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Back to school with LESS MESS

An hour-by-hour guide to better student and home organization

As a new school year begins, here’s a scene you can avoid: You’re headed out the door, and your child announces, “Uh-oh, my math worksheet was due today.” And where is this wayward  homework? “At school.” “In my desk.” “I meant to bring it home.”

Chill out, Mom, he’s not a mental mess. He’ll be able to live on his own. Some day.

Meantime, you need to develop routines that work for your child. Here’s an hour-by-hour guide to a more organized school year.

7:30am — Morning moves. Create bathroom, bedroom and front-door to-do lists. For kids younger than 9, include three to five items for each list (wash face, brush teeth, use bathroom). For tweens, bump it up to five or six items. For non-reading kids, draw pictures or cut photos from magazines, suggests Marcella Moran, co-author of Organizing the Disorganized Child.

8:30am — Harness the desk disaster.. What’s in your child’s desk at school? It’s hard to find supplies amid clutter. Go with your child, 10 minutes before the school bell, and clear it out.

Help your child pick good locations for always-in-use items such as pencils, glue and markers. Label colored folders to contain paperwork, or use heavy-duty, see-through Ziploc bags labeled “still working on” and “all done.” As needed, use the same approach with the home desk and locker.

3pm — Put papers in their place.. When your child comes in the door, have an agreed-to, permanent place for paperwork (homework, permission slips, class newsletters), whether it’s a desk or a drawer.

“The first thing they do when coming in is unload the backpack, empty the lunch sack and put the backpack in its location,” says professional organizer Laura Leist. When done, homework goes right back into its folder.

5pm — No more mysteries. To avoid yet another Case of the Disappearing Piano Book, group like items together and find logical homes for your child’s extracurricular stuff.

For example, try using a bag hung on a garage hook for soccer cleats,  the kneepads and water bottle. When the cleats come in the door, they get washed off and put back in the bag.

6pm — Save just one. Is each artwork more prized than the last? At the dinner table, challenge your child to choose just one save-worthy item (OK, maybe two or three). Keepers go in a box — for now. During a break, ask your child to pick out favorite pieces to save forever. Digitally photograph other treasures — and then toss ‘em.

7pm — Nix morning nightmares. Prepare lunches, organize school bags and pick clothes the night before, Moran suggests. Set everything by the front door, so the next day’s routine runs a little smoother.

At the end of the day, you’re doing more than helping your kid get organized. “You’re teaching them decision-making skills,” says Leist. “Being organized is often about being able to make a good decision.

Lora Shinn is a freelance writer.

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