Papers everywhere? Help your kids create an organization system that works.

Does your child’s backpack look like a whirlwind hit it?

BackpackDespite the increasing numbers of schools that are “going digital”, many K-12 students still receive a large amount of paper on a daily basis. And without a system in place to reliably organize & keep track of all this information, students can end up…

  • Accidentally leaving the worksheet they needed for their math homework in their locker at school
  • Spending “study” time searching for the notes they need to prepare for the test
  • Staying up late to complete a history assignment…and then getting a zero because they can’t find it when they get to class. 

If organization has been a struggle for your child in the past, here are 5 steps you can take to overcome the challenges they’ve been facing and set up a paper management system that works for them.

Step 1: Set goals that matter to your kids

What are the benefits of getting more organized? It’s especially important for your child to have an answer to this question. It may seem obvious to you that your kids “should” be more organized. But unless they understand the benefits they’ll get from the new system you’re creating, they’re unlikely to take the time to maintain it — no matter how great it seems to you! So, before you dive into the process, make sure they have a reason WHY making this change matters to them…whether it’s earning better grades, not having to spend forever looking for papers, or having less conflict at home about missing assignments.

Step 2: Identify what needs to change

Looking at your child’s backpack, notebooks, binders, folders, etc., what changes do they think they’ll need to make in order to reach their goals? For example, this might include…

– Not having loose papers in their backpack

– Keeping handouts & notes in folders or binders rather than stuffed in textbooks or notebooks

– Putting the papers from each class in a separate location, rather than mixing them together

– Keeping homework separate from notes, so they’re easier to find

Step 3: Brainstorm potential solutions

Work with your child to brainstorm potential solutions for each of the changes they want to make. Depending on the specific challenges they’ve been having, this might involve…

– Putting the papers from each class into a separate binder or folder, using a different color for each class so it’s easy to see which one is which.

– Dividing papers into two binders: One for A day classes + one for B day classes
(for students with block scheduling)

– Moving all papers to a single binder, or accordion file, with one section for each class

– Adding dividers with plastic pockets to binders, so papers can be filed quickly without needing to hole punch them

– Creating a separate homework folder for ALL current assignments, with homework TO DO on one side, and homework TO TURN IN on the other side, which stays in the backpack at all times.

– Setting up a phone or post-it reminder to take all binders, books, etc. out of the bag each afternoon, and organize any loose papers before starting homework.

Step 4: Test out your ideas

At this point, you’ll have a list of strategies that might help…so now it’s time to take the best ones out for a test run! Encourage your child to choose the ideas he or she likes best, and try implementing them for the next 1-2 weeks, then make an appointment to check back in and assess how it’s going so far.

Step 5: Celebrate improvements…not perfection.

When you check in with your child to see how their ideas are working out, encourage them to assess their own progress first, before you jump in. Some helpful questions to ask are:
– What changes have you noticed so far?
– What do you want to keep doing?
– What changes do you think would make your system even better?

When you offer your own observations about how the system is working, try to do so in terms that are descriptive, rather than judgmental.  For example: “Last week there were 10 papers loose in your backpack; this week, it looks like all the papers are inside folders, and there’s nothing at the bottom of the bag!”  (Leave it to your child to comment on how the papers inside the folders aren’t very organized yet!)  

The more you can stay focused on the celebrating the improvements they are making — rather than pointing out all the ways their system still isn’t perfect — the more motivated your child will be to continue working toward his or her goals.

As you go through this process, remember that even the best organization strategies won’t work if your child isn’t open to them, since they are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for using & keeping up with the system you two create. The goal here is not to create the perfect system, or a system that you would love to use…it’s to create a system that that is simple, fun, and personalized for your child, so it’s as easy and enjoyable as possible for them to use on a daily basis.

I hope these guidelines help you and your kids establish an organization system that makes their life at school easier and less stressful this semester!

If you have any questions as you work through this process, please post a comment below, or feel free to email me anytime…I would love to hear from you!



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By |January 9th, 2016|Categories: Organization|0 Comments

About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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