Organizing Tips for a Smarter School Year

These fun finds and simple fix-ups will help you stream line morning routines, cutback on homework stress, and turn your house into a launchpad for outstanding achievements.

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Back-to-School Pegboard

Photograph by Carl Tremblay

Back-to-School Pegboard

For a simple, inspiring homework center, pick up a pegboard (available at hardware stores), and, if needed, have it cut to fit on a door or above a desk. Stock the board with cool school and craft supplies, and your student will be set to ace everything from division to diorama building.

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No-Nag Checklist

Photograph by Carl Tremblay

No-Nag Checklist

File this idea away! Cut back on constant reminders with a simple morning chore tracker. To make one, cut a letter-size file folder (we found this one at Staples) so that the back panel measures 11 1/2 by 5 inches, and the front panel is an inch shorter. Cut the front panel to make flaps, and stick on adhesive magnet strips as shown. With glue, attach chore icons made from clip art, drawings, or magazine clippings, plus labels reading "done." Hang it in an easy-to-reach spot.

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Can't-Miss-It-Clocks

Photograph by Carl Tremblay

Can't-Miss-It-Clocks

If your crew's toughest challenge is simply getting out of the house on time, these eye-catching models just might do the trick.

Cue With Color
For parents whose little ones can't yet read a clock, this rainbow dial is a lifesaver: "When the black hand hits the yellow space, we'll need to hit the road!" UltraFlat Multi-Color Clock, $55, kikkerland.com

Flip for It
Big numerals and funky robot limbs make this model a kid-pleaser, and the retro flip action provides a clear reminder that the minutes are ticking by. Maple's Table Flip Clock With Robot Legs, $52.80, amazon.com

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How to Choose a Backpack

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Get the Message

Photograph by Kate Sears

Get the Message

A central spot to corral reminders and papers is a must. Combined with magnets, this 36- by 25-inch oil drain pan (we got ours at Autozone for $10) makes an attractive spot for artwork and messages. Add flash cards, and it's a great place to practice math and spelling, too. Before using it, wash the pan with dish detergent and warm water. Attach two D-ring picture hangers with outdoor mounting tape or drill holes in the top corners, and suspend it with a ribbon.

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Create a Winning Entry

Photograph by Kate Sears

Create a Winning Entry

Labeled drawers give each family member a place to stash those grab-and-go necessities: mittens, bus passes, shin guards. A fun wall-hung cubby unit holds small essentials, such as lip balm and sunglasses.

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Set Up a Reading Nook

Kate Sears

Set Up a Reading Nook

To encourage kids to discover the pleasures of a good read, define a quiet, cozy space for book-browsing. It can be as simple as a comfy seat and a plush rug -- or you can create an irresistible retreat with our no-sew canopy made from a bed sheet and a quilting hoop.

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Shelving System

Photograph by Kate Sears

Shelving System

Use electrical tape to color-code volumes by subject, then hang a simple key to help even very young librarians shelve books in an orderly way.

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Reading Notes

Photograph by Kate Sears

Reading Notes

With this Playtime for Kids Pad (Knock Knock, $6.50) kids can record their reading. Plus, the prompts invite kids to play the role of reviewer.

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Borrowed Book Basket

Photograph by Kate Sears

Borrowed Book Basket

Tired of hunting for an overdue Dr. Seuss title? A dedicated tote is a great way for readers to keep track of checked-out books, and it can travel to and from the library when it's time to refresh the kids' reads.

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Chalkboard Dresser

Photograph by Kate Sears

Chalkboard Dresser

To create designated spaces for each family member's gear, start with a dresser appropriately sized for your entry space (ours is the Tarva from Ikea, $149). Paint the drawers with chalkboard paint, then write names with chalk markers (we used Chalk Ink Wet Wipe Markers; a set of 8 is $36).

