After school organization: Tips for dealing with backpacks, homework, and more

October 2013 | by rebecca stewart

It’s either late in the evening (I’m talking we’re knocking on bedtime’s door) or first thing in the morning and a feeling of panic has descended upon your household. One or more of you has realized that something school-related slipped through the cracks. As tempers build and tears threaten to spill, you and yours frantically scramble to accomplish this forgotten task you think to yourself, “There’s gotta be a better way!”

As parents we’re constantly seeking the perfect answer for the barrage of paperwork that explodes from our children’s backpacks. We want to save ourselves from the stomach-dropping pronouncement, “But I have to turn in four pages on Yugoslavian culture tomorrow! I CAN’T go to bed now!!!” Or, “What do you mean it's picture day today?!” Plus no one really wants that backpack-exploded-all-over-the-house look to round out their home décor.

Now that we’ve fully immersed ourselves in the problem, let’s talk solutions.

Backpack Central – There needs to be a centralized location for the backpacks. A place where, after the kids have done their daily unloading, the backpack goes so there’s no scrambling around for it in the morning. Whether you create a wonderful space with hooks and names, complete with cubbies for their boots, mittens, etc. or it’s on the coat rack by the front door or several hooks placed inside your closet door, declare a space that is indeed backpack central.

Distribution – We can assume that any paperwork coming home will need to be filtered into any of these three categories: Mom/Dad (papers to sign/review – calendars, newsletters, permission slips…), Kiddos (homework), or Keepers (those awesome pieces of artwork or starred assignments that deserve their time to shine). I love the idea of hanging clipboards on the wall to create an easily interchangeable “wall of fame,” so new papers can be put on display, but the key here is going to be what to do with the papers after they’ve soaked up their 15 minutes of fame? Stay with me and we’ll get there.

Personally, I prefer going through my daughter’s folder together as soon as she gets home and I take care of the “distribution,” but older kids could definitely take on the responsibility of placing mom/dad items in your folder/bin while settling themselves in to getting their homework done. Bottom line, though, says one mom of three who isn’t always home afterschool, always check the backpacks.

Homework Space – If you get sucked into the time-stealing virtual bulletin board that is Pinterest or you Google “creating a homework space for kids,” things can get quite fancy, not to mention creative. I’m all for drawers and organizational helpers, but I also think the kitchen table is just as perfect as any homework nook you might create – especially for the little ones. Kindergarteners dabble in homework, but come first grade and beyond it’s a nightly event and keeping them close with as few distractions as possible is certainly the way to go. And, there’s something verging on magical about having your kiddo sitting in the kitchen sharing tales from their day as you bustle (dash crazily…who’s to quibble) around getting dinner ready, lending a hand as needed.

When it comes to homework I really believe it boils to down to three things: Have snacks on hand, situate them in a place that is quiet with few distractions, and make it the first priority after school rather than putting it off until later.

For a peek at 27 fun and fancy homework space ideas go to: This Old House

Dealing with the end of year (and during!) paper extravaganza – It starts in preschool, you find yourself the proud owner of more beautiful pieces of artwork than you know what to do with, then kindergarten produces a medley of worksheets, tests, combined with art…Each year results in less art and more paper, yet we’re loathe to throw any of it away. For example, at the end of this past summer I figured I should maybe do something about the mountain of paperwork from kindergarten before kicking off the new school year. I got myself a crate, some folders, hanging files, and some labels; I was feeling good as I waded through the piles of papers, choosing those I felt like we couldn’t live without, creating piles of recyclables of those I thought wouldn’t be missed. It took hours. With a massive sense of accomplishment I was showing off my work to the husband, and then a thought occurred…Did I not tuck a pile of papers in that table with the lid earlier in the year…Yep, sure did. Sigh.

Moving forward, let’s learn from my mistakes and talk about how to handle the onslaught of paperwork throughout the year rather than be left with an overwhelming mountain in the end.

First, repeat after me: We do not have to keep every last piece of paper that our children bring home from school. Life will not end, our children will not be scarred for life, disaster will not strike if we turn a discerning eye on the papers flowing our way.

But what do we keep: Forever and Just for Now...

  • Obviously report cards and those special assessment reports.
  • For the duration of the school year itself: correspondence from your child’s teacher you’ll need to refer back to, the school handbook, a copy of your child’s physical (just in case). This would be your Sammy's School Paperwork folder.
  • Artwork: These days a lot of parents are going digital with their children’s artwork, taking pictures of the artwork with their child holding the piece and saving it digitally vs. physically. I’m not there yet, some pieces go into her crate, some go into a special scrapbook, while others still are framed.
  • Sift through the papers that come through and keep those that hit milestones, the rocking test scores, special assignments for the crate.
  • Keep tricky assignments as examples to refer back to later when the latest homework assignment is stumping one and all. In my house those go in my kiddo's folder. Note: These don't all have to be kept permanently. This would be your kiddo's personal, during-the-year folder.
  • As the kids get older give them as much say in the matter as yourself. Don’t let them toss it all, but they’ll have the best idea of what they’ll want to look back on one day.

Check out the brainchild behind the schoolwork organizing crate at iHeart Organizing: Labels and cover sheets not to be missed.

Whether your afterschool schedule runs like a well-oiled machine or you’re still working out the kinks, we wish your kiddos an excellent school year filled with learning, friendship, and fun.