Why is keeping my child organized for school so hard?

I start fresh every year after Labour Day with the good intentions of staying on top of school notices, lunch prep, homework and keeping my daughter and home clutter-free. However, my enthusiasm soon wanes. School notices currently litter my kitchen counter, library books have been misplaced in the bathroom cupboard and lunches are thrown together ten minutes before we leave for drop-off.  I know I’m not alone, but I also know there are ways out of the chaos. Being organized is something I should at least try to model. Relationship and family therapist Kelly Bos agrees.

“Kids feel chaos just like we do. It’s time-consuming. Trying to figure out ‘Where is my backpack?’ takes longer than simply placing it in the same spot every day when you’re done with it. Tackling a big mess instead of the steady cleaning up as you go takes time away from the things you and your kids really want to do, and can be exhausting to live in.”

If you’d like to regain your grip on organization, here are a few tips to consider:

Papers are the devil’s work and it’s most effective to only touch them once and be done with them.

To begin, papers can be categorized and separated by kids into three groups: a) notices not requiring any action, b) papers to be signed (including agendas), and c) assignments, tests and artwork which don’t require signatures. Some parents create files for each and put those files (or boxes) in a central space or workstation, designated cupboard, shelving unit or filing cabinet. Parents can address the papers requiring action at a designated time each day, whether it’s as soon as the kids put them there, right before bed, or during morning coffee.

  • Signed notices (and money, if required) are returned to the child’s agendas or backpacks. Giving it back to the kids can often create more chaos. Notices are read and filed or recycled the first time they are picked up. (I can’t stress enough the benefits of the “touch it once” philosophy!) School work is reviewed – don’t forget the kudos for jobs well done! –  and things like a fantastic art piece can be kept in whatever format works for your family and storage space. We keep a large storage box in the basement for great artwork or projects, but some families take photos and only keep digital copies.
  • All other paper gets recycled! If recycling of school and artwork is discussed when kids are just starting school, it prevents feelings of sadness over their work “disappearing” or being “thrown away” and also instills a good sense of environmental consciousness in our next generation.


Homework can take up overwhelming portions of a day. Bos suggests taking a break when you get home before you and your kids jump into studying and assignments.

“It’s important for everyone to have some down-time after school and work, once routine expectations like putting away coats and shoes or clearing out lunchboxes are done. Kids crave a break after a long day as much as adults do. Time to reset or for introspection about the day’s events can help make homework easier with a better focus and intention.”

A central location for homework completion is easiest for elementary students, especially if there are multiple kids to oversee, or electronics are used to complete assignments. If they’re not needed, keep electronics at bay to avoid distraction, as well as toys, games or food. Ensure the completed work goes directly into backpacks once it’s checked, to avoid the “I can’t find my homework!” panic when it’s time to leave in the morning. If large projects have been assigned, create a written plan with your child to teach them how to break down the final goal into smaller chunks over an assigned time period, so there’s no “I have a project due tomorrow and I haven’t started yet!” drama.


Finally, there’s food. Depending on how picky your eater is, most lunches can be made the night before, Dad Chris Clarke’s ten-year-old daughter makes her own lunch every day. He says, “If a child is old enough to eat a sandwich, he or she is old enough to make one, or at least help!”  Clarke and his wife give their daughter nutritional specifications that each lunch must contain: a protein, a grain, a fruit, a yogurt, a vegetable, and one “treat” snack (usually a chewy granola bar) that can only be eaten at school if all the other items are eaten first. She takes water to drink throughout the day. Families can work together to have lunchbox-ready items available for grab-and-go from the fridge or cupboard, already in individual portions in reusable containers.

Organization doesn’t have to create hives or headaches, especially if parents engage their kids in helping with the tasks. Bos confirms, “Learning to be organized is a form of skill development and teaches your child consistency, routine and self-discipline.”

Go easy on yourself if fighting chaos doesn’t come naturally. Like any habit, it takes time and practice, but sharing the responsibility also gives kids good habit-building experience so hopefully, by the time they’re in high school, they’ll be so organized your involvement won’t even be required.

Jackie Gillard is a freelance writer who lives on the suburban fringe of Toronto. Between writing the thousands of stories she has in her mind, she is busy as the second wife to her second husband (no, she’s not a sister-wife) and mom to a nine-going-on-nineteen-year-old daughter and a teen stepson. Coffee fuels her days and she used to enjoy wine occasionally in the evenings, but now she generally falls asleep after saying goodnight to her daughter. You’ll find links to Jackie’s published work on her neglected blog MyPapayaJambalaya or you can follow her on Twitter or Instagram to see what shenanigans she’s up to.