After a carefree summer of sleeping in, leisurely breakfasts and unstructured days, the return to school can be jarring for the entire family. From packed lunches to school papers to sports practices, the chaos begins with the first day of school.
Rather than getting stuck in old and frazzled habits, start this school year with a concerted effort to be organized as a family. Here are some tips from the experts on how to make this school year go off without a hitch.
Nighttime is key
According to Ronni Eisenberg, author of Organize Yourself! and Organize Your Life!, having a nighttime routine is essential to a successful school morning.
“Imagine a battle over what to wear, figuring out lunches, locating homework and getting yourself dressed,” Eisenberg says. “The day hasn’t even started and you want to go back to sleep!”
Try this instead: “The night before is key to getting a routine and system in place. Decide your routine, like packing lunches, laying out clothes, leaving backpacks by the door, and stick to it,” Eisenberg says.
Create personal checklists
JaNae Messick, organization coach at Power of Moms, recommends making a list or chart so each person is responsible for his or her own items.
“Each person having their own morning checklist will eliminate the need for mom or dad to be the one remembering and listing every small task their children need to do day after day. Just ask simply if they finished their list,” Messick says.
“Involve your children in the conversation about the goals and demands of each morning,” she says. “They may need to recognize that it’s important for them to not feel rushed or to not be late. Value, appreciate and incorporate their ideas because you want to be on the same team.”
Use a master calendar
According to Barbara Reich, author of Secrets of an Organized Mom, it is essential to have one master calendar for the entire family.
“Whether you affix a calendar to a wall, post it on the refrigerator or keep track of your family’s activities electronically, what’s important is that every activity for each family member is recorded in one place,” Reich says. “This guarantees that you’ll avoid the stress of double-booked activities, impossible logistics and overscheduling.”
Earlier wake-up call
Eisenberg says that the most organized moms she knows all wake up and start their day before their children.
“To avoid the scramble in the morning, I recommend that if kids wake up at 7 a.m., that the mom or dad should wake up at 6:30 a.m. and get themselves ready for the day before the kids are awake,” Eisenberg says.
“If you … are ready before the kids are awake, the mornings can be a breeze and easier to handle,” Eisenberg says.
Create an unload zone
Messick recommends establishing a load and unload zone in your home.
“Having a place for school bags, shoes and coats to go will simplify your efforts to get out the door,” Messick says. “Train everyone to make it a habit to put their things in the right place as they come in the door.”
“Also establish a location and process for all school papers to go as children unload their backpacks,” Messick adds. “If something is going to take you two minutes or less, process it now. Fill out the form, enter a date in your calendar, admire their work, and throw things away.
Having a daily routine for handling school paper will reduce the stress you feel from building piles and missing opportunities.”
Start the year off with a routine adjustment by creating a designated study space in your home, Reich suggests.
“This is nothing more complicated than having a clear surface, good lighting and essential supplies,” Reich says. “Use stackable paper trays that can be filled with lined paper, white paper and colored paper. Then, use small plastic drawers for highlighters, binder clips, post-it notes, tape and glue. Pencils and pens can be kept in a decorative mug or cup on the desk. Where your child does his homework is less important than having supplies that are accessible.”
Don’t be afraid to say NO
All the experts agree that it’s definitely OK to say no to activities or volunteer requests and parents should try to proactively schedule some downtime for the family.
“Life can be chaotic if kids are overscheduled or have too many activities that leave parents driving in all directions,” says Eisenberg. “Try to limit the amount of after-school activities and know that there is nothing wrong with quiet and downtime with no scheduled activity.”
Messick recommends being deliberate about your commitments, extracurricular activities and other demands. “You may want to sketch out a typical week in time blocks as you consider various options for this school year,” she says. “It is enlightening to see your time mapped out. Without enough margins and blank space, you can be pretty sure that you will feel stressed and frazzled no matter how organized you are.”
Figure out how much downtime you and your kids need to feel recharged, she recommends. “Schedule and prioritize that space in your life so you can give your best to the things that are most important to you.”