19 August, 2014

62 BACK TO SCHOOL ORGANIZING TIPS

 
62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

So my little sister asked me for some Back To School Organizing Tips, and here they are - all sixty two of them!


Missy is due to start kindergarten in January, so writing this post has been great for me, as it's made me think about how to organize it all smoothly.

Many of these tips are common sense, many are mine that I already use/will be using, and some I actually picked up from said sister :)

So here we go!

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

GENERAL TIPS:

1. If you can, get your hands on a copy of each child's syllabus for the year. Knowing what they're supposed to learn, and the level they 'should' be at will help you keep an eye on how they're going, and you can help them if they're struggling before it becomes a major issue.

2. Most families are either morning or evening people - so play to your strengths! If mornings just aren't your thing, try to do as much as you can the night before - layout clothes, have a shower, bath the kids, organize breakfast and lunches. If you're not a night owl, organize as much as you can while the kids are still at school - including dinner.

3. Try to get your kids into a strong morning and after school routine - the structure will help both of you immensely. Routines will vary from family to family, but mine (when Missy goes to school) will go something like this:

BEFORE SCHOOL:
Breakfast
Get Dressed
Brush Teeth
Do Hair
Pack Bag
Sunscreen
Shoes On

AFTER SCHOOL:
Shoes Off
Unpack Bag
Change Clothes
Snack
Homework/Reading
Pack Bag for Tomorrow
Clean Up
 
4. I'd never heard of a 'mudroom' until recently, and it's a brilliant launch/landing pad for the whole family. (So jealous of you guys in the US - mudrooms, basements and attics... oh my!) If I had one, top priority for me would be hooks for backpacks, some kind of neat storage for shoes, a cork/notice board and storage for sports gear. Oh, and a bowl for keys, change, receipts and all the other stuff that comes out of pockets when Husbands walk in the door (...golf tees, phones, beer bottle tops, pens, bank cards, screws, cash...)

5. If you don't have a mudroom, work with what you have. You still need places for everything I just listed, they just won't be together - instead, focus on everything having it's dedicated space, and being put back there everyday. So, backpacks on hooks in the laundry, shoes on a rack by the door, sports gear in the hall cupboard, and keys (and Husband's crap) in the bowl on the buffet.

6. Choose a system to handle your calendar/schedule and all the school paperwork that comes home, and stick with it. Whether it's a corkboard on the wall, your Home Organizing Binder, a diary or just your phone, choose one place to keep everything and stick to it.

7.  Speaking of your phone, it's a great idea to take a photo of daily schedules and other important timetables so you've always got a copy with you.

8. Also, if you send forms that need returning back with your child the very next day, they won't have a chance to get lost!

9. And always put forms and paperwork in the same spot - like the front pocket of their bag - so the kids can find them easily to give to their teacher.

10. Limit how many after school activities your kids can do - just to stop them, and you, getting overwhelmed.

11. And for those activities, keep specific bags for specific sports - i.e. one bag for ballet, one for swimming, one for football etc. Empty them to wash and clean, then re-pack them ready for next week and store with the kid's school bags. This way they're ready to just grab and go, and there won't be any forgotten goggles or socks.

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

BREAKFAST:

12. When possible, make breakfast ahead so you can just heat and eat. I've got a couple of awesome recipes coming next week, so watch out for those!

13. Or, keep breakfast super simple and quick with the classic toast, cereal or both.

14. If you have lots of kids, it might pay to stagger bathroom and breakfast time - so as two sit down to eat, the eldest gets dressed and ready, and when she's finished, she sits down to eat and it's the middle child's turn to get ready.

15. While kids are eating breakfast is the perfect time to pack lunches, and talk to them about notes or permission slips that may have been forgotten.

16. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, so make sure there's enough time in your routine for them to sit down and make a proper meal of it.

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

BEFORE SCHOOL:

17. Aim to leave 10m before you need to, as there will always be hiccups in the routine!

18. For big families with lots of toothbrushes, name each one with a sharpie so they don't get confused, and they can even be kept neatly in a cutlery tray, if you have the space!

19. Set out tomorrow's uniform or clothes the night before so kids can get dressed without having to think about it.

20. Or, if you're super organized with your laundry, you could put a week's worth of clothes on hangers ready for them to grab each morning.

21. If you have little girls, keep a basket with hair ties, clips, a brush, hairspray, detangler etc, so everything is on hand.

22. In the car on the way to school is a great time to remind kids about any forms and permission slips they need to give to their teacher.

23. Always keep some cash, envelopes and a pen in the car - for the things they only remember to tell you about on the way to school...

