Back to School Tips & Suggestions

The transition from summer to fall is typically abrupt and unwelcomed. The beginning of a new school year brings with it wave of new things to do, too many things to remember and lots of items to place.  A great way to stay on top of things is to be ready for them before they happen.  This transitional time is hard on all of us, children especially.  The demands have proved to be emotionally, physically and financially taxing.  Parents start stressing, falling behind and children become frustrated, start acting out and ultimately breaking down.  My goal is to offer some tips and ideas on how to be prepared for the school year before it hits.  Let’s take some time today to get ourselves organized, so that tomorrow we have more free time for life to happen. The first day of school brings many new, challenging, and undesirable changes into a child’s life.  On the flip side it also presents opportunities for children to develop and grow as individuals.  How can we reduce the stress so kids can thrive?  As caregivers it’s important to make this transition as stress free as possible for them, in turn reducing the stress on parents. Happy kids…happy parents!


5 more minutes!!!!!!!!!! New bedtimes and earlier starts to every day

Consider what time kids are naturally getting up now and what time they will need to be up come September.  Begin slowly moving up their wake up time until they are waking up in time for school.  A slow change of 5-10 minutes a day will make the difference less drastic then if it were to happen all at once.  Admittedly, this requires some work on the parents’ part, not to mention that now the kids are awake earlier!  Remember we’re making subtle changes today so tomorrow will be easier. Consider the time kids will need to shower, eat breakfast and to have about 15-30 minutes of down time before walking out the door. Another suggestion for a less stressful morning is to have everything set out the night before.  Have the “what to wear” discussion the night before, pack lunches and store them in the fridge, write sticky note reminders for the morning and place on the back of the door.  Small things like this require prior preparation but it will invariably reduce the morning rush and leave time for unexpected setbacks to take place without de-railing your whole day.Again the best way to handle anything stressful is to be preemptive about things.  If you need children to wake up earlier they should most likely be going to bed earlier.



But I’m not tiirreedd!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The truth of the matter is that they’re not tired!  Children don’t realize that they are tired until there head hits the pillow or they spontaneously pass out like my niece in her exersaucer. In the summer it’s difficult to stick to an early bed time because there is so much going on and it stays light out so much later.  One trick is to use a timer, or built in cue. An example of a built in cue could be, after dinner, is bath, jammies, teeth, books and bed. The consistent predictable pattern of the day is the cue. Children can expect that bedtime is coming and can prepare for it.  Typically with claims that they are not hungry for dinner, because they know after dinner it’s all downhill. Older children with time telling abilities have been known to reset clocks so keep an eye out!   One thing to remember is that consistency is key with kids.  Children are always going to want to stay up later; it’s up to parents to set reasonable limits.  To help kids who have trouble settling in with the sun blaring through the window consider room darkening shades or curtains.

Move bedtime up a bit come August and use this month to establish before bed book time.  Read to your child, have older children read to you, hunt for Waldo and try to master magic eye puzzles.  This is a great way to ensure some quality one on one time with your kids and is one way to incorporate school reading into their daily routine.  For now they choose the stories, come September the teacher will make the choice but your kids will have time reserved for reading.



The entryway explosion!!!Coats, School bags, Lunch Boxes & Shoes

Create kid friendly areas and designated spots for all of these items.  At school, even in preschool, children are expected to maintain their own belongings.  They hang their coats, place their folders in a bin, take off shoes, and place their lunch box accordingly.  If possible, contact your child’s school or teacher to discuss what methods the school uses, ask for a quick tour of the classroom and mirror these practices at home.  Reinforcing the things children are learning and doing at school in the home environment will create a sense of uniformity for them.  Once they get to school kids will think “this is just like my house!”  this may help to calm children and help them through this difficult time.  A successful entryway doesn’t need to be expensive or difficult to maintain.  It can be as simple as a few Command hooks, and a basket. A bit more structured by using a book shelf, a chair and a small bin.  You could also purchase cool lockers for each child or have custom entryway cubbies built and installed.  The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t cost much to get organized, but the payoff is always huge.



