Have you heard the kids saying it yet?
"Our summer vacation is almost over...and that means back to school. Augh!!!"
And we, as parents, all know what that means...the time for 'back to school', back to the books..back to the routine of Sept. through June (at least here in Canada) has nearly arrived...anyone else getting excited yet??
Of course we'll miss the fun of sunshine, the beaches, the festivities, endless BBQs, and late nights...but as parents I think we sometimes inwardly groan when the endless time of 'unscheduled' fun with our children just seems to drag on & on!
Yes, it's about that time of year where we begin to gear up for back to school.
So without further adieu, I've included my personal TOP TEN TIPS to prepare for the back to school 'mayhem':
(NOTE: as I am BOTH a homeschooling mom & parent of school children, these tips are generalized enough to apply to both worlds. Enjoy!)
1) Routines should be established BEFORE that first big day!
Of course some of us thrive on living by the seat of our pants....so if you can endure sleeping in endlessly throughout the summer, and somehow flip the switch with your brood the night before back to school (without endless tears and tantrums I mean..) then please do share!
....but, for the rest of us, somehow I always find a much easier transition when our children are well prepared for our start up date at LEAST a week in advance (for some it will require more).
*For homeschooling families: well, if you have a more lax schedule then this may not be necessary, but we can still prepare for our new season of heavier schooling by easing into subjects (I've personally known some families who keep some math, and other subjects, up throughout the summer, to allow an easier transition come September).
***At the bottom I'll include a link that has some FREE scheduling templates for you. Don't miss out!
2) If your work schedule, or other commitments, will change significantly during the back to school season, begin to live that way NOW and see how things can flow more smoothly!
In other words, do a test run. If you know that starting next month you'll be working later hours, and hubby will be preparing the meals, or children/teens helping out more significantly around the home, it would be worthwhile again, to EASE everyone into their new roles.
Even practicing new driving schedules (time yourselves from start to finish on a trial run), new eating times (i.e. eat breakfast earlier), teach your older children about packing or preparing their own lunches, etc. etc. In other words, everyone will fare better with the changes, IF they've had some practice to draw from.
3) Back to school shopping: create your personalized family list, and then conquer!
For me this was a no brainer as I already had to shop for all of our curriculum, and all the knickknacks that went with it. Earlier this month I took about 2 weeks and created my goal list for each child this year, what they needed to purchase for their 'grade' & curriculum, a tentative schedule for our family, chore chart (more on that later) and a meal plan (more on this later too) with a complete shopping list.
I am expecting baby number 5 sometime this fall so I knew I would probably fall apart without some serious organization this year. (***side note: since this post I've had baby number six!!! Life is even more crazy, but I still follow my plan n prepare principles you see in this post!)
You may not need to purchase as much as our family, but check with your local school what is required for this year's grade level. Clothing needs are essential as well. My hubby personally scouts the local second hand stores for upcoming 50% all store type deals. It's worth the savings for our family, and we save tons of money!!
Make your list based on your budget, then divide and conquer it!
Children, I have found, actually instinctively begin to want to get involved in helping Mommy or Daddy out as they grow into maturity (usually I find this takes place around 5 years of age, but of course only YOU can assess your young child's developmental stage). The bottom line is children, who are encouraged to & allowed to, can become your biggest help in the home.
Of course I'm not talking about giving our children unrealistic goals & overwhelming them, but too often we excuse our children from not participating in household chores due to our wrong perceptions--> "he's not able to" "I can do it better" "it takes much longer for her to do it" "I don't have time to spend with them to train them"...trust me, in the long-term it will be worth the initial investment you make!
This year I made a large list of chores I knew all of my children were capable of (some would require my assistance) and we had a family meeting where each child had the opportunity to select their own chores for the school year (mine range in age from almost 6 years old to 13). That way this school year if I heard any complaining I could gently remind them that THEY picked their lists out this year.
Here are some examples:
Our almost 6 year old boy is: filling up the toilet paper rolls, wiping off the kitchen table after meals, making his bed, and helping Mommy fold tea towels (he is actually better than me!)
Our 8 year old daughter is: learning to wash dishes with Mommy's help (she loves this!), helping with our lunches this year (her insistence actually!), making bed, and when baby sister arrives she wants to help out with picking her clothes :)
Our 11 year old son is: making breakfast, doing some dishes, vacuuming (one of his favs actually as he loves machinery), and some other odds n ends around the home
Our 13 year old son is: helping mow the lawn with Dad, sweeping our floors, learning to take care of his room, and since he really has an aversion to cooking we are just starting him on helping with dinner choices & simple cooking, etc.
Also, once a week we have a morning where all of us pitch in to tidy up the entire house. It doesn't take long when everyone helps out, and Mommy doesn't have to spend three times as long doing something that everyone feels pride over completing.
This year I found a FREE Microsoft excel spread sheet~I filled in the blanks with the said chores, and then laminated one for each child-->
5) Meal Planning--> take the time to plan your meals and what that will look like in your home for back to school!
Every family's lifestyle will look different, but one thing I always find every year: as the extra-curriculars begin, and time seems to get easily eaten up, the meals can be the first thing to suffer. All of a sudden normal parents, who may be somewhat of health enthusiasts, begin driving through the golden arches more & more.. parents might find the weight easily packing on....kids start trