Back to school clutter

kayakingkrisSeptember 6, 2006

Help! It's only been one day, and my kitchen has already been taken over by my son's homework, notes, permission slips, library books, hockey schedule, school lunch menu and there is more. It gives me a headache thinking about it all.

I'd like a strategy to help him conquer and organize this stuff with minimal help from me. He is entering fifth grade and must take some responsibility. He'll be home in a few hours with, no doubt, more of the same.

Any tips from you organized Moms??


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oh my goodness, can I just sit and have a headache with you?

I hate school!

And if the clutter that suddenly arrives at the BEGINNING of the school year weren't enough, the END of the school year will create its own set!

Remember that old maxim, "a place for everything, and everything in its place."

The part of it that people overlook, I think (I know I tend to) is "a PLACE."

Talk w/ him about what he's bringing home--spread it out on the table, and decide whether he needs to keep it, and whether he needs to share it.

--lunch menu? I wouldn't care, where I the kid; I'd just eat whatever's there, I don't need to plan ahead. I can toss it.

Hockey schedule? he needs to see it, of course, but i bet he needs to share it with you.

Permission slips? He needs to share, and return, but that's all. Ditto notes.

Homework--does he need to keep it? will he use it as a study aid? (in which case, share and store) or does he just need to show it to you and then you can toss it (in which case, share and DON'T store)

Then decide where he'll keep it. Maybe the hockey schedule gets transferred to the family calendar--he "keeps" it on the calendar; transferring it over is "putting it away." (And maybe he has a drawer or a hook he can stash it on in case there's a question about it later.)

The library books, maybe he needs a corner of his desk, or gap on the bookshelf in the living room, that is always their home.

Maybe *you* need a "place"--an "in" box for permission slips, notes from the teacher, finished homework.

And I make my kids sstore their homework, library books, etc., IN THEIR BACKPACKS. Then they don't forget stuff.

I would also make his "place" to store his backpack, etc., somewhere near the door he leaves by, if at all possible. Then he can set the extras (the posterboard; the lettuce for the school turtle) by the book bag, and won't have to think of them.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 2:40PM
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The first few weeks of school are always hectic, aren't they?! Here's what I have:

1) Shelf for each kid dedicated to homework supplies. School library books and multi-day projects also live there.

2) A binder (for me) with sections for each class and general school info. I keep teacher contact info, class syllabi, school directory, kids' schedule etc. there. This is one of the most useful things I've ever done.

3) I ask my kids every day (at least at the beginning of the year) if they brought home any "homework" for me. That would be anything I have to sign. I send that stuff back the very next day if possible - otherwise I'll lose it.

4) A spot near the front door dedicated to backpacks.

5) Lunch menus and sports/rehearsal schedules are on the fridge or in the binder. Our lunch schedules are online, so that saves a piece of clutter.

My kids are in 12th and 7th grades. The 12th grader is pretty well on top of his stuff. My 7th grade dd is NOT, and she seems worse this year than last. I think that even though you have to act like you expect them to take responsibility, you still have to be a broken record in telling them what to do with all the stuff. Eventually you find yourself not needing to repeat it quite so often. My dd is that icky age for girls (12-13). She seems quite self-absorbed and just shocked and stunned that I could possibly expect her to put way the supplies and pack the backpack before going to bed at night. It's kind of funny actually, the amount of outrage she can muster.

I feel your frustration. Every year I wonder how I'm going to live through the new schedule, but somehow we settle into the new routine.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 2:54PM
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I'm not a mom, but I do wage an endless battle against clutter...

Is there room in your entry or your kitchen for some wall-mountable paper/mail holders?

Perhaps you could mount one of those right where he walks in, and then put a coat hook right next to it for his backpack?

He could be responsible for putting papers that you need to deal with in one folder, schedules in another, and maybe his homework in another.

I've linked to an example below, but there are much more attractive versions (wood, etc.) out there. I think some have space for labels, too.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wall-mount paper storage

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 2:56PM
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The first day saw quite a bit of paperwork here, also. We just plugged through it and now it's gone.

All schedules were written on the calendar. I buy a calendar which starts in August so I can get everything written down for the entire year. If I feel like I need to keep the piece of paper, I have a file for each child and I put it there. My kids put the new permission slips, etc. on the table as the come home and I review and head it in the correct direction. We tape the menus to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door where I keep lunch fixing stuff. They can check what's coming up and as a new one comes home we replace the old one. They usually take a lunch from home.

Homework-either in the backpack or where they are working on it. Back in the backpack to school or in the homework envelope which goes back on Fridays (that's how my dd's teacher works it.) We do most homework on the kitchen table, so clearing up for supper is a great time to get it put away. We have a niche where the kids hang their coats, backpacks, etc. If it finds it's way out of the niche, I make them stop whatever they are doing and get it put away. We are two weeks into school and still needing reminders. That's OK. Library books belong in their room.

How we keep track of stuff? Each child has a daily list next to their light switch. We also keep their school schedule, like what day is PE or library, on that list. That way as they are getting ready for the next day they can look and see if they need to return a book and get it in their backpack. Our kid's schools have homework assignment books provided. If your's doesn't, then he will probably need to get in the habit of using some type of assignment book. My 12 yo would just use a piece of notebook paper at the front of his binder and jot down assingments as needed. That worked for him. It doesn't have to be fancy.

At this point, if you are just beginning the transition of the responsibility to him, I believe you have several months before it will require minimal help from you. That's why I start mine in kindergarten. My steps can be done at any age, but just remember that it doesn't happen overnight or with just being told once.

I start them on general responsibility by making sure they have an alarm clock. And they use it. Morning are simple with getting dressed, making the bed, eating and leaving the house. The night before, we make sure the backpack is ready to go and clothing is put out for the morning. The night before is very important. If someone all of the sudden needs to do homework at 9:00 pm, then the answer is no, and we let natural consequence take place. That may mean they stay in at recess the next day to do the homework. Or get a lower grade. I don't make it my job to fret about homework at the last minute. If it's our turn to bring lettuce for the turtle :) we'll put a sticky note on the door to remind us to grab in out of the fridge.

Make sure you know how the homework will be set up. This may take a call or email to the teacher. Will it all come home on Mondays and you have to pace it through the week or will it just be assigned that day? By 5th grade, they usually have longer type assignments like doing book reports. I help my kids look at how we can divide up the work and pace it through out the week. We are always checking ahead on the calendar to see how our schedules are going.

It's also good to spend a bit of time and decide how YOU feel about homework. I've been a teacher for most of the past 25 years and I've decided we will give a good effort for 30-45 min. depending upon age. No more. We will just accept the consequence of less homework completed. I would rather the kids be able to concentrate on the skill they are practicing than get freaked because they don't get all 50 of the math problems done. I've had to explain my stance to several teachers and it did cause conflict a time or two. But for the most part, they are more concerned if it's taking longer than our designated time. I also don't "help" with homework and I don't review their assignments. I passed "X" grade and that is their job. Sure, I'll help if they are stuck, but I don't go back and check their math problems or look for spelling errors unless they specifically ask me. I did have difficulty with one teacher who would constantly send home new skills which hadn't been presented at school. Sorry, did my teaching at work already. I send them to school for the initial presentation. She kept telling me that all of the other parents wanted it that way. Fine, send home alternate homework which reinforces skills, not turns me into the teacher at home. We moved from that school district, by the way. By deciding what role you want to play in the homework frees up your time and energy for other things (like making dinner ;) So far, this has worked well for us. YMMV.

Some effort this fall really will pay off. As Talley said, make sure you have a specific place for him to keep the items he needs. It may not be great home decor, but the closer to where he needs the items, the better. Backpack in the entry area, supplies in a desk or rolling cart type thing, a good calendar system, clothing clean and ready to wear, sports gear in a specific place so he can grab it quickly. If he buys lunch at school, how do you send the money. Everyday, weekly checks, etc? Put a reminder on the calendar. Evaluate if you have created a place for him to work and a resonable amount of time. If he has acitivities every single day, it may be hard to keep up.


Here is a link that might be useful: student control journal by Flylady

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 3:54PM
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My 6th grade SS doesn't live with us, but since we know he has organizational issues, we have him bring his backpack with him on the weekends. Only 3 weeks into school and his backpack had a rat's nest of papers crumpled at the bottom - including some missing homework assignments and things for his mom to sign.

We emptied out the backpack last weekend and sorted through everything. Put everything in the binder where it belonged. Bought some folders for the binders so he has a place to stuff papers that don't have holes punched in them. Bought a folder (the kind that has a flap and a piece of elastic to close it) for papers that he should take home to his mom.

Will he use the folders and put stuff away in his binders??? Sigh... maybe. But probably not all the time. So we'll clean out the backpack again this Friday... And the Friday after that... and the one after that.... Is it a hopeless cause? Maybe so, but at least he now has some tools to organize with (binders and folders) and hopefully he'll learn some organizational skills. After all, the more he stays organized during the week, the less time he has to spend on it over the weekend.

Oh, for your original question: homework lives in the class folder/binder for at least the whole grading period. Sports schedules live on the fridge. Permission slips live in the backpack (hopefully in their designated folder!). School library books live in the backpack. Public library books live on the coffee table. The school lunch menu lives only online :)

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 4:03PM
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kaya, yesterday my counter looks just like yours! Even down to the hockey schedule! Plus a gymnastics schedule and various karate papers. Today I made a notebook and set a calendar in the front and a section for each child in school (that's 3, the youngest doesn't go yet). There is also a section of papers that apply to all of them, lunch calendar, school newsletter, the school district parent info book) so I only have 1 copy, not 3 copies cluttering things up. I put all the things I need to keep in the right section. I put birthday cards I'm going to mail this month in the front.

