9 Ways to Organize Your Tweenager for School

What’s the worst thing a mom can hear from her middle schooler at ten o’clock at night? How about “Mom, I think I left my history study guide at school. Oh, and the test is tomorrow.”

What can be done? Nothing, really. I mean, I guess you could stay up until midnight hunting relevant information on Google and then help your kid cram for a test with facts that may or may not be in line with that damned study guide…but at this point, there’s truly not much you can do other than anticipate a crappy tomorrow. If you’ve had any dealings with tweenagers, either as a teacher or a parent, then you know that this type of thing is not unusual for many of them.

I also think that most of them need serious help with organization. I cannot tell you how many brilliant kids I have seen through the years who have grades that are in the toilet before the end of the first grading period because they can’t keep their sh*t together. And seriously, I don’t know who to feel more sorry for: those grim-faced kiddos or their frustrated parents.

The thing is, most of these kids can achieve grades that truly reflect their abilities when just a few simple tools and strategies are put into place. Knowing that it seems to me that a great time to think about the organization is before the school year begins (rather than after that scary progress report comes home).
To help you prepare for an organized (and hopefully less stressful) school year, I’ve compiled a list of nine items and accompanying strategies that your child can use from day one.

  1. A well-planned student planner

Not all planners are designed with school-age kids in mind. An agenda like the one you use for tracking appointments or play-dates is probably not the best choice for your tween. Instead, look for an academic planner that includes both monthly and weekly spreads. The monthly spreads are best used for marking project due dates, tests, and other items that require time management over several days (or even weeks). The weekly spreads, which should also include labeled sections for each subject area, are for listing nightly homework, quizzes, and tasks that need to be completed to accomplish the larger items that were placed on the monthly spreads.

  1. A sturdy locker shelf

You really would not believe how much middle school drama is directly related to poorly designed locker shelves. By poorly designed, I mean the ones that are held in place by tension. Seriously, don’t do that to your kid. Before the first semester is over, that shelf will fall and sheer panic will ensue. Luckily, this is preventable if you look for a well-constructed locker shelf. The Container Store knows what’s up. Their Janus Locker Shelf is adjustable and allows the locker to be divided into three sections. It should be arranged so that the bottom section is tall enough to store upright textbooks. The middle section should be used for binders, folders, notebooks, and extra packages of paper. The top should be reserved for a lunchbox and/or pencil bags.

  1. Durable binders

If your school requires that students carry a different binder for each subject area, do yourself a favor and look for binders that can take a beating. Yes, you can find 99 cent binders at Wal-Mart, but you will likely have to replace those before winter break (and maybe again before the end of the year). Durable binders, like these by Avery, should last longer. They are also available in a variety of colors, which is important since each binder should be a different color. Read on to find out why.

  1. Stretchy fabric book covers

These are a no-brainer. Every school that I can think of asks that students cover their textbooks. But instead of spending hours cutting up paper grocery bags, why not just grab some of these Jumbo Book Sox? Be sure to choose colors that match the binders you purchase. This will allow you to help your tween set up a color-coding system. Give each subject area its color, and make sure that each textbook is covered in the same color as its corresponding binder. This way, your child can quickly and easily find what she needs each time she visits her locker.

  1. A backpack designed for older kids

Your kiddo’s elementary school backpack is not going to be the best choice for middle school and high school. Luckily, there are some great backpack options out there for older kids. This one from L.L.Bean offers plenty of storage and features a reinforced bottom and padded straps. Backpack tip: help your kid clean out his backpack each weekend. Less clutter in a backpack makes finding needed items much easier. While you’re at it, look through those binders and make sure all papers are properly filed, too.

  1. Two pencil pouches

The best pencil bags aren’t pencil bags at all; they are zippered leatherette bank bags. I realize your tween daughter may not be super psyched about these plain bags. I mean, they aren’t exactly cute. However, you can help her get on board with this idea when you explain to her that they are perfect for decorating with paint pens and Sharpie markers. She can have all her friends sign one side and express her undying devotion to Justin Bieber all over the other. Now, why do you need two? Pencil bags, much like backpacks, become ineffective when there’s too much stuff inside. Get two bags and have your child keep pencils, pens, and items that are always needed in one and place art supplies (such as markers, scissors, and glue sticks) in the other.

  1. A plastic folder for homework

Lost homework is such a pain in the ass. I believe that kids lose homework papers because there are too many opportunities to file them in the wrong place. A designated homework folder solves this issue. I suggest purchasing a plastic one, such as the Storex® Recycled Poly Two-Pocket Portfolio. Paper folders are just too flimsy to last for an entire school year, but a plastic one can. Each day, your tween should place assignments that are to be completed at home in the left pocket of the folder. As an assignment is completed, it moves to the right pocket. At school, the folder should be carried to every class (along with the student planner, of course). That way, when a teacher asks for an assignment, your kid will know exactly where to look instead of frantically searching for a half-hour through his notebooks, binders, textbooks, backpack, and locker. Nearly every student I have had in my classroom who put this strategy into use was rewarded with a higher grade. True story.

  1. White out the tape

The white-out tape is truly a miraculous invention, especially for older kids who are frequently required to complete assignments in ink. This tape eliminates all of the hassles of using liquid white-out (i.e., no mess, no drying time, no unpleasant odor) and allows your child to make corrections to assignments without messy scribbles. This is especially important when it comes to taking notes because if notes aren’t legible then studying becomes confusing and ineffective.

  1. No smear highlighters

How bad does it suck when highlighters smear printed or handwritten words? Nearly all the highlighters I have ever owned have this design flaw. However, these highlighters created by Staedtler were tested by the folks at and not one of the eight colors smeared inkjet print. As for student organization, highlighters are invaluable tools. Students should use them to highlight key points in notes and directions on all worksheets, tests, and quizzes to help ensure that they have read all of the instructions carefully. Students can also use different colored highlighters on their planner pages to mark homework that has been completed in advance, as well as assignments that require immediate action.

Happy back-to-school shopping, y’all!

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