a good example. If you run around like crazy in the mornings looking for your keys or that missing pair of shoes, Gray says that's what you're telling your kids is appropriate. You're the boss of your house, so set a good example and use these tools to get your life organized. Work on your clutter as well as theirs. Talk to them about how disorganization affects you (whether it is because of your own or someone else's disorganization). And remind yourself that it's easier to make changes now, before the school year starts.