MANHATTAN — September not only brings back-to-school jitters, but the coming onslaught of kids’ artwork and homework, books and papers.
So, DNAinfo New York reached out to experts — home organizers, child psychologists and early education professors — for advice on how to prepare your home and your kids for getting things in order, physically and mentally, before the school year starts.
Here are their tips:
1. Clear out the old together.
Before your back-to-school shopping, take inventory and purge last year’s supplies of things like non-working pens and crumpled paper, as well as other items that have accumulated, advised Maeve Richmond, of Maeve’s Method, which teaches home organization through coaching.
With backpacks, for instance, she suggested parents sit with their children once a week, like on Sunday evening, to go through them.
“Clear out whatever has fallen to the bottom, clean it if it is dirty and get it prepped for a new week,” Richmond said. “Eventually your children will be able to sort through their backpack themselves as part of their Sunday routine.”
2. Usher in the new together.
Since transitions can be hard, it's important to involve kids in prepping for the return to school, said Fabienne Doucet, an early childhood education professor at NYU Steinhardt and parent of an 11-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl.
“I’m big on conversations, so it’s not just in my head, but I'm showing kids the logic train,” said Doucet, who has been discussing with her kids how to move back to an earlier bedtime now that’s summer is over. (They’ll be moving bedtime up by 15-minute increments to get back to 9/9:30 p.m. over a couple of days.)
They created new bulletin boards for the academic year together, and she enlisted their help in back-to-school shopping. Her daughter was excited to buy new school supplies, while her son was more interested in going to the supermarket and picking out school snacks.
3. Create a workspace for your kids.
The reality of New York City living often means we don’t have a lot of space to create dedicated workspace — and that’s OK.
“It doesn’t matter what size space you have. So many New Yorkers think, if only I had more space. But any home can be a haven," Richmond said. “Kids need just a few simple things to help keep them grounded during the school year: paper, pens and/or markers, a good chair, and a clean surface."
It doesn't need to be huge, she added: "a small table in their room, a quiet corner of the living area, a cozy nook, or a shelf at the end of a hall are all great places to start.”
4. Create a “drop zone.”
Richmond is a big fan of having a “drop zone” — ideally near your home’s entrance — where you can deposit things you are constantly taking in and out of your house.
“Teach your children that the drop zone is the place where they can store anything they bring into the house, or need to take back out for play or for school,” said Richmond, a former preschool teacher. “The furniture you use doesn’t need to be complicated, just a simple table will do, or cube shelving is great — my favorite! — as it encourages small hands to drop things in a targeted spot."
5. Create a nerve center for you, too.
To keep your kids on track, you have to keep yourself on track, too.
Having a “nerve center,” or “command central” where “you can clear your brain for two seconds both at the start and the end of your day" can help, Richmond suggested.
It’s a spot for your daybook, papers on upcoming appointments or your digital devices. It can be a corner of a kitchen counter, a home office desk drawer (if you have one), or a basket that you keep in your bedroom.
“If you can," Richmond added, "bring something calming to that spot to help you ground, like a favorite picture, or a friendly decorative item, something that can help you to take a deep breath and get yourself both mentally and physically prepared for the day."
6. Speak your kids’ language to get them on board with organizing.
Once you’ve got your organizational systems in place, how do you make it last?
Richmond suggests parents personify items to give them some life to a kid.
“Just a slight change in language with help to empower your kids to actively participate at home. Try replacing, ‘Please put that away’ with ‘Where does that live?’ or ‘Would you like to find a home for that?’," Richmond said. "You’ll be amazed how excited your children will be to pick up on their own."
Avoid a demanding and blaming tone, which can make them feel ashamed and then lead to a lack of compliance, suggested Joseph Sacks, a child psychotherapist who runs TriBeCa Play Therapy.
“You know what really helps? Asking the child really nicely, in a real sweet kind of voice,” Sacks advised, noting that children likely to feel in control of his or her own life rather than feeling commanded.
He employs a technique "that works like a charm” when his kids leave things around the house. If, for example, a child ate an orange and left peels on the couch, he'll simply say, “I see orange peels on the couch."
The kid gets the message and has the space to decide to act on his or her own accord, Sacks said, advising parents to walk away rather than hover around waiting for a clean-up.
“When you stand over him, it’s like telling him, ‘I don’t trust you. That crushes a kid’s ego,” he said.
Sacks also advises parents to describe their own values by saying things like, “In our house we keep things clean,” or “In our family we put things away when we're done with them.” And it can help when parents describe their feelings to the child, saying things like, "When I see such a mess I get furious,” or "It makes me angry when things aren’t put away.”
It shows that parents have feelings that need to be respected without ordering their kids around, Sacks said.
7. Lower your expectations.
It helps to understand what’s age-appropriate when it comes to getting your kids to clean up. Even if kids are physically able to help, they might not be emotionally mature enough to do so, Sacks believes.
He recommended, in a blog post, parents "lower by 10 percent the amount of cleaning they expect and request your children to do.”
In time, he promised, kids will learn to clean up.
And while your kid might be an all-star cleaner at school, that doesn’t mean the skill will necessarily translate at home — which isn’t something to worry about, Sacks insisted.
“You wear a suit when you go to school. But do you wear a suit at home?,” he asked. “Home is for relaxing and to kick back. It’s very important for kids to have that space at home to relax.”