LE’s Back-to-School Series: Organization Hacks

To say that back-to-school season is hectic would be an understatement—at times it can feel like downright madness. Students are excited, but anxious; teachers are enthused, but overwhelmed; and parents are relieved, yet frantic at the same time. Going back to school can leave everyone feeling a little (or a lot) stressed. However, like with many other challenges, PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE. With a little organization, these tips and tricks from Learning Essentials will help parents and students get back into the swing of things like never before!


  • Create a back-to-school shopping list after browsing your child’s school website and any course information that might be posted online. You can also reach out to content-specific department heads, also listed on every school’s website, with specific questions about course needs and necessary materials. For instance, if you are unsure of the allowable calculator for an advanced algebra course, reach out to the school’s math content specialist. Of course, additional needs may pop up later, but it’s good to have an idea of the basic needs to get your child through the first week.


  • Consider purchasing a label maker or using a Sharpie to add initials to personal items. Between new lockers, class changes, confusing schedules, and everyday chaos, newly purchased back-to-school swag tends to get lost—quickly. Adding initials or labels to items such as bookbags, lunch boxes, water bottles, jackets, pencil pouches, and coats will help to ensure that misplaced items have a better chance of being returned.


  • Make a quick “to-do” reference sheet near the door so that children can begin the process of self-checking before and after school. For visual learners, use photos to represent the “must haves” before children run out the door in the morning. Depending on age and ability, reminders might include brushing teeth, making the bed, packing clothes for P.E., grabbing the lunch box, and putting the homework folder in the bookbag.


  • If parents want children to take more initiative when getting home after school, use an afterschool checklist with specific time frames so that kids know how long a typical task should take and at what time parents expect each task to be completed. To motivate kids who are new to an accountability process, consider incentivizing task completion.


  • Photocopy your child’s course schedule and keep it somewhere handy around the house and/or at work. This allows parents to quickly refer to class times to find the least disruptive window when determining doctors appointments, early dismissals, etc. 


  • Do a “practice walk/ride” to and from school before the first day so that anxious children feel more comfortable about exactly how they’ll be getting to and from school. Make a point to talk about traffic patterns and crosswalks, especially for new bike riders or families that may have just moved into the community. 
  • For young bikers, consider getting a combination lock that uses letters instead of numbers. One word is often much easier for children to remember than typical numeric combinations.


  • Designate a folder or file for any paperwork, permission slips, or forms that parents need to sign. This will avoid the lastminute chaos of trying to find the crumpled sheets in the bottom of a book bag during rush hour. 


  • Set up a whiteboard calendar in a highly-frequented area of the house to post major academic or extracurricular events and their times/locations. Consider color coding the calendar so that each family member’s itinerary is written in a specific color. Take a photo of the calendar and send a group text on Sunday so that everyone is aware of each person’s obligations and whereabouts.

Label a hanging cubby organizer with days of the week so that children can begin to plan their school outfits for the week in advance. There is nothing worse than running late and rummaging through the hamper in a fury to find a specific article of clothing. With a labeled cubby hanging in the closet, children can learn to plan ahead and build autonomy by sorting everything they need for each day’s outfit in advance—no more ransacking the drawers to find matching socks at the last minute!

Back to School: Combating the Sunday Scaries

Back to school means a resurgence of the feeling that parents, teachers, and elementary schoolers alike all dread—the Sunday scaries. This alliterative term, while somewhat melodramatic, describes the true sensation of angst or nervousness that begins to bubble up around Sunday evening. Whether the Sunday scaries emerge from the nervousness surrounding an impending due date, upcoming quiz, or just the general apprehension about the school week ahead, we all can relate to that sudden foreboding sense that can quickly turn a calm, lazy Sunday into a frenzied mess.

It’s best to be prepared. Here are some strategies for elementary schoolers to combat the “Sunday Scaries”:

Get organized
For the first few years of early elementary school, organization falls mainly on the parents’ shoulders. However, little by little, elementary schoolers will begin to observe how organizational skills help to mediate stress and maintain order for the school week ahead. Depending on grade level, organization could simply mean that children help their parents plan Monday’s outfit, lay out clothes for P.E. or after-school activities, assist with preliminary packing of the lunch box, or place backpacks and other essentials by the front door. As children get older, the responsibility for getting themselves organized for the week ahead can begin to become theirs alone.

Organization is fundamental for elementary schoolers because it allows them to begin planning ahead, anticipating certain needs, contemplating the order of operations, etc. All of these life skills will become essential as children develop and gain autonomy. For now, parents can begin with something as simple as helping their child check the weather when planning for Monday’s outfit: Might we need an umbrella? Should we pack a light jacket? Will it be too cold for flip flops? These considerations help children feel secure in their planning by showing them what to expect as they head off to school, which certainly helps to ward off the Sunday scaries.

