It's a middle school rite of passage: After all those years of one teacher, one desk, and one cubby, your child will now juggle up to seven different classes - and books - in a single day. With luck, all this stuff will travel home, return neatly to class, and be on hand just when needed. To cap off this system, your child will store everything between classes in a lovely, well-organized locker. Right?

All too often, wrong! In fact, lockers are notoriously biohazard turf. And when papers crumple and disappear in them, you can expect academic foul-ups too. 

But, as kids will be first to tell you, lockers are located at
school.   What's a parent supposed to do?

We consulted Janet Fox, veteran teacher, kids' organizing expert and author of the award-winning “Get Organized Without Losing It,”  a funny, readable manual for kids.   After years in the classroom, she knows all about “Locker Shockers” - the kind, she says, with headlines like “Student Opens Locker Door, Faints From Awful Stink of Ancient Gym Clothes!”  Here are some top questions kids ask - at least when they're not busy slamming their lockers shut and running for dear life:

    • What's a Locker Really For?  This may seem obvious, but peek inside a typical trashcan-style locker and you'll see right away - it's a rare kid who knows immediately what to do.  “Your locker,” Fox tells kids, “is not a dirty clothes bin, a dumpster, or one of those self-storage places people rent to hold all the stuff that won't fit in their garage…it's where you store stuff you'll need to find during the school day.”
    • How Can I Clean Up?  Here is where parents may discreetly help out, perhaps with an afterschool or early morning ride to school (but beware: don't ever go near a locker without express permission - or you can expect your child to reject your help for the next four years). Offer a garbage bag, no questions asked.  “Not sure,” Fox asks kids, “if that hard-shriveled up orange stick is a crayon or a carrot from last month's lunch?  When in doubt, throw it out.”
    • How Can I Avoid More Disasters?  Unless there's some kind of organizing system, you can expect big mess again in no time flat. In a light, non-judgmental tone, you can, however, talk about finding a locker “home” for everything.  It's also not a bad time to share disasters of your own, from way back when. Then it's time for some shopping.  Fox's list?  Locker shelves, to differentiate between big and small books, and especially gym, lunch, and art supplies; magnetic hooks for hanging coats and mounting calendars; magnetic file pockets for storing special school papers.

With luck, you and your child will make quick and happy progress.  But don't be surprised if the going is hard at first.  Everyone needs time to adapt to new ways.  Fox assures kids, however, that organizing really does pay off.  “Experts say,” she tells them, “that disorganized people lose one to two hours a day looking for things, dealing with clutter, and procrastinating.”  What can kids do with all that extra time?  She's got an irresistible promise: “Whatever you want.”