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Road-Ready Kits

Photograph by Kate Sears

Road-Ready Kits

To keep the drawers neat, gather those little last-minute supplies -- flash cards for the car, grooming goodies for on-the-run touch-ups -- in take-along bags, such as these zip-top mesh pouches (from the Container Store, $8 each).

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Packing Station

Photograph by Kate Sears

Packing Station

Gather all your lunch supplies in one place and consider making the switch to reusables. For an easy change, ditch plastic forks and spoons and pick up orphaned flatware at thrift stores or garage sales instead. The utensils usually cost pennies, so if a spoon occasionally ends up missing, it's no great loss.

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Drying Doodad

Photograph by Kate Sears

Drying Doodad

Give lunch containers a quick soapy wash when you're doing dishes in the evening, then hang the items on a space-saving drying rack (Beaba Bottle Drying Rack, Pottery Barn Kids, $35). By morning, they'll be ready to be filled and packed up.

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Homework Supply Stash

Photograph by Kate Sears

Homework Supply Stash

If your kitchen table doubles as homework headquarters, this update on the trusty shoe organizer will keep papers, pens, and other study tools in clear view -- and clear of your dinner-prep area (Variety Stash organizer, Christy Designs, $37).

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Bin There, Done That

Bin There, Done That

Bins inspired by dairy crates have a million uses. Shown here: blue and green, $9.95 each, landofnod.com; white crates, $9.99 each, containerstore.com

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The Ultimate Family-To-Do Tracker

The Ultimate Family-To-Do Tracker

Sticky notes are the essential ingredient in this super-flexible system. Everyone is assigned a color; family members can grab reminders as they're rushing out the door or add notes as needed.

For the base, hang a dry-erase surface. We used removable self-adhesive decals in school-themed designs. Decals, $17.50 per sheet, whatisblik.com

Label columns to track tasks, shopping lists, and scheduling. You might also devote an area to big-picture thinking: fun activities to try, meaningful goals to pursue.

Post sticky-note reminders in each person's color. Choose another color for agenda items you'll tackle together.

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Time Keeper

Time Keeper

Snap pics of your kitchen clock showing the ideal times for breakfast and blastoff. Print and label them for display.

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Snack Stash

Snack Stash

For handy grab-and-go fuel, fill a container with energy bars and other quick bites. STICKAT basket, $9.99 for set of two, ikea-usa.com

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Last-Minute Bins

Last-Minute Bins

Solve those zero-hour emergencies by stowing hair ties, extra socks, and other necessities in boxes by the door. For a fun school kid look, wrap boxes in penmanship paper. Washi tape and a layer of Mod Podge help them stand up to plenty of use.

Get It Right: Any colorful tape will work, but washi tape, which is slightly stretchy, folds around corners better than other varieties.

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Phone Pockets

Phone Pockets

Store and charge phones in holders made from repurposed plastic bottles.

You will need:

Get It Right: Any colorful tape will work, but washi tape, which is slightly stretchy, folds around corners better than other varieties.

8-ounce bottle of Purell Hand Sanitizer (this brand works well because the plastic is thin enough to cut)

Utility knife (adults only)

Washi tape

Removable adhesive strips

Remove the bottle's labels and any remaining adhesive (for stubborn bits, use nail polish remover). Discard the pump.

With the utility knife, carefully cut away the bottle's top as shown.

Turn the bottle upside down and cut away the base (cut just above, not through, the thickest plastic at the bottom of the bottle). Neaten the edges with small scissors.

To support the phone inside the pocket, make two straps by sticking 4-inch lengths of washi tape together back-to-back. Place the straps across the pocket's base, leaving the center open for the charging cord. Wrap more tape around the pocket to secure the straps. If you like, decorate it with paper cutouts, stickers, or name labels.

Hang up your phone pocket using the adhesive strips.

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Key Companions

Key Companions

These pachyderms, which come with their own home, might help reduce time spent looking for keys. Qualy key rings, $12 each, shophelloworld.com

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Bag Tags

Bag Tags

For can't-miss reminders, use trimmed-down sticky notes secured around a backpack strap.