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!
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:
Pack Bag for Tomorrow
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.
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.
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...
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!
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.
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.
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,