24. Always keep sunscreen in the car for the days they forget to put it on, or to save time before you leave.

25. Always keep a packet of baby wipes in the car, for the grubby hands and faces you only notice once you've left the house...

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

LUNCHES:

26. Only buy lunchboxes and drink bottles you can wash in the dishwasher - you'll get over hand washing the fussy ones with straws and fancy shapes very quickly.

27. I know they say the little zip lock bags are reusable... yes you can wash them... yes apparently you can put them through the dishwasher... but are you seriously going to do that every day...? Just buy a set of snack sized plastic containers which will be much easier to reuse.

28. If your school has 'little lunch' (recess) and 'big lunch', it might be easier for your child if you pack two smaller lunchboxes.

29. Keep lunchbox items simple! If you love making your kids' sandwiches into origami and stamping out carrot flowers, then go for it - and I'm in awe of the mums that do. But for the rest of us, it's the simple things that kids will love and actually eat. A ham and cheese sandwich. A bunch of grapes. A few choc chip biscuits. A cupcake. A mandarin. Ice cold water. Juice. Seriously, less is often more!

30. And most of the foods I just mentioned are finger foods, which are easiest for kids to manage too. Try not to choose ones that will leave them with sticky fingers, but include a serviette or napkin in their lunchbox each day, just in case.

31. Many schools in Australia are also going 'litter free' now too, so simple finger foods are definitely better.

32. Also, be aware that some classes will be egg/dairy/gluten free due to other kids being intolerant - it's good to check with the school about this.   

33. Think about where your child's backpack will be stored all day at school - if they're all hanging on pegs outside a classroom in full sun, then a chicken sandwich for lunch may not be a great idea.

34. Frozen primas (juiceboxes) were a favorite school lunch item when I was growing up, and they also help keep everything else in the lunchbox nice and cool.

35. School snacks like muesli bars and rice bubble bars are all expensive to buy, but simple to make, so get into the habit of making a batch each week and storing them in the fridge.

36. Similarly, with the big packs of individually wrapped biscuits. It's much cheaper to buy a normal packet and separate them into single serves yourself at the start of the week - you'll have the same thing, for less money. Same goes for popcorn, chips, crackers, yoghurts and canned fruit snacks.

37. Packing school lunches can seem like Mission Impossible, but the best way is to just think about what lunchbox foods are appropriate, that your kids will eat and are in your budget, then make a list of easy options they can choose from each week before you do the grocery shop.

38. A little note in your child's lunchbox can make their day, you can download my Lunchbox Notes for free HERE.

39. And lastly, keep 'lunchbox' snacks separate from 'after school snacks' in your pantry, otherwise they'll disappear!


62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

AFTER SCHOOL:

40. Have a dedicated space to display kids artwork - a corkboard, pretty pegs on a string or some lovely frames - this way you won't have papers flying about every time you open the fridge.

41. Have a shelf or basket to hold all their other artwork, or buy each child an art folio each year - it'll keep all those projects contained.

42. Or, if you can't handle piles of artworks building up, cull them as regularly as you can. And if you snap a photo of each one on your phone first, you'll always have them!

43. Get your kids to unpack their backpacks as they walk in the door, then if they change out of their uniforms and have a snack, they'll feel fresh and ready to do their homework.

44. And maybe lay their after school clothes out for them - it'll save them some time and they won't have to think about what to wear.

45. Organize after school snacks in a basket in the pantry, or dedicate a shelf in the fridge to them, so kids can help themselves.

46. Or make up a big fruit, vegetable and dip platter so they can pick at it while they do their homework.

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

HOMEWORK:

47. Make a dedicated spot for kids to do their homework - a desk in their room, nook in the study or just a little bench under a window will make it a special space for them, and they'll get more work done. And don't forget to make it look pretty and appealing to them!

48. If you can't give them their own special space, there's nothing like the kitchen table or bench! In which case, make them a little portable homework organizer/caddy/tray which contains everything they need to do their homework - it will still make it special for them, and you'll save on space! Check out my post tomorrow to see the one I made for Missy - and some tips on how to make one!

49. De-clutter the kids work space and homework caddy regularly to keep them fresh and organized.

50. It's a good idea to keep a few often used art supplies so you don't panic when finding out there's a project due... tomorrow!

51. Decide how you will do the evening reading with each child. Try to have a spot for it where it won't distract the other kids doing their homework, and try to give them your full attention. This can be great, daily one on one time with your children.

52. Mums - do your homework too! This is the time to go through all the notes from school and deal with them! It's also a great time to organize your schedule, and what meals, lunches, errands and jobs need doing the following day.

62 Back to School Organizing Tips - The Back To School Series by Eliza Ellis

AND A JUST A COUPLE MORE...

