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Getting Ready for School

This is the third installment of our back-to-school series. Today my friend and organizing mentor Shana Chaplin is joining us to talk about basic steps to getting organized as it relates to school and homework. She also shares tips for helping your child get organized at school in a way that makes sense to them. I know you will learn a lot from Shana’s tips.

Shana is married to Paul Chaplin and  the mother of 14 year old twin daughters.  She grew up oversees, living in Japan and Morocco where her parents served as missionaries.  A personality that thrives on order and frequent moves during childhood, led to a passion for organizing.  Managing a home, small business and family activities, including advocacy for a child with a learning disability, has led to a lifelong pursuit of order.  A six year struggle with infertility, followed by the birth of twins, led Shana to a deeper relationship with Christ, gaining new understanding of peace and daily reliance upon Christ.  Today Shana loves to keep the family running, always trying to keep in check her innate desire for perfection, while remembering to leave space for God to act and speak in and through her.  Her family is her greatest passion.  A close second is her desire to help women know their calling and develop life management skills that enable them to live out that call in way that brings honor and glory to God.


Getting Ready for School

“Back to School” signs can trigger feelings of excitement and anticipation.  Store shelves are lined with papers, an array of writing utensils, small containers, locker accessories, back packs, lunch boxes and every color, size and shaped water bottles.  It’s tempting to go on a shopping spree.  Oh how tempting it is!

You see that’s exactly what I used to do.  Fill the cart with all things coordinating.  Purchase a new calendar.  Purge the closets, cabinets and bedrooms.  I could dream up all sorts of systems, find all kinds of boxes for storing things and hooks to hang things on.  Problem was, I was thrilled with the outcomes, but my family either didn’t care or didn’t find it useful.  And therein would lay the problem.

So now, I take a different approach.  After years of trying to force my organizational genius on my family, I came to realize organization is about the processes, not the systems or the supplies.  Thinking through the processes means I have to know how each area or item is used.  Next, I have to think about who uses the area or item.  The challenge then is to organize that area in a way that fits the needs and personality of the person using it.  Guess what.  It really isn’t all about me.  Not as much fun as going on a shopping spree, but the end result will be so much better.

Here are some basic steps I use to reach organizational success:

  1. Identify the need.  Do the kids have a spot to dump their bags?  Where do they put their schoolwork and other important papers?  Is there a place for doing homework?
  2. Determine the location/space.  For example, schoolwork needs to go on or near the kitchen counter so mom can review, sign, discard or file.
  3. Clear the space of anything not needed.
  4. Bring in the necessary supplies.  If you are a creative type, just before bringing in supplies is the time to paint or jazz things up a bit.  You can also have some fun with the supplies.  Let each child pick a basket in their favorite color.  If that’s a stretch for you, select a basket or file bin in a fabric or color coordinating with your kitchen décor.
  5. Label.  We all work better if we see a visual reminder of what is to go in the container, basket or be hung on the wall.

Repeat this process throughout the house, setting up little “centers”.  The real secret to the success though is to include anyone using the space for the desired purpose in the conversation.  As “Queen Mother” you have complete veto power, but if you give them a little say in where they want to put their things, what they want the space to look like, they’ll be committed to using the space.

As my girls reached middle school and high school I found these same steps help us with organizing our binders and lockers.  It’s not always an easy sell with the schools, where conformity and sameness seem to rule the thinking of many a teacher and administrator.  However, if kids don’t understand the way their binder is set-up, they won’t use it or be able to keep up with things.  If they struggle with executive function, ADD or processing it is even more critical the “system” make sense.  For example, instead of a binder for every class (which quite frankly is too much for any kid to have to carry around), try a morning binder and afternoon binder.  Use three-hole punched pocket folders to separate classes and then regular tab dividers to organize papers per the teacher’s request.  The front pocket of the binder should be reserved for incomplete assignments, homework, and notes to parents.  The student then has one place to look when they get home.  And, they only have two binders to keep up with!

I still love “Back to School” signs and merchandise.  I still purchase a new calendar and find plenty of reasons to throw in a few colorful baskets, new pens, etc…  If I am not careful though I can still get a little carried away and create a whole lot of pretty organized spaces that in the end don’t work.  So, I try to take a deep breath and instead of blowing a fuse over the clutter, rally the family and make a plan.


I always love to hear what Shana has to say about organizing! She is one I’ve looked up to for guidance as I’ve tried to pursue peace instead of perfection in my organizing efforts. In fact, next week I’ll be sharing about a concept she introduced me to many years ago, the family notebook.

If you’ve missed any of the other installments in the back-to-school series, then click on the links below to read them.

How to Create an Art Station

How to Prepare Your Child Spiritually to Return to School


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