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Friday, August 9, 2013

Keeping Kids Organized

Someone asked me to write this post a few months ago but I decided to save it until back-to-school time to give parents some ideas on how to keep kids organized during the school year.

My kids are in early elementary school and these methods allow them to do things for themselves so I don't have to do it all for them. It takes a load off me, and teaches them independence and personal responsibility. Mainly it takes a load off me!

Checklists. I'm a big fan of checklists, not only for my kids but also (and especially) for myself. I can't follow routines, they feel restrictive to me so I use checklists instead. My kids have responded really well to checklists. Instead of nagging them constantly about what needs to be done, I just remind them to check their lists and "do it 'till it's done!"

My kids have several checklists, which I print out and post in prominent places.  Inside the back door where we go to and from the car are their Before School and After School checklists.

The Before School checklist has all the stuff they need to bring with them to school:
  • backpack
  • lunchbox or lunch ticket
  • snack
  • water bottle
  • homework folder with homework in it
  • school sweatshirt

The After School checklist is what they need to do when they get home from school:
  • Change clothes
  • Empty lunchbox
  • Homework folder to Mama for papers
  • Do homework
  • Pack finished homework into homework folder and into backpack
A funny story about Empty Lunchbox on the list above: when someone doesn't empty their lunchbox and the plasticware is left in it overnight, we call that "Lunchbox Fail." When someone experiences Lunchbox Fail, they have to take the Lunchbox Of Shame (which is a little-girl fairy lunchbox my daughter used when she was 5 but is way too cool for now!). I've never actually made them take the Lunchbox Of Shame, but it makes it fun to crow, "Lunchbox Fail! You have to take the Lunchbox Of Shame!" Just the idea of showing up at lunch with a fairy lunchbox is incentive to empty their lunchbox when they're supposed to!

My kids wear uniforms to school, which makes it easier for everyone in my opinion. There's never any question of what's okay to wear to school, no decisions over what to wear. Just put it on and go. But, it has to be clean. Since we don't have a dryer, anything dirty has to be washed the night before so it has time to dry on the radiators before school in the morning.

So, I have a Clothes Checklist that goes on their bedroom door, and they have to lay out ALL their clothes the night before so if they need anything washed there's time for it to be washed and dry by morning.

Here is the Clothes Checklist:
  • Shirt
  • Trousers or Skirt
  • Socks or Tights
  • Underwear
  • Sweatshirt

The sweatshirt is usually the problematic item. It's a school logo item and we only have a few. They usually end up at the bottom of the backpack by the end of the day so it's often forgotten about. If it got gunged with yogurt or streaked with paint it's a nasty surprise in the morning. So I have them lay it out the night before with the rest of their clothes so it can get washed if needed.

White board. Something I started using this summer that we all really like is a white board in the kitchen showing what today's schedule is. At the top I write "Today is" and the day and date. Especially during the summer when it's easy to lose track of what day it is, this has been extremely helpful. Knowing the day's schedule at the beginning of the day helps my kiddos know what to expect. If there are after-school activities or specific things going on that day they are ready for them.

Tote bags. Something else that has helped us all enormously are designated tote bags.  My daughter's dance gear stays in her dance tote bag, so when it's dance day I just grab the bag and go. When her uniform gets washed, it goes straight back in the bag. Hairbands and pins, extra tights, and whatever else she needs stays in there all the time. When it's time to pay for class, I write the check and put it and the payment form into the dance bag, so next time we go it's already with us. We have equivalent tote bags for music and sports. They never get unloaded, everything we need stays in those bags so we can just grab them and go!

What else has helped you keep your kids organized? Please share!


  1. slightly off topic, but I should really start laying out my clothes the night before myself! I'm right at this moment procrastinating and wondering what to do as all my work trousers were laundered last night and due to the excessively damp weather are all still damp on the drying rack. Shitshitshit. Your method would clear up this problem. I have no capacity for unexpected snags in the morning!

    I use checklists for my staff. Seems somewhat patronizing I suppose but they work well and I use them myself so I don't feel too awkward about it.

    I suppose most of us GenXers, or the latch-key generation, grew up quite independent and self sufficient. I am appalled at how much my friends coddle their kids, revolving their entire life around their offspring which is not good for parent or for child. Good for you, Laurie, for instilling self sufficiency in your kids!

  2. When my kids were at Primary School it was in the village and they walked. The eldest was seven when he started walking on his own, or with a friend and no grown ups. His brother was then five. They did NOT want to walk together. The deal for the elder one was - you can walk by yourself if you leave the house before your brother. Great motivator!

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  4. When they went to High School, being sort of rural, that meant using the School Bus.
    As working parents we left he house at 07:30 and breakfast had to be eaten before that, no chance to skip a meal. The bus left at 08:00. If they missed it,it was a five mile cycle. - only napped twice in a joint eleven years of attendance!
    Lunches were made the night before and left in the fridge fro morning pick-up.

    I know some would think us mean, but kids need to grow into being independent not have it happen TO them suddenly at 18.

    Sounds as though yours have a great start!

    1. Sadly parents these days want to give their children everything they didn't have but forget to give them what they did have....

  5. We keep designated tote bags, too! Library, Dance, Sport of the Season Bag, Bible Club, Amusement Park (a backpack), so much easier to manage.

    I love the Lunchbox of Shame! (What a threat for my 4 boys!)

    I was very ill when my children first started attending school-after years of homeschooling. I really depended on them being able to get themselves off without much supervision. After the first few weeks, I was actually able to stay in bed, accept kisses, and say goodbye in the mornings.

    My house looks like a school room- white boards, checklists, charts and the like. I love my children, but I don't want them living in my basement when they are 30.

    It takes longer to set up systems and to supervise their implementation (and let's just say there is a lot of sub standard work that gets redone) than it does to just "do it myself"-but the future payoff -"Granny does the Mongolian Road Rally" rather than handholding a set of 5 30 -somethings with failure to launch.

  6. Checklists sound like a good plan for my boys (age 8 and 5), They go back to school on Monday and I think I will set up some checklists for them. They leave the house together at 7:45 every morning but are generally trying to get daddy to do everything for them to get them ready (I´m already at work by the time the rest of them leave the house).

  7. I do something similar and have done this for the last few years... I have a 10 year old going into 5th and a 13 year old going into 8th. I use a template for their checklists, including everything they need to accomplish in an evening. Homework, reading time, instrument practice, any signatures, repacking the bookbag, etc. I leave enough space at the bottom of each one for notes in case of field trips or other special days. I print out the templates and laminate them, then the boys check off their chores with a dry erase marker each evening.

    It has saved my sanity more than once, since everything is written down I don't have to constantly be thinking about it all and there's no huge rush in the morning (they wear school uniforms, so there's no fighting about clothes).

  8. No kids at home anymore, but I think the whiteboard idea is a good one for me. In the mornings, I have plans of things to do when I get home, but by that time I have forgotten them or just don't want to do them.

    Having them written down for me to see first thing (because of course, the kitchen is the first place I go) would have to help.


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