No matter what time of year you are reading this article, I want to wish you a Happy New Year! Why? Because truly any time can be a chance to grasp at a fresh, new start and an opportunity to get things right; to have your family running like you want it to.
For me, having my busy family run smoothly is all about two things:
- Finding ways to stay grounded with my children as life gets busy
- And creating ways to stay organized at home and at school so that life doesn't feel any crazier than it absolutely needs to
Struggles with organization are not for the faint of heart
I know that when my own children struggle with organization at school, it is tempting to ask, "Where did they get that from?" It can be so frustrating and discouraging to see them struggle to keep up with assignments and deadlines, not because they can't complete them, but because they weren't organized enough to keep track of them. Maybe you can relate!
In the past our family really struggled with this, especially once homework, school, and activity schedules ramped up all at the same time. We did find a solution to this very real problem last year and I want to share it with you today.
In this article I am going to peel back the curtain and share with you the exact systems that we have in place in our home so that we can:
- Keep our family's schedule overwhelm at bay
- Not struggle to get out the door on time
- Keep track of all homework assignments, permission slips, and paperwork
- Teach our children to take charge of their assignments, including keeping up when they miss class (Compared to elementary school, missing class looks very differently in middle and high school and, like all things, if at all possible this is a wonderful habit and skill to teach and to get into place while our kids in younger grades so that we don't have to unteach bad habits!)
- Stay connected and grounded as a family even when our schedules definitely don't align
But before we dig in, there is one thing to note
In order for this to work, you'll need to embrace a bit of a hard truth: the systems that you have, or don't have, in place at home might be exactly what's keeping your children from being organized at school.
This was true in my case and, as a mom, I know that this can be hard to hear! We want to do our absolute best and the thought of missing teaching something important to our children is nerve-wracking.
It can also be tempting to fall for the all-too-common practice of assuming that our children will figure out how to be organized at school by themselves, given some time or with age. And when faced with the thought of this kind of accountability and change making, it may feel simpler to buy into statements like "that's helicoptering" with the underlying message that setting up systems for our children is spoiling them or disabling their independence.
In my experience, the exact opposite is true
Anything that we want our children to know how to do needs to be taught, practiced, and modeled. And this definitely includes organization at school. So the systems that I am going to share with you today are systems that you will set up at home that will set your kids up for success with their school organization. An added benefit is, of course, that your home life will run more smoothly as well. The two are intricately connected.
Let's dig in.
Want to keep schedule overwhelm at bay? Try this.
The problem: As soon as our schedules kicked up with homework, sports, music, and so on, I found myself no longer able to keep up with who needed to do what and when. And more than that, I didn't want to. I kept hearing my own voice asking if my kids had homework or if they needed to practice for their activities. I wanted to have a system in place that we were all aware of and responsible for.
The solution: The biggest thing that made a difference for us in terms of schedule overwhelm is to create really simple and consistent routines around:
- Getting ready in the morning (get up, get dressed, brush your hair, clothes in the hamper, make your bed, come down for breakfast, lunch in your backpack, brush teeth)
- What happens when they get home from school (empty their backpacks and put their papers on the table, get a snack, do their homework and put it in their backpacks, practice for their activities, go outside, straighten their rooms, help with dinner and/or get ready for their evening activities)
- How we "do" bedtime (regular-ish time, shower, teeth, hair, clothes in hamper, read)
- When we watch TV or play games
- Which chores they are responsible for and when they will do them
Pro tip: We did not end up writing down the details of what they needed to do (although I so would do this if any of us were having a hard time remembering!). What we did write down and consistently stick to, though, is what happens when. For instance, right before dinner everyone is responsible for straightening up their rooms. I am specifically calling out this example because I definitely noticed that on weeks when we didn't follow through with this, we found ourselves overwhelmed by messy rooms and the task of cleaning them felt big and argue-worthy.
The secret you don't know about getting out the door with ease
The problem: The mad rush out the door left us constantly overwhelmed and often short and snippy with each other because we were stressed about the moving pieces to getting out the door.
The solution: The most important thing we started to do was to set a timer to go off ten minutes before it was time to walk out the door. This was plenty of time to do anything they had forgotten to do earlier, put on their shoes, and so on. I love having the timer be the reminder rather than me and for my "How much longer?" asking kids, they could check the timer and know!
Pro tip: We also started getting up 15 minutes earlier than we had been. This doesn't sound like a huge difference, but it really made one! It was tempting to let my kids sleep as long as possible, especially as their schedules got busier, but the little extra time gave us the benefit of a smoother morning which definitely meant something to me!
The perfect homework space in 5 easy steps
The problem: Our kids were doing their homework in one of three places; their rooms, our office, or the kitchen table. So their supplies were everywhere and, sometimes, so was their homework!
The solution: We decided to designate a place and time for homework as well as the routines of cleaning up their materials and for placing their homework right into their folders and backpacks when they were finished.
