The start of another school year is upon us!
No doubt you’ve stocked up on pencils and a rainbow of pocket folders.
The kids have brand-new sneakers or a snazzy new lunchbox or backpack.
You’ve filled out the endless forms and read notes from your child’s teacher/s.
Those of you sending them back in person after 18 months of home schooling may even have some champagne on ice for toasting your triumphant return to some well-earned peace and quiet at home during the weekdays.
But the preparations don’t stop there. I’ve polled teachers at all levels (preschool, elementary, middle and high school) to find out what, beyond the obvious stuff of buying supplies and communicating with the school, parents can do to ensure a successful school year. Even after 13+ years at this school-age parenting thing, I learned a few things I could be doing better.
Here’s what they said:
For younger kids (preschool through elementary)
For older kids (middle and high school)
For kids just learning English
For all age groups
And now, the #1 response from all teachers at all levels…(drum roll, please)
And speaking of reading, you’ve already taken the first step in helping your child have a successful school year just by reading this blog post! Stay tuned for more Back to School tips over the next few weeks. Here’s to a fantastic 2021-22 school year! [champagne bottle pops]
It's mid-September. By now, everyone is back in school, the extracurricular activities have resumed, and the seemingly endless stream of papers have come pouring in...papers telling you:
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!
Did you say "Back to School"? Why yes. Yes, I did.
Now, before you start throwing rotten apples at me, just hear me out. I know, I know...the whole family is in celebration mode now that school is out for the summer. No doubt you have swim meets, ice cream socials and long, lazy mornings on the brain. The very last thing you want to focus on is that dirty, dingy backpack that was thrown into the corner on the last day of school, overflowing with crumpled papers, half-used journals, crumbling erasers and stubby, unsharpened pencils. But believe it or not, this is perfect time to get a jump on preparations for the Fall.
First, though, I want to put you out of your misery by saying "NO!" No, you do NOT need to keep all the math homework from this past year. No, you are not a bad parent if you toss out all the old reading logs, homework assignments, and agenda books without even looking at them. (Hopefully you've paid enough attention during the year to know where your child needs some extra help.) And most of all...No, you most definitely SHOULD NOT feel guilty for tossing out the majority of masterpieces created by your budding Van Gogh or Shakespeare.
The older your kids get, the easier it will become to part with all but the most labored-over or heartwarming pieces of work they produce. More is NOT better. In fact in this instance, more is actually less...less meaningful, that is. If it helps, set aside a half-hour to sit with your child and go through the papers and artwork together. Have them tell you about their experiences working on them. Ask questions about their thought process. Allow them to pick one or two favorites to keep. Then you pick one or two of your own. Then toss the rest. Yes, TOSS THEM!!! If necessary, do the tossing when your child isn't around. But please trust me on this. You will never regret it, and neither will they, mostly because neither of you will remember what you tossed a year from now. And the stuff you selected to keep just gained in value due to its rarity. Best of all, neither of you will be saddled with the burden that a HUGE bin of old papers will become if you don't make some meaningful decisions now.
Next, designate a place to store your selected keepsakes and put them away. Assign another spot for storing reusable school supplies for next year, and toss out all the worn out, broken, dirty crumbly stuff you know you won't use. Wash the backpacks and lunch boxes and put them away too. Finally, put that school supply list for next year in a safe spot or hang it on the fridge, but first cross off all the things you already have ready and waiting in your stash of supplies so you don't buy them again.
Now that you're done, go enjoy a well-deserved dip in the pool, knowing you've already got a start on another successful school year! Your friends may poo-poo your efforts, but you'll be the one laughing all the way to the pool on the last day of summer while they're fighting through the crowds at Staples trying to grab the very last yellow folder.
It's that time of year again...when life returns to its usual hectic pace after the lazy summer months. Four days into the new school year, I've finally finished celebrating. Now it's time to put away my martini glass and batten down the hatches, because we're about to get hit with a hurricane of homework, extracurricular activities and PTA events.
I'm a person who loves routines--no, needs routines--in order to function well. I find that it helps to be able to go on autopilot for everyday tasks so that I can save my brain power for when I really need it, like understanding what those international laundry symbols mean. (By the way, if you have the same problem, here's a key that you can print out and tape above your washing machine for future reference.) Routines are a great way to make sure you are squeezing in all of your repetitive, must-do tasks that, if forgotten, could be problematic...like going grocery shopping, doing the laundry, and brushing your teeth. But what happens when you have a one-time or less essential task or activity, like fixing the broken closet door or making time for friends, or getting a physical? Where do they fit in when your day is already packed to the gills with work, housework, homework, grocery shopping, chauffeuring the kids and laundry? Chances are, they get deferred until you have some "free" time. And when is that? When your kids leave home or you retire? (I've been told by those in the know that that golden goose is a myth, too.) Or worse, they happen when the fact that you have deferred them for so long leads to some crisis that makes them suddenly essential, like discovering you are really sick.
Time is like money and available calories: limited and once gone, you can't change your mind about how to spend it. Anyone on a food or financial diet will tell you that advance planning is the only way to avoid wasteful spending, yet few of us put that much advance thought into how we will budget our time in order to fit everything in.
Start with plugging the leaks and becoming more efficient:
Finally, stop feeling guilty about spending time on you. (I'm Catholic, so guilt comes really easy to me and I struggle with this one.) You are the most important person in your life. Without you, none of it matters, so you should be a top priority. If you need to exercise or meditate or shop or nap in order to feel refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of your seemingly endless To Do list, then do it! Nothing kills motivation like resentment, and that is what you will end up with if you don't take time out to tend to your own needs from time to time. Put it on the calendar, just as you would a doctor's appointment or parent-teacher conference, because it is just as important.
As my mother-in-law likes to say, "You're a long time dead", so make every minute count while you can!
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.