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Back to School for Moms and Dads

I know what you’re thinking: not another back-to-school shopping list! Moms and Dads, you’ve probably had an eyeful of what to buy for the kids this season. But this one’s for you: a few suggestions for staying cool, calm and connected during back to school season.

Cozi: Face it. School life revolves around the calendar. One of the most respected leaders in family calendaring is Cozi.com. Think about a color-coded calendar detailing the activities of each member of your family. And because life happens when you’re not at your computer, the Cozi mobile app lets you enter appointments, to-dos and other notes from your mobile device.  There are templates to make your calendar look like you’re an event planning pro, and a to-do list that even includes a chore list for the kids. Two of my favorite back-to-school areas are the Cozi Family Dinner Club with recipe and shopping lists and the back-to-school supply list.

About One: If you’re looking to go beyond the calendar into full frontal organization, AboutOne is an interesting choice. The program helps organize everything from the kid’s health records and immunizations, to legal documents and car maintenance schedules. It’s a strong program for managing you contacts (separate groups are easy to create for the soccer team or Girl Scouts), and data is easily imported from existing contact databases. AboutOne has no calendaring feature on the web yet, but plans to work with the calendar of your choice. It does have a calendaring companion app called Family Organizer for Windows Phones. Through the app, you can enter calendar items, scan or snap photos, and enter paperwork and link it all to your AboutOne contacts. It’s an interesting hybrid solution that I expect will continue to grow more robust.

Life360: Your kids probably are heading to school with their mobile phones on their persons. And you probably have yours with you 24/7. That’s why I like Life360.com. It’s a mobile app that tracks your kids’ whereabouts via GPS. When you do a “check in” the app displays a map and pinpoints precisely where they are. Or, if you’d rather, you can have the kids check in when they get to a point – like school or a friend’s house. The app is free – the kids know you’re using it since you request their permission to be in your life circle.  Additional premium features like phone loss protection and the ability to locate family members who don’t own smart phones will have monthly fees attached. If your family is running all over creation, this app is truly a lifesaver.

Back it up: A little advice. All the organization tools in the world won’t help if you don’t back up your data. Whether it’s the kid’s schedules or their homework, you’re going to have deep regrets. While there are many excellent backup solutions, two to consider are a hardware based one from Western Digital called My Book Live ( $159.99 for 2 terabytes). I like it because it can be connected right to your broadband internet connection, which means anyone in the house (or even remotely) can access the files. Mobile phone users can access the device via a special app that comes with the drive.  Reviewers call it your own personal “cloud,” with no monthly fees. Other popular online backup systems include SugarSync, Carbonite and DropBox. These are all password-protected, cloud-based backup services that can be shared by the whole family. Costs vary depending on how much data you store.

Printed Copies: Whoever said the digital era would herald the end of print wasn’t paying attention. Good students and their parents will need to print things to stay organized – from schedules to draft reports. Both Epson and HP get my vehement nod this year for maximum quality at minimum price. Both the HP Photosmart 5510 e-All-in-One and the EPSON Expression Home XP-200 Small-in-One give you a printer, scanner and copier in one machine. Plus they’re both web-enabled, which means that you can print documents or photos, remotely and wirelessly, from any computer, smartphone or tablet in the house or remotely.

Team Snap: Parents of kids involved in sports should check out TeamSnap for iPad or iphone. It makes it easy to set up team rosters, newsletters, player information, schedules and get them out to the gang. Take your iPhone or iPod Touch to games and events and have on-the-go access to your team. View photos, map the directions to a game, and appoint the snack person, too.

Organization Freaks: For the organizationally insane check out this mom’s mind-blowing blog dedicated to organizing: iheartorganizing.blogspot.ca. She’s a cross between the Energizer bunny, Martha Stewart, and an obsessive compulsive, but she’s got amazing ideas to keep you organized for the school year. One good example to see if you’re up to the task? Look at her paperwork storage center project. This is a mom on organizing steroids.  

Moms on the go: You’ll want juice for your gadgets always. One that I’ve used is Voltaic’s solar backpack. Ok, it’s a little clunky, but you get to be green, charged, and able to charge your kids devices as needed, too! Not bad.

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