Organizing Tips for a Smarter School Year
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.
Each weekend, restock your freezer with easy items to throw together for fun, quick, and healthy(ish) weeknight meals. Always have a few packages of frozen vegetables on hand—they're healthier than you may think—and heat them up alongside a protein like frozen meatballs or chicken strips. (Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips are made with all white meat chicken and can be cooked in the oven for 18 to 20 minutes—mix and match flavors for a kid-friendly weeknight treat.) Even if soccer practice runs late, you can still have a home-cooked meal. Time to take the local pizzeria off speed dial.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).