There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area of life: “80% of success is showing up.” For our purposes, though, let’s amend it slightly:
80% of school success is showing up AND staying organized.
I’ve worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their performance in school did not reflect their true abilities. I’ve also worked with many students over the years who struggled to pick new things up but managed to keep at it, stay motivated, and achieve success.
Surprisingly, it’s organization that usually makes or breaks students’ level of success in school because it’s one of those “cornerstone” habits that impacts almost every other area in their academic lives.
So whether your child is:
- In elementary school and just starting to get the school routine down
- In middle school and figuring out how to manage the increased workload in their classes
- Or in high school and getting prepared for upper-level courses, SATs, and college applications
Below you’ll find a list of 10 school organizing tips for you to use to start off the year strong.
1. Set up a regular school “check-in” time
First up is a common cliche in parenting: get involved.
Unfortunately, just “getting involved” in your child’s schoolwork isn’t quite the right approach because more is not always better, and sometimes you can create even an even bigger issue than you started off with in the first place by being nitpicky or overbearing.
So before you jump in, spend a little time to think and determine what level of involvement you’re going to have with homework, grades, and other aspects of their academics. This way, you have a good idea of what you need to discuss with them before you start.
Then, set up a regular meeting time with your son or daughter to talk each week about assignments, what’s going on in class, upcoming tests, and any other concerns they might have.
This shouldn’t be a lecture, so frame it as a conversation: “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk each week about school?” And leave it open for them to discuss how they’re feeling and what they would like to see you do better.
(See #9 for a weekly calendar template you can use for your check-ins.)
2. Don’t nag
Now that you’ve established a line of communication with your child, it’s extremely important to then give them the space they need to get organized and figure out how to manage their schoolwork in a way that works for them.
Kids may not immediately see the benefits of staying organized, but constant reminders are the last thing they want to hear. So when you are helping them get organized this year, make it clear that you don’t want to nag; you just want to set them up for success.
Then because you have a regular meeting time set up to discuss school together, use that time to suggest changes, voice your concerns, and make sure that they’re staying on track.
3. Set up a homework routine
Making the best use of time after school can be a BIG struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework.
That’s why this is one of those times that can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine that you hold to, especially for elementary and middle school students.
First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome.
And consider scheduling some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break.
For high schoolers, it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have started, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and their homework isn’t done.
4. Keep homework contained
Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.
So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least one to two spots in your home where your child can complete their homework and try to stick to them. This will help eliminate some of the clutter if you have a space cleared off already.
Then, for younger students, you can try putting together a mobile organizer for all their school supplies that they can take with them from spot to spot. For older students in middle or high school, you can try helping to set up their backpack so that it permanently holds all of the supplies they’ll need to do their homework on a regular basis. This will also allow them to do homework during study hall, breaks, at the library, after practice, etc.
5. Get everything ready the night before
Now a lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on the mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time. But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.
So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before, making sure that all assignments are there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.
You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time, something we call “The Launching Pad.”
You can even have them set aside outfits for the next day. Say hello to less stressful, smooth school day mornings… just make sure to do it all early enough that everyone still gets to bed on time.
6. Improve the sleep schedule
A big part of staying organized is actually having enough focus during the day to make sure that you remember assignments, that papers go in the right places, and you have the ability to sit down without distraction and study or do homework on time.
And probably the number one contributing factor to that is getting enough sleep at night.
So making sure your child is getting to bed at the same time consistently will help improve their level of focus throughout the day. A great way to do this is to set an electronics curfew and enforce an hour of quiet time before bed for winding down.
This may not be a popular decision, especially if you have kids who are older and in high school, but they’ll thank you when they’re not dragging when they get out of bed the next morning.
7. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”
Although kids don’t have the paper flow they once had, kids are still bringing things home from school and still need a system. This is a time when you can file papers into labeled folders.
Even the most organized among us tend to build up clutter over time, no matter how hard we try.
So a great way to combat this is to schedule a 20-minute pre-arranged session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized.
Not only will this help your kids stay on track with their school organization efforts, but will also help foster a sense of family involvement so that it’s not just that your child is being singled out. They can see you and other members of the family doing the same.
8. Archive old assignments
Along those same lines, your kids are also going to have a buildup of old papers and assignments that aren’t necessarily relevant to what they’re doing in school right now.
Archiving and properly treating (i.e. not throwing them out too soon) all assignments should be a regular part of your organization routine.
A great rule of thumb is to make sure that you’re keeping old tests and quizzes and then tossing everything else. That way, if there are any cumulative tests throughout the year, your child will be able to reference back to previous questions to study and will know which areas they need to work on where they may have gotten marked off previously.
9. With your child, check the LMS (Schoology, Canvas, etc.) or agenda book
It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper or in a digital calendar can have. So for students in middle and high school, a digital calendar or an agenda book should be the official holding place of all things important.
Encourage your child to regularly check their school’s LMS (learning management system). Many school districts use Schoology, Canvas, or Google Classroom.
Students can also maintain their own digital calendar or paper agenda to keep track of what homework is due, what tests are coming up, projects or after-school activities, and anything else that’s important to remember each day.
Then once it’s in their calendar or agenda, it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule a time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.
Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4 – 7 PM. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5 – 6 PM. Maybe there’s a big quarterly science project due at the end of the month. Whatever it is, getting it on a calendar the whole family can see will help everyone stay informed and on the same page.
I often encourage students to write everything down on a weekly calendar when they hold their weekly “check-in” with their parents or executive function coach. Here are some easy-to-use templates I made that you can get a copy of by clicking here:
10. Stay consistent
Many families start off the school year by making a real effort to establish great organizational procedures. But as the months go by, inevitably, many of these new school year habits just don’t stick.
Staying consistent is tough, but it’s crucial for your child’s academic success. If your child needs a better organizational system in place (and a regular accountability partner!), our experienced Executive Function coaches are here to help. We find that checking in twice a week is ideal to help a student form lasting organizational habits and greater independence.
Time to get organized this school year!
Although these are just a few organization techniques that you can apply to your kids’ schoolwork and other activities, they can have a huge impact if used regularly.
That being said, there are a virtually unlimited number of organization ideas you can try, so don’t feel limited to just this list. Use it as a starting point that experiment and customize for what makes sense for your family.
And if you find yourself needing backup, we’re here for you: