If your family is like most other families, at the start of the school year, everything is chaotic. Nobody can find their homework, keys, permission slips, or even anything clean to wear. Fortunately, there are cures for the back to school chaos, and with a little planning, your family can be out the door in record time every morning, and in a good mood, increasing your time and improving your children's attendance. It is simply a matter of training everyone in your family in some basic organization techniques.

One of the most useful changes you can make is to have a central calendar, which is a huge help in a family organization of time. Every individual and family event, whether it is a business trip, PTA meeting, lesson, soccer game, recital or dentist appointment, gets put on the central calendar. If there are conflicts, the conflicts become immediately apparent, and can be resolved quickly. Don't rely entirely on electronic or online organizing calendars -- have a paper backup ready that everyone can scribble on! And make sure that the family organizing calendar is accessible to the shortest person in the house; that is the person least likely to make the effort to write something down if they can't reach the calendar.


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A great family organizing calendar. Get two, so you can plan a month in advance!

Each person should also have an individual organizing calendar, with notations of meetings, homework assignments due, and, if materials are needed for completing homework or extracurricular activities (such as violin strings, oboe reeds, materials to make dioramas or posters), when those materials need to be at hand. This will enable you to combine those runs with your other errands, and you won't be stuck wondering where to buy something at 9 p.m. If children have trouble completing homework on time, it may be time to sit down with them and have a talk about time management, school supplies organizing, breaking tasks into smaller pieces, making checklists, or whatever your child will respond to.

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If you don't feel your children are ready for cell phones, this organizing calendar may be just what your child needs to keep school and social appointment organized.

Keep a list of phone numbers of people willing to organize in order to carpool. If Janie needs to be at soccer while Tony is at the doctor, obviously you can't do both. But if someone else who lives two doors down from you also has a child at the soccer field, both children can be where they need to be. Be sure that you are willing to return the favour by taking other people's children and pets to where they need to go!

Have a place for each person to put their stuff when they first come in the door -- books, keys, permission slips, extracurricular activity schedules, and the rest, to keep it organized. A large plastic bin is inexpensive, and each person can have an individual bin to use as a catchall -- and it works even better if they are colour coded! Before your family goes to bed at night, make sure that each person dumps out his or her catchall, hands over permission slips or notes to be signed, does the homework and puts it back in the catchall (which will, believe it or not, prevent the dog from eating it ), and puts whatever they need for the next day in the catchall -- sheet music, snacks, sports equipment, science fair projects. In the morning, each person retrieves what is in his or her catchall, and puts it in the backpack, and everything is ready to go! (Don't forget the library books!) If your children have cell phones, make sure that the cell phones are plugged into the chargers at night, so that the phones are fully charged at all times. Having colour-coordinated phones also helps avoid confusion and mishaps when everyone is in a rush. You can also use the cell phones for reminders for appointments.

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Use this system to organize all the catchalls for each person in your family. Yes, it looks pricey, but it will save everyone a lot of time, hassle, and yes, money in the long run!

Breakfast can be a trial even with well-behaved children when everything runs smoothly. Not everyone is a morning person, and tempers can flare over even the slightest mishap or ambiguous look. You can help insure a calm breakfast by making sure that everyone follows roughly the same menu, and providing a variety of healthy foods: whole grains, fruits, yoghurt, and plenty of water to drink. (Juice is no better for you than sodas.) Put snacks in each person's catchall as you are fixing breakfast. Put lunch money or lunches in the catchalls, too. And even if your children take their own lunches to school, each child should have enough money to buy one lunch at the cafeteria, just in case disaster happens -- you don't want your child to go hungry if something should happen to his or her lunch!

Lay out children's clothing for the entire week in advance. That way, you will discover rips, missing buttons, and tears and can do mending, and you won't have to hear, "Mom, I don't have any clean ______ (fill in the blank) to wear!" By using an over-the-door hook and putting the week's worth of clothing on hangers, in order, you will also avoid the lengthy decision-making that some young girls go through each morning, and as a result, your children can be ready earlier, contributing greatly to your children's ability to be on time and in attendance. Even if your children wear uniforms to school, this can be a real timesaver in the mornings.

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Put a hanger on each of these hooks, holding your child's (or your) clothes for the week, and you will be a step ahead of the game!

Don't forget that older children can help their parents or siblings in making sure that everything is ready so that things go smoothly every morning. This includes helping younger children with homework and organizing schedules. If you have a child old enough to drive, they should share in the responsibility of getting everyone where they need to go on time.

And of course, make sure everyone's alarm clock is working, and have a backup alarm in case the power goes out (most cell phones now have an alarm clock built in). A countdown timer will help to let you know how much time is left in the mornings before each person has to leave for school or work; one that gives you a warning a few minutes before is the best kind (and preferably loud enough that you can hear it all over the house). If you don't want to use a timer, there are plenty of free software programs and even web pages that can do the same thing.

Armed with these family organizing tips, you should find that your daily back-to-school routine runs much more smoothly, and you will end up less frazzled, with fewer missed appointments, homework assignments, and extracurricular activities. Good luck in school!