Back to School Organization

By Kate Riley August 26, 2013

This past weekend our family parted, Matt taking our oldest on their annual summer camping and hiking trip while I stayed home with the littler ones. We started our Saturday with stop at a local office supply store to check off the list of necessary school supplies, it’s a ritual I love. All the pencils and markers and glue sticks and pen cases in bright colors, all fresh and new and ready for Monday morning.

back to school supplies

I was especially lazy over the summer, paying no mind to the piles of paperwork leftover from last year that required sorting. But it’s August again and if I’m not equipped to handle the new school and sport schedules and looming homework assignments, it makes me crazy. So I spent two full days organizing and filing and readying the house for the fall semester.

I toss the kids’ school papers in a big drawer during the year after I’ve weeded through the weekly stash, but then I always have to purge once more. I find a few months of emotional separation from the previous grade (and the excitement of the new one) helps me sort through it all and keep only what’s funny, special, or shows their academic progress.

canvas bins for storing art and homework

I use these canvas storage bins to compress two grades of work for each child into one place. They’re sturdy and large enough to hold that oversized artwork and I can store them away in the window seat in the study.

Last year, I made several improvements to our house to accommodate our family’s busy schedule that includes soccer, tae kwon do, swim team, and homework – I use this armoire in the family room where the computer and internet access can be supervised.

family computer armoire

Inside I keep my “mom binder” filled with their calendars, schedules, classroom policies, school contacts, and computer login information in a binder for quick reference. I swear by this method of having it all in one place, it totally keeps me sane.

mom binder

I was a on a roll, I also organized the junk drawer, and thankfully it wasn’t nearly as bad as last year. I credit these organizers and I was able to return it to this glowing state within an hour filled with a fresh supply of pens, pencils, rubber bands, and all those other teeny tiny things that need a place of their own.

organized kitchen junk drawer

We came to the conclusion over the summer that it’s better to separate our kids for their homework sessions. I used to have them do it together in the kitchen but after a few rounds of squabbling we decided separate is best for greater concentration.

Now the second grader is assigned to do his homework at the breakfast peninsula near me in the kitchen, since I work on my laptop there in the afternoon. The fourth grader is around the corner in the study in her new homework station. More pics of this space makeover here.

homework station

I’m curious, how do you handle homework in your household? At the dining room or kitchen table? Do your kids do homework in their rooms?  How do you manage paperwork to keep your household organized and running efficiently during the school year? Do share your tips!




  1. I’m curious what you use to store the kids’ artwork and papers long-term. I was thinking of some sort of storage box that I could use for each year but haven’t found exactly what I am imagining. I don’t want their masterpieces to get lost up in the attic!

  2. I’m in back to school mode too! I have all the homeschooling organized but still want to put together a simple schedule for our oldest and maybe get a few closets organized before we start. Excited!

  3. Totally off subject here but it looks like you changed the curtains in the Study!?!? Is this one of your designs???

  4. I too am trying to organize for the upcoming school year, however am not sure what all I should be organized for. My daughter starts kindergarten this year, in a week.

    I’ve organized a lunch station, with sandwich containers, drink containers, and snack containers, and inside the fridge a quick snack station (cheese strings, pre-cut veggies, pre-packaged snacks/already container-ized, yogurts, etc).

    But, as for homework, I’m not sure how much of that there will be, so I havent set something up yet (though my papers (lined, printer, and special are already organized), as is crayons, pencils, erasers etc, so in a pinch I can throw it all together).

    Clothing we have set up a routine of laying it out the night before, kids shoes go on their own mat, the only other thing that I can work on (that I am aware of) is a hair station, our bathroom is very small, and we have no convenient spot for doing hair.

    Other than that, is there anything I am missing? Need guidance here :P

  5. Kids just went back today as well as myself. I work and go to school at night. I think I will use the binder like you did. I have requested my kids 15 and 16 do their homework atthe kitchen table. This way I can see that it is being completed. I had alot of goofing off and not doing my homework last year. NOT THIS YEAR lol I am on it.

  6. I’m curious, why keep so much paper? Why not scan and make everything available that way? Scanning allows access no matter where you are so you can make informed decisions on-the-go. I heart the cloud. And, then there’s less paper. I do this for 95% of artwork, too. When it comes home, it goes up for display for a few weeks, then it gets scanned or maybe I’ll snap a picture of my child with the art (esp the oversized or three-dimensional art). Having it digitally lets me use it as backgrounds on end-of-year photo books and other projects so it actually gets ‘appreciated’ more than it would if it were just sitting in a box. Yes, this takes a few minutes but it’s so worth it to get rid of the paper.

    • Great solution Emily, seems reasonable and smart in our digital age. I don’t have a scanner at home but that is a good suggestion. I want to be able to pass a lot of it along to them in the future, and something about their hand drawn art work and handmade creations appeals to me! But much of it ends up in the recycling, minus the keepsakes.

  7. Love the idea of a Mom binder!! I am totally doing that :) I am always losing those papers from school and dance, etc. Love the thought of organizing them in a binder!

  8. Love having them do their homework in the kitchen at the table. That way you can help them stay on track, but it makes it more sociable and less lonely. Then I always keep binders or folders in a box of their papers. Good luck with school!

