Conquer Back-to-School Chaos

By Arricca Elin SanSone

Admit it: You're (secretly) glad they're back in school. But crazy mornings with forgotten textbooks, missing permission slips and frustrated kids aren't anyone's idea of a good time. And once they hit the door at 3 p.m, it's a whirlwind of papers, lunchboxes and gym clothes all over again. Here's how to wrangle the inevitable back-to-school madness so both you and your kids have a less stressed, more enjoyable school year. Photo by Vstock/Getty Images.

Challenge: Getting everything together in the morning.
"Establish a drop zone," says Noelle Micek, a professional organizer and owner of An Organized Nest in San Francisco. "This is a designated area where backpacks get unloaded immediately when the kids come home." Ideally, it's near their study spaces, but some parents prefer a central area near the door. Make sure everything gets taken out: Textbooks go on their desks, loose papers get sorted, trash gets tossed, and so on. Before bed, repack for the next day. Ditto for gym bags-sweaty clothes out, fresh clothes in.
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Challenge: Misplaced permission slips.

"Designate a family 'inbox' for school papers only, and keep it where you'll remember to sort through it every day," says Micek. As kids unload their backpacks, they'll place papers you need to see-permission slips, sign-up sheets-in the box. "Avoid letting them hand papers to you," says Micek. "You want them to learn the habit of putting items in there even if you're not around when they get home." Act on everything as soon as you go through your inbox, immediately returning signed items to your child's backpack.


Challenge: Keeping everyone's schedule straight.

"Create a master calendar," says Stacey Platt, author of What's a Disorganized Person to Do? and owner of DwellWell in New York City. "Mount a calendar in the kitchen or entryway where everyone can see it." Include field trips, sports schedules and doctor's appointments as well as reminders to bake cupcakes or buy a present for an upcoming birthday party. Use a different color pen for each family member and stickers for recurring activities such as soccer practice. Or use your PDA, which can be updated and its info shared with your spouse.


Challenge: Forgotten homework or lunchbox.

"Post a checklist by your child's desk," says Micek. It can be as simple ("take books") or detailed ("take math book, binder, pencils, protractor") as necessary, depending on your child's personality. Include a class schedule to jog his memory-for example, he needs his gym bag on Wednesdays. Place a second checklist by the door your child exits through, and have him post another in his locker. If he balks, explain that even highly intelligent people use checklists, such as fighter pilots before takeoff.
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Challenge: Figuring out what to wear in the morning.

"Start a 'night before' policy for tomorrow's outfit," says Platt. That means the whole outfit, from socks to pants to hair bands, is set out in advance, ensuring no one's yelling at 6 a.m. that he doesn't have any clean underwear. "With little kids, you can even plan by the week. Use a hanging sweater organizer and label the compartments for each day," recommends Platt. If your child hasn't been using the hamper, place it where he or she undresses, which may be the bathroom instead of the bedroom.


Challenge: Packing lunches during the morning madness.

"Place sandwich ingredients in one refrigerator drawer so everything can be pulled out at once," says Platt. Keep fruit and snacks in another compartment. Have kids (or yourself, if your child is too little) pack lunches the night before, if possible. And keep a petty cash container in the kitchen so it's easy to grab milk and lunch money at the last minute. If your child's school uses lunch debit cards, schedule the first Tuesday of each month on your master calendar (since some Mondays are holidays) for checking the balance.

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Challenge: Missing school supplies during homework time.

"Give each child a dedicated space stocked with supplies" says Dawn Young, principal of East Cheatham Elementary School in Ashland City, Tennessee. "Having his or her own spot gives a sense of ownership, which fosters good study habits." If you don't have room or money for a desk, decorate an old TV tray, a small table or a lap desk. Using the kitchen table or counter is OK, too, as long as supplies are kept nearby in a covered box so clutter stays hidden.


Challenge: Stacks of old homework and artwork piling up every year.

"Use an accordion file or binder for each child," says Micek. "At the end of each quarter or year, purge the file, keeping only the best work." Once you decide what you're keeping for good, move it to permanent storage in a plastic box in the basement or spare closet. For 3D projects, take a photo of your child with it and let go of the actual piece. "The idea is to remove the clutter but keep the memory," says Micek.


Original article appeared on WomansDay.com.

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