Back To School On A Budget: Systems (Not
Supplies) That Make The Grade
By Susan Kruger
season is the second most profitable time of year for retailers
(after Christmas, of course). Advertisements, "special deals," and
in-store displays are designed to lure you off course, tempt you to
spend more money and specifically prey on your desire to "finally
"back-to-school" organization is much more about systems than it is
about stuff. Don’t be tempted by the "loaded" new binder or
"pretty" new notebooks. There is usually a very high correlation
among school and paper-management supplies: the more features
something has, the more expensive and ineffective it tends to be.
Below, you will find a list of supplies, broken down into three
categories of systems: Time Management, Supply Management, and Paper
Management is an issue for students of all ages and for their
families. It is very difficult for a student to manage his or her
time well in a family that does not. Ten minutes a week can resolve
this issue. Grab the family calendar and have an informal "Sunday
Summit." Coordinate schedules for the week: upcoming sports
practices, after-school activities, scheduled appointments test and
project due-dates. Have your children make notes in their planners.
Effective Sunday Summit:
The key to an effective Sunday Summit is to make it a conversation,
not an interrogation. This means you must share your schedule,
too. Do you have a big deadline at work? Are you planning to
finally get to the gym to do a workout? Share you deadlines and
your goals with your kids. You may be surprised how receptive they
will be! At the very least, you will all start your week on the
Family calendar (basic monthly calendar).
One academic planner for each child (The best
planners are slender–not bulky–spiral books with a monthly
calendar and space for daily assignment entries. Planners are
often supplied by the school).
have a "silverware sorter." This is a tray with slots that are
designated for spoons, forks, knives and silverware. In just about
any home, you can quickly determine where to put the spoons based on
the organization of the silverware tray.
household item inspired what I have called the "Silverware Sorter
Theory." This theory states that items will remain organized if
there is a designated location to place them and they are easily
How Does the
Silverware Sorter Theory Apply to School Supplies?
Supplies should have a specific storage location in the book
bag and a designated place at home. In the book bag, students can
use a front pocket of the bag or a supply case to store pens and
pencils. If students cannot carry a book bag during the school day,
they can snap a 3-ring pencil case into their binder (see Paper
At home, a
designated bucket or basket for common household school supplies
(pens, pencils, scissors, stapler, tape, markers, etc.) not only
keeps items neat and organized; it also helps students manage time
better. With an established storage location students will no
longer have to romp all around the house to find needed supplies.
It is best to have
a container with a handle so it can easily be moved one-handed.
This allows students to do homework in different locations around
the home, as needed. Establish a specific location on a shelf,
desk, or in a cabinet to store the supplies at the end of the day.
These designated locations help everyone keep things in order
because everyone will know where things belong.
Front pocket of a book bag OR a pencil case.
Bucket or basket for household school supplies
(chances are very good you already have the perfect container
somewhere in your house).
Standard supplies. (Back-to-school season is a
great time to take advantage of deep discounts and stock up on
the standard supplies, but don’t overbuy…then you create another
organizational nightmare for yourself!).
Paper management is
one of the most frustrating elements of school organization!
Students are often required to have separate folders and notebooks
for each of their classes. The average student has 12-16 different
folders and notebooks they are expected to manage. That would be
like us trying to keep track of 12-16 different e-mail inboxes each
practice of maintaining several different folders and notebooks also
violates the Silverware Sorter Theory because items become
inaccessible. Since folders and notebooks look alike when
sandwiched in the locker or book bag, students commonly bring the
wrong materials to class, or home for homework. With so many
supplies, it is easy for them to leave a folder or notebook at
home…along with a completed assignment. The sheer volume of "stuff"
sends students into a downward spiral of missing supplies and
assignments, which then leads to poor grades.
resolve this problem, students should keep only ONE binder for ALL
classes. Believe it or not, they can trim a stack of 8 folders and
8 notebooks down into one 1-inch binder. Simply replace two-pocket
folders with plastic folders inserted into the binder. Swap out
spiral notebooks with loose-leaf notebook paper, using folders as
To keep the binder
manageable, establish a Paper Station at home. The Paper Station is
a specific location to file graded papers, old notes, and other
materials that will be helpful resources for unit tests and final
exams, but do not need to be hauled around on a daily basis. The
Paper Station can be updated during your weekly meeting on Sunday.
Note: Students who
see only one teacher throughout the day (typically K-4 students)
only need one folder to go back-and-forth from school to home every
very important paper-management system is a routine called "Take
Two." Students take the first two minutes of their homework time
each evening to clean trash out of the book bag and organize papers
in the binder.
Plastic binder folders, one for each class.
Loose-leaf notebook paper.
Box or crate to leave at home for the Paper
these tips to establish a few systems for yourself this
back-to-school season. Then, when you are in the store and you see
a beautiful display of new-fangled school supplies, you can trust
that it is your systems, not your stuff, that keep you and your
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