Parents, you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers.

Or just as likely, we’ve got questions and you’ve got answers.

Challenge: Expert Advice

How To Get Kids Organized For School At Every Age

Vote up!
Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email this article

Organization at every ageGetty / fcafotodigital

I have a back-to-school tradition with my grandchildren that actually is a hand-me-down from my grandmother. Each year, before school starts, I take the five of them out for a new pair of school shoes (sneakers). When the summer is waning, they remind me that it’s almost shoe-shopping time. Although I’m sure the sales people hold their breath as five children, ages 4 to 12, descend upon their place of business, this tradition and what it means to my grandkids warms my heart. Not only do they see it as an act of love but also as sign of “getting ready.” This little trip gets them excited about the new school year, and starts them thinking about what they need to do to be prepared to have their best school year yet.


Back To Schoolkit

Preparation and organization are the keys to every student and parent’s sanity, no matter the age of the student. Heading into the new school year is the perfect time to help your child with their own organization, which can carry through to the entire school year. Here are some helpful suggestions:


  • Set a nightly routine and stick to it. That includes a reasonable bedtime!
  • Take a shower the night before.
  • Lay out the clothes for the next day, and let your child help. Giving them a voice is important…even if things don’t match. Voice equals confidence and empowerment.
  • Pack up their bookbag the night before. This allows parents to see what was brought home that might need attention, and you can all sleep well knowing that everything is packed and ready for the busy morning ahead.

Elementary School

Ditto to all of the above!

  • Many schools now send their list of school supplies to the local stores and/or they provide them at school. Use those lists as your guide for what to buy.
  • Most elementary school students may have some assignments to work on. Designate a workspace that is in full view of the parent. All technology should be turned off and out of reach during work time.
  • Along with this, designate a specific time to do the work. After a long day at school, kids need time to relax, so I’d suggest giving some play time before doing any work for school.
  • If there are no assignments to work on, consider having your child read for 15 minutes each night. I’d suggest that an adult join the child as they read, possibly taking turns reading.

Middle School

Again, all of the suggestions for preschool still hold for middle schoolers. This is often the age when parents may gain a good understanding of why some animals eat their young. Don’t get me wrong…I love middle school-aged students, but this is definitely a time of life when testing the limits seems to be a rite of passage. So, parents, I’m going to offer some tips for establishing boundaries within reason.

  • NO phone during designated homework time. You will not be cool, but it may motivate them to get things done in a timely manner. Set a designated study time and location…and I’d suggest that it’s in view. I’d absolutely avoid sending my child to his/her room to do homework unless I was planning on doing several unplanned strolls by the OPEN DOOR of his/her room. Again, you will not be cool. Get used to it and deal with it. You’re the parent, not their friend.
  • INSIST that your child keep a planner with all assignments noted. CHECK IT each night, and make sure you see the assignment that correlates to what is written. Do NOT correct the homework; that’s for the teacher to do. Only ensure that an assignment is done for each item noted in the planner. Once they get the hang of what’s expected, and they are doing a decent job keeping the planner, you can check it periodically. If, upon your periodic checking, you find that it’s not kept as intended, you can go back to daily planner checks.
  • Many teachers will be specific about what supplies they want for their particular class, so I’d follow those requests. I also think it’s always helpful to have separate folders for each subject. That way, completed homework and other class particulars can be easily found and organized.
  • The time will come when your middle schooler will not have packed his/her backpack the night before as expected, and something will be forgotten. Expect a frantic phone call or text, begging you to bring it to school. SAY “NO!” Here’s why: 1) Organizing the backpack the night before was an expectation that’s now been broken. There are consequences to not meeting expectations. 2) If you cave and bring the forgotten item to school once, you can be confident that it will happen again…and again…and again. If you say “no” the first time, I’ll bet you they won’t call you again…nor will they forget to be organized the night before.
  • Over the winter holiday break, take your child out for new supplies. Help them clean out the backpack, get re-organized, and ready to start the second semester fresh.

High School

By the time students reach high school, most have an established routine. If your child continues to have organizational issues, keep the boundaries and expectations you had for him/her in the earlier grades.

  • I’d also advise parents to go online to check grades and homework completion periodically. You don’t have to do this daily, but it might be good to take a look weekly. If things aren’t getting done, you want to catch it sooner rather than later.
  • Sleep becomes a bigger issue once students get to high school. Watch your student carefully and try to note when they are getting to bed. That’s another reason why the phone should be commandeered when they are supposed to be doing homework; that phone will take priority if it’s within reach. Put it out of reach for better quality study time. I’d also suggest that you take the phone for safekeeping at a certain time of the evening so your child doesn’t end up on technology all night. If your child is saying that the amount of homework is causing sleep issues, please talk with the teachers and/or school counselor to figure out some interventions.
  • With regard to post-secondary planning, your school counselor typically has all kinds of calendars and suggested “to do lists” that can help with organization of the planning. These can be very helpful in the post-secondary search and decision-making. Many of these planning tools are organized year-by-year, so you can get a good picture of the four-year planning process.


The summer before college is a time of preparation and organization. Here are some tips:

  • Stay on top of the summer orientation at your child’s chosen institution. Make sure that s/he attends the orientation and, if they offer a parent orientation, please do attend!
  • Pay attention to the information that comes from Student Housing. Ensure your student has a room assignment, and that the meal plan is in place. Housing should be able to provide suggestions of what to bring. This is another good reason to attend summer orientation…take a good look at the room, the furnishings, and the storage capabilities.
  • Set up a location in your home to begin putting items that will go to college, i.e. towels, sheets, comforters, decorations, resource materials, etc.
  • If your child is on medication for any reason, have them see the doctor for an updated prescription. Fill that prescription and make sure it’s packed!
  • Make a schedule for packing and deciding what is coming to college and what is staying home. Don’t do this yourself…stay on your child and make him/her do this…otherwise, anything forgotten will be your fault. Keep the responsibility on him/her.
  • Before they set off for college, have them clean their room at home so you don’t come home to a mess.
  • Often, college students will want to buy school supply items at the college bookstore but, if they are willing, it’s a money-saver to buy some of those items at the local stores near home.
  • One last tip…talk with your child about money. I don’t think you have a money tree in your back yard. You must have firm boundaries about what you will and will not pay for. Sometimes ID cards can act as credit cards. Those puppies are SO easy to use…and abuse. Be clear about finances! Many credit card companies come onto campuses with all kinds of free perks. Kids think, “Oh…I’ll get this for the free gift, and then will cancel it.” Yeah…right. Credit cards are dangerous and many a parent has suffered the ugly surprise of a staggering balance that got out of control. Have the money talk with your child!!!

And I do have one final tip: be positive when it comes talking with your child about school. Don’t say things that will make kids afraid of teachers, school counselors, or other staff members. Work with the school to help your child have a positive experience. Talk with the teachers, school counselors, and other staff members when something your child says about school doesn’t sound quite right. Parents and educators all have a common goal: for each child to feel valued, safe, welcomed, and successful at school. It’s a brand new school year…let’s all join together to encourage and nurture those bright faces and new shoes as they welcome in 2018-19!

This post comes from the TODAY Parenting Team community, where all members are welcome to post and discuss parenting solutions. Learn more and join us! Because we're all in this together.