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]
Raise your hand if you either have kids or were once a kid yourself. If you raised your hand, this one’s for you.
Kids and former kids alike tend to struggle with letting go of items that represent memories. Even I, the queen of getting rid of stuff, struggle from time to time. No matter how much of a minimalist you may be, guaranteed you’re hanging onto some things merely because they remind you of special memories, people, or achievements. And there’s nothing wrong with that just as long as you’re doing it selectively and with intention. But so often, we end up holding on simply because we aren't sure how, when or whether to let go. That keeping-by-default approach eventually leads to clutter, which in turn leads to disorganization when the clutter becomes unmanageable.
Learning how to make choices about your belongings with confidence is key to avoiding what I call "clutter creep”. Teaching kids that skill is as important as teaching them to balance a checkbook, yet it’s one aspect of child-rearing that often gets overlooked because parents themselves never learned how to do it.
Kids are notorious for wanting to keep everything under the sun because they haven't yet fully experienced the many negative consequences of clutter creep. And if no one teaches them how to make thoughtful, intentional decisions about their stuff, they’ll continue to keep by default and grow up to be former kids who feel compelled to keep everything. Perhaps you know someone who fits this description? The good news is that by learning just a few simple strategies, they can instead grow up to enjoy a lifetime of clutter-free living as adults and save you from grappling with their clutter creep in the meantime (perhaps on top of your own). So whether you’re hoping to raise a de-cluttered kid or to become a de-cluttered former kid, read on.
First, two important points to remember when it comes to keeping memorabilia:
1) Their main function is to trigger a positive memory (thus the name “memorabilia”)
2) Less really is more.
Think about this for a minute: How is a huge stash of photos, old school papers, certificates, artwork, old birthday cards and so on helpful in preserving memories from the past? Not only is it in your way, limiting activity in your present and threatening productivity in your future, but all the memories that stuff represents are currently hidden in a big, anxiety- and stress-provoking mess. In order to trigger any precious memories, you would have to take time to sit down and actually go through that big pile, piece by piece...yet most of us are actively avoiding the big pile... which is precisely how it has grown so unwieldy. We’re procrastinating looking through it because it's overwhelming. It represents unmade decisions, uncertain outcomes and sometimes even guilt as the pile continues to grow. It doesn’t feel fun or inviting the way your old memories should feel. Add to that the visual noise and inconvenience of having to live around it. Whether you’ve stashed it all away in some storage closet or are tripping over it every day, it is there...unmanageable and unconquered...nagging at you in the back of your mind (or maybe even in the front of it). At some point, that huge stash of what is supposed to be positive memories has become a big pile of negativity. And guess what...your kid's stash can feel that way to them too. So what to do with it?
Strategy #1: The Transformation Challenge
A couple of weeks ago, I talked about functional keepsakes in this blog. If you missed it, go back and read about them here. The idea is to transform your 3-dimensional keepsakes into something that serves a practical purpose. An example would be a big seashell your child collected during a family beach vacation. Help her brainstorm ways this purely sentimental object can fulfill a functional need. Turn the shell upside down and voila! it becomes a dish for holding small items such as change, paper clips, tiny earrings, etc.
The point is to clear some space by replacing an everyday, mundane, purely functional object with something that is both functional and memory-evoking at the same time. In this example, by transforming the shell into a change-holder, you can ditch the boring plastic container that was previously holding change. Thus, you are eliminating clutter without eliminating the memory. Plus, every time your child places change in the shell, it will evoke positive memories about his beach vacation. Win-Win! Challenge your kids to see what ideas they can come up with. You'll be amazed at their creativity, and they'll feel so proud of their own cleverness.
Strategy #2: The Keepsake Box
Last week’s post focused on how to keep paper keepsakes under control. Most kids don’t understand the concept of “less is more”, but keeping every school project, essay, drawing, handmade card, and certificate they ever received is not going to be valuable to either of you down the road. Help them to see what they are losing by keeping more. Would they rather look through the big, scary pile of papers on their desk to find and admire their old artwork, or use their desk for drawing something new? Would they rather spend the afternoon looking through a pile of old birthday cards from their best friend, or playing outside with that friend? Instead of keeping everything, limit the paper keepsakes to just what will fit inside a defined and manageable space such as a keepsake box and encourage them to choose with intention what goes in it. When the space gets full, it's time for your child to sit down, review everything in the box (and evoke some cool memories) and then eliminate items that are no longer as meaningful as they once were in order to make room for new ones.