53. Laminate the kids bus or train tickets if you can.

54. A pretty luggage tag or large key chain will help your child find their bag amongst a crowd of identical backpacks.

55. Nits... just buy a bottle of the stuff before school starts so it's in the cupboard... just in case...

56. For big families, or those with girls and boys of similar ages and similar sizes, try color coding each child. Give each child a color, and buy lunchboxes, drink bottles, pencil cases, folders, school bags etc. in that color only. This way you will always know who's stuff is who's - and it makes it easier for them too.

57. Also with the color coding - my sister has two girls a year apart, and their clothes are always getting muddled up. So when she buys new clothes, she gets a sharpie and puts colored dots on the tags so she (and the girls!) can tell them apart. She also does this under the toes of white school socks.

58. For some classes, like music or library, kids will take their shoes off at the door, and at the start of the year all those new, black shoes look much the same - which makes it hard for kids to find theirs.  If you can, write their names inside, or use a little dab of colored nail polish so they can easily find theirs.

59. Dress up costume days happen regularly - you know they're coming lol! So maybe brainstorm a few do-able ideas with your kids, just so you're prepared in advance.

60. Have a few small boy and girl birthday gifts in the cupboard for your children's friend's birthdays. Stickers, fancy pencils, coloring books, bouncy balls etc. are all great inexpensive gifts. Don't forget to have a roll of 'boy' and 'girl' wrapping paper on hand too.

61. Try to have a few dinners in the freezer for when things get really busy - lasagne, spaghetti bolognaise sauce, shepherds pie and chicken pie are my go-to favorites.

62. Put a little bowl in the pantry to collect whatever collect-a-docket money-for-schools promotion the local supermarkets are doing this year. The pantry is best, because that's where you put the groceries away, and that's where you pack the kid's lunches - so you'll remember to send them to school.


So there we go! Sixty two Back to School Organizing Tips! I hope you found a few tips to make your days a bit less stressful :)

Tomorrow I have an awesome little Homework & Art Supplies Organizer to show you, so make sure you pop back for that!

All the best,

Eliza.

QUICK TIP #17

Quick Tip #17 from The Quick Tips Series by Eliza Ellis
 Check out more of my Quick Tips Series here.

17 August, 2014

FREE PRINTABLE SCHOOL ORGANIZERS - THE BACK TO SCHOOL SERIES

Back to School Free Printables

As half the globe finish their summer vacation and get ready for a new school year, kids in Australia are smack bang in the middle of term three, and counting down the days to their big summer holidays.

But no matter what the time of year, everyone loves a few new organizing ideas, especially for the kids, so this week I'll be doing a lovely big School Organizing series :)

Now, Missy isn't in school yet, but my sister has been nagging requesting that I do some school focused printables and organizing ideas for a while now. At the moment, she's packing six (SIX!!) off every morning, so she has to be super organized!

And to kick off the series, I've got some awesome free printables! Some of these are brand new, and others are ones I've already posted about, but you can find them all under 'Back To School' on the Printables page.

Back to School Free Printable School Uniform Planner

1. SCHOOL UNIFORM PLANNER:

School uniforms can be a hassle to organize - and the more kids you have, the more interesting it gets! This is a pretty basic uniform list and should cover the needs for most public, catholic and private day schools. (Some of the big old fashioned schools, like the boarding school I went to, have a 'required items' list three pages long - but if your kids are going to one of those, they will probably give you a very comprehensive guide.)

The 'Need' column is how many of something you actually need to get through the week - e.g. 5 pairs of socks or 3 shirts. The 'Have' column is how many you have already, and this is especially handy when sorting out hand-me-down uniforms. And the 'To Buy' column is obviously what you need to purchase.


Back to School Free Printable Kid's Wardrobe Planner

2. KID'S WARDROBE PLANNER:

This is for when your kids don't need to wear a uniform - like some high schools, kindergartens, etc. - even for organizing their clothes generally, this is a really handy printable to have.

I always find shoes to be the hardest thing to buy for Missy - so each season when I organize her wardrobe, that's where I start. I just write 'Silver Ballet Flats' or whatever in each box (or if I'm feeling artistic, I might draw a picture...) Then I work out how many of everything else I need to buy, and go shopping.

The color palette area down the bottom helps when I'm shopping to keep everything matching and looking cohesive - basically so that I (or the husband) can pull anything out of  her wardrobe, and know it will match.

I'll be doing a big post on this soon, when I get her Spring/Summer wardrobe organized, so watch out for that!


