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How to Prepare Your Family and Home for Back to School

Trying to get organized at home is one of the most difficult tasks faced by New York City families, especially when it comes to back-to-school for our kids. The truth is, New York City living pressure-cooks the space issue: we do not have basements, backyards or attics where we can store our outgrown or off-season goods. There never seems to be enough room to meet the demands of growing families.

As our kids head back to school I’d like to share answers to some common questions I get asked at this time of year. I hope you enjoy these thoughts and tips on how to make it work when sending your kids back to school. Drop us a note if you have questions!

Q: Do you have tips for how to create a workspace for children as school starts up again? I’d like to set up a functional and organized homework area for my child.

A: If you have child in school they are bringing home artwork, school work, books, papers and projects. So it’s essential for a parent to support their child’s development by building into their home a proper desk space for their kids to get things done.

Kids need just a few simple things to help keep them grounded when headed off to school. They need paper or new notebooks, pens and/or markers, a good backpack, a good chair and a clean, clear surface for getting things done at home. Having these basic elements in place in your home is where you need to start. As a kid gets older, you can add more office supplies like staples and binder clips. Think about what you were provided when you were a kid – the basics for school – and recreate that in the home environment.

The “where” is your next step. Choose a quiet and semi-private location. The best locations are the child’s room, a quiet corner of the main living area or a cozy nook. Make sure their desk isn’t facing a TV or other distracting screen – a window view is great for a kid’s desk!

Tip! If you have multiple kids, model the desk areas towards the eldest child’s needs. For example, if you have a fifth grader who needs quiet space, set that up first as younger kids look up to elder siblings. Your younger children will see their older siblings homework space and will soon want one of their own.

Q: Do you have tips for how best to layout or organize a workspace, and how to keep distractions to a minimum. What are some must have items that are helpful when organizing kids?

A: Yes, what is very helpful, particularly when you have multiple kids, is to have cubby space at home, similar to the kind they may use at school. It helps your child to realize that home life matches school life, and vice versa. Kids are in a constant developmental phase and having this space eventually shows them, “This is my space. This is where I can put my things.”

An ideal spot for this is a bench or cubby area in the front hall. From the parent’s perspective, having the cubby in the front hall helps to curb that chaotic time when you are getting your kids in and out of the home. Both little and big kids quickly learn that they can drop things in their cubby area themselves. Your children will learn the cubby is the place where the “stuff of their life” goes, that’s where to place things, and therefore things are not dropped into the middle of the floor, trailing into the house. Putting a cubby in place also helps to reduce distractions in the homework area, as loose ends from life (sports equipments, hobbies and bags brought home from parties and playdates) stay away from the area where they go to get school work done.

Cubbies in the entryway corral frequent in/out items in the Butler house.

Q: How can kids keep their backpacks neat?

A: The backpack is a transportation device. It’s for getting things from Point A to Point B. It’s not a place for things to live a long time. I introduce to my clients the concept that “Everything Has A Home”. This means that each item you choose to have in your life gets to have a place to live, just like you. When it comes to backpacks, I keep it simple: what needs to live in a backpack? The answer, things like the lunchbox, pens, pencils, notebooks, a small wallet, and perhaps cell phone. The backpack only needs to have in it what goes in for everyday use – everything else that lives in there can be left at home or at school. This means, all those loose papers, which gather up so quickly at the bottom of backpacks, are best removed.

Tip! With your child, sit down and go through their backpack once a week – do this together! A great time is Sunday afternoon or Sunday night (for older kids). Clear out whatever has fallen to the bottom, clean it if it is dirty and get it prepped for a new week of school. Keep your child’s backpack simple and help them to achieve in both life and school.

Q: What’s your philosophy when it comes to organizing kids? Do you do it for them, or with them?

A: My philosophy about organizing with kids is called Kid Power. Kid’s love responsibility, so I invite them to be part of the process and participate when I’m organizing. Kids can be as little as one. A lot of parents are eager to get organized but they don’t involve their kids in the process. By empowering your child you make them part of the solution. A child in first grade is reading and writing, they have thoughts and opinions, it’s important to ask them when setting up a desk area – how do you feel about this? Do you like this space, would you like to sit here? If a kid immediately says no, then it isn’t helpful for a parent to force a solution on them as if often backfires.

Q: How can parents be sure to keep their homes organized throughout the hectic school year? I know a lot of parents start off with great intentions, then things fall apart as the year goes on because everyone gets busy.

A: I’m a firm believer in involving kids in what goes on in your household. One nice idea is to hold a family meeting a week or two after school has begun. Once the kids know what is ahead of them for the year, set a family goal on how to keep the home. And put a reward in place for doing so. For example, “This year we are going to focus on making sure we pick up our rooms at the end of the day”. Or, “This year we are going to get our homework done before dinnertime.”

Add a money jar in the kitchen and put a weekly allowance in it towards this goal. And encourage your kids to dump spare change from their pockets in there from time to time. The reward – that’s up to you. It could be planning a family trip over winter break, seeing a pop concert together as a family or donating to charity. What’s important is taking time, as a family, to plan together. Setting goals up front as a team will help everyone stay on track as life gets busy. And if successful, family meetings can be held weekly, or perhaps just a few times a year!

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at or @MaeveRichmond.

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