Back to school 101: Simple steps for getting organized

It’s back-to-school season. And this week, WTOP News is looking at how kids can get ready for that return. In today’s “Back to School 101” class, education expert Ann Dolin discusses getting (and staying) organized.


At the beginning of the year, every student starts the year off organized. They have brand-new folders, a tidy binder and a clean backpack

But for many, maintaining neatness can be a real struggle. There are ways, though, that parents can help their kids get — and stay — organized.

Q: It’s one thing to be organized on the first day of school, but how can kids keep it up?

The real trick to helping kids stay somewhat neat is to set up a reoccurring system. I call this one “The Clean Sweep.” It’s a weekly appointment to get organized.

For example, you can use Sundays from 7:00 to 7:20 p.m., and everyone in your family is in on it. Everyone — not just your disorganized kid — is straightening up their materials and getting organized for the week.

It could be that your kids are organizing their binders and getting their papers ready for the upcoming week while you clean out your purse or perhaps organize the junk drawer.

It doesn’t really matter what it is, but the idea is to have that standing appointment to maintain neatness on a weekly basis.

Q: For some families, it’s the mornings that can be the most hectic. Any ideas?

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, 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.” It can be a bin, for example, or a box. But it goes by the door from which the child is going to exit in the morning.

So the night before, the idea is that kids get all of their things together — their backpack, their binders, their soccer gear, etc. — and they put that into the launchpad. So the next morning, they’re good to go, and they’re launching into a new day in an organized fashion.

Q: When it comes to actually starting homework, how do you ensure your kids are organized and ready to go?

First, I always encourage kids to make a plan before they start anything.

I’ll tell kids: “When you get home from school, don’t start with a subject. Don’t start with science, or English, or math, or history! You want to start with organization — and the first step you can take is to make a very simple to-do list.”

This to-do list could be as small as a few things needed to complete for homework each night.

When you make a list, it helps to visualize the tasks at hand. So, as parents, when our kids get home from school, instead of saying, “What do you have for homework?” ask, “What are your priorities tonight?”

It gets kids thinking about what they’re going to do first, second and third.

Q: Kids seem so overscheduled these days. What’s the best way to better manage time?

Sometimes, students think they need lengthy, dedicated time in which to study. And if they don’t have the perfect time and are not in the ideal mood, they won’t do it.

In fact, they can use any chunk of time to get studying done. I call these “weird windows.”

An example of a ”weird window” is the 15 minutes he or she’s waiting at a doctor’s office or that 20 minutes right before lacrosse practice starts. Those are weird windows, and you can chunk time for studying by getting a lot done in short periods of time.

Ann Dolin is the founder of Educational Connections Tutoring and the author of “Homework Made Simple.”


Back to School 101

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