Get Organized Now!For the new school year

The beginning of the school year marks the transformation to another level of academics and a new stage of maturity. Whether your child is entering first grade or fifth, transforming your child’s room to meet the needs of the new school year is just as important as those new school shoes for getting him off on the right foot this fall. It’s true that the words ‘kid’s room’ and ‘organized’ rarely appear in the same sentence. So how can you help organize your child’s room and study areas to best fit the new year’s challenges? From junior kindergarten to junior high, there are some universal tips for upgrading children’s rooms to keep them organized and help them focus throughout the year:

Making some room: In second grade, your child may have collected enough Pokemon cards to paper his bedroom walls, but in third grade he’s more interested in mystery novels. Kids grow up and out of their toys, clothes and collections quickly so the beginning of the school year is a perfect time to find out what’s in and toss the rest out. Start with outgrown clothing and discard any item that is even a little tight. Move to the bookshelf and sort through the dusty volumes of Clifford the Dog and Dr. Suess. Replace the old nightlight with a bedside reading lamp for growing kids, and trade in the old floor puzzle of the United States in for a topographical globe of the world. Cleaning out last year’s comic books gives kids a fresh slate and the room they need for exploring new trends, and hopefully collecting good grades in the year to come. And you can pass your gently used clothing and books down to a younger sibling, another family or your favorite charity.

Room to grow: Getting on your child’s level will help you organize a room where your child can be most self-sufficient. Make sure that closet doors are simple to open and shut, and dresser drawers and shelving are easily accessible. Amanda Robison organizes her first grader’s clothes from the bottom up. “I put the clothes he wears every day in the bottom drawers where he can reach them, and store less worn items in the top drawers.” Provide kids with a hamper for keeping dirty clothes off the floor, and a wastebasket for gum wrappers and crumpled spelling tests, making it their responsibility to empty both regularly. Pull beds away from the wall to help older children make them. Encourage your child’s self confidence and independence by putting them in charge of their space and giving them the encouragement they need to keep it organized.

Color counts: Your son is blue. Your daughter is red. Whether it’s just to separate your children’s laundry baskets, lunch bags or library books, assigning each family member a color can help keep schedules and school bags organized. Keri Butler, a public relations executive from Rubbermaid, agrees. “Color keying has become a key organizational trend, especially for children,” says Butler, who explains that the company produces its products in a variety of colors for just this reason. Give kids color-coded baskets for their study supplies, colored hooks for book bags and matching pushpins for hanging papers on the family bulletin board. Use colored stickers for lunch bags or school papers that need to be returned, and use coordinating colors to mark sports practices, music lessons and household chores on the family calendar. Color-coding works to help keep even the youngest students and most frazzled parents organized.

Some room for studying: While a little nighttime reading or a quick review for a history test might be fine to do in the bedroom, a child’s room is not always the best place to study, says elementary school teacher Stacey Hardy. “We learn from an early age that our bedroom is a place to relax and recharge. There are often too many distractions, even in a quiet room, that can take kids away from their work.” Of course, organizing a study area for your child may be the most important thing you do for him or her this year. A child’s study area should be quiet, but accessible for parent supervision and help. Sometimes a family office, a kitchen counter or dining room table is the perfect place for homework. Gather everything your child needs for homework into a basket or bin that is easy to reach when it’s time to hit the books. While younger children may just need a few markers, some tape and a pencil, older kids may need a dictionary, stapler, ruler, glue, erasers, or a calculator. Keeping a bin of study supplies stored in their designated study area will help kids stay focused on their work and eliminate the chronic search for a ruler, a No. 2 pencil, or a clean piece of paper. Wherever your child studies this year, make sure that school materials are always stored there, lighting is good, and distractions from a window or television are limited.

A room with a view: A kid’s viewpoint, that is. If your organizational ideas don’t work for your kids, they won’t work for you. Cynthia Townley Ewer, editor of Organized, recommends getting your kids’ help in the process. “If they are involved in the effort, children are better able to understand the organizational logic and maintain the new, organized room,” says Ewer, who suggests that the activity will also be teaching kids organizational skills. Let your children choose their own color for color-coding or help hang the hooks for their book bags. Encourage them to make signs to mark their dresser drawers, make check lists for morning tasks, or select a spot to hang their school calendars. Getting kids involved will not only get them excited about the new year, but will also familiarize them with their new arrangements.

There’s always room for creativity: Being organized does not mean being boring. Coming up with clever ways to organize your child’s room will not only get your child interested in the process, but may help them stick to the new routine. If your child’s mirror is on the back of a closet door, tie her brush to the door handle with a colorful ribbon to avoid a frantic search each morning for the hair brush. Use chalkboard paint to create a chalkboard on your child’s wall for daily reminders. Let your child put a colorful handprint over their coat hook or decorate their laundry baskets with paints or stickers. Put little surprises in their study baskets, and add extra boxes to their checklists that say: “Give your mom a hug,” or “Help your Dad eat an ice cream sundae.” A little fun and creativity can go a long way in keeping kids interested in staying organized.