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Organize before that old school bell rings

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THESE ARE TRYING TIMES, when we mix the dog days of summer with the hustle-bustle of fall and back-to-school. Daily living becomes a juggling act for many families. These organizing tips might be the preventive maintenance needed to help your household run smoothly this school year.

Write your child’s name on his or her things. I know this is basic, yet school “lost and found” sites are full of unnamed items. Outerwear — sweatshirts, jackets, sweaters, etc. — needs the last name and first initial written on the garment tag. Backpacks, lunch boxes, ice-packs and thermoses should also be ID’d.

Stick-on labels with your child’s name can be easily made on the computer or with a labelmaker from office-supply stores or catalogs. Labels are handy for books, binders and other special things your child uses at school. Plus, kids love to see their name in official print.

Despite the wonderful efficiency of registration, parents need to complete emergency papers each year their child is in school. Personally, I loathe filling out papers that require me to hunt for phone and insurance numbers, addresses and other necessary information. Usually, this information is the same each year, yet who remembers all those numbers? Keep a copy of the forms you complete (scan and store in your computer, or photocopy), and you won’t have to track it down next year, and the next, and the next, until graduation.

Calendar, calendar on the wall
As the children bring home information about field trips and school projects, transfer the dates to a central calendar. For some families, a wall calendar or dry-erase calendar board will work. Still others rely on Mom or Dad’s daily planner. But Julie Ellis, who teaches at Buena Vista Elementary in Walnut Creek, says, “The visual reminder of a calendar can be very helpful in keeping your child on track with schoolwork.”

The last night before the first day
Prepare ahead as much as possible. Kids’ clothes can be set out, eliminating wardrobe hassles. Danielle, a mother of preschoolers, swears by a hanging organizer. Sold for storing sweaters, she puts clothes (shirts, pants, socks and underwear) for each school day together in separate cubbies.

Lunches can be partially assembled, gathering drinks and packaged items the night before, and making the sandwich in the morning for freshness. If your child buys lunch at school, purchasing lunch tickets in advance is the best way to avoid morning “where’s my lunch money?” madness. Keep water bottles ready and cold for quick retrieval.

Does your child take medications or vitamins? Consider pillboxes with a slot for each day of the week. Load the box on Sunday, and there’s no need to wonder if he took his medication on any given day.

Have backpacks and sports bags loaded and near the door with any special projects needed for the next day.

Note: Weigh your child’s backpack. Doctors suggest that backpacks not exceed 10 percent of the child’s body weight. Padded shoulder straps and a waist belt help distribute the weight evenly. For chronic cases, consider a backpack on wheels.

Paper chase
There are several ways to corral the paper that little Johnny lugs home.

  1. Use tiered baskets kept in a central location. Kids can learn basic organizing skills by sorting through their backpacks daily and placing papers in the appropriate baskets. Papers that need to be signed by the parent can be in one basket, and then placed in the backpack for return to school. A second basket can be for your child’s returned schoolwork. After reviewing, remember to be selective about what papers you save.
  2. Try a binder system with dividers for each child’s extracurricular papers — game schedules, team rosters, scout meetings (you’ll need a hole-punch to file papers). This method takes very little storage space and keeps the papers in good condition. Its effectiveness will be determined by your child unloading his backpack daily and passing papers along to you. Remember to weed out the binder as events pass.
  3. Magnetic clips — one per child, on the fridge — are my personal favorite. Keep class schedules, fliers for school events, and the annual school-district calendar (essential for planning vacations and doctor appointments). Place in date order, with the most current event on top. Clips can also be used on a bulletin board.
  4. Locker solutions . Is your high-school or middle-school student complaining about jammed locker space? Get space extenders (at Target and OfficeMax) for lockers that triple space by dividing it with shelves.