Quite a few years ago, when my kids were younger, I spent a much-overdue weekend away with my three older sisters. It was the first time I had ever been away from my children, then ages 7 and 9, for more than one night. I was sure they would miss me, and I knew I would miss them, but my son responded to the news of my impending trip with this elated proclamation to his father:
“Hey Daddy, that means that we can do whatever we want all weekend, because Mommy won’t be here to boss us around!”
Alas, it’s true that we all need to take a break every now and then from doing what we’re supposed to do. That’s why we take vacations or occasionally skip the gym...why we sometimes take a “mental health day” from work, or cheat on our diets. In this case, my son thought that with his drill sergeant mom on leave, there would be no one ordering him to clean up his toys, make his bed or clear his dishes. He envisioned my time away as one long boss-free, video-game-playing, TV-watching, Lego-dumping weekend filled with Cocoa Puffs for dinner, chocolate cake for dessert and no church or teeth-brushing to cramp his style. Except he forgot his sister would be staying home with him. Here’s how he described her at the time:
It says: This is some big information. I have one sister. She is really bossy. For example, she tells me what TV shows and DVDs I can and ca'nt wach [sic] I like the great-white shark. It eats fish.
(I wonder, are those blue things fish, or a bossy sister's feet? Hmmm...)
Anyway, a little time off from the regular routine is both healthy and necessary, and summer is the ideal time for relaxing our standards and enjoying some easy, laid-back simplicity. But there is a fine line between a relaxed routine and a free-for-all that can be difficult to reverse. Just like enjoying that all-you-can-eat dessert buffet, the long-term negative effects of your binge can be minimized with just a smidgeon of advance preparation and a plan in place for easing back into the rigors of everyday life when reality resumes in the fall. Also remember that kids need a little structure in place to reassure them when they crash from that sugar rush.
Here are just a few strategies that I have found make for a smoother transition back to reality when summer ends:
So go ahead, turn on Nat King Cole and turn up the volume as you savor the sweetness of these long summer days, but just remember that you still need to brush every day if you don’t want a cavity!
With a little structure and routine over the summer, even transitioning your kids back to a school-time schedule in the fall will be easy peasy.
A couple of years ago, I posted about the advantages of creating a "command center" in your home to keep everyone in the family informed and on the same page in a low-tech manner. I showed you an example of the elements we included in ours here at Chez Sheridan and provided a few tips on developing your own. If you missed it, you can still read it here. While ours has served us well, I was ready for a change...something simple yet a bit fun and whimsical that everyone in the family could get into. I decided to go with a chalkboard and wanted to share with you just how easy this is!
As I mentioned in my original post, an effective command center should be located in a central spot where all family members will see it. I have this weird little wall between my kitchen and the main living space in my home that makes the perfect spot, but it's also one of the first things you see when you walk in the front door. As you can see from the photo, I'm not very artistic, but part of the fun of the chalkboard is that you get to play around with it and it's a fun way to get your kids (and spouse?) involved too. I'm pretty sure I can trick my teenagers into keeping themselves informed if it involves doodling with chalk!
To make your own chalk wall, all you need is chalkboard paint, painter's tape, some chalk, and an eraser. It really doesn't get any fancier than that. I bought a can of chalkboard paint for about $8.50 from WalMart and still have about one-third of it leftover after two coats on my little wall. Simply tape up the trim with the painter's tape and roll it on. It dries to the touch in less than two hours and is ready for a second coat in four hours. Allow it to dry for three days before writing on it. Then "season" it by rubbing the side of a piece of chalk all over the board. Erase it and you are open for business!
As I said, I can barely draw a stick figure, but there are lots of great resources on the Internet for inspiration on fonts and designs you can use to spruce up yours. This was my first stab at it, but I look forward to getting better with practice and adding some color next time. At least my kids won't be bugging me about what's for dinner tonight and will know what's on the calendar in the coming days.
Get creative and encourage other family members to contribute, too. After all, the whole idea is to foster more communication between you. The more they are looking at the board, the better the chances they'll absorb the information on it, right? Enlist their help in keeping it updated by assigning "chalkboard duty" to a specific person each day or week. Add reminders, an inspirational quote, or some seasonal doodles. My photo only shows the top half of my wall, but I deliberately left the bottom portion blank for my kids and their friends to write on. The more involved they are, the more organized and on top of things they will become.
With a little chalk and some creativity, even keeping the whole family informed can be easy peasy!
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.
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.