Get a grip on schoolkid clutter

Try these tips for dealing with the annual avalanche of homework and permission slips.

Published July 31, 2006

Back-to-school shopping guides usually include lunch boxes, backpacks, pencils and markers that smell of strawberry and grape. But before that new Sonic the Hedgehog folder gets its first wrinkle, a blinding amount of paperwork will start piling up.

Vow this year to improve your kids' organizational know-how, and add to your shopping list some tools so you don't have to hover. Stacy DeBroff, founder of Mom Central, wrote an "Organized to Learn" guide for Office Depot, available at www.officedepot.com/organizedtolearn. She found that teachers, who used to teach kids how to be organized, are so pressured by testing and tougher lessons for kids at younger ages that parents need to play a bigger part in teaching kids how to keep up with more homework than ever.

"Organizing is a fundamental, lifelong skill and it's really critical to their learning and school success," DeBroff says.

We talked with some educational and organization experts and did some shopping to come up with a few ideas for school, which starts Thursday for most kids in Hillsborough and Aug. 8 for most in Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.


A place for everything: From the first day of school "assign a home" for everything in the backpack, DeBroff says. Use the main section for books and binders. Signed permission slips and communications between teachers and parents can find a home in an outer pocket. The remaining small pouches are for pens, pencils, calculators and personal items.

Make it a habit: Sort through the backpack with your child every day, either right after school or after dinner. Make it a routine. Sign permission forms and mark events on the calendar at the same time.

Give it a home: When finished, put the backpack and anything else that has to leave with you in the morning, such as library books or soccer cleats, in a "launching pad" near the door, says Sherrie Le Masurier, an organizing consultant and co-founder of the Family Sanity Savers Web site www.familysanitysavers.com. This could be a chair, table or laundry basket.


Use a dry erase board: Post daily to-do lists or reminders for upcoming projects. The Boone Reversible Dry-Erase board ($14.99) is a funky puzzle board that you can customize for your needs as both a dry-erase board and cork bulletin board.

A prominent calendar: This is especially important for middle school age and above, when activities compete with school for time, and long-term school projects are more frequent. DeBroff color-codes hers with pink highlighter for her daughter's deadlines and green for her son's.

For big projects you should note three dates on your calendar, says Ramona Creel, a professional organizer and the founder of OnlineOrganizing.com. Mark the date you will buy the supplies (including a list), mark the date you will start working on the project, then mark the deadline with a list of everything you need to take to school that day.

Remind me: For the truly forgetful, Mead Wrist Reminders ($2.49 for a packet of 30) are paper bracelets children wear to remember important "to do" tasks, from turning in permission slips to being home at a certain time.


Color-code it: The easiest way to get a head start on filing and finding things later is to color-code everything from the start, DeBroff says. Make English yellow and science blue and then use that for all folders, files and notebooks. Colored file folders also make files easier to find.

Filing 101: Teach kids the basics of filing and paper management (assuming you know them yourself).

Have a hanging folder at home for each class. Within that folder should be one file that says "Active" for this week's lessons, tests and homework. Keep a separate file for material that has already been covered, but will need to be studied for final exams.

Take 5 to 10 minutes each weekend going over the files with your child to decide what stays and what goes. Make this your Sunday night routine. Lay out tomorrow's clothes and go over the files.

Folders and notes: We've come far beyond the Trapper Keeper of yesteryear as the basic model keeps improving. Mead's Five Star Flex Hybrid NoteBinder ($8.99), aside from sounding like one of the Terminator's weapons, is a favorite of DeBroff's. It's a cross between a loose-leaf binder - good for handouts and assignments - and a spiral notebook for notes, with color dividers between subjects.

Some kids learn better with flash cards, but they can end up fluttering all over the house and the backpack, so the RingDex Notecards ($2.09) keeps them on a metal ring. It comes with 80 index cards in four colors.

In this electronic age, memory sticks or thumb drives that store computer files make it easier for kids to bring their work home or to the library in one tiny device. The Ativa Flash Drive ($30-$114) comes with virus protection, and the cover is attached on a hinge to keep it from being lost.


Magnetics: A niche market has exploded with hooks, pencil holders and mirrors that come with magnets for lockers to keep large items out of the way and make smaller items easier to find. You can find a variety at www.lockermate.com, www.potterybarnteen.com and in most back-to-school sections in stores.

Assign a shelf: Use one shelf for morning classes, one for afternoon classes to make it easier to find what you need. Locker Mate Adjust-A-Shelf ($6.99) adjusts to as wide or narrow as need be. Stackable narrow bins like Eldon Shelf Savers ($13.29) make better use of vertical space.

Color-code it: Assign a color for subject folders, book covers and notebooks. This makes it easier to fish out the right book and notebooks from the locker between classes.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne can be reached at wynne@sptimes.com.