Kids & paper

Portable desk for students that have a hard time studying in one place.
Portable desk for students that have a hard time studying in one place. (Staples)
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Problem: Organizing kids' papers actually has two parts. First, parents must create order for dealing with permission slips and information a child brings home for them to read and sign. A parent should also set up a system for preserving report cards, artwork, school pictures and other paper that filters through children's lives, and maintain a family calendar. Second, parents must teach children how to maintain order for themselves. They need to learn how to have a place for everything in their bedroom, desk and backpack. Household routines keep a family running smoothly.

Expert: Sandra Forbes is a professional organizer based in Vienna and a mother of seven. Her firm, Forbes Organizing, advises working moms and develops home management techniques.

The fix: Forbes said kids need different guidance during three stages of their education. In elementary school, the challenge for children is bringing paper home and bringing paper back to school. In middle school, organizing all the supplies and books they need for every class becomes vital. In high school, the issue is time management.

At each stage, a parent needs to work with their child in developing systems that help everyone get out the door on time in the morning and into bed at a decent hour. Some kids need a checklist on the front door of what they need to bring to school every day, from lunch money to band instruments. Some families load backpacks at night and set them by the door or other "launch pad" before bedtime.

Creating a designated home study area is essential. "They should have all the supplies they need to do their work," she says. "Then they don't get up to get something and get distracted."

Keeping a family binder in your kitchen or on your desk gives a home to all the essential paper that's constantly arriving from teachers, band leaders and coaches. Forbes uses a three-ring binder with tabs for each child. Using clear sleeves, Forbes organized schedules, phone lists and academic and sports calendars. You can also use a similar binder for report cards and awards. She purges unneeded papers at the end of the school year and starts over. "Piled-up paper is a lack of making decisions," she said. "You want to avoid that."


1 Keep a bright-colored file labeled "pending" for permission slips and any other paperwork that is due sometime in the future. It prevents last-minute panic.

2 Forbes uses the Microsoft Outlook calendar as a master clearinghouse for family dates. She clicks and drags e-mails into her calendar so all the information she needs on an activity is in the same place.

3 A weekly cleaning by each child of his own bedroom floor can turn up missing items and keep the room orderly so kids can focus on studying. Also, clean out backpacks. Children tend to stuff old papers and food wrappers in there. This weekly ritual often turns up missing library books, too, she said.

Read on for more organizing tips: Family photographs, Junk drawer, hall closet.

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