First things first
Set up a command center near your front door. Make this the “go-zone.” Put backpacks, hats, coats, shoes, and a trashcan here. Ideally, you will have a place for each person to unload and reload their stuff. There should also be a large calendar here, preferably color coded for each family member. The calendar can be a dry erase board or a large size paper calendar.
You will want to have a filing or sorting system of some sort for each person as well. My suggestion is to have the following areas: papers to sign (field trip notices, report cards, etc.), homework, event notifications (class parties, school events, etc.), junk (aka the trashcan). Make sure that you also have a folder that stays in the backpacks. This folder with be the “return to school” folder. Everything that you need to give to the teacher should be placed into this folder. Alert the teacher, especially for younger children, that this folder should be checked at least once or twice a week for notes and permission slips.
When you come through the door after school and work, stop at your go-zone. Have each child empty their backpack and sort their papers into the above categories, plus any other categories you decide are needed. You will need to help younger children understand the system and sort appropriately.
Your job begins once the sorting is over. First, send the kids away with their homework. Next, go through the events and papers to be signed.
You will need to thoroughly read all the papers to be signed. Be sure that you understand what you are agreeing to. For any field trips, immediately put the dates onto the calendar, separate the signature form and return it to the backpack. Be sure to keep the top of the permission slips or forms, since it often has trip or event requirements. Attach this to the calendar or to another place where you will remember it.
Next, go through the events forms. This would be soccer sign-ups, t-shirt order forms, book club orders, and anything like that. Sort it into categories: keep for sure, consider, and trash. Dump anything that you know you will not be able to do or afford, as well as anything that you know for sure will not interest your child.
Anything in the consider pile should be discussed with your child. For order forms (school pictures, book club, school spirit wear), go through these with your child. Set limits on spending or amount of items that can be ordered. For sports sign-ups, you and your child should consider your current schedule and budget. Only commit to things that you really can do.
Go through the keep for sure pile as well. Make sure that everything really needs to be kept. In all honesty, very few things are absolute keepers. Somethings you might want to keep are report cards, handwritten notes from the teacher, and stellar artwork or work samples. Store these items in a place that you will remember and have easy access to.
Double check everything. Before you go to bed, or if you have time in the morning, make sure that everything is back where it belongs. All signed permission slips should be in the return to school folder, homework should also be in the homework folder (if there is one from school, if not create one). Make sure that your child takes responsibility for completing this, the actual placing of the items into the backpack.
Giving your child ownership and responsibility in the process is crucial. It might be easier if you sort and file independent of your child, just do it for her. But that isn’t teaching her responsibility.
By involving your child in the process, you are teaching her that not every item she creates needs to be saved, that things need to be done in an orderly fashion, and that her life is her own responsibility. for example, what if you loaded the backpack with signed permission slips for your child, but he never turned them in? You would be made, right? But your kiddo never connected the folder in his backpack to a task at school.
Having your child help you also creates memories, not sweet memories of Mommy (or Daddy) and Me time. But muscle memory, memory of creation, memories of what he needs to do to complete a task.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to dig through a student’s backpack to find a late permission slip or other crucial item. All because a parent did it for them, and the child didn’t know where it was or even that they needed to hand it to me.
How do you stay organized?