Organizing with your high schooler: it takes a village, and a launch pad

Bethesda professional organizer Jackie Kelley doesn’t sugarcoat her approach to getting and keeping high-schoolers organized: “It’s a process and a struggle,” she says, “for the students and the parents.”

By the time kids reach high school, many parents are exhausted from the homework slog and are ready to let their offspring take more responsibility for their time and their schoolwork. “The problem is that many students really don’t know how to do that,” says Kelley, who has two sons, ages 11 and 15.

(Ilana Knab/ILANA KNAB) - Jackie Kelley, professional organizer.

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Switching gears in ninth grade to a more complicated class schedule and multiple after-school activities requires a fresh approach. This is the teachable moment, Kelley says, to pass on some of the most valuable of life skills: organization and time management.

For many teens, high school has become a sprint to get good grades and extracurricular Brownie points and then stay calm through the college application whirlwind. They need help accomplishing multiple goals.

Kelley, whose business is called Clearing House, says there are rewards for investing the hours and a bit of money into strategizing with your teen. The effort can reap a savings of time, improve relations between a parent and a teen, create independence and decrease pressure.

She encourages parents to be partners in setting up systems and then being supportive. “Say, ‘Let’s see what works for you,’ ” Kelley explains. “Ask, ‘What are your goals?’ ”

Kelley, the youngest of nine children, says she was always detail-oriented. Her parents set a daily agenda and stuck to a chore list. “We had to be responsible. My parents were master delegators,” she says. “We were trained to do a job and implement it without a lot of follow-up.”

Today, she counsels others to be empowered, using organizing tricks that help with paper management and reinforce time-management skills. She tells her own boys, “Organize things so when you need them, you will find them. Put stuff away. You’ll have more time for fun things.”

Tips from a professional organizer

Parents can help high-schoolers reboot study routines at the start of the academic year. Here is a list of organizing strategies from Jackie Kelley.

■Clear backlog: Set aside a few hours before school begins to de-clutter study spaces, purge old school papers and inventory school supplies.

■Identify student study preferences: Does the student use a desk, bed, dining table, kitchen counter or floor for studying? Make sure the area of choice is cleared off and comfortable.

■Evaluate study zone: See if the desk or work table, chair, lighting, bookshelf and filing system need updating.

■Set up systems for papers and calendar: Create simple, easy-to-use files by subject to manage incoming papers as well as archives. Support scheduled tasks and activities by acquiring a wall calendar and weekly planner to keep track of dates.

■Develop maintenance routine: Talk to your teen about keeping study materials organized during the school year. Many students find it worthwhile to spend a few minutes at the end of each day straightening up study spaces, binders and backpacks. Others may block off a weekly de-cluttering session on their calendars.

Back to school prep

Ready to get organized? Check out this product gallery with Jackie Kelley’s top picks for back-to-school products.

Got questions? Ask the professional organizer yourself. Jackie Kelley joins staff writers Jura Koncius and Terri Sapienza in this week’s Home Front chat at 11 a.m. Thursday. Submit your questions now.

 
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