One of the things I’ve learned during my summer of Organization is that if an item is given a well-labeled place to belong, it’s more likely to be there when I need it. I know that should be a “duh” but when 8 people are systematically coming behind me and moving stuff, I felt like I was living in an oversized find-the-pea-under-the-shell game.
Not to mention, no matter how prettily I organize the art supplies at the beginning of a school year, by Christmas, we can’t lay hands on a pencil, most of the crayons died at the hands of the vacuum cleaner, and we can only find all of the yellow colored pencils. And the markers have been left on the carpet to leak and then dry up.
All of that to say: It was time for something drastic.
I went back to what I know works – color-coding. Each child in the family has a color. Their towels, their water bottles, their sheets, their shoe bins… all of these things correspond to their color. So why not their school supplies?
While we were doing The Big School Supply Shopping Trip of ’15, I grabbed 2 washi tapes for each child in their color. I also let them pick their own duct tape, and it had to at least have their color in it.
Then I ponied up the cash for each child to get their own set of everything: pencils (I tried to find the pencils already in their color, just to make it easier), crayons, colored pencils, markers, glue, glue sticks, scissors, rulers, protractors and compasses (for the big kids), tape… I bought 7 sets of each.
When we got home with all of our loot, I handed the kids their rolls of tape and all their supplies and told them to mark each item. Not just the BOX of crayons, each CRAYON has been labeled with their washi tape or duct tape. That way when I find that one rogue yellow colored pencil in the couch, I know who to call to put it up.
And where will they put it? In their very own color-coded carrier, of course:
We also took everyone’s stack of workbooks and notebooks and color-coded them with the duct tape.
This is because I’m a busy mama trying to check what will be close to 30 workbooks every day. I haven’t got time to hunt for the random spot where the child hid their name on it or to think really hard about whether Adam is in level C or D. It has simply become too much to remember. So we spelled it out in black and white. Or in tiger print, as the case may be.
I also bought each kid a small zippered pencil case in their color. Our goal this year is to make the whole school room fairly mobile. If we have to race off to a doctor’s appointment or if I need them to go to a friend’s house and do school, we need to be able to identify everyone’s stuff quickly and then grab and go. I also want to give the older kids the freedom to find a quiet corner of the house if they prefer to work without a small army in the same room.
I followed the same system for my own stash. Once again, my blue cart holds everything I need for teaching.
I chose two pretty and unique tapes and covered my teacher’s manuals and each one of my pens. (So nobody swipes my pens!)
One more tiny color-coded tip that is already making life easier – use post-it tabs that match each child’s color to mark where they are in their books and what page you need in the teacher’s manual. I’m all about the literal “open and go” when it comes to curriculum. Down to the page number.
(That may only be a useful tip if you’re schooling a horde, but, if you are – *fist bump.*)
I put a plastic bin in the middle of the table when we start school and the kids can turn things in as they finish. I get them graded with my assortment of colorful (but color-coded) pens that make me happy and can easily file the finished work on my own because of the colors.
Truthfully, even with this shiny new system, I can’t guarantee that my school room won’t be a disaster by Christmas in spite of my best efforts. If life gets the better of us and we ultimately fail at keeping a tidy school room, my goal is that my kids learn to take ownership for their things. That if I ask them to help me manage the mess, they can see their contribution to the mayhem and easily sort out how they can help make it better.
Listen, I’m all for sharing with others and community property, but I also want my kids to learn to be responsible human beings who don’t leave their underwear in the couch when they’re 30.
So we’ll try this.
In just the few days that we’ve tested it, things are already so much neater. We don’t play 800 rounds of “Who left their pencil at the table? Whose spelling book is this? Whose markers are on the floor?”
The dining room table where we work is tidier because I can easily spot the culprit if books or pencils get left behind. It doesn’t all sit and fester until lunch when I’m tired and hangry and can’t see one square inch of my nine foot table underneath the educational rubble.
If nothing else, all of this color-coding makes me saner. It imposes order on what could easily become total chaos. It challenges my kids to take responsibility for their stuff. And it’s pretty. Whatever helps, right?
What new system are you trying this year? What problem are you trying to solve or what lesson are you trying to teach?