It doesn’t take long before the paperwork brought home from school starts to pile up on the kitchen counter. If you don’t have a system for keeping track of everything, that growing stack of papers can quickly become a source of stress. Homework goes missing, pizza day is forgotten, the permission slip for a school outing goes unsigned. The best way to avoid these problems is to have a plan to handle the papers and emails from school.
Here are six suggestions:
1. Create a filing system
Find a convenient spot (many people prefer the kitchen) where you can start a simple filing system. Even a basic file box on the counter can work well. I suggest creating a file labelled with the school’s name (although you might have more than one school to worry about). Each child who goes to that school gets a folder within that file. All relevant school information for that child – extra classes, teacher information, field trips – gets put in that folder.
Many parents also make a file for each activity (soccer, choir, etc.), so they can quickly store and retrieve information like the team roster, the dates for choir practice or the rehearsal times for the school play.
Parents of younger kids might want to consider a file for all of the artwork kids bring home from school. Decide with your child which ones they want to keep (some may need to be ‘pruned’ after bedtime) and which ones can be recycled. If this file becomes unmanageable, consider taking a digital picture of each item so that the memory can be more neatly saved for posterity.
If you can find the space for a separate file cabinet, you can also make files for information you may need to reference again like old report cards, exam results and even past activities such as what level swim lessons they completed last year.
2. Designate a hot spot
This is a place specifically for items that need a quick turnaround – permission slips, pizza lunch forms, book orders, etc. Some people have creative systems such as individual cubbies or hanging file racks; others simply keep a pile on the counter. Anything can work as long as you can see at a glance what needs to go out.
Remember to get papers out of this pile as soon as possible. Your mantra: answer it, sign it, mark it on the calendar, then toss or file it!
3. Maintain a family calendar (not just your PDA)
It may seem old fashioned with all the new technology out there but a good wall calendar can change your life. School holidays, deadlines and the kids’ extracurricular activities can all be seen at a quick glance by everyone. You may know that your son has karate every Wednesday at 5 p.m. but someone else, such as your spouse or one of the kids, may be making plans and not remember everyone’s schedule. You may find it helpful to assign a pen colour to each family member.
As soon as you receive the school’s calendar of dates, integrate those into your family calendar. This ensures that pedagogical days don’t sneak up on you or you don’t plan a weekend trip the same time as the school carnival.
4. Organize email correspondence
With more and more schools using email, you’ll need to find a reliable way to juggle all those electronic notes and reminders. If possible, keep your calendar by the computer so you can instantly transfer important due dates. Create a special folder in your mailbox to hold emails you need to follow up on. If you subscribe to the “out of sight, out of mind” theory, try keeping a notebook at the computer to remind yourself of items to check back on, such as what time you can volunteer for the ice cream social or what size school sweatshirt your daughter needs. A notebook can save paper and ink by eliminating the need to print out every email.
5. Mark down websites and passwords
More schools are experimenting with websites where parents can access information about homework assignments or find out about school events. Keep a small notebook near your computer to jot down those websites and any required passwords. You’ll want to know how to easily access them.
6. Program phone numbers and emails
Programming school phone numbers and doctors’ numbers into your cell phone allows you to make a quick call when you’re at work or away from home. Also, add the email addresses of teachers and coaches to your contact list so you can easily drop them a line. And don’t forget the number of a reliable babysitter or a friendly neighbour who might be able to pick up your kids if you’re stuck in traffic or a meeting runs late.