This weeding out process gives them an opportunity to practice making intentional decisions about what to save while keeping them in charge of their own stuff. Consider using a box that they themselves have decorated or another vessel that conveys special meaning, making the receptacle itself a functional keepsake like the objects described in Strategy #1. Defining the space ahead of time keeps the pile manageable. Decide together in advance the rules for when it’s okay to add a second box (every five years? every ten?) and stick to those rules. This will depend on how much space you are both willing to devote to paper keepsakes. Remember, the less stuff you keep, the more space you have available for enjoying life and creating new memories!!
Strategy #3: The Art Gallery
Artwork often represents a unique challenge for parents, especially if your child is a prolific artist. Once again, less is more. You can save space in your keepsake box by displaying any drawings and paintings instead. Borrowing the concept of limited storage space from strategy #2, create a gallery space specifically for this purpose using a bulletin board, the refrigerator, frames in a hallway/bedroom, or pages of a portfolio...whatever works best for your family. (I'll share more ideas for keepsake organization in next week's blog post.) Define the space ahead of time and don't exceed it. Have your child decide what gets displayed and for how long. When a new masterpiece comes along, leave it up to her to decide what needs to go in order to make room for it. This not only allows him to practice that crucial decision-making process again, it also alleviates any guilt you might feel about tossing your little Picasso's creations.
Strategy #4: The "Vacation" Rotation
So what about trinkets and toys that cannot be transformed into functional objects and won't easily fit in a keepsake box, scrap book or on a gallery wall? Ever notice how kids develop a sudden strong attachment to toys they have long outgrown and forgotten all about when they discover them in the “Donations” box? When saying goodbye forever is too much of a struggle, teach your kids to say "bon voyage" instead, and place these items into temporary storage for 3-6 months. Make note of their scheduled return date. If your child hasn't mentioned them or asked for them by that date, extend the "vacation" a bit longer. If they still don't ask for them, this is a sign that they may be more ready to part with them than they thought. If they still insist on keeping them, negotiate a swap for some other toys they no longer use. Again, this allows them to practice making choices and keeps them in charge.
While it’s tempting to discard items you’re sure they won’t miss while they are napping or at school, this can lead them to cling even more fiercely to sentimental objects and potentially introduce a level of distrust into the relationship that you don’t want. Even more importantly, you’ll miss precious opportunities to help them practice letting go of their own accord.
Strategy #5: The Photo Shoot/Book Tour
Sometimes saving the actual object is not required to trigger a memory. They say a picture paints a thousand words, so a photo or even a short story about an object may be a more practical and appropriate solution. Make it fun and creative! Set the mood with a fan and some mood music while you play pretend professional photographer and conduct a photo shoot of your child with all his to-be-donated stuffed animals, dolls, or dinosaurs. Invite friends or siblings to join in. Or encourage your child to write the story of an object...where it came from, why it's special, what adventures they hope/imagine it experiences in its next "life" after donation. Allow him/her to share the story with family and friends a la book tour. Documenting the important role this object has played while it is still fresh in their minds will preserve the memory in more intricate detail than saving the thing itself ever could. They are putting into words or capturing in photos what the object means to them right now rather than having to rely on a vague recollection of it down the road.
Parting with stuff--for adults and kids alike--feels bad because we fear forever losing the memories it triggers. No wonder we avoid it! But having adequate space to live in and create new memories...feeling organized and in charge of our own environment...that feels really good. Teaching your kids these strategies and giving them opportunities to practice making intentional choices will empower them. With a little patience and a few good strategies, even raising de-cluttered kids (or becoming a de-cluttered former kid) can be easy peasy.
If you think about it, parenting is a huge responsibility to all of society. It's not enough just to keep your kids safe and loved, educate them, and help them transition into self-sufficiency. One of the most important, meaningful, and never-ending aspects of parenting is inspiring your offspring to make the world a better place and play a role in advancing the human race.
As long as you are breathing, you are either taking from the world, or giving back to it. Teaching your child how to give back is one of the biggest ways you continue to give back. As most parents know, what you do has a greater impact on your kids than what you say. They will be watching as you teach by modeling learning...say something important by listening intently...receive fulfillment by giving away your time and treasure to a cause greater than yourself...and make your voice heard by amplifying the voices of others. This isn't difficult to do, but it doesn't just happen on its own. It requires intention. And it's never too early to start.
Look for ways you and your children can listen and learn together.
Show your kids that learning is a lifelong process. Explore the world beyond your own gate. Go to museums; read books; pay attention to current events; learn about history, religion and cultures outside of your own. Forge relationships with others from diverse backgrounds. Ask grandparents to share stories of their past experiences and personal struggles. All of this enables your children to put themselves in other people's shoes and develop an empathy and compassion that is crucial to improving the world for everyone.
Model the behaviors you want your kids to emulate.
Demonstrate what it means to be a good citizen. Take them with you to vote. Talk to them about the electoral process. Describe your volunteer work. Tell them about the causes you support and why you chose to make them a priority. Discuss age-appropriate current events at the dinner table. Invite friends and co-workers from diverse backgrounds to your home and visit them in theirs when invited. Introduce your children to food, customs, holidays and traditions from other cultures. Read the paper and educational magazines both in front of them and to them. Let them witness your continuing education about the world around you. Share with them about a time you changed your stance on an issue after listening to the other side's arguments. It's important for them to see that beliefs and priorities can evolve as you continue to learn and seek out new perspectives.
Encourage them to get involved.
Plan a summer project or field trip your family can do around giving back to the community. Participate in family-friendly volunteer events. Encourage them to give gifts that support a cause or to opt out of receiving gifts themselves and instead set up a fundraiser for a cause near to their hearts. Support them in a run for student council office. Enroll them in scouts, youth groups, or other organizations that center activities around serving others. Share with them what other kids are doing and nurture their creativity in finding ways they can offer their own unique skills and talents to the world.
There's no shortage of examples, but here are just a few more of my favorites:
Every voice matters. Even the smallest effort can make the biggest difference to one person. Empower your children from a young age to become the change they wish to see in the world. Download and print out the Raise Good Citizens PDF to get started.
With a little bit of contagious enthusiasm and the desire to keep learning, growing and contributing, even raising good citizens can be easy peasy.
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.
As a parent, one of your most important - and perhaps daunting - responsibilities is preparing your child for the day he leaves your nest. Believe it or not, that day will come much sooner than you think or will be ready for. When you first bring your little bundle of joy home for the first time, it seems as though you have all the time in the world. But there's so much knowledge to impart over the next 18-21 years. The good news is that the awesome task ahead of you will no doubt become one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures you will ever embark upon.
Sharing your knowledge of the world and instructing your child in the life skills he will need as an adult presents a unique opportunity for bonding. Think back on your own childhood and I'll wager some of your fondest memories are the times you learned a new skill under the loving tutelage of your parents or grandparents. Learning to ride a bike with mom and dad cheering you on; standing on a kitchen chair to help stir the cookie dough; receiving driving instruction from your white-knuckled parent looking terrified in the passenger seat...these are shared moments of victory...of the successful transference of knowledge and skill from one generation to the next. These little successes form a foundation of confidence your child can build upon in the years ahead. Like your parents before you, you are your child's first and most effective teacher. Endless opportunities present themselves during the course of everyday life to teach him everything from how to get dressed and do his laundry to selecting and wrapping an appropriate gift for someone else and even saving up the money to buy it. All too often, we miss these little teachable moments as we scurry through the busy-ness of life, so it's worth a little time and effort to lay a plan for capturing and harnessing them as you go.
Where to start
Begin by brainstorming all the skills you use every day. There are the obvious things like cooking, cleaning and laundry, but think a little deeper. Don't overlook the ones you take for granted because they are so second-nature, such as tying a tie, shaving, or pumping gas. Make a list and group them together by topic or download the Life Skills Made Easy (for younger kids) and Life Skills for Teens (for older kids) PDFs for FREE. We've already done the brainstorming for you! Once there's a game plan, it's just a matter of seizing opportunities to implement it as they arise. It's easier to recognize those teachable moments as they come up once you've identified what they are.
Even very young children can start learning life skills. In fact, the younger they are, the more eager they are to learn. What can your child do right now that will help him begin developing a new life skill? A four or five-year-old is obviously too young to handle a sharp chef's knife, but he can learn to safely cut his own sandwich with a plastic table knife. Even younger children might enjoy watching you cook as you explain what you are doing and why. He will learn just through repeated exposure to the activity and will want to emulate your actions as soon as possible. Encourage this!
Remember that "practice makes perfect"
Resist the temptation to just do things yourself because it's quicker and easier. Set aside some time to patiently coach your child in developing and practicing new skills. Praise their efforts even when the results may not be up to your usual standards. Point out what they are doing right. Remember that teaching them how to properly perform the task is more important than completing it quickly or perfectly. Don't be afraid to let them make a mistake (as long as they are not endangering themselves or others). Sometimes errors are the best teachers...they learn what not to do as what to do. (Likewise, you learn to be more specific with your instructions...like the time I instructed my daughter to drain a can of beans in a colander but forgot to suggest she do so over the sink...oops!)
