Your Lifeboat in a Sea of School Papers

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No more drowning in the sea of school papers! Everything fits nice and neatly aboard this little lifeboat docked in a little-used corner of my kitchen, providing easy access during the after-school backpack unpack and homework hurricane.

If you have school-aged kids, you know that the paper industry is alive and well, thanks to the teachers, school administrators, PTA and every kid-oriented service organization within a 20-mile radius of your school. Completed classwork. Completed homework. Incomplete classwork. Incomplete homework. Permission slips. PTA newsletters. Principal newsletters. Reminders. Requests for supplies. Flyers, flyers, and more flyers. You could resurrect a hundred forests with the wood pulp that comes home in your kid’s backpack within a single school year! What’s an organized mom (or dad) to do?

As you might have guessed, I consider myself to be a pretty organized individual. So you can imagine my horror at having to apologize to my daughter’s third grade teacher not once, not twice, but three times for having misplaced papers that came home that required some action on my part before being returned to school. The dog didn’t eat her homework, the paper dragon in my kitchen did! Clearly, it was time for me to tame it.

In my tiny townhouse, as in most homes of any size, the kitchen is the nerve center of all activity, so it makes sense to make this the sorting area for school-related papers too. After all, this is where the kids do their homework each afternoon while I start on dinner. But counter space is precious real estate in this teeny weeny kingdom where I am queen. I managed to eek out one small corner of of the counter next to the refrigerator for a single, sturdy upright magazine box. In it, I made pocket folders for: “Information and Resources”, “Action and Reminders”, two “Homework in Progress” folders (one for each child), and “Temporary Storage”. I even had just enough room left for the kids’ menu cards and badge books (I’ll explain these in a separate blog post). I also created storage for pens and pencils, erasers, and a pencil sharpener and a “Paper folder for when I need to write the teacher or note or the kids need extra paper for homework. As you might imagine, this little corner gets more action than anything else in our kitchen…except maybe the coffeemaker.

Each day when the kids come home from school, they get five minutes on the timer for “backpack unpack” time. Any minutes they have leftover after unpacking backpacks and lunchboxes gets applied to their weekly play station/computer game time bank for use on the weekends, so they can be pretty darn speedy. They leave their papers in a neat pile on the counter for me to go through while they do their homework.

It rarely takes more than five minutes for me to process all the papers:

  • Activity reminders, permission slips and anything requiring action on my part goes into the “Action and Reminders” folder if I am not able to complete the required action immediately.
  • General information about school or classroom policies, services,or extra-curricular activities that I want to keep for reference goes in the “Information and Resources” folder.
  • Homework packets, worksheets or reference guides that each child needs in order to do homework or study for tests goes in his respective “Homework in Progress” folder. When they are ready to do homework, they know to get this out and to store their incomplete homework here when they are done for the day.
  • “Temporary Storage” is for any papers that are not clearly safe to toss and do not fit into one of the other folders. I also put selected artwork that might be candidates for saving long-term in here.

Any corrected classwork, homework, tests or quizzes that received a particularly high or particularly low grade or otherwise warrant discussion or comment get set aside until the kids are done with their homework. After discussion, they are tossed. Everything else that did not get filed or processed gets tossed immediately.

The key to making this system work is doing a periodic review of the “Action and Reminders”, “Temporary Storage” and “Information and Resources” folders. This usually takes less than five minutes once a week. I like to set aside ten minutes every Sunday for processing and cleaning out these folders, updating the family calendar, and for posting the week’s menu and key activities that are coming up in the next 7-10 days on laminated sheets that hang on the front of the refrigerator. This forecasting of the week ahead not only helps me feel in control at the helm, but it ensures that all hands are on deck and working in sync to set sail for calm seas.

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