There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area in life: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
For our purposes though, let’s amend it slightly:
Eighty percent 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 ever 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 12 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.
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. This could be:
- Right after school
- After 30 min break
- Before dinner
- After dinner
- Right before bedtime
And consider scheduling in 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 start, 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 they’re homework isn’t done.
4. Keep homework contained (but mobile)
Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.
Now interestingly, studies are now showing the kids are more productive when they vary where they do their homework. But that being said, it can be hard to stay organized when they’re constantly shifting spots.
So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least three spots that homework can be completed 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 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 the, making sure that all assignments are in 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 more 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. Use color coding
A great way to make organization fun, especially for younger kids, is to use color coding. Now that’s not to say it can’t be helpful for older students as well, because the research does shows that it can help with visual memory. But figuring out how to get your kids engaged in the organizing process can be difficult, and this is one way to let them have some say over how they want to do it.
You can have them organize their notebooks and binders by color (e.g. math is green, science is red, etc.), or even go as far as using specific colored pens and pencils for either different types of assignments or different subjects.
And let’s face it who doesn’t love going to Target or Walmart to pick out some new stuff!
8. Label and organize binders and notebooks
Then once you have some initial color coding in place, you can further organize all of your notebooks and binders by adding in some labeling.
So not only can you have a binder for a specific subject or subjects but you can also designate certain sections within them for notes, homework assignments, study materials for tests etc. You can also create labels for things like papers that need to be signed and returned to the teacher, returned assignments that are already graded, and any longer-term homework or projects that aren’t due right away.
Again this is a great way to get your child engaged in the process by allowing them to figure out what organization method would work best and to run with it, so put out the suggestion, and the let them determine how to get it implemented.
9. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”
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.
10. 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 test 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.
11. Use an agenda book
It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper can have.
So for students in middle and high school, an agenda book (or something like it) should be the official holding place of all things important. So encourage your child to fill it out with 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 down on paper it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.
12. Create a calendar for extracurricular activities
Finally creating a calendar for extracurricular activities is a great way to get the entire family on the same page.
Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4:00 – 7:00. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00. 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.
You can even take a step further and give every person a different color to stay even more organized!
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.
Then, if you come up with something that works great, or if you have something that you want to share that’s not included in this list, go ahead and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear what works best for you!