Paper, paper everywhere!!!!  Letters from teachers, artwork, worksheets, tests, permission slips, science projects, notes from friends, reminders, stories, class picture order forms …

The overwhelming amount of paper that comes home from school is outrageous.  We can’t stop the never-ending stream but we can attempt to damn it up in an orderly fashion so that it doesn’t end up all over the house.  Designate a place for all incoming papers and go through your child’s schoolbag every day.  This will not only help you stay on top of things but it will keep you updated on what they’re learning and demonstrate your interest in your child’s life and activities.  Nothing makes a teacher sadder than realizing that the note and wet clothes they sent home on Friday are still there come Monday morning.  Take an interest and take a quick peek, everyday!  You’ll stay up to date on their schoolwork and it’ll help you deal with the papers a few at a time.  There are several options for how to store the papers.  Binders, Bins, Bulletin Boards, Folders the list goes on and on. 

Binders are great because they keep all papers out of sight until you need them, are portable, and take up a small amount of space.  They can be stacked along the kitchen counter for quick reference, stored in the office to be out of the way or can live in your newly created entry way space.  Each household will vary; choose the location that works for you.  Each child should have their own binder. You can use post it notes, dividers or tabbed folders to divide the sections.  Again sections will vary but some typical ones can be, information for parents and caregivers, calendars and schedules, lunch menu, class list, birthdays, contact info, special dates(also add these dates to family calendar), art work that you want to save, science topics, home extension ideas, completed worksheets and tests, upcoming/ in progress assignments. Binders should be gone through on a weekly basis, out with the old in with the new.  Recycle all old information either in the recycling bin or kids can use the backs of notices to color and make crafts.  The monthly lunch calendar makes a great paper airplane. 

Folders would work the same way as the binders but can be placed in a filing caddie, tote or drawer.  Remember to keep each child’s information separate via hanging folders, and then all sub headings would have their own insert folder.  Folders will also need to be gone through weekly. For this reason I find binders to be easier to maintain.

Bulletin Boards work great for younger kids who have less information to deal with and are bringing home mainly artwork and a few dittos a week.  Break up a large board into sections or designate a board per child.  Have a place for their weekly information, letter of the week, spelling words, lunch menu, etc. and a place where they can display their artwork, decide how many pictures are reasonable and have children rotate out old pictures to make room for new ones.  One way to do this is to have a place for one picture a day, the next time Monday rolls around the old Monday picture gets filed in a binder, portfolio or photo box for the current year’s artwork and the new one can be hung up.  Or a top ten board, he/she can decide what art pieces stay and which go but never more than ten.  Setting reasonable limits is a great way to keep the paper under control and to demonstrate your child’s best work.



………………..I can’t throw away my Child’s Art!                 

Every picture that your child draws, paints or scribbles is precious.  However, they will bury you alive.  Set a reasonable limit for each school year, say, ten pieces of artwork a year, and stick to it.  The hard part is throwing away or recycling the other 167 pieces of art.  By keeping a select few you demonstrate your child’s best work and add value to the ones you have chosen.  Recycle the ones that are mostly teacher made, hold no added value to you and are not their best work at the time.

Sorting your child’s school work and art work into save-it-forever or Trash is a daunting task. I know this is an emotional feat and many parents struggle with this.  My tip is to have two bins, a lifetime bin and a yearly bin.  Feel free to keep placing all the art into the yearly bin, until the year is over.  At the end of the year sit down with your child and help them choose 10 to move into the lifetime bin. True favorites can be framed, laminated, displayed in a shadowbox, or used to create a yearly calendar.  The others can be recycled, used as wrapping paper, burned in the family’s fireplace, used as holiday and birthday cards for relatives or simply thrown away.  I’ve found that when you put some time between the creation and the decision the value changes.  They are no longer as important as the day they came home and you’re able to part with them much more easily. 

Another way to save the memory of the artwork, exam or science project is to take pictures or a video of the child showing the artwork.  These photos can be mounted in a photo album to be enjoyed over the years.  A bonus of this idea is you can simultaneously see the artwork and the artist.  When you look back over the years you’ll see not only your child’s development but the development of their artistic abilities.



