Staying Organized to Avoid the Back to School Blues

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Staying Organized to Avoid the Back to School Blues. Professional organizer Debbie Williams gives five essential strategies to make transitioning from summer to school seamless.

How many days left of summer? When does school start? Are those the voices of bored teenagers that I hear, or the whine of frazzled parents?

Summer is coming to a close, and it's time to begin thinking of back to school basics. No, not the 3 R's, but how to organize your home for the back to school schedule.

Here are 5 tips to help you jazz up those blues:


Routine Matters

Maybe your soon-to-be kindergartener can stay up til 8:30 now that he's a big boy, or your junior high daughter is ready to stay up til 10:00. They did grow up quite a bit over the school break, and perhaps it's time to reevaluate that bedtime. But if you think your little scholar needs more sleep than he's willing to admit, hold your ground and don't be afraid to be the heavy, enforcing the old bedtime rule. Believe me, his teachers will thank you, and you'll be rewarded heavily when that first report card is issued. Kids need plenty of sleep, much more than adults, and it's our job as their parents to make sure they get it. Let's face it, what kid (other than Shirley Temple or Beaver) actually tells you when they're ready to go to bed? My goodness, they just might miss something, and we can't have that!

Dust off the cobwebs from the alarm clock and set it to the new wake-up time, or ease the kids into this new routine gradually, by increments of 30 minutes or so. If they've been sleeping til 9:00 AM, wean them from late risings slowly, setting the alarm for 8:30 the first day or two, then 8:00 the next day, eventually working up to the ungodly hour of dawn when they'll have to start their school day in the fall. (Or I'll send my little early bird to your house each day - he's been up at 5:30 since he was an infant!)

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Since your kids are now getting up before noon, make sure they don't skip breakfast. Help them get in the habit of eating a nutritious meal before leaving the house for the mall or rollerblading with their friends. Set realistic goals for you and your family by substituting cereal and milk for chips & soda, or prepared sausage/biscuits for fudge and onion dip (ok, I confess that I really DID have that for breakfast in fifth grade. Leftovers from slumber parties are too yummy to resist.)

I'm no nutritionist and enjoy pastries with the best of them, but this is may be the only meal of the day you can control what your kids eat. Make it quick, tasty, and whatever you do, don't tell them it's good for them!

If you need help enticing the younger ones, grab a copy of Vicky Lansky's Feed Me, I'm Yours. For teenagers, ask them to make breakfast once or twice a week. It's amazing what kids will tolerate and even learn to like if they have a hand in preparing it (pride is a very strong motivator).

Knowledge is Power

Unless your child is repeating a grade in the same classroom environment, he will be a little nervous starting a new grade, meeting new friends, and having a new teacher. Together, learn as much as you can about your child's new teacher, school, schedule, and curriculum. Visit the school's website, email or call the teacher (this varies with school policy), visit the school or classroom, or read helpful books to younger children. The more you and your child know about his new class, the more control he'll have over those first day jitters. Of course, this excludes the first day of junior high when she spends all morning in the bathroom fixing her hair just so, or the first day of kindergarten when YOU cry all the way to the bus stop. All bets are off - sorry Mom and Dad.

Pack it Up

Although you've heard many of these "be prepared" tips before, they are tried and true for managing time effectively. Use checklists and daily routines to prepare for the new day, such as chore charts, filing systems for papers, and preparing backpack and lunches the night before. If you have an established system that is currently working, stick with it. But as junior grows, so do his responsibilities (and allowance). High school is more expensive than was junior high, and he'll need gas money, clothing allowance, and (gasp!) date money. This is a good opportunity to hold a family meeting to discuss raising allowance and changing the chore responsibilities. I know some creative parents who have managed to delegate their entire choreload to their high school daughter, making Mom available for tennis lessons and Sister has plenty of money to spend at the mall. A win-win situation.

Delegates Rule

Mom and Dad are the senior delegates of this assembly. Delegating tasks will help him maintain the chaos usually experienced in the back-to-school season. Get the kids to do chores and work together (and then list ways this can be done, such as ironing uniforms, fixing lunches, clearing breakfast dishes, etc.). Again, call a family meeting to make it as nonconfrontational as possible. If approached creatively, using rewards or allowance bonuses, the kids are more likely to contribute to maintaining order in the house from the start of the school day.

Home Works

Being and staying organized depends heavily on creating a dedicated home for papers, books, permission slips, homework, etc. Help your kids set up their first paper management system using manila folders, hanging files, and a portable filing crate or box. If you have room for their file box, store it in a central location, such as the kitchen or family room, so you can easily supervise its progress. Once they've learned the flow of the system, adding a few creative touches of their own (such as stickers on the file box, or neon colored folders), it's time to transfer it to your child's bedroom.

Filing systems are basically the same for students as adults: Hot Files contain works in progress, Pending Files hold items requiring someone else's action, and To Be Filed files are self explanatory. Works in progress include reports, today's homework, artwork, letters to Grandma, and so forth. Pending files might be the class roster, school schedule, etc. And the last folder, To Be Filed, holds all the work that is completed, such as personal mementos and report cards for the scrapbook.

By getting your household prepared for the school season, you not only clear the clutter and streamline your family's morning routine, but teach your children the basic organizational skills that they will continue to use throughout life. Maybe one day you'll get a nice thank-you note from Junior, but of course this will be written on the back of his credit card bill.



Debbie Williams is an organizing strategist and founder of the online training community Organizedtimes.com. She is the author of Home Management 101, 2001, Champion Press.

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