  9. I finally got really, really organized this year since my youngest of three started kindergarten today. I finally have a mudroom area in the laundry room for their backpacks, a corkboard above (because if I don’t see it I will forget it), and a filing system that hangs from the garage door with magnets for the tons of papers we get. Things I want to keep go in their bin we keep in the closet. From experience, I agree that it’s best to separate them when they are doing homework! I have a desk we built over the summer in the gameroom, the dining table and the breakfast table. I don’t think those areas could be further apart. I’m ready!!!

  10. Homework is tough going in our house! I like your idea of separate work area so each one can concentrate. We give our boys the incentive if they finish their homework (including any corrections and revisions needed) then they can go play after. It helps a little but I am not going to lie – some nights are a struggle!

  11. I think I am going to start scanning some of my son’s artwork and saving them on CD’s! That would def minimize the paper and we can still save some of his best creations!

  12. I Love your organizing tactics….I start out being really organized but then…something happens…the piles start creeping up here and there, start mixing together and before I know it….it’s a pile that I ignore for 2 months cuz I know what’s inside!!!! Ugh!! And I also discovered co-homework-studying does not do well in my house either. Whewwww…it was like World War 3 until I separated them.
    Love the colors of kitchen/dinette area. Have a good one!

  13. I have always struggled with paperwork form school for my children (I have five kids, three will be in school this year). I try to keep the same type of items that you mention in your article, and I was trying to date them when they arrived home. I found myself always behind, so last year I bought under the bed storage boxes for each child. They contain there baby keepsakes, baby books, school work, report cards and anything else special. I keep a large ziploc bag (the really big ones) with their name and school year on it and just put the special papers inside as they come in. A couple times a year I look back through and weed out anything that slipped in that shouldn’t have. That way I have stuff separated by year, but it’s all still together. It’s worked for me so far.

  14. Class work that comes home piles up so easily/ quickly. I purge throughout the year (as long as my children don’t get hurt feelings). I purge again in the summer and place the “keepers” in 10 x 13 envelopes marked with the school year/ teacher/ etc… Those envelopes live in a clear storage tote in their closets. Hopefully, I will be able to control the clutter long term. I hate to place the burden of ‘stuff’ on my children but I will be sure to let them know that they can do with it what they wish…no feelings of guilt over keeping things they’re not interested in.

  15. I have adult children and looking back my favorite school supply suggestion….I ordered a gross (144) of pencils from Atlas Pencil Co. with child’s name printed. These lasted all through elementary and high school. This also makes a great gift to others. To go along with that invest in an GOOD electric pencil sharpener. (office supply store) For homework I strongly suggest the kids be close at hand for help. I was a teacher for 43 years and urge parents to help the kids….we want them to understand and if they are struggling then they are not getting the concept… is ok to help, this forms a bond where the child knows that mom or dad will be there for them…..homework is the beginning and social issues as they get older. My kids each had a large “paper” box (the kind that offices get their paper supply). These boxes (one each) lasted until trophies entered the picture. Now as adults they each have a box and really have fun going through the things. As far a digital age…..I like having the “real” thing. Put photos on CD’s but being able to touch that special kindergarten painting is priceless. Best wishes to all of you as you enter a new phase of raising children. Continue to read to them even though they can read, it is great for their brains. Make math real using life situations, Saturday mornings should be outside for the wonders of science and Friday night weekly review is great family bonding.

  16. love the mommy binder idea. more on that please!

    so I have a 1st and a 3rd grader and I’ve gone through various organizational tools for their school and artwork. what’s worked for me so far is storing their stuff in a basic plastic underbed storage bin I purchased in walmart for like 6 bucks. they each have one and believe or not, they’re pretty much packed with stuff but that’s my fault. I have to learn to let go. I figure i’ll go through their bins time to time and try to get rid of some of their paperwork that I know they won’t care for when they’re 20.

    as for supplies, I’ve learned that less is better. I had a tin box full of crayons and markers and colored pencils, etc but the kids always had a hard time finding what they needed. so now I’ve got them each a small box and filled it with one pack of crayons, one pack of colored pencils and one pack of markers along with a couple of pencils, glue stick, eraser and scissors. so much easier!! oh and I agree with someone who mentioned an electric sharpener. yes, invest in one! I had to sharpen over 80 pencils between my two kids to hand in at the start of school and without my electric sharpener, I think i’d have callouses all over my fingers from sharpening. and don’t get just any. been there done that. bought 2 from walmart and target and they broke after a month. I’ve had the school smart electric sharpener and I swear by it. it’s the best! and it was only about 30 bucks. it’s a mommy lifesaver.

    what I would like advice on is something that has caused me some anxiety over the years and it’s probably because I haven’t gone around to doing it and now i’m just lost. has nothing to do with school. I never got around to making baby books/journals or first year albums for my kids. they’re now 5 and 8 and I really want to do it but don’t know if it makes sense to scrapbook an album and incorporate a baby journal or create a digital album and add tidbits of info on there. I don’t have exact dates but general information. I just really would love to do this and I wish I were crafty to maybe incorporate both into a scrapbook. I don’t know. any advice on what you’ve done? I also have the whole photo organization issue that’s also stressing me out. don’t know how to organize them on the desktop so that it’ll be easier for me to go through and make albums. I’m a mess, I know. the hardest part for me is starting. what have you done? thanks!!

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