Break out the checklist
Consider the scaries as proportionate to the amount of tasks to be accomplished before bedtime. We all know that feeling—Sunday scaries become increasingly more beastly as the to-do list piles up. To avoid the added stress, families can create a general weekend checklist of items that need to be accomplished during Saturday/Sunday downtime. By creating a checklist, families know exactly what needs to be completed in order to ensure a smooth start to the school week. The checklist also helps elementary schoolers divvy up the tasks throughout the weekend so that Sunday night does not have to turn into the daunting bewitching hour where everything goes off the rails.

Organization comes into play again here with the checklist. Parents can help younger elementary schoolers by helping to prioritize the weekend checklist. For instance, homework or reading assignments should come close to the top of the list, as those items, especially when procrastinated, can become anxiety-producing.

Look ahead
Using a small amount of time on Sunday night to look at the week ahead can help to alleviate the Sunday scaries as well. Oftentimes, stress of the unknown is what creates anxiety for school-aged children. By sitting down and perusing the week’s calendar, families can ensure that a) everyone is on the same page about appointments/events, b) there are no surprises or last-minute to-dos, c) events and tasks are evenly spaced as to not overbook any member of the family.

Laying out the weekly calendar also helps to build independence among school-aged children. They begin to recognize their own important tasks, practices, appointments, etc. This allows them to begin to feel a sense of control over what will go on in the week ahead.

Study Tips for High School High Achievers

For students who have previously excelled in school without exerting much effort, the idea of an intense study session may seem not only foreign, but also intimidating. While these students have grown accustomed to acing assessments, memorizing concepts, and tackling tasks with ease, they may have inadvertently neglected to acquire an essential academic tooleffective study skills.

For gifted students, those who have naturally acquired, implemented, and stockpiled knowledge and content in their classes from previous years, difficult concepts or the sudden need to study in order to retain information can be jarring and frustrating. For these students, school has come easily until now—which means that honed study skills and strategies might be outside of their repertoire.

What can be done for these naturally-gifted secondary students, those who oppose studying out of stubbornness, unfamiliarity, or sheer confusion? Plenty.

1)  Start small with a rough outline of the essential material. For instance, if a high-achieving student in an AP history class is struggling to study for the first time, suggest that she create a realistic timeline for preparing for the assessment. A student who has never had to study is more likely to attempt a cramming strategy—or, non-strategy, if we are being honest. The added stress and lethargy from a long night of cramming before an exam can actually negatively impact the test-taker. As early as possible before an exam, high schoolers should attempt to roughly map out a study schedule that provides them with at least 3-5 days of advanced preparation.

The simple sample outline below for our AP history student could act as a starting point for those students that have never had to make an outline before:

Monday Tuesday Wednesday
Topic/Concept WWII Key Players Dates Vocab
Actions -Review map

-Chart Germany’s battles/progress

-Assign 1 key point for each significant  historical person

-Make 2nd copy of blank timeline; try to complete from memory

-Highlight most significant dates during the Holocaust

-Define unfamiliar terms from class notes/text

-Use new terms 2x per day until exam

Reminders Look closely at Allied nations Review date/location of start and end of WWII Ask peer to compare to find additional terms


2) If the basic outline above is a challenge for your novice studier, encourage her to find reputable online sources or videos that walk students through the process of making a study guide or outline. Often times, knowing where and how to begin can be the most intimidating part of studying for students who have had information retention come naturally for so long. By watching how other successful, experienced studiers compose an outline or gather information for a study guide, reluctant studiers then have a step-by-step resource to help walk them through the process. This is especially nice for parents if high school aged students are vehemently opposed to “doing it Mom or Dad’s way.”

3) Encourage novice studiers to “take small bites at first, then go back for more later.” This principle helps to reinforce memory and recall. If students cram or spend minimal time trying to memorize a concept, they will likely lose vital details prior to the assessment. Instead, once students feel that they have mastered or internalized a concept, prompt them to revisit that concept a few hours later or the following day. This will help high schoolers to understand if the material has been moved from short-term memory to long-term memory.

4) Ask your high school student to “teach” the material to another person. One long-standing concept about learning is the fact that mastery comes when one is able to teach or relay the information to another person. In this sense, students are not only confident in their ability to remember the info, but they take it a step further to explain or translate the information in their own words. Encourage your child to not only review definitions, for example, but come up with his own new definitions. This way, your high schooler will know for sure if he or she fully conceptualizes the term and its meaning.