Organize for Academic Success
Speaking from experience as a former teacher, I cannot stress enough the strong correlation between organization and academic success. Part of my first job involved initiating interventions with struggling students to assess root cause. I found that more often than not, the primary barriers between a student and success were simple organization and time management. Students I worked with would misplace homework assignments, forget due dates, and set unrealistic expectations for completion of long-term assignments. Setting up organizational supports at the beginning of the school year will help streamline your student's path to high achievement .
1. Corral those papers!
Many teachers nowadays will require that students have a binder for each class with a very prescriptive set of tabs for note keeping, handouts, etc. This system is meant to force students into strong organizational habits, and it could very well work for your student. However, most of the disorganized students I met were "minimalists." They didn't ascribe to the prescriptive guidelines set by their teachers who insisted that they carry a binder around for each class, and instead opted for something much worse. Most of the time, these students would carry around a 3 subject notebook with school papers randomly jammed into the first page they could find, inevitably losing homework and other important classwork from the time it took them to walk from English to Chemistry.
If your student sounds like the ones I worked with, the accordion folder is your best friend. Get a folder equipped with enough subdivisions to accommodate each core subject. It's also a good idea to assign one folder to homework so your student can place it in there as soon as it is assigned. For note-taking, you could get a notebook per class or a multi-subject notebook that's carried everywhere, avoiding locker visits during short passing periods.
2. Use a planner.
Planners are essential for writing down daily homework as well as due dates for long-term projects. Most teachers will do the part of breaking down larger projects into manageable chunks, but may give students more independence in this process the older they get. If a significant project like a paper is due on Friday, students need to make sure they factor in enough time throughout the week for pre-writing, drafting, revision, etc. If they wait until the night before, they will either submit a woefully sub-par product after pulling an all-nighter, or more likely, fail to turn it in on time or at all. An example planner for writing a simple paper might look like this:
The same rule applies when multiple large assignments are due on the same date. This is a common occurrence during final exams when a student likely has tests and papers due in every class. Ease the burden by spreading study sessions and project preparation over a several weeks.
3. Secure a study spot.
It's a well-known fact that habit breeds success. If your student has a specific place and time that he or she starts working on homework, it's likely that academic success will follow. This space could be a desk, the dining room table, or any other place where your student can spread out and quietly focus on work. Equip the space with a supply caddy like the one featured above so that your student has everything within arm's reach. The contents of this will vary based on your student's age, ranging from crayons and glue to protractors and scientific calculators.
4. Archive old papers.
Your accordion folder is going to get pretty full as time goes on, and not all of those documents will be relevant to ongoing projects. However, there may be some resources floating around in there that you want to hold onto long term (especially anything that may be covered on the final exam!) Store any important documents, such as those that explain key terms, grammar rules, mathematical formulas, etc. in a separate file throughout the year. Since skills build upon each other, these reference materials may come in handy later on.
Ultimately, academic success comes down to where to find things (assignments), how to do them (notes), and when they are due (use a planner!). It's been said that it takes 30 days to form a habit, so you can't expect success overnight. Be persistent with the method and support your student throughout the process until he or she becomes independent.
Be a Back-to-School Machine
The beginning of the school year is a fresh chance to set new intentions not unlike those you set in your New Year's resolutions. Without proper preparation, you'll soon be swimming in a sea of supply lists, syllabuses, sports schedules, activity dues, and carpool arrangements, not to mention all of the day-to-day tasks like making sure your child doesn't go hungry and has clean clothes to wear. This year, make your resolution to turn your household into a well-oiled back-to-school machine by following these tips!
1. Create a High-Caliber Command Center
An organized command center is key when trying to keep track of a household's overlapping schedules. Depending on your needs, you can mix and match any variety of products, such as those featured in the Pottery Barn "Daily System" seen above. At the very least, you should have a calendar large enough to fit the important events of every member of the household, assigning a different colored pen to each person for easy identification.
Another important feature of a functional command center is a way to manage the flow of paperwork. Using a hanging wall file (as pictured above), assign an inbox and an outbox for important mail and documents such as permission slips, supply lists, and other papers that require parent action. Don't bother putting any junk mail into the inbox--just put it straight in the recycling bin.
Other common additions are reminder boards, shopping lists, and chore lists, but they aren't necessary in every home. When it comes to a quality command center, the possibilities are truly endless. Choose what makes sense to you depending on your needs, space constraints, and personal style.
2. Start a Simple Launch Pad
Many people choose to combine their launch pads with their command centers, but it doesn't have to be this way (and can honestly be a bit overwhelming at times). The most important thing about the launch pad is that each member of the family has a designated place for his or her in-season outerwear, footwear, and accessories.
