How to get organized for the upcoming school year

The hard work now pays dividends later

It’s time for the kids to back to school and for many of us that means organizational headaches. From getting supplies, to keeping the backpack clean and scheduling all the school events, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

How best to do it? Just like the advice given on how to eat an elephant – break it down into small pieces and take it one bite at a time.

Do an inventory

This step actually happens at the end of each student’s school year. Clean out your child’s backpack and put all reusable supplies in a zippered bag for use next year. Pens, pencils and markers do not need to be discarded. Neither do sharpeners and rulers. If you keep the reusable supplies corralled, you’ll know exactly where they are when you need them at the beginning of the next school year.

Look at the extra supplies you already have in your house. Many of us buy additional supplies on sale but then forget about them when they get relegated to a spot “out of the way.” Find and go through those supplies. Use what you can, set aside extras that you think you’ll need during the school year, and consider donating what you won’t use to schools for other children to use. (Guidance offices are usually very happy to accept any extra school supplies.)

Make a list

When it comes time to buy this year’s school supplies, just like when you go grocery shopping, make a list. If you’ve ever tried food shopping without an itemized list, you know you usually come home with foods you really didn’t need, but looked good. Same goes for school supplies. Companies want to sell you their goods. They are going to make them as cute, fashionable and desirable as possible.

The problem is that many of these items usually cost more money and quite often go unused. Write your list and stick to it.

Pencil case

A pencil case is mandatory for all students and I’m not talking about those hard plastic boxes. A soft zippered one is perfect – even for older high school kids. With a pencil case, you can keep your pens, pencils, and highlighters together. It’s easier to have everything in one place than trying to find something at the bottom of the backpack to write with.

Day Planner

This is another mandatory item. If your child writes down all their assignments they can’t forget what it is they need to do. An assignment book for a student is like a “to-do” list for an adult. When you write things down, you know exactly what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. This one is such an important piece. The earlier someone embraces this skill, the earlier they will be more effective and productive.

Although some of the kids are starting to use their electronic devices to “capture” the assignments (they take a photo of what the teacher has written on the blackboard), it may not be the best approach. Electronics can be easier, but on the other hand, it makes it more difficult for a parent to check through the daily assignments. Find a system that works and stick with it.


Some kids like a separate notebook for each subject; others like one large one that holds all notes and papers. It all depends on the student. Use the system they feel most comfortable with. No matter what system you use, make sure each notebook includes two folders: one for completed homework and one for returned homework or class handouts.

Judy Blachek of Nashua attests to this, “When my son was younger, I never thought he would be an organized person. But by the time he was in high school he was using color coding to organize his materials. He had notebooks and folders that matched for each class. The folders were for homework and papers that he needed to share with us. It made it easy for him to find what he needed whether he was at school or at home.”

Family Calendar

A family calendar is a necessity. It’s how everyone keeps track of school and individual events. Forget the paper calendars on the refrigerator. These days one of the best tools you can use is an online calendar that synchs to everyone’s devices. Sue West, a professional organizer, swears by for family schedules. “Google's calendar or similar, are also good,” she said.

It might take a little bit of time to learn how to use an electronic calendar, but for those who use it regularly, there is no going back to paper.


Check the batteries for all your electronics and have extra batteries handy (at home and some at school). Invest in a can of compressed air to clean out a keyboard once in a while.


Beginning at the start of the school year, get into the habit of helping your child clean out their backpacks once a week. Fridays are usually a good day with the added benefit of removing those forgotten sandwiches and apples at the bottom of the bag before they get moldy.

Same thing goes for school lockers. Although it’s the student’s responsibility, you can send them to school with a garbage bag and suggest they get rid of any clutter in their lockers.

Also (and I know this is a tough one), have your kids clean their rooms. If their shoes are in the closet they will always know where to find them. If they have a spot to park their school backpack, it will be there when they need to leave for school in the morning. Organizational skills start early and should be consistent. Try not to organize for them, but with them.

Study Spot

Even I who preferred to study on my bedroom floor had a little wooden stool for a desk. Create a study area for your student with plenty of room for books and as little distraction as possible. Make use of labeled magazine holders for storing folders and papers and stock it with the supplies they need so they won’t have to get up and look for them. The old adage – “a place for everything and everything in its place” – certainly applies to the study area. Remove clutter and anything that can cause someone to lose focus.


Study techniques that other moms swear by include:

  • “If they need music or background noise to focus, let them have it.” – Sue West
  • Use a timer to help break up long homework times into smaller chunks. – Sue West
  • “My kids use index cards to study for tests. They write the information they need on index cards (writing the stuff down helps them remember) then they quiz themselves card by card, putting the ones they get right in one pile and the ones they need to study more in another pile. When all the cards are in the “right” pile, they're done studying. They do one more quick loop through the cards the morning of the test.” – Gina Rosati
  • Break big projects down to tasks and set dates for them. Have everything you need ready to go. – Julie Hennrikus
  • Exercise  wakes up brain and helps kids stay organized. Even a 15-minute walk helps a lot. – Pam Koss

Organizing for school need not be a nightmare. It takes a bit of time and all the consistency you can muster, but if you can teach your children how to organize and prepare at the beginning of the school year, the rest of the year will go that much smoother.

Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. Check out her blog Lessons Learned from the Flock, at Contact her at