The lifeblood of our house is my planner.
I am old-fashioned. It is a paper one, bought at a discount store. It’s nothing fancy, but it keeps track of a busy family life which includes karate, piano, flute, ballet and other activities. I often say that if it’s not written in the planner it might as well not exist.
The planner stays pretty empty in the summer, its blank pages a nice breather from the hustle and bustle of the school year. But come August, or even earlier, the pages start getting covered with important events that stretch through the following May.
This month, before the opening school bell, I always take time to take stock for the next school year. Nothing is left to chance. I write down everything from band concerts to recital dates. I double check school supply lists, and make sure I have a place where backpacks, sneakers and pointe shoes will live during the school year.
I always thought it was just me being my usual uptight self. But organizing experts say the key to a successful school year starts weeks before with a plan that takes into account just such information – how do you get things done in a busy family during the school year?
Start now, says Deb Harvitt, Findlay’s “clutter consultant” and a longtime professional organizer. Consider having several dry runs at going to bed and waking up at normal school times, which can include gradually moving bedtime up so the transition to school is not a shock to the system. Also, plan out who needs to be up when and what the morning routine needs to be in order to get everyone out of the house on time. For young readers, for example, a list including pictures of a toothbrush can be a reminder to brush their teeth.
“Don’t wait until the first day,” says Harvitt. “If you have been getting up at 10am, getting up at 6am for school doesn’t work so well.”
Morning routines are great, but evening routines are just as important. Harvitt says it is often easier to check things over in the evenings before bed. Perhaps lay clothes out the night before, and give children a limited choice from a handful of mix and match items rather than their entire closet.
“A lot of times parents try to control everything and that’s part of the stress,” she says. “Involve kids so they don’t feel they are told what to do constantly.”
Perhaps the thing that can drive any parent to distraction is the paperwork. If your school is like mine, you get a ton
of paperwork home on the first day including emergency contact forms and other paper work that needs to be filled out multiple times for each child. Of course, the school wants it back the next day in duplicate. I have taken to filling out one form and copying it for each child on the computer, changing only the name and age.
It doesn’t end on the first day. School is a never-ending river of paperwork, from permission slips to art projects. Harvitt suggests having a plan for taming the paperwork beast. When everyone comes home, go through backpacks to see if anything needs attention. Deal with it immediately and, in the case of permission slips, write the date on your calendar and put the signed slip right back in the backpack. Also, consider having a file folder for each child and putting long-term information in there such as school handbooks.
For all the cute stuff that comes home, I ooh and aah over it and stick it in a box. At the end of the year my children and I go through the box and keep the best. I have a file folder for each year of school that contains report cards, writing samples and a handful of artwork. It’s hard to be ruthless, but you’ll realize by second grade, you can’t keep everything and keep your sanity at the same time.
Even though it’s still summer, school is but weeks away. Now is the time we parents should do our own homework and think about how to make this school year a happy and organized one.
Rose Roccisano Barto is a busy mother of two, who lives in Findlay.