If back to school for your child means back to losing homework and forgetting their soccer gear at home, you're not alone. Organizing expert Elizabeth Mayhew offers tips for tackling teenage clutter.
It's never to early to encourage your child to be organized, but middle school is the age when kids start to become more independent; it's time to start shifting the responsibility from parent to student.
A good place to start helping your child get organized is to assess the previous school year. Before you reestablish bad patterns of behavior, think about what didn't work last school year and what already isn't working this school year (i.e. has your child already been late to school, forgotten her homework, or had trouble remembering his cleats). Have a discussion with your kids about how you can work together to create systems (and maybe rewards) for getting and staying organized. Point out that the more time he wastes looking for his text book, the less time he has for “im”ing his friends, talking on the phone, or practicing his slam dunk. I recommend creating organizational systems for home and school.
Establishing a styleFirst, establish your child's organizational style. Like adults, most people fall into two categories: pilers (people who like to stack things) or filers (people who like to keep things out of sight). Allow your child to make some decisions about how he or she wants to organize their things and be sure to realize that your child might be wired differently from you; what works for him or her might not work for you.
Also, don't be too rigid. You might find that once they start school, they need to change their systems. The goal is to empower them so they will be more likely to keep things in order.
It's worth investing in the goods to help them be (and hopefully stay) organized. Pilers can contain their stacks in various colored document boxes ($7.99 each from containerstore.com). There is a huge array of kid-friendly file folders (Matrix files, $6.99 for 6 and Spiro files, $6.99 for 6, both at containerstore.com; Camo files, $12 for 6 and Limbo files, $6 for 3, both at fredflare.com) and file boxes available for them to choose from (Natural Desktop file box, $14.99 and Sky Blue Library desktop file box, $25.88, both from containerstore.com).
Desk organizationKids do better when they know what to expect; they need a routine. Your kids should get in the habit of doing their homework at the same time and place every night. If need be, this time should be “scheduled” the same way a piano lesson or soccer practice is. You want to keep work space clear of all unrelated school stuff and have a designated spot for important papers (in/out box).
Kids have so many activities these days — it's tough to keep up with what each child needs on a daily basis. Every parent can relate to kids forgetting homework or running sports equipment to the school because they left it at home. I suggest helping your child come up with a list of “equipment” or books — whatever they need to bring on each day of the week for school and after-school activities. It's something they can see and check off as they're stuffing their backpacks in the morning and as a parent, instead of having a running list of everything they need each morning, you can just remind them to look at their list. Use bulletin boards, dry erase boards, magnetic strips, (strips, $13 or magnetic “anywheres,” $7.50 each from threebythree.com or a Handy Handle pad, $10 from fredflare.com) to prominently display their lists.
Backpacks, books and bindersSiblings may choose to organize themselves using very different systems. One may organize everything in a morning and afternoon binder, while the other may use a binder for each subject.
Encourage kids to clean out their backpacks weekly (this is when they might find the important note from their teacher or a half-eaten candy bar) and make decisions about what is important to keep in their backpack, toss, or store at home. One thing to remember, what works for your kid in theory may change once they get to school, so it's important to talk to your kids about a month into the school year and help them figure out if that system is working.
LockersThe more organized the locker, the easier it is for kids to make the tight deadlines between classes and finding what they need to take home at the end of the day. Several locker organizers are available to purchase on the internet; they all create twice the amount of space for books and binders — no more leaning tower of textbooks (locker organizer/hanging shelves, $29.99 at stacksandstacks.com or mesh locker organizer, $29.95 from locker-logic.com). Magnetic bins and shelves help organize little things like post-its and pens ($6.99-19.99 at stacksandstacks.com) and no teenager's locker is complete with out a magnetic mirror vanity bin ($12.99 at stacksandstacks.com).