Back-to-school 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 get organized!"  

But, "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.

Time Management

Time 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.

Managing an 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 "same page."

Supplies Needed

* 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).

Supply Management

Most households 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. 

This common 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 accessible. 

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 Management).

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.

Supplies Needed: 

* 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

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 day!

The traditional 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.

The Solution

To 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 subject dividers.

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 day.

Finally, another 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.

Supplies Needed

* 1-inch binder.
* Plastic binder folders, one for each class.
* Loose-leaf notebook paper.
* Box or crate to leave at home for the Paper Station.


Use 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 children organized!

© 2010 Susan Kruger, All rights reserved. You are free to reprint/republish this article as long as the article and byline are kept intact and all links are made live.

Psycho-education is an educational approach for managing emotionally troubled and acting-out students that is based on the principle that students can grow socio-emotionally and can learn how to self-control their behaviors. Psycho-educational interventions are skills-based, where socio-emotional skill building is the key intervention. Psycho-education is multidisciplinary, incorporating perspectives and techniques from disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and social work. Psycho-education challenges teachers to be versatile in current psychological and child guidance techniques. In schools, psycho-educational techniques can be adapted for use with practically any child, at any age or skill level.

In the psycho-educational classroom, we believe that when a single set of strategies becomes the only one that the teacher knows and applies to deal with students having difficulty with emotional and/or behavioral self-control (one size fits all), the stage is set for limited effectiveness and teacher’s discouragement. For example, a behavior management intervention structured exclusively around rewards and environmental control fails to explain and address each child’s unique socio-emotional needs, offering only a very narrow view of the problem and few available options or solutions. This does not mean that teachers should avoid behavior modification techniques in the classroom; it simply means that behavior modification is only one of the many options available to teachers.

Psycho-educational teachers believe that there are multiple options for every situation, and the more child guidance theories, methods, and interventions teachers know, the broader our understanding of the problem behavior and the more effective we are in applying skilled individualized techniques for each particular child.

Characteristics of Psycho-educational Teachers:

    1. Psycho-educational teachers go slowly to build success, thinking of making a slight change each day, not a big one. They always keep in mind that little changes together make a big change at the end.

    2. Psycho-educational teachers accept that change takes time and that each child is responsible for his or her behavioral change.

    3. Psycho-educational teachers choose to perceive children’s problem behaviors as challenges, not threats. The psycho-educational teacher’s motto is “I choose to be challenged by this child’s behavior.”

    4. Psycho-educational teachers are “cool reactors,” avoiding reacting emotionally to students’ disruptive behaviors.

    5. In each disruptive event, psycho-educational teachers look for opportunities to teach students how to handle their emotions and behavior.

    6. They do not personalize the disruptive behavior and stay calm throughout the disruptive event.

    7. They are flexible and capable of adjusting to each specific child.

    8. Psycho-educational teachers understand that, if we want the disruptive student to learn new behaviors, then we need to teach explicitly those behaviors.

    9. They show the child that they believe in him or her, and never give up on a child, no matter how challenging the behavior.

    10.  Psycho-educational teachers see problem behaviors as a reflection of children’s inability to cope with stress and conflict in an age-appropriate and productive way; in other words, disruptive children are deficient in social problem solving skills. Psycho-educational teachers analyze problem behavior using problem solving techniques and give options to students for solving social problems.

    11. Psycho-educational teachers teach social problem solving skills; that is, searching for information, generating alternative courses of actions, weighing the alternatives with respect to the outcome, and selecting and implementing an appropriate plan of action.

    12. Psycho-educational teachers use behavior specific language (description of the problem behavior), not evaluative remarks. In changing behavior, they coach, not criticize.

    13. Psycho-educational teachers coach children by presenting a set of instructions for appropriate behaviors and then having the child rehearse those behaviors while the teacher provides verbal feedback.

    14. They detach from the problem behavior, discussing the behavior without engaging, blaming, or accusing the student.

    15.  Psycho-educational teachers do not focus on causes, or where the child has been, but on goals, or where we want the child to go.

    16. They focus on the child’s competencies (strengths) instead of his deficits or weaknesses. In changing behavior, they consider and use the child’s strengths.

    17. Psycho-educational teachers empower the child by focusing the child on successes rather than failure.

    18. Psycho-educational teachers focus on the possible and changeable.

    19. They do not bring up old issues, focusing on the here and now.

    20. Psycho-educational teachers do not use language that implies that the child has no choice; for example, “You must…” or “You have to…” They train the child in using the language of choice, e.g., “I choose to do _____ because I want _____.” Psycho-educational teachers help students understand that they have the choice of behavioral change.

    21. Psycho-educational teachers give students ownership of the social problem they have created.

    22. Psycho-educational teachers rely primarily on preventive discipline; they are proactive, and plan ahead.