Remember those Three R's: reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic? Well, parents, now that your child is starting kindergarten, get ready to add a special "P" to the list: Paperwork! This year, there will be a lot to manage. Before school even slides into session, a small mountain of forms and doctor's notes are required. But (sorry for the bad news), it doesn't end with registration. Get ready for paper extravaganzas constantly through the year—field trip forms, immunization record updates, and on and on. This doesn’t even include the piles of drawings, worksheets, and beloved crafts your child will present to you between now and June.
Put it all together and you may feel like your household alone is consuming at least a small forest. How can you avoid getting buried in the process? Here’s some practical advice from Lori Krolik, a professional organizer, and owner of More Time for You in Palo Alto, California, and Standolyn Robertson, Massachusetts-based president of the National Association for Professional Organizers.
Between them, Robertson and Krolik have decades of experience in the organizing field, but both are quick to point out that among their highest credentials is the fact that they have survived parenting kids through kindergarten. Here’s their expert advice on how to keep the chaos in order, during this crucial first year of school:
1. Centralize your key information. School forms always seem to ask for some address or phone number you’ve misplaced. Rather than run around each time, says Krolik, try making a master list of all the core information those forms usually require. Krolik’s checklist includes:
- Doctor’s name, address, phone.
- Dentist’s name, address, phone.
- Medical Insurance policy number, subscriber name, and subscriber ID
- Auto Insurance policy number, subscriber name, and coverage amounts (for field trip driving)
- Your work information (address, phone)
- Spouse's work information (address, phone)
- Name, address, phone of emergency contacts
Krolik advises parents to keep a copy of a child’s immunization record filed with this list. Keep it all together, says Krolik, and “you’re not scrambling around collecting bits of information as you're trying to enjoy the last days of summer.” And, as the year passes, you have everything at your fingertips when it’s time for field trip forms, summer camp registration, or whatever else comes your way.
2. Make friends with the copy machine. Especially if you have more than one child, you’ll find that forms can mulitiply exponentially. Often, says Krolik, you can use a convenient shortcut: fill in your home address and other shared information on one page, the first time you get the form, then Xerox it and add each child’s specific name. Presto! You’ve saved time that you can use for happier pursuits, like talking to your kid, or having a nice snack together.
3. Keep your information in a practical home “headquarters.” As a professional organizer, Robertson says with a laugh, “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients put this stuff in a third floor office where it just ends up coated with dust.” Instead, she advises, store this key information in a binder or a hanging file—one per child—in a place where you spend a lot of time. “Don’t fool yourself,” she says, “It’s going to be the kitchen.” Tuck it away near the phone and it will be ready for action any time you need it.
4.Give yourself permission to throw things out. Sure, you may have plans for ornate scrapbooks, but even then, you can’t put everything inside. “Only keep papers,” says Krolik, “that will TRULY hold value…those that will provide insight into who kids were at this age.” For artwork, she suggests taking a photo of your son or daughter holding each masterpiece, rather than keeping every piece they bring home. And “if your child is a prolific Picasso, each time they bring home a portfolio of their latest endeavors, have them choose one or two pieces for keepsake or display. Designate a large frame or wall space to display their favorite piece each week. Really play up the importance of what you display and hopefully they will feel okay about letting the rest go.”
Above all, says Robertson, remember that for everyone in the home, and especially your child, these organizing efforts will pay off many times over. As for the idea that kindergarten kids are too little to participate? Not on your life, says Robertson. “The organizing principle that you’re teaching is, ‘everything has a home.’ There’s going to be a lot less anxiety once everyone knows where things are…Kindergarten is the best time to learn. Start them off right!”