Friday, August 14, 2009

Organization Friday-Back to School: Getting the Kids Ready

I remember my high school days fondly. For as long as I can remember, my desk consisted of a card table and chair, where I did all of my studying. It wasn’t fancy and it certainly wasn’t beautiful, but it was functional. A desk light, a stapler, pens, plenty of room for books and of course a dictionary, thesaurus and various reference manuals. I kept my high school dictionary up until a few years back, as a reminder of those days. It was falling apart, held together by a rubber band, with my maiden name neatly inscribed on the inside cover. My college paperback dictionary resides inside my desk today, even though there are on-line dictionaries. Still, none have the history these did.

As we shop for the school supplies, I thought it might be a good idea to talk about some things we can do to prepare our kids for school. The list of school supplies are provided by the school; these are the items that the kids will need for the upcoming year. While school supplies are important, we should really be channeling this excitement into creating functional and beautiful spaces for our children at home. By creating a foundation for learning and studying at home, we can build on their excitement and have everything ready for the big day.

The first thing to prepare is a desk or place for them to study. This space is not the dining room table or the kitchen table, that needs to be cleared for meals. I think a good analogy on why this isn’t a good space is to imagine for a moment that you are starting a new job. Suppose you show up on your first day and they don’t have a desk for you and they tell you that you will have to sit in the lunchroom until they get your seating issue resolved. Now imagine for a moment that this scenario goes on for a few weeks or so and just as you get all of your work set out or you are in the middle of a project, it’s time for lunch and you have to remove everything in order for people to eat. Not very convenient, is it? Nor does it do a lot for your momentum. And how did it make you feel, eating at the lunchroom table versus a desk? Probably not very important. And yet, I often don’t see desk spaces that are set up for homework, if I even see a desk space at all. Ironically, while many child’s rooms don’t have a desk, they almost all have a television. You can imagine what message you might be sending.

So the first thing to do is to get a desk or a place for them to study. This is their own space, that they can spread out their books or supplies, to study. It should be a quiet place and if it’s an option, I always like a desk in front of the window. If there isn’t a place in the bedroom for a desk, then make one. Take the time before school starts to get rid of or donate items to make room for one. The combination of daylight and a place to gaze when learning new concepts, is important. The desk should have good task lighting for reading. The desk should also be stocked with school supplies for home use-things to write with, a stapler, paper, printer ink and whatever is needed for the desk/office to be functional. I am always somewhat surprised, when I am hired to organize a home office, of how many home offices don’t have basic office supplies. Instead, there are closets, drawers and baskets full of bulk office supplies, but yet they lack the essentials. Sit down and figure out everything they will need before you go to the store. There are so many back to school deals out there, that if there were ever a time to set up a desk or office, the time is now.

After the desk is in place, there should be some basic discussions of a calendar and where homework assignments are written. Given the technology we have today, I am always surprised at the number of people who still don’t keep all of their appointments in one place. If the adults aren’t doing it, then how will the kids learn? It has been my experience that it doesn’t matter what type of calendar you use to store appointments or due dates in, but there should be only one and it should be consistent.

Next, there should be a notebook or book where homework assignments are written. Work with your child and teach them how to do this. For a child, a place to write homework assignments is the student equivalent of a “to do” list for an adult. Just as you have one place to write down all of your tasks or to do’s (I am giving you the benefit of a doubt and assuming that you write/type all of your tasks on one list and not on a hundred different post it notes.), a student or child should have a place where all of their assignments will be.

Next, let’s create some functional spaces for things. First, if you don’t have it already, we need a place near the front door for coats when they leave and come home from school. I always think a coat rack with hooks of some sort is the easiest. It is only for their current coat, not every coat the family member owns. When they come in from school, they have a place to hang their coat. There should be a place to store shoes and something to hold hats and gloves, etc. I usually prefer that the shoes and hats, etc. be in a closet to keep things looking neat, but figure it out in advance. Backpacks go in their room near the desk, not at the front door, the kitchen table or kitchen countertop. Just as you come home and take five minutes to empty your bags and put things away, your children should too. That should be part of everyone’s afternoon routine. If you don’t have a coat rack or hooks, then now is the time to get it set up.

Next, establish a landing pad. This will be a spot that will hold everything they need for the next day. Get in the habit of using it now, so it’s a habit when school starts. Wall Pockets to hold school papers from "Just a Girl". Click here to see how she made this.

Now that the physical spaces are established, let’s talk about routines. Start your children when they are young with just two or three things to do in the morning, after school or daycare and before bed. In the morning, it might be make the bed, brush their teeth and brush their hair. If they are really young, they can pull up the comforter and as they get a little older, you can work with them on the proper way to make a bed. After school, the basics are hanging up their coat, emptying the backpack, giving Mom papers to sign or review. Evening routines include picking out their clothes for the next day and setting their backpack near the landing pad.

In summary then, you want to do the following:

  • Establish a desk and area to do homework.

  • Set up the desk with supplies.

  • Select a calendar.

  • Select a system to record homework assignments.

  • Set up a place for coats.

