You know that sinking feeling? The one you get when you realize that you left your phone or wallet or lunch on the kitchen counter? Nobody likes that feeling; however, whether you are a child or an adult, there are going to be mornings on which you leave behind something that you really, really need that day. Nobody’s perfect, right?
While the occasional slip-up in your morning pack-up is no big deal, forgetting what you need can become a major problem if it happens on a regular basis. I know because when my two eldest children got to middle school, I felt as though I was running home numerous times each week for a forgotten something-or-other that one of them desperately required that day. If it wasn’t a lunch box, it was sports equipment. If it wasn’t sports equipment, it was a book or an instrument for a music lesson. I was so frustrated! Shouldn’t my kids just know what they need to take to school and then put it in their bags? Why was it that months into school my kids couldn’t remember that every single Friday without exception was a gym day? And how in the world was it possible that they really “didn’t see” their homework assignments on the otherwise totally clean table when they packed up the rest of their school materials? In spite of my then decade-long experience as a middle school teacher, I was flummoxed; however, as my kids had years of school left to navigate, I had to figure out how to solve our family’s pack-up problem.
What I discovered in my research seemed so obvious in retrospect. My children weren’t good at packing up because I hadn’t taught them how to pack up. When they were in elementary school, I had done most of their pack-up for them. Because planning and organizing come easily to me, I had imagined that once my kids got to 5th and 6th grade they too would be capable of doing those tasks without direct instruction or support. I was so wrong. I learned that kids and adults with weak executive function skills need far more than the type of modeling I was providing to get and stay organized. They require authentic partnership to establish a routine and consistent, guided practice to internalize the steps of that routine. Clearly, I had not set my kids up for success.
So, how did I apply that key learning to support my kids and regain my sanity? Well, I circled my kids up and named the problem so that they would understand why we were undertaking the challenge. They were totally on board because they were also experiencing stress and frustration as a result of our lack of an effective strategy. As a team, we got to work!
Setting up launchpads was our first task to tackle. When I tell other parents about our launchpads, invariably, their brains conjure up images of the space shuttle launches they’ve watched. I assure them, it’s basically the same concept, except that we didn’t require funding from Congress to get it done. Just like at Cape Canaveral, a launchpad is a place where you put all the stuff you need to take a trip off your home planet, which in our case was our house. A launchpad can simply be any space to set your school (or work) belongings that you need the next day. To avoid confusion, your launchpad should be used only for the purpose of corralling your stuff, which means that a table or chair or counter space that also needs to be utilized for other purposes would not be a good choice. For our launchpad, my kids and I chose a spot on the floor next to our front door. As the spot had to accommodate three people’s belongings, I bought three identical, large baskets, one for each child, and we set them in a line under the front window. Not only did they look great, but they also served to keep each child’s stuff from getting mixed up with that of their siblings. At that point, we sure looked organized!
Once our launchpads were in place, we needed to figure out what needed to go into them and then, an even more daunting task, create a routine around getting that stuff packed-up each evening before bed. I worked individually with each of my children to create a list of items that should always be on their personal launchpad, creating a schedule for special items that were only needed on certain days . We then attempted to arrange all of the requisite items in the baskets. All three kids had a backpack, my eldest often needed her guitar, and, as a three-season athlete and musician, my middle child took a sports bag and his cello pretty much every day. As doing so would help streamline our mornings, it made sense for us to pre-pack their snacks and water bottles every night. We also discovered that they needed a spot for their outerwear because, honestly, rummaging around in the front hall closet every morning was not working. The baskets filled up fast, so, after consideration, we tweaked our original design by placing a long mat under the baskets, providing additional room for the larger items and protecting the floor from the inevitable reality of wet boots and dirty sneakers. Partnering with my children to create their launchpads ended up being a bunch of fun. The process really helped all of us to appreciate how much we were juggling as a family. More significantly, we all felt hopeful that setting up a routine around using the new launchpads would lead to calmer, more organized lives, which it did. Eventually.
I took a disciplined, though my offspring might say, “militant,” approach to mastering the launchpad system. When we walked through the door each afternoon, the kids dumped their backpacks into their baskets and placed additional items either into or next to their baskets. After that, they dug out what they needed to do for homework that evening and anything else that needed to be managed. Water bottles and lunchboxes got washed and refilled. Instruments got practiced. Sports bags got emptied and repacked. Every evening each child reviewed their individual list, and I helped them double check their baskets before bed to ensure that they had whatever was on their list for the next day, be it gym class, library day, a music lesson, or an away game. Within a few weeks, my middle schoolers were moving with increased independence through the unpacking and repacking routine. They even identified other steps to improve our system, like charging their laptops right in their backpacks by plugging them into a nearby outlet at night. Practice was certainly paying off!
Teaching my kids how to use their launchpads took a few months of tweaking and practice to master, but the end result was well worth the effort. Sure, on the rare occasion, somebody left that something-or-other they really, really needed at home because, you know, nobody’s perfect. The real benefit for my children was that their mornings felt manageable because they could roll out of bed, grab the stuff off their launchpads, and start the day confident that they were prepared for whatever adventures lay ahead! For me, the biggest win was that I knew my kids could replicate this system when they moved away to college and again when they have families of their own, setting them up for success no matter where they end up in the universe.
To set up and master a launchpad system in your universe:
- Designate a space that is large enough for your belongings and that does not need to fill another purpose.
- Create a list of items that need to “live” in that space.
- Determine whether or not you need to add additional storage or give definition to that space (ex: baskets, rug, shelf, or hook).
- Arrange your items on your launchpad in a way that enables you to double check them against your checklist without digging through them.
- Create an evening routine around collecting what you need, organizing it on your launchpad, and checking it against your list.
- Be open to tweaking your system when you discover a way to improve it!
Below is a checklist that you can use (or adapt) to support your success:
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