Encourage learning and curiosity
Kids naturally want to be more like you and do the things you do. They view the "grownup things" as fun. (Shhhh...I won't correct them if you don't!) Keep your grumbling over doing your chores to yourself. Let them continue believing you are having a grand ole time for as long as possible! Find fun and creative ways to help them master each new skill. Go on "field trips" or do things differently than you normally would to expose them to new opportunities. Never underestimate the power of novelty to transform a mundane chore into an adventure. For example, take the bus to the post office instead of driving. Turn grocery shopping into a game. Turn on some energetic music and wash and dry the dishes together as a fun family after-dinner activity instead of simply loading the dishwasher as you normally would.
Reward and incentivize practicing
Even once your child has learned a new skill, it's important for them to continue practicing it. Reward their accomplishment with something tangible that will encourage them to keep using and perfecting their newfound skills. For example, a personalized stationery set might motivate them to send thank you notes without arguing and thus continue using the skills they mastered to earn a Letter Writing Badge. The Life Skills Badge Program is designed to reward kids with a physical badge they can display in their rooms upon completion of each module, while the Life Skills for Teens workbook suggests tangible rewards to encourage older kids to continue using their skills.
Become a curator of ideas
While your child's life skills education begins with you, that doesn't mean you have to do it all yourself! Look for fun camps, classes, books, DVDs and apps that can help. Seek and share ideas from friends and family members. Read parenting blogs. Search Pinterest to see how others are training their young ones.
My nephew and his wife recently shared with me their brilliant and creative "restaurant" idea for teaching responsibility, money management and table manners all at once! Their three young children earn "mommy/daddy money" by doing chores around the house throughout the day. Then that evening, they transform their dinner table into a "restaurant", complete with a host/hostess who seats everyone and a waiter/waitress who takes everybody's order from a laminated menu. Each child must make sure they have enough mommy/daddy money to pay for their meal, and impeccable table manners are expected and practiced throughout the meal. I love, love, love this idea!
There's no one way to transfer life skills and knowledge to your kids. The Life Skills Made Easy and Life Skills for Teens PDFs are free resources that can help you get started, but how you implement them is up to you. Please share your creative ideas in the comments below for other parents to try.
With a little patience, creativity and thirst for adventure, even raising capable, independent, and confident kids can be easy peasy!
If you have kids at home - especially young ones - no doubt you are well-acquainted with the pain of walking through a minefield of Legos. If you haven't had the pleasure, just imagine walking across a floor covered in broken glass. Or maybe you've encountered the slip-n-slide effect of stepping on a stray paper or magazine left on the stairs...or discovered a new life form growing in the sweaty clothes strewn across your teenager's bedroom floor. Ah yes, kids seem to have a special knack for sowing chaos, destruction and grossness, but they are equally capable of creating order and finding solutions with the right guidance, encouragement and opportunity. Which is a good thing, because you won't have the time or energy to keep up with their messes without a bulldozer...and not many of us have room for storing one of those. You'll need some help!
Maintaining an orderly home requires solid teamwork from the entire family, and raising a generation of organized, clutter-free adults begins at home with consistent coaching from you. Even if you struggle with organization yourself - in fact, especially if you do - there are still things you can all do together as a cohesive unit to transform your home into the calm and relaxed sanctuary you all deserve to live in.
Start early by training your young children to sort objects, put their toys away and make thoughtful decisions about their belongings. Establishing routines for everyone in the household (including you!) and stating clear expectations will help all of you stay on track. Instead of barking out orders and making chore-time feel like a punishment, underscore the unifying effect collaboration will have on your family unit. Offering age-appropriate incentives and finding creative ways to make the process fun for everyone will teach them that with a little planning and teamwork, orderly living and a home they can proudly share with others can be easy peasy!
No matter how old your kids are or what state your home is currently in, it is never too early or too late to start adopting some of these strategies:
Keep it Positive
Lay the Foundation
Go on Autopilot Whenever Possible
Evolve and Adapt
Make it Fun!
Parenting is at its most challenging when we are faced with the prospect of teaching our young ones something we, ourselves, are still trying to learn. But in my experience, some of the most special experiences I've shared with my children are the ones where I was learning alongside them. You don't have to be an expert at cleaning and organizing to begin teaching your children the importance of learning those skills. You just have to be willing to make the effort to model how to learn them.
