August 09, 2014 11:30 pm • By KATHRYN CATES MOORE / Lincoln Journal Star
The first week of school seems as fresh as a new crayon box.
But like the crayons that soon get broken and lost as the school year progresses, parents and kids can become overwhelmed with the implementation of a new schedule.
Goodbye lazy summer. Hello structure.
There are ways to make the transition a little easier for the whole family. Laura Coufal, a professional organizer from Wahoo, has three kids of her own, ages 9,13 and 15 years old, and knows what the morning rush is like when all three are heading in different directions. It is a good time to put her organizational skills to use with her own family.
Involving the children in this process gives them a sense of ownership and emphasizes their responsibilities, too.
Here are her top five tips for starting off in the right direction and staying organized the entire year.
* Plan ahead -- Make school mornings more peaceful by doing as much as possible the night before. Kids can select outfits and lay them out for the next day, Coufal said. They even could decide on a week’s worth of school clothes at a time. Lunches can be made ahead, too. Parents, with children’s help, could set the table for breakfast and put out cereal boxes the night before. Gather backpacks and other school supplies and put them by the door ready to go in the morning. Keep school supplies for each student/child in a separate bin, depending on that child's needs.
* Create a “things to remember” bin –To ensure that nothing is forgotten each day, create a system by the door -- or any spot that is the most logical -- to help your child remember the items that need to go with them each day. Some organizers call this a “launching pad.” Place a bin or basket by the designated spot. It is the perfect place to put lunches, backpacks, coats, musical instruments or gym shoes. Your child then simply can grab everything as they are walking out the door.
Lots of families use their mudroom for this, because it is often right by the back door and garage. Coufal uses her laundry room area, because of its location, and has hooks for backpacks in the garage, right outside the door.
* Establish helpful routines -- Everyone functions better once a system is in place, but routines are especially important for children, according to Coufal. Forming habits, such as doing homework at the same time every day, and having set bath and bedtimes, can help both you and your child feel more in control. Routines give a sense of security and predictability that make our lives feel less chaotic, she said. “Establish a school routine with your child as soon as possible and stick with it.”
* Go through your child’s backpack everyday -- Pick a time that works well for you and go through the paperwork in your child’s backpack daily, Coufal said. She finds doing it when her children are tackling homework works best. Take immediate action on any paperwork that needs to be signed or completed rather than putting it off until later. Remove all other paperwork from the backpack and place it in its appropriate locations. When you are done, your child’s backpack should be completely ready for the next day.
* Create a system for school papers and a place for a family calendar -- Coufal suggests establishing a “family binder” or hanging a bulletin board to house all those important papers that you may need for future reference, such as schedules, class lists and teacher contact information. If you create a binder, be sure to have a separate section for each child.
Place all other schoolwork and artwork into a small storage bin and plan to go through the bin at regular time intervals; toss everything but the ones you really want to keep, she said. This can be done weekly or monthly. At the end of each semester, transfer all keepsake items into another small storage bin which has been designated as your child’s “school keepsake bin.”
Coufal recommends buying a storage bin that is made to hold file folders, so you can separate your child’s school keepsakes according to each school year, using labeled file folders.
The family calendar, either electronic or a physical calendar, should be in a place that is central to the family and easily viewed. In addition to a day planner, Coufal uses her smartphone calendar and syncs it with the calendar on her computer. When her oldest daughter gets a smartphone this fall, Coufal hopes that calendar will be synced regularly with hers, too.
Last year, families spent an average of $634.78 on clothing and accessories, electronics and computer-related equipment, and school supplies, according to the National Retailer’s Federation.
School supplies are on sale right now and so are organizing items for college dorms and kids bedrooms.
Taking advantage of those sales is fine, but Coufal emphasizes that getting your home ready for kids going back to school doesn’t have to cost much. “You don’t need a fancy fabric-covered bin or even a plastic tub for each child,” she said. “A cardboard box will do.” Have each child decorate their own, and they will have some ownership in the spot where they will look for important items each day.
The key to making an organizational plan work is designing it to meet your own family’s needs -- factoring in their own routines, like walking or feeding the dog or early morning trumpet lessons.
After the first week or two, plan a family get-together and evaluate it. It may take several weeks to work out the bumps -- and at semester break, plan on reworking it again.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LJSkcmoore
Laura is the Owner of Clean & Clutter Free, professional organizing services.