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Organizing the Green Years: Adopting a Family Planning Meeting

I'm very excited to welcome a new guest contributor to Go West. Jenny Totman will be writing regularly about how to help your family live a more organized life. Totman is a teacher and librarian by training. Her business Green Years Organizing helps children and teens learn how to organize their stuff, space and time. Know of a topic you'd like Jenny to address in a future column? Write it in the comments section or send it to editor@gowestyoungmom. 

Fall schedules are in full swing and the holidays are right around the corner. You might feel like your family is pulled in 10 different directions, and you rarely have time to eat dinner together, let alone coordinate schedules. Don’t fret! You can reconnect with your family and reduce stress by taking some time out of your week to plan. A little bit of planning goes a long way. 

Photo by Mike Rohde on Flickr.Adopting a weekly family planning meeting has many benefits for all involved and teaches important lifelong skills to your children. Still, you might be wondering how to convince your loved ones to participate in such a mundane task. It’s all in the preparation, presentation and the sell – everyone loves a party! Family meetings tend to be heavy and tense, so set the tone beforehand for a lighthearted exchange with positive vibes, yummy snacks and possibly some cocktails for you and your spouse. My children are young enough that popcorn and lollipops do the trick, but you probably know what will convince your family to join in the fun.

You Are Invited!

Who: Everyone in the family and anyone else who may play a large role in your daily activities like a grandparent or nanny.

What: Planning PARTY!

When: Weekly. Your family planning party should take about thirty minutes to an hour depending on what topics you decide to cover. Find a convenient time for everyone to meet. My family does our grocery shopping on Saturday mornings so Friday evenings naturally became the time for us to plan. It also works out that everyone is relaxed and happy for the week to be over.

Where: Wherever makes the most sense and is most comfortable for your family. Since we plan our menu and shopping list, we tend to meet in the kitchen. IPads, cell phones, and computers are handy tools when planning but can also be a huge distraction. You may want to come up with an agreement to limit electronic use to planning purposes only.

Why: Think of planning ahead as preventative maintenance. It enables you to foresee some of the issues that may pop up during the week that have the tendency to cause headaches and unneeded stress. Setting a weekly planning party is a great time to organize schedules and rides, discuss upcoming homework, projects and tests, create a healthy menu together, plan the shopping list, agree on chores, etc. Not only will planning as a family provide some stress relief, the activity will also teach your children short- and long-term planning strategies and teamwork. These parties also allow you to model skills such as keeping a planner or calendar and problem solving.

How: Once again, keep your planning sessions light and positive. Try not to use this time do discuss poor grades or hand out punishments. Give your children some choices and the ability to make some of the decisions. You want your kids to want to participate! Take a few minutes beforehand to plan your planning party and have all supplies ready to go when the family convenes. Encourage your family members to do the same. Finally, do your best to meet consistently and attempt to meet at the same time on the same day each week. Your family will get in the habit of preparing for and attending these get-togethers, and it will become a wonderful time for your family to connect.

Hopefully you can find the time and the willing participants to give a planning party a try. Just think how nice it would be to not have to make cupcakes at 10 p.m. for the bake sale tomorrow. You know, the one your child forgot to tell you about until today.

Jenny Totman is the owner of Green Years Organizing, which aims to help children and teens obtain the necessary organizational, time management, and study skills required to achieve academic and personal success. She lives in Geneva with her husband and two children and is committed to helping people get through “the green years” with less chaos, clutter and confusion.

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Reader Comments (5)

Great advice!

October 29, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermiss gin

This sounds like a great idea, especially having everyone involved at least once weekly. With 3 school age children , 2 working parents, homework assignments and shuttling to and from activities etc...any help in a smoother running family is greatly appreciated. We'll try it this week.

Any special hints on how to find out what the middle school assignments are? I check the teacher websites, look at the usually empty planners required for our shool and hear 'I don't have any' or 'I already did it at school and turned it in'. Next week I find a 'missing' on the progress report. Help!

November 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJane

This sounds like a great idea. My husband and I should probably start doing this, but I think our kids are probably a bit young still (3 & 5). Any suggestions on a good age to start involving them?

November 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Parisi

Thanks for the comments and question, Jane! I really hope you are able to try the family planning party - I think it would be the first step in opening the conversation on getting assignments turned in on time and a great opportunity to demonstrate how to use a planner and/or calendar.

Middle school is such a volatile time in a child’s life and so much is required of them. It can be easy for any child to fall behind and make mistakes. Luckily, your children have you there supporting them. It sounds like you are doing a great job – keep it up!

Unfortunately, I do not have any hints on how to find out what your child’s assignments are unless you are willing to have a daily conversation with your child’s teachers (something I do not recommend). I believe your efforts would be better focused on helping your child figure out a way to make his or her planner work for them. Ask as many questions as possible to pinpoint what about using the planner is not working. It could be as simple as your child only wants to write in blue pen and ran out of blue pens or as complex as your child does not know how to use a planner. Maybe the school-issued planner does not fit with your child’s organizational style?

I truly believe there are few students who want to fail and few children who want to disappoint their parents. It is a matter of not having the knowledge base and skills necessary to create systems that work, with a whole bunch of hormones thrown in. It is our job as parents to help our children create organizational systems that work for them and teach them how to maintain those systems.

Give the planning party a try and attempt to work with your child on how to effectively use his/her planner. If you have further questions or feel your child may benefit from outside help please visit our website at greenyearsorganizing.com to see how to set up a free consultation.

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Totman

Sarah, thank you for your comment and great question! Your children are not too young to include. My kids are 2 and 4 years old and although they do not participate in a formal way we have found they tend to gravitate towards the kitchen table where my husband and I plan.

I am glad our children can witness the problem solving, planning, and positive interactions that take place during our weekly planning time. And the kids love to contribute ideas for the menu, especially desserts! The planning party presents the opportunity to discuss days of the week, numbers and calendars, healthy food choices, and ways in which each family member contributes to the running of the household.

I urge you to plan with your husband at a time when your children are around. Our kids learn by example - what a perfect time to teach your children lifelong skills! Don't expect to have your children sit with you for 30 minutes with pen and paper but anticipate your children to have many ideas to contribute and do not be surprised if they ask for their own planner!

Happy Planning!

November 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Totman

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