With a little effort and collaboration, even maintaining an orderly home can be easy peasy.
My favorite Christmas gift each year is the one from my parents. To me, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas perfectly and makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I come from a family of many, many children who now have many, many children and grandchildren of their own. Buying gifts for each one of them would be chaotic, expensive and impractical. More importantly, all that commercialism wouldn't reflect who my parents are. They are down-to-earth, authentic, self-reflective Quakers (yes, some of that is redundant). Their generosity of both time and money is brimming over with purposeful intent and a goal of leaving all those children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren the most meaningful gift of all...a world made better by my parents having been a part of it. So each year, they carefully select an organization whose mission aligns with the values they've spent a lifetime instilling in their offspring and make a donation in our honor. I really can't think of a better legacy to pass on to my own children.
Teaching altruism is not something you can do except by example, and the more examples our children have of it, the better the lesson is learned. The holidays present a unique opportunity to show our appreciation for those who model the concept throughout the year. One such group is teachers. I used to show our thanks for their service and sacrifice with home-baked goods. But as my kids have grown, we've been blessed by an increasing number of these amazing people in our lives, and there simply isn't enough butter, sugar or time for that to be practical anymore. When the kids entered middle school, with 7-10 devoted educators each, I decided to put into practice the lessons of my parents (finally!...hopefully it was worth the long wait) and teach giving to my children.
It started out with my husband and me making a donation to an educational nonprofit in honor of the teachers at each school. Now that my kids are teenagers with access to real money of their own--not just the Monopoly kind--they set aside a percentage of their allowance each month for giving. During the holidays, they each carefully select an organization whose work touches their heart and donate the money they've set aside all year to them in honor of their teachers. My husband and I match these gifts with a donation of our own to the same two organizations. The kids then write out a holiday card thanking each of their teachers, with a letter enclosed explaining the donation and their reasons for selecting that particular nonprofit. (They also include a candy cane, because it's only fair that the students should have to deal with sugared-up teachers at least once a year...turnabout is fair play, after all.)
The best part of this teacher gift idea is discussing various organizations and the marvelous contributions they make to our world as we deliberate over their selections each year. The decision is not always an easy one. It's also a gift in itself for me too, to see the seedlings my parents started begin to take root in the hearts of my children. I know that long after Dad and Peg are gone, their generous spirits will live on in their grandchildren.
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.
Re-publishing this post from May 11, 2012 in honor of Mother's Day.
Ever since my kids’ last embarrassing dental appointment I’ve been making a point of following behind their evening brushing job to make sure they are being thorough. They resisted at first, but I keep telling them it’s just one more little way for me to show my love for them. So when I overheard this conversation between my husband and son at tuck-in time the other night, I had to chuckle.
Hubby: “Mother’s Day is coming up this weekend, so we have to think of something nice we can do for Mummy.”
Son: ” I know! Maybe we can brush her teeth for her!”
My heart still does a little dance every time I think of that!
I’ve never been a jewelry-and-roses kind of mom and would much prefer to receive a lumpy clay paperweight clumsily wrapped in newspaper or a macaroni necklace that’s been colored with magic marker. And while brushing my teeth for me may be more than he bargained for, I’ll bet no fancy salon pedicure could ever feel so good.
But my favorite Mother’s Day gift of all comes when I observe my offspring exhibiting their loving care for each other. These precious moments pop up from time to time throughout the year, not just on the second Sunday in May, and they always bring a smile to my face. Their cooperative teamwork in carrying a laundry basket upstairs, the sweet notes of comfort they write to one another to help sooth away disappointed tears, celebrating each others’ successes and mourning each others’ losses, sharing a favorite toy, and compromising on an activity as they play together. I even love to hear them echoing my advice. “When you are feeling frustrated, take a deep breath, relax and count to ten.”
Sure, it isn’t all sunshine and roses, and there is an equal amount of arguing, but I cling to these gifts as proof that they really are listening and all my efforts are not in vain. I believe that a mother is not someone who has borne or raised a child but someone who plants seeds of love and kindness and patiently tends the shoots until they blossom and make the world more beautiful. Happy Mother’s Day to all you “gardeners” out there.
What’s the best/funniest/sweetest/most memorable Mother’s Day gift you’ve ever given or received?
Valerie Sheridan is a professional organizer, wife, mother of two, and Founder/Owner of EasyPeasy Living.