Pro tip: These were the 5 steps we took to set up our homework station—it is obviously very simple and minimalist. You could definitely get fancier with this if you wanted to! Some people create beautiful carts or trays. I wanted something that we could put away, so we cleared out one shelf in our kitchen and ...
- We decided that homework would always be done at the kitchen table or counter.
- We gathered the basic supplies they seemed to consistently need: plain paper, lined paper, pencils, pens, markers, crayons, colored pencils, tape, scissors, stapler, and a glue stick.
- We put each item into its own container and everything went on a shelf in our kitchen that everyone could reach.
- We discussed the routine of where we'd be doing homework, where all of these supplies could be found, and how they should be cleaned up.
- We stuck with this routine, including the "ending" which was putting their homework right into their folders and backpacks.
The three organization mistakes you don't know you're making
The biggest change that we made in order to set organization systems in place at home to help our kids be more organized at school, was that we put in the time to set these up. I know that it probably feels like you're already short on time! So first of all, I'd like to mention that none of these systems actually took that much time to put into place or to become habits; they're pretty simple. I also want to show you why this works so well.
As you can see above, putting in "a lot" of time in the beginning to set these systems up quickly yields results and means so much less time spent fixing organization mistakes! So, in reality, setting these up is a time (and headache!) saver.
The problem: We were spending too much time on school-related details. Without systems in place, we repeated the process of discussing and deciding what to do every time everyday issues came up.
The solution: We came up with routines around how we did the things that came up seemingly everyday: what they would wear, what they would eat, what to do if they missed class or an assignment.
Pro tip: The "mistakes" here are not pre-deciding and communicating routines around things that you absolutely know are going to come up. Once a system is in place, none of these stop us in our (family) tracks. We all know what to do! We also made all daily decisions in advance—our kids picked out their clothes in the evening, we looked at the lunch menu a month at a time and they "signed up" for hot or cold lunch and for my "cold lunch only" daughter, we came up with lunch ideas before we grocery shopped so I never heard, "we don't have anything for lunch" or "I don't want that."
All of the details of how we set up each of these systems are right inside these free checklists. Click below to snag them!
How to stay grounded as a family when life gets busy, like a boss
The problem: As life gets busier, I always have a nagging want to slow down and reconnect. I am so afraid of missing something important going on with my kids, simply because we let ourselves get too busy!
The solution: So instead of leaving this to chance, I set up very specific systems for carving out time to connect every single day and for how we keep the lines of communication open about all things simple and tricky. Having this system in place before we ever needed it proved to be hugely important for us when our kids were faced with friendship issues and when something happened in our community that everyone was talking about and we needed to address a pretty mature topic with our kids way before we ever imagined we would need to.
Pro tip: These are the staying connected even when busy systems that we put into place:
- We keep a deck of cards and a question box filled with these 52 questions right on our kitchen table and we use these daily. (Note: To get a copy of the questions that we use, you can click that link! They can be printed and cut into slips, left as one sheet on a clipboard, or written onto something like popsicle sticks to be pulled and answered!)
- I have an interactive journal with each of my kids—it is a space for us to write back and forth to each other about all things small and big. (Note: Have you heard this quote, "Listen to their stories about the small things so that they're used to talking to you about the big things; because to them, they were all big things." It is one of my favorites and this habit and system is this motto in action!)
- We have regular family meetings where we bring up anything and everything that our family needs to discuss. This includes everything from chores, to tech use, to tricky topics, to meal planning, to everything in between. We found that once we had regular family meetings, we were talking about all of the above and more regularly and without formality because we had a system in place for how to do this. This is so important as our kids get older and what they face and need changes in seemingly the blink of an eye! (Note: My new course Raise Your Digital Kid™ is all about how to set this system in place with our kids' tech use. This is a huge topic for our kids today and it includes the exact step-by-step system that our family used to create our family meetings. You can learn more about it by clicking right here!)
It was setting these five systems in place in our home that triggered our children to be more organized at school.
I can't think of the last time that we lost homework or ran out the door flustered and late. At first, it may seem time consuming to set these practices into place. But I know from experience that you'll find that the time will come back to you two-fold (or more) from not having to undo the mistakes that disorganization brings. You'll also have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that:
- Your kids are learning priceless organization skills at home so that they can be organized at school. (Good habits beget more good habits.)
- Your home is set up in a way that things are running smoothly so that you're able to stay connected even when life is busy. (Grounded, connected kids are successful kids!)
- You have a pulse on what's going on with your kids so that you're not missing anything important (And all of the things related to their childhood are important, aren't they?)
Note: Make sure you download these step-by-step checklists to start getting these systems underway for your family today!
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AUTHOR: GALIT BREEN
Hi, I'm Galit. Best selling author, TEDx speaker, parent educator, researcher, mom. I'm going to help you raise and teach your digital kids. I've been teaching and working in social media for 8+ years. If you are so over vague, surface level online safety advice and are ready to actually teach your kids and students what they need to know to make an impact + raise a leader, we're going to get along just fine. Learn more about me here.