  • Set up a landing pad.

  • Create and practice routines.

For special needs children, preparation is a little bit different. If you have a non-verbal child, the first thing to get is a spiral notebook. This can be used and placed in their wheelchair to write notes to school and for them to write notes back to you. That way, you know what is going on and they can also place their school papers in there. Some teachers prefer a three ring notebook. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as it’s consistent.

For their wheelchair, see if your wheelchair vendor can make you custom backpacks for the wheelchair. I have two made. A smaller one, that sits in back of the outer backpack. The smaller one holds emergency supplies-everything a person needs for one diaper change, one feeding, a day’s worth of medications, a change of clothing and extra feeding supplies (feeding bag, g tube extension tube, extra g tube, syringes, etc.). That way, if ever a feeding bag broke, I wouldn’t have to drive to school to replace it. School knows that this bag is for emergency use only and if they use an item in here, they need to tell me so it can be replaced. I am not going to be checking that entire backpack every day.

The outer backpack stores everything he needs for school. I have found it easier to keep two sets of clothing in the backpack, as opposed to leaving clothes at school. That way, I can restock the bag nightly and never have to worry if they have a change of clothes at school. This backpack should be large enough to store clothing changes, diapers and wipes to send to school plus the feeding pump. This bag also has a small outer pocket that I use for his school notebook.

For school, I prepare a written document of everything they need to know to take care of him. This list includes instructions on how to feed him, how to work the feeding pump, my process for clothing supplies and the notebook system, etc. I also create expectations in this letter. I tell them that I will need a little advance notice when supplies are getting low at school, because it is not possible to run to the store when he gets home from school since I don’t have a wheelchair van. Instead, they should notify me when supplies are low. This works well and it takes the pressure off. There is absolutely no reason that you need to run out the second supplies are out. A better system, is once they are low, they can tell you and then you can get the supplies within the next day or so. I normally keep extra supplies at home, but in case I don’t have them, I am not worried that Dear Son will run out. For things they use daily, I have a schedule. I send a new feeding bag once a week, and new syringes and extension tubes for feeding are sent on the 1st and 15th of the month. A spare of anything is in the emergency bag. This covers everything that is needed for a successful school day. I send this to school on the first day.

Once that is completed, I create a “School Daily Checklist”. This is a list of items that are packed every day for school. I divide it into categories. For example, I have a list of everything needed for:

· Feeding/Medication.
· Spare Clothes.
· Changing.
· Lifting.
· Swimming.

That way, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. I just look at the list and pack everything that is on it.

On the flip side of that, is a reminder to put the feeding pump in the backpack. I set this reminder on the seat of his wheelchair so that I never forget to send the pump to school.

To summarize what we need for special needs children:

  • Get a spiral notebook or system for sending and receiving notes from the teacher.

  • Get custom backpacks made for their wheelchair or purchase them. You will want two: one for emergency supplies and one for daily supplies.

  • Prepare a written document on how to care for your child the first day of school.

  • Create a daily checklist/packing list to use to get him/her off to school.

  • Update their emergency information sheet and place on wheelchair.

Finally, for all children, the next step is to create a notebook for each child. This notebook has all of the information that is needed for each school. You’ll include the school, the phone numbers, the bus company information-pick up times, bus company and phone numbers as well as procedures for calling off school. You will also want to sign up for any e-mail notifications for days off school. In our state, we have a website for all school closings that are weather related. You select the school name and it sends both parents updates of school closings. Some schools have an automated calling list that will send you a message when school has been called off.

In this school notebook, you can also keep any sports schedules, sporting calendars, phone numbers for school friends, copies of school documents (for special needs we have papers to fill out for medication, etc.) that you send in and a place for the current IEP (Individual Education Plan). That way, everything you need for that school/child is in one place.

After you have done all of this, comes my favorite “Back to School” ritual. On the first day, Dear Son goes back to school, I like to go and get a manicure or pedicure or both. I make sure I never schedule a work day for the first day back to school, in case anything should go wrong (sometimes I have to go to school and show them how to use the feeding pump or start a feeding), but also since it’s a pamper day for me. It’s the first day I get to relax after the summer.

Note: I am a Professional Organizer and Home Stager and run a business called, "Dream Organizers". My motto is, "Keep it simple. Get organized. Make it beautiful."

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Kristin said...

Great ideas. Especially love the pamper time. Many schools are trying to cut down on the amount of paper being sent home which is helpful. With a new school this year it will be interesting to see what their routine will be.

Anonymous said...

I often think how helpful your posts must be to other families with special needs children. Really a wealth of useful, practical information. I think you do a great job on this blog.

Lori x

Mary said...

You are amazing! These suggestions and ideas are so helpful, especially at a time that seems to be so rushed and stressful, not to mention expensive! I am so grateful for the help you've given me in getting organized. I'm hoping to enjoy the fruit of my labor soon!


Kristen said...

I love your ideas and you must know how much I am sure you help people who have disabled children. I saw your beautiful playroom over at Just a Girl and it was incredible! Keep on doing what you do!

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