Start Smart: Adventures in Student Planning

For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.
-Benjamin Franklin

For summer-loving kids, there are very few consolations for the end of these warm vacation months; new sneakers, school supplies, and seeing friends on the first day are the long list, and feeling nervous about being unprepared or overwhelmed sucks the joy out of what should be an exciting time.

 As parents, we feel that.  There are far fewer less enjoyable experiences than school shopping with multiple kids on the tax-free holiday until the very first weekend arrives and you realize you have about twelve fewer markers than you started with.  Don’t even get me started on the school-issued assignment notebooks that, despite their very best intentions and adorably branded covers, have already fallen apart.  Some things just can’t stand up to the mad backpack jumble and overstuffed desk cubbies.

Newbies listen, kids are kids and there are certain aspects of student-hood that are out of our control.  I need you to be prepared to open that backpack up in the first week and find a nest of wide-ruled paper covered in snack crumbs and drenched in 5 ounces of water from an open bottle. Type A’s, don’t despair.

Going back-to-school feeling confident can be the difference between a misadventure in student planning and a smart start. There are small steps we can take to get them on the right foot from day one, and these are a few of my favorites.

Student Planners

Tried and true, I will never buy another brand

A durable and well organized student planner is essential for a successful school year. A Scout is kind, so I won’t continue to gripe about the school-issued planners. Just know that you’ll find yourself eternally grateful for a dated planner with full spiral binding. It truly is the little things! If you find the right product, you won’t spend the year flipping through your planner searching for today’s assignments among a hundred or so pages of blank, undated weekly spreads.

Exasperated after having purchased two school-issued planners for each of my students in the first grading period last year, I decided to do some research and find something that would stand the test of time. I kept coming across the Global Datebooks planners and thought I’d give them a try, and of course they were available on Amazon so they arrived at my front door the very next day. If you ignore everything else in this post, I implore you to spare yourself some significant frustration this coming year and look into these tried and true planners. I order them in July and start writing in birthday’s, school holidays, and Scout schedules so the boys are ready to go on day 1.

Pro tip: include a “library day” reminder each week. Nothing’s worse than forgetting to send your child in with their books. They come home sad, often times with a late notice, and you just feel bad. Want to be a real rock star? Make note of “music” days, especially in the 3rd grade, so you don’t forget to send their recorder in and risk them getting stuck playing the “class extra.” Blech.

Weekly spread in the Elementary School Student Planner
Weekly spread in the Middle / High School Student Planner

Global Datebooks Dated Elementary School Student Planner
Global Datebooks Dated Middle / High School Student Planner

Did I mention there were stickers? šŸ™‚

Classwork Binders

I’ve already established my love of binders, so I’ll spare you the gushing. My youngest son was introduced to the “binder system” in the 3rd grade by a fabulous, experienced teacher, and it changed how he manages his work both at school and home. We love the Wilson Jones Flex Poly Binder for our elementary school student because it’s lightweight and sturdy enough to handle a years worth of abuse, and the Case-It Mighty Zip Binder for our high school student because it’s self-contained and easily slides in and out of a stuffed bag. You’ll need a pack of large tab pocket dividers like these iScholar 5-tab Poly Index Dividers. Avoid those pocket dividers with the tabs that you slide little squares of paper into – they bite the dust by the end of the first grading period and you’ll end up replacing them several times over.

We set-up classwork binders for our elementary and high school students like this:

  • Return: this is our spot for field trip permission slips, picture and book fair order forms, bus passes, and other time-sensitive correspondence that I don’t want my kids to miss.
  • To Do: yep, the homework tab. This is where the kids put all of their hole-punched assignments, and anything loose goes in the tab pocket. Reading logs go here, too! When your child completes an assignment, put a star in the corner and move it to the front of this section so they know what needs to be handed in and what needs to be finished.
  • Study: we’re talking spelling lists, study guides, SOL prep sheets, and more.
  • Projects: this is for long-term items like project matrices and research materials.
  • Extras: a small supply of extra loose leaf paper never hurt anybody.

Color Coding

Older students are juggling supplies for two different sets of classes (A days and B days) in one bag because, let’s face it, there’s no chance they’ll use their lockers. A friend of mine suggested having two separate backpacks to stay better organized, and this is something we’ll institute this year, but we’re also color coding his supplies by class. He’ll assign each class a color and we’ll make sure he has a binder / folder, and notebook to match. This goes a long way toward keeping their backpack organized and assignments handed in on time.

We noted last year that our youngest went through four packs of markers and about a billion pencils before we got wise and started color coding his supplies. Now, before you lose all faith in me, hear me out. I admit that I sit at the kitchen table with a small roll of duct tape and cut out strips that I then wrap around every.single.pencil, and if you think that’s a tedious project, you’re right. I like to pull out a tablet and catch up on Handmaids Tale while I do it and appreciate myself on behalf of future me. If his marker rolls off of his desk and onto his neighbors, there’s no mistaking it as his. Colored pencil manages to find itself traveling across the classroom floor like “my old meatball”, it will find its way back home. I’m sparing my child the experience of only having a brown and yellow marker to his name by October and me from schlepping my over-scheduled butt to Target’s school section for the nth time.

Simple After School Checklists

If you set expectations early, your student will make habits that will serve them well throughout the year. Having a simple, colorful After School Checklist laminated and placed in their binder or at eye level on the fridge will keep them on task and provide an opportunity for accountability. Keep a dry erase marker nearby so they can check tasks off as they go, and consider a weekly reward like extra XBOX time or a sleepover on the weekends.


This cannot be stressed enough; if you want your child to invest and take pride in their own school year, you have to be an active participant in their classroom. I’m a seasoned room parent with nearly a decade of experience under my belt, both as a full-time working mom and a stay-at-home mom, so trust me when I tell you that your student and their teacher NEED YOU. Sign-up for room parent (let me be your spirit guide as the year progresses), put your name on the Mystery Reader list, show up to class parties and special assemblies, become an active member of the PTA, chaperone a field trip, lead a study group, and offer your time and talents where you can. There are opportunities available for just about every parent and every schedule, so get in the trenches and make some memories while you lighten your teachers load. Remember, service begets service, and leading by example is just one way that we raise helpful and thoughtful kids.

Did any of my suggestions help you start the school year off on the right foot? How do YOU keep your children organized?


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Published by Look Wider Still

Rebekah is the mother of two wonderful sons, Michael and Nate. She and her husband, Mike, married in 2002 and have built their family on a foundation of adventure. Between geocaching, camping, hiking, cooking, fishing, crafting, reading, and snuggling their Irish Terrier, Bentley, they enjoy a long and happy career in Scouting. The boys come from a long line of Scouters, including Eagles on all sides. Mike has served as assistant den leader, treasurer, and Pack Committee member, and Rebekah has served as den leader and Cubmaster for Pack 521 out of Mechanicsville, Virginia.

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