Using a shelf and bench set like the one featured above is the perfect way to keep everyone's items sorted (adjusting the size of the system for the number of family members). Place baskets in the shelf cubbies to store seasonal accessories like hats and sunglasses, and hang coats and backpacks on the hooks below. In the storage bench, add baskets to hold in-season footwear. Any items that are currently not in season should be stored in a closet, while those that have been outgrown or have reached their expiration date should be donated.
3. Simplify Meal Prep
Planning and packing your family lunches ahead of time takes the mystery out of what to make the day of and saves you valuable time that can be spent doing the important things--like trying to get your kid out of bed for the 10th time in a row. Also, by putting so much forethought into the process, you can make sure that you pack all of the essential nutrients into the week, doing the food pyramid proud.
If that's "doing too much," as the kids would say, you might consider putting like items together in bins for easy repeat meals. For example, you might designate a lunch bin in your refrigerator that contains sandwich fixings and individually packed snacks. This saves you the time of searching through loose items that have invariably shifted around the fridge while someone was rummaging around for a snack.
You might also consider a service like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, or one of the other innumerable meal prep services out there to take care of the dinner menu (at least 3 nights a week). Speaking from personal experience, it's really nice not to have to think about what to make every single night, decreasing the amount of time and energy put into grocery shopping (because, let's be honest, you have enough to worry about).
4. Put Together Outfits in Advance
If your child is still in the stage where you pick out clothes for him or her, this days-of-the-week closet organizer could be your best friend. You don't have to get as fancy as the product pictured above--any hanging organizer with five slots will do. Avoid putting together hurried, mismatched outfits by setting up five days worth of outfits ahead of time. You'll also never have the nasty surprise of realizing your kid is all out of clean underwear! If you really want to get ahead of the week, you can extend the same practice to your own closet with some simple closet rod organizers.
In short, the more you can do ahead of time before you are slingshotted into the hectic madness is that is the week, the less stressed out you will be. If something is driving you crazy, there's probably a way to organize around it!
Packing like a Pro Organizer
'Tis the season to travel, and we've all been here before: It's the night before your long-awaited vacation and you're staring at your empty suitcase, panicking about what to pack. You start with a few of your favorite outfits, and things start getting out of control from there. What if it rains? What if there's a cold snap? Should I bring this extra sweater, just in case? And what about these shoes that go perfectly with that outfit but don't really match anything else? Before you know it, you're hobbling through the airport with a suitcase you can barely close and a carry-on that you pray the flight attendant won't make you try to squeeze into that doll-sized luggage sizer. Avoid this travel nightmare by following these pro tips!
1. Pack only the essentials.
Minimalism is a central tenet of every sphere of organized life, vacation packing included. Check the forecast before you go and pack a small number of weather-appropriate, neutral basics that can be mixed, matched, and layered with several different pieces. Unless your trip involves high intensity cardio activities, you don't need a totally unique top and bottom for every single day. Even then, taking advantage of a hotel's laundry service might be preferable to lugging around your entire wardrobe. A basic rule is to pack enough clothes for a week, even if you're going for two or three. Limit yourself to 2-3 pairs of shoes, depending on activity level (e.g. flip flops, flats, hiking boots). Avoid the impulse to bring anything "just in case." If you really need an extra shirt, you can get one at your destination.
2. Maintain order within.
I recently discovered the wonder of the Eagle Creek pack-it systems. I use compression sacs for bulkier items like beach towels/bags, and folders/cubes to neatly separate tops, bottoms, undergarments, and other travel accessories (e.g. chargers, adapters, toiletries, etc.). Doing so allows me to easily access the type of item I'm looking for, while keeping all of the garments not in use neatly folded or rolled (rolling can save a ton of space!). This system is particularly revolutionary when backpacking, where traditionally the only thing you can see without digging is the last item you placed on top. Furthermore, keeping your belongings neatly sorted and easily visible means that you're less likely to forget an item that could have just been lost in the jumble.
3. Keep all of your documents in a waterproof folder.
Yes, we live in the digital age, but it can't be guaranteed that all of your reservations will be easily accessible at the click of a button. I recently spent a week in Malawi in places where I had no electricity most of the time, let alone Internet access. Having my entire itinerary, as well as price quotes, timetables, and any other information I wanted within arms reach printed out came in handy on multiple occasions. At minimum, make sure you have the following:
4. Leave (or make) some extra room for souvenirs.
One of the highlights of travel for many people is bringing home unique, location-specific souvenirs. Even if you're not a big fan of "stuff," chances are you have a handful of friends, relatives, or coworkers who require some sort of mementos from your trip. You never know how strictly some airlines enforce the carry-on policy (I once had to put on several extra layers of clothing from my backpack to make room for a shopping bag full of souvenirs), so it's better to play it safe and leave a little extra room. Alternately, you can make extra room at the end of your trip by donating retired clothing you packed specifically for that reason. Remember: traveling is much more about the memories you make than what you wear!