Advice for Staying Organized this School Year
School Days. Photo by Michael Myers Photography
By Laurie Fox
As you float through summer in a haze of sunscreen and swimming, you know in the back of your mind that the school year is looming. Soon you’ll frantically be pulling together new supplies, clothes, backpacks, shoes and lunchboxes. And, like every year, you’ll strategize for weeks to get you and your family out the door on time for the first day of school.
Unfortunately, that first-day sense of victory all too quickly evaporates as the weekly grind takes over. Well-intentioned habits go out the window just so everyone can make it through the day.
But the school year doesn’t have to be quite so stressful. Some of the most common pitfalls have solutions. Here, local educators, therapists, organizers and chefs offer their best tips for conquering typical family trip-ups:
Problem Number 1: How do I keep my family on a routine once school starts?
Kids need plenty of sleep and regular healthy meals to stay on track and be successful in school. Local organizers and child therapists say creating a dependable structure at home ensures that these key fundamentals are met.
“A predictable routine makes kids less anxious because they don’t have to run around,” says Monte Davenport, a children’s counselor and therapist at Life Solutions in Southlake. “It can actually feel very liberating because it gives kids a sense of control.”
Davenport lists the morning out-the-door, dinnertime and bedtime as difficult points in the day. He recommends that kids write out schedules for themselves to take ownership of their time. Then use the fewest number of steps possible to accomplish those tasks, he says.
He also suggests offering up small rewards when kids stick to the schedule to help them understand the benefits of time management. “If your five-year-old gets ready for bed on time, you can read three books instead of two,” says Davenport.
Dallas professional organizer Terri Fulton suggests laminating those family schedules and hanging them at kid height. Provide dry erase markers to mark progress.
She also recommends using a child's bedroom door or the primary exit door to mount large pictures or drawings of what should go out each day: backpacks, purses, lunch boxes and activity bags. “At bedtime, a quick scan of the doors will tell you what isn't complete,” says Fulton.
Fulton advocates using timers and encourages parents to let children set their own. She also suggests noting how much time it really takes to get going.
“Parents are surprised that it often takes ten minutes from touching the exit door to backing out of the garage,” she says.
Problem Number 2: How do we stay on top of all of the homework?
School counselors are all too familiar with the problems that students may encounter when their homework starts to slide.
“It is important and exceedingly helpful to make contact with your student’s counselor when homework becomes strained or difficult,” says Holly McCanlies, the director of guidance and counseling at Mansfield ISD. “Most often, developing a consistent time to complete, review or deepen the work presented at school will maximize the homework experience.”
Lisa Parker, the eighth-grade counselor at Linda Jobe Middle School in Mansfield says taking homework seriously teaches important skills. "Pretend that for the first hour after you get home that you’re on the job,” she says. “We’re preparing for the real world.”
After grabbing a snack, she recommends that students spend up to an hour per night on homework. And if your child says they don’t have any, Parker has an answer for that, too. She developed a 7-step checklist to keep students engaged in some daily schoolwork once they arrive home:
1) Organize your binder each day. Check behind all tabs and pull out any papers that need attention or a parent signature. Set up a homework tab for daily work.
2) Complete work due the next day. Get in the habit of putting your name and date on it right away.
3) If you have a graded assignment below a 70, correct it and return it to the teacher. (Many schools will raise the grade to a 70 for corrected work.)
4) Study for any upcoming tests. Just 10 minutes spent studying each day will result in a better grade.
5) Work on upcoming projects, even just getting supplies together or buying that poster board.
7) Practice math facts.
Problem Number 3: How do we carve out time for fun and relaxing when everyone is so busy?
There’s no doubt that the school year can feel long. But if students and parents don’t make time to chill out along the way, it can lead to one cranky family unit, say experts.
Fulton, owner of Top Drawer Organizing, observes that just like wise couples make time for a weekly date night so they can relax together, wise parents designate a weekly Family Night. “This goes into the standard schedule and it becomes a family tradition,” she says. “Let the kids have a say on the game or activity or keep an idea jar and take turns pulling out suggestions.”
In order to reach the goal of fun, she says, each person should have a chore on Family Night - even toddlers. “That way all have ownership in getting to the reward,” she says. Examples include feeding the animals, setting the table, taking out the trash, folding or distributing clean laundry.
“The reward is time snuggling during a movie or laughing through an ‘Apples to Apples’ game or walking the dog together,” says Fulton. “Every night, but especially on Family Night, try to eat a relaxed dinner together. It’s amazing what kids might tell you in those sometimes-precious times.”
Davenport suggests that families note time on their weekly schedule to unwind together. “We need that positive, relaxing downtime,” he says. “You need to protect that just like anything else. Letting the child take the lead is important and that’s hard for some parents. But it’s worth the effort.”
Problem Number 4: How do I stay out of the drive-through for dinner every night?
Preparing home-cooked meals quickly is a challenge for any time-pressed parent. The siren call of fast food or pizza delivery can be too strong to resist some nights. But making easy weeknight meals can be accomplished by planning ahead.
Chef Aimee Fuenfhausen runs a personal chef service in Lewisville. She says many families have good intentions about cooking regular, healthy meals but can get overwhelmed by the process. “They’ll spend hundreds of dollars on groceries and never get around to cooking because they’re too tired,” says Fuenfhausen, who makes and stores prepared meals in clients’ refrigerators. “Everyone is just so busy.”
Fuenfhausen suggests making a plan for what you’ll eat that week and stock fresh fruits and vegetables in your refrigerator. And cutting and chopping on Sunday will put you a step ahead to prepare that favorite recipe later in the week.
Simple meals can be made from bagged lettuce (she recommends specialty mixes like Asian chopped salad) and a rotisserie chicken. Fish is a healthy option and takes just minutes to cook. Liven up any meal with healthier brown rice or easy-to-cook beans. Even an omelet for dinner can be a solid choice.
So remember, getting through the school year is a marathon, not a sprint and new ideas take time to take root. But getting on the right track - and staying there - can lead to a calmer, healthier family.