I have a couple volunteer duties in different school or activity related organizations. I tried to carry around a master notebook, but that got cumbersome. Now I have a simple 3-prong pocket folder in a different color for each activity. When there is a meeting, or I'm working on it, making phone calls, emails, etc, I just grab the folder I need. When my time is served, and don't the info anymore, I'll just toss the folder. That could be a way to keep track of school/activity papers in your pile, too.

Then I did Tally Sue's old frig trick. I put the papers I refer to (teachers' weekly newsletter, papers about school projects due in a week or two, school calendar) in page protectors and hung on a magnetic hook. Woo Hoo! This weekend when I make my grocery/meal plan for the next two weeks, I'll put that up that way, too.

I hope this sticks with me, I struggle with maintenance of these organizational things.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2006 at 10:38PM
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I used to hate back to school,even tho I only have 2 kids. The school insisted on an emergency contact form for each child, listing parents home, work and cell phones and names and phone numbers of relatives/neighbors/friends allowed to take the kids out of school. What a pain having to fill out 2 forms, especially because the information was identical for both.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 11:34AM
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Jannie, I hate that form, too. My kids religious school required three forms for each kid this year. ALL of them had the parents' names/phones/emails. I was SO glad I only had two kids.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 11:45AM
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there's my big gripe--I'm in publishing, so I organize written information in a sensible way for a living--and those forms are always STUPID!

I think one day I'll call the school office and say, "I can't help in other ways, but can I PLEASE redesign your form?"

Under "emergency contact," do I repeat *my* work number from earlier, or do they mean, "if you can't get mom, call this person"?

Steph, I had to take down my hook so we can show the apartment to potential buyers (we keep it on the front of the wall unit/china cabinet), and it's making me CRAZY--I tried taking it down and putting it back up, but people woudl forget, etc. So I just emptied a drawer and turned it into the "holding stuff that was ont he hook" space, but it's not working that well there, either!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 1:04PM
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Thanks for all the great tips. It is just overwhelming! I only have one kid, I'd be a basketcase if there were multiples.

I like the idea of the master binder for important papers, newsletter, schedules, etc. I think I'll give that a try.

His backpack lives on a bar stool by the door. Fine if no one needs to be sitting there. How easy to put a hook on the wall instead. Sometimes the easy fixes are not as obvious as they should be. I have a nice stainless steel hook that would be perfect for his backpack.

I also like the idea of keeping the lunch menu inside a cabinet door. He is only allowed school lunch twice a week. Their offerings are far from desirable, high in fat, preservatives and sugar. That way he can pick what days he wants to eat at school. Creeps me out the way he likes that stuff they call food.

I like the idea that the library books live in the backpack. However they rarely have time at school to read their library books, so should he be toting it back and forth each day?? Not sure. I wouldn't care if it lived in his locker.

The stuff that comes home just makes me crazy!

Thanks gals.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 4:48PM
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I got sneaky with those emergency forms. Our district hasn't changed the format in a decade and we have several to fill out at registration. There aren't enough places to sit, so I wandered right back out to the car with my kid's packets, headed home and made several copies of the blank forms. After I filled out all of the repeating information, I made copies again and then put in the identifying kid information. Now, every fall, I can just change the information as needed and take my completed copy back with me. The blank one I am given goes back home with me and put in my school papers stash.

What I find irritating is that all of this contact stuff remains in the office and doesn't go into a database for the teachers to access. Unless they want to pull every single cum folder and write it down, the first day of school finds us filling out work #s and email addresses again for the teacher's file.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 4:48PM
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Woohoo, Talley_Sue! You would be the hero of every mom there.

I think "emergency contact" means - person we can call when they are sick so we can shove them off on someone else. I think I'll just write "parents" on the current form and see if they notice.

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 5:06PM
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I had a hand cramp from filling out those forms! I write so many phone numbers so many times that I transpose numbers before I'm done. Next school year, I'll fill out 4 sets. I definitely have to fill in one with all the standard info, make copies, then fill in the kids names, and keep them for the year after. That's a good idea, Gloria!

But what I really want is the ability to fill it out online, or in a writable pdf or something, and print it out, instead of handwriting it. Seems like it would save everyone a lot of trouble.

I also get multiple copies of every single pta flyer and announcement that comes out. What a waste of paper! And I know I'm not the only one. But I guess it would be really time consuming to send them home with only 1 sibling in a family. And they don't know who is the "reliable" sibling. I mean, sometimes I only see the copy that comes home w/DD, the one from DS I find shoved in his desk during the P/T conference!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 7:55PM
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Stephanie, my kid's school actually sends home the newletter with the youngest sibling. One year, we didn't get one for several months. We had gotten bumped off of the list somehow. Now, the administration has decided that only school district papers can go home with the students. No more flyers for Scouts, sports activities, etc. It's a real pain, because they can only leave them on a rack by the door, but my kids walk to school so I rarely think to look.

kayakingkris, maybe trying having a wall mounted magazine rack above the backpack hook. He could keep his library books there, as well as any forms which need to go back and forth. I just know the closer everything is located together, the better chance it acutally gets done.


    Bookmark   September 7, 2006 at 10:54PM
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