- when PE day is each week (so you can make sure they wear their sneakers)
- who the PTA volunteer recruiters are (so you know who to avoid at pick-up time)
- what's on this month's cafeteria lunch menu (so that you know which days they will complain the most that you didn't pack them a lunch)
- why over-scheduling your kids (and yourself) by signing them up for this particular after-school activity will be worth all the self-loathing later
- how reading aloud every night to your kids will help them become better readers (does reading the McDonald's drive-thru menu count?)
First, it's important to establish a solid after-school routine. Even if your schedule varies depending on the day, try to have a set routine for when the kids arrive home with all their stuff. We call ours "backpack unpack" time. Unpack and repack lunchboxes (if applicable) right away to avoid a scramble the next morning. Designate a landing pad where each kid can unpack homework materials and a separate "inbox" where they can leave papers for Mom or Dad to see or sign.
Next, equip your kids with a homework station. Whether it's at a desk in their rooms or contained in a bin or basket that can be transported to the kitchen or dining room table, make sure they have a clear work surface and all the supplies they need to complete their homework assignments...pencils, sharpener, erasers, highlighters, ruler, compass, calculator, protractor, glue stick, scissors, crayons/colored pencils, and paper. Try to keep it well-stocked and somewhat organized. If helpful, include folders for keeping study aids and work in progress easily accessible.
Third, maintain a common calendar for tracking all upcoming tests, deadlines, project due dates, and other reminders (such as "Wear Sneakers" every PE day and "Remember Library Books" every Media Center day). Color code it using a different color ink for each child. Post it in a central location and train the kids to review it each morning before school and each evening before bed. Gradually teach them how to share responsibility for maintaining it.
For older kids, help them set up their binders with divided sections for each class and two separate homework folders: one for homework to be completed, and a second for completed homework that is ready to turn in. Encourage them to write all homework assignments and upcoming tests, quizzes and projects in an agenda during class and then review it each evening to be sure all assignments were completed. If applicable, you can also check your school's online assignment tracker just in case they forgot to write something down in their agendas. (This will also help you know about upcoming tests and projects so you can add them to the reminder calendar.)
So now, what to do with all those papers they bring home for you to see or sign? Well, let's start with the stuff you DON'T have to keep: You do not need to save every piece of graded classwork or artwork your child brings home. Less really is more when if comes to selecting keepsakes. Only THE MOST precious items should make it into your keepsakes box, lest you end up needing to build a new wing onto your house in a few years to hold a forest of paper you will likely never look at again. (You are more likely to look at it again if you have less of it...trust me on this!) As for the rest of their work, once you have reviewed it, you really only need to keep the papers that may be helpful in reviewing, either with your kids or their teachers, potential problem areas.
Any other papers requiring action, such as permission slips or sign-up sheets, should be addressed and immediately returned to school in your child's backpack (with instructions to your child on what to do with them) or added to your To Do pile. Information about school policies, test results, and report cards should be filed. Any other items not requiring action can be discarded after reviewing them.
Finally, if you aren't already in the habit of weekly dinner menu planning, I strongly encourage you to try it. It's an investment that can save you a ton of time, money and sanity on hectic school nights. Check out this helpful menu planning tutorial to get you started!
With a little planning and the right attitude, making it all the way through the school year with a full head of hair still intact will be easy peasy!