It’s almost time to go back to school. For many families, that can mean piles of books, papers and other supplies everywhere. Professional organizer Rachel Rosenthal has a few tips on how to make those school days feel a lot less hectic. (Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

In the Back-to-School issue of Local Living, we sought out experts for advice on different ways to prepare for the school year. For the full list of stories, go to

Tamara Johnston, a teacher with Phillips Programs in the D.C. area, teaches 15-to-21-year-olds in a high school program and also has three children ages 22, 20 and 16. No matter the situation, she finds getting back into a routine to be crucial. Establishing a routine will help kids get ready for homework again, too.

“As a mom, summer is great. I didn’t want a lot of routines. I wanted a summer free feeling,” she says. But she knew she had to get the kids going again.

She usually began the routine-setting two weeks before school started. That meant dinner and bed at the same time each night. “I was just getting them in the mind-set to start their school experience,” she says.

If you’re trying to brush up on the academics? Do it quietly. Read together, offer an incentive to them to read one more chapter. Cook together to help review math skills. Let them count the change at the store. And make sure to create a relatively chaos-free environment.

(Stefano Colferai for The Washington Post)

She always had a specific place for backpacks and another to do homework. “If you have that area, it’s not for anything else,” she says. “It helps a lot for focus, especially for students who can get easily distracted.”

It is also important to start “pulling back” on the TV, cellphone and computer time, she says. The kids need to fill that time with more academics now, and getting them used to not being in front of a screen so much will help.

Stick to the routines, no matter what they are.

“The most important part to . . . get ready to do any kind of job is consistency and repetition,” Johnston says. “A lot of students, especially with special needs, need repetition.”

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6 More back-to-school tips For expert advice on school-year meal planning and organizing a homework station, go to