Homework…the ultimate oxymoron.  Homework and Reading

Come August establish a time i.e. (before dinner, after soccer practice, right after afternoon snack), you choose, where you and your child have, say 15minutes of uninterrupted reading time followed by 30 minutes(scale time to child’s current abilities)  of table time.  For the next several weeks you and your child can choose the books, activities and art projects.  Once school begins those choices will be teacher prescribed but the routine and structure will be established.  Set a timer for a clear start and finish time.  For older children, incorporate time telling activities into this system.  They’ll be able to see how much time they have left and can begin to develop and hone some time management skills.  Set up a bin or caddie with all the supplies they will need; pencils, erasers, markers, rulers, paper, scissors.  Hopefully alleviating distractions and interruptions caused by hopping up to go find necessary materials.



Grid of Mayhem!!!!!!!!! Scheduling your Family Calendar

Scheduling all of your families’ activities is no simple task; it takes a skilled juggler to handle this grid of mayhem. The best tip is to find a system that works for you and your family.  I will say that having one calendar per household is a must.  This way all of the information is in one location; this will cut down on double bookings and will allow you to see the whole families’ appointments at once.  Individual calendars can also be used but all appointments and dates must be written on the master calendar first. One nice way to keep everyone’s appointments in line is to color code your calendar, a different color for each family member.  This same concept can be incorporated into other areas as well.  Either the item itself or the label on the item can be color coded.  School information binders, backpack hooks, coat hooks, baskets for shoes, sport bags, laundry baskets, laundry bags, toothbrushes, washcloths etc. I’ve also seen weekly calendars with different sections for each family member.

 If you are a digital diva and need to use your Blackberry, iPhone or Android as your calendar that will work too. Many email servers offer free calendars that can be logged onto in real time and edited.  So your husband can consult it from the road, you can manage it over lunch and at home you can pull it up on your computer to add in dates of assignments that just came out of your son’s school bag.  Again, the key is to find a flexible system that you and your family will be able to maintain.



Soccer, PTSA, piano, Committee meetings, dance, karate, science fairs, picture day, dentist, doctor, birthdays, concerts… Overwhelming activities, Fundraisers, meetings and committees

My first thought here is that we are typically overscheduled.  I understand the need to be smarter, faster, and stronger, to take on more and to fail at less.  But I don’t think we need to push that mentality on kids.  If you find scheduling a common issue consider backing out of a few activities to offer your family some down time, to allow for things to be a bit more fluid and to add value to the things you choose to spend your time and money on.


JUST SAY NO!!!!  To volunteering more than you have to give

Determine how many things you can reasonably, happily handle, and then only agree to that many things.  It sounds simple and maybe even unreasonable but if you are not happily helping then truthfully you’re not much help.  Sign up for and vigorously attack only what you can handle. You’re doing yourself, your family and your school a disservice by grudgingly agreeing to things simply because you feel you must.  Set an example for your children by displaying that you only take on what you can handle and then you handle it to the best of your ability.


Getting to all of those Sports, Lessons and Activities on time!

Utilize your new Calendar system to ensure that everyone knows where they need to be and when.  Set up grab-and-go bags or caddies for each activity.  These can be small baskets placed on a shelf near the door, mesh laundry bags that hang on hooks near the entryway, sport backpacks, cubes for cube cubbies sold at every store from Target & Ikea to Pottery Barn Kids. All of these can be easily labeled, tie on an index card with a string or ribbon.  You could attach cute luggage tags or laminate a photo and attach with a zip tie. Caddies/ bags can be labeled by activity or can be set up for every day of the week.  For this system to be successful, materials and equipment need to be replaced after every use.  Double check the night before to ensure that things are where they need to be.  Then the morning of, or right before the activity, you can just grab-and-go.


It’s all so new; help them out with Dry Runs

Take the time to run through the new routine a few weeks before school begins.  Take your child to his/her new school; ask if you can tour the classroom.  Some locations may allow parents and children to utilize the playground during off hours. Older children can revisit the school and begin to reminisce and look forward to the new school year. I love when older siblings start showing their brother/ sister around.  Make their new school playground your new family park for a bit.  Your children will be able to familiarize themselves with the playground with you there, the memories you make these days may help him/her out the next time he’s playing with his class, he may feel more at ease because he knows the area and toys and has positive experiences related to it.  Exposure, consistency and repetition help children feel more comfortable.  There are steps that parents can take to ease themselves and their children into the new school year.


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