Back to School Free Printable Kid's Homework Planner

3. HOMEWORK SCHEDULE:

A quick and handy homework schedule so the kids can keep track of what they need to do each day - and there's room down the side where they can earn stars toward something :) Kid's handwriting varies enormously, so I haven't put any lines in each box - just so they can all write in there as neatly as they can and it looks lovely :) I've also listed 'Reading Done!' specifically, because this is a daily homework task at most schools.

If your kid's are a little older, and would like a more grown up style planner, check out my Home Organizer: Calendars & Planners.


Back to School Free Printable Kid's Chore Charts

4. KID'S CHORE CHART:

This is a printable I posted about a few months ago, but back to school is the perfect time to organize kid's chores too! If you would like to read more about these, check out Home Organizer: Kid's Chore Charts.


Back to School Free Printable School Lunch Planner

5. SCHOOL LUNCH PLANNER:

This printable was also put up a few months ago, and it's so handy for organizing packed lunches - especially with fussy kids or egg/soy free classes due to other children being intolerant. 

If you are doing six packed lunches each day, like my sister, I would put this printable in a frame and write on the glass with a whiteboard pen - that way you can use it over and over again.

To read more about this printable, check out my post Home Organizer: Meal Planners


Back to School Free Printable Lunchbox Notes

6. LUNCHBOX NOTES:

These are just some little notes you can print off, cut out, and keep in a drawer in the kitchen to tuck into each lunchbox :) Because sometimes a quick note can make a kid's day (even the big ones!).


Back to School Free Printable Academic Calendar 2014-2015

7. ACADEMIC YEAR AT A GLANCE CALENDAR:

This is specifically for everyone in the Northern Hemisphere, and it shows your School Year at a glance on one page. A big thanks to Shyla for suggesting it :)


So there we go! You'll find all the free printables I've featured here via the link below - just scroll down to choose your color, and look for the heading 'Back to School'.

TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BACK TO SCHOOL PRINTABLES - CLICK HERE

I hope this helps you and your kids get a bit more organized for school!

Tomorrow in my Back To School Series, I've got a heap of Organizing Tips and Ideas for making things even more hassle free :)


So all the best for now,

Eliza.


15 August, 2014

QUICK TIP #16

Quick Tip #16 from The Quick Tips Series by Eliza Ellis
 Check out more of my Quick Tips Series here.

14 August, 2014

FOUR EASY HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOW IDEAS

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Homemade Marshmallows - Easy Baking Ideas by Eliza Ellis

Last month I made Homemade Marshmallows for my daughter's Sprinkles Birthday Party, and they were just so popular!

So I thought a few different marshmallow flavors would be the perfect thing to officially kick off my Easy Meal Ideas series.

Just follow my HOMEMADE MARSHMALLOW TUTORIAL, and change up the flavorings according to the ideas below!

Peppermint Swirl Homemade Marshmallows - Easy Baking Ideas by Eliza Ellis

These Peppermint Swirl Marshmallows look as pretty as they are delicious, and they would be delicious in the wintertime with piping hot chocolate.

Turkish Delight Homemade Marshmallows - Easy Baking Ideas by Eliza Ellis
I love the delicate flavors of rosewater and pistachio nuts - they're classic Turkish Delight flavors, but you can make these marshmallows much more easily!

Peach & Coconut Homemade Marshmallows - Easy Baking Ideas by Eliza Ellis
These would be perfect for an afternoon tea in the garden - flavored with summery peach jam and coated in crisp coconut, they're delightfully sophisticated!

Peanut Butter & Chocolate Homemade Marshmallows - Easy Baking Ideas by Eliza Ellis
Last but not least (and possibly my favorite) are these Peanut Butter and Chocolate Marshmallows! These aren't as sticky as the classic ones, so there's no need to coat them in sugar, but drizzling a little chocolate over the top doesn't hurt them one little bit!

So there you go :) I hope you enjoy trying these extra Homemade Marshmallow flavors!

All the best,

Eliza.


THE EASY MEAL IDEAS SERIES

The Easy Meal Ideas Series by Eliza Ellis

 Well today's post is a little bit special, as this is the launch of my new Easy Meal Ideas Series.

I've been working on this for months now, and so far I've had a great response from those who know about it - and I just know you guys are going to love it too!

You might have noticed that lately I've been putting a few more recipes on the blog, and that they all kind of look the same with pretty blue writing, and little stickers in the corners? Well, I've been testing. Testing and re-designing, and testing some more, to put together a series of meal ideas that are useful, quick, flexible and easy.

So what's it all about? Ok.

The Easy Meal Ideas Series by Eliza Ellis

Most of us girls are pretty good cooks already...

Most of us have been cooking for years now, and are pretty good at putting an affordable, nutritious meal on the table that our families will actually eat.

We can easily whip up a stirfry, risotto or pasta. We can do roasts and bakes, we can de-glaze, steam, saute and fry. We can easily judge by eye how many roast potatoes or steamed carrots we need, and we know the quirks of our ovens and stovetops.

Most of us don't use a recipe unless we're baking, and we know how to modify dishes around what we've got on hand and who we're cooking for.

To be succinct - most of us are pretty good, practical cooks - we know what we're doing.

The Easy Meal Ideas Series by Eliza Ellis

... but we can get into a bit of a rut...

Cooking something different and creative every day can be hard work. Sometimes we all get bored. I mean, if I have to cook (or they have to eat!) mashed potatoes one more time this week, it's going to end in tears :)

For years now, I've been writing out 'ideas' instead of recipes - notes on flavor combinations and simple ways to add pizazz to things I already cook. In fact it's pretty rare that I'll write down and keep a recipe these days.

... and we don't need new recipes ...

I've got dozens of cookbooks - Julia and Nigella, Jamie, Maggie, Donna and Stephanie, Nigel and Hugh - and I bet you've got heaps too.

But most of the time, when I'm looking at them or Pinterest, I'm not looking for new recipes, I'm just looking for inspiration.

I don't need a new way to cook a risotto - just a different type of risotto... with different flavors... different ingredients...

The Easy Meal Ideas Series by Eliza Ellis

... we just need new ideas.

And that's what my Easy Meal Ideas series is all about. New flavors and ideas for everyday cooking, but using the basic recipes you already know.

Take my Simple Gremolata (above) - instead of parsley, garlic and lemon zest, you could use:

~ Coriander, garlic and a little chilli, which would be amazing with curries.

~ Or mint, mandarine zest and just a little ginger for rich, slow roasted lamb.

~ Or just a big handful of mixed herbs like parsley, thyme, oregano and chives finely chopped with garlic and orange zest.

The Easy Meal Ideas Series by Eliza Ellis

The Easy Meal Ideas series is all about flavor inspiration.

I'll still be posting some basic recipe tutorials like I have been, but I'll be doing lots of inspiring flavor variations too!

And unless it's critical to the recipe's success, I've only used general quantities - like a pinch, a sprinkle, a little or a lot - because this is how I cook. And it also makes things more flexible - you can adjust things to what you have on hand and your family's tastes.

Oh, and I've done them up in handy little photos so you can pin them or save them to your phone, and always have them handy when you're shopping or cooking.

I hope you enjoy my Easy Meal Ideas series, and I hope it gives you lots of inspiration as you cook for your family each day! And don't forget to follow me on you favorite social media platform so you don't miss any! (Just click those big blue buttons up the top of the sidebar :)

To kick off this series - I've done up some gorgeous Homemade Marshmallow ideas for you to check out HERE.

All the best for now,

Eliza.

QUICK TIP #15

Quick Tip #15 from the Quick Tips Series by Eliza Ellis
Check out more of my Quick Tips Series here.

12 August, 2014

SIMPLE GREMOLATA

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

The final recipe for 'Unofficial Lemon Week' is Simple Gremolata, and it'll take you all of two minutes to make.

Gremolata is traditionally sprinkled over braised Osso Bucco, but it's a beautiful, fresh accompaniment to many dishes. A combination of parsley, lemon zest and garlic, it goes with any type of veal or chicken dish, with slow roasted lamb shanks, prawns, or mixed through couscous. 

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

But my personal favorite is to toss it through fresh pasta with a little olive oil, salt and pepper - then top each serve with a grilled Atlantic Salmon fillet... it's absolute perfection! (Any guesses what we're having for dinner tonight?)

This is so simple to make that it barely needs a recipe, but here goes.

SIMPLE GREMOLATA:

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

STEP ONE: You'll need two small lemons, a big handful of continental parsley, and one to two cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic).

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

STEP TWO: Peel the garlic, and grate as finely as possible.

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

STEP THREE: Zest (or grate) the lemons - again, you want it to be nice and fine.

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

STEP FOUR: Roughly chop the parsley, trying not to include too many thick stems.

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

STEP FIVE: Add the zest and garlic to your parsley, and chop it all together finely, until...

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

... it looks like this. Chopping them together helps the flavors meld together.

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

And that's it - it's ready to serve!

Simple Gremolate - Easy Meal Ideas by Eliza Ellis

If you follow me on instagram, watch out tonight for my Simple Gremolata with pasta and salmon dish!

This is the last of my series of lemon recipes, but tomorrow I've got a really special post to share, so stay tuned :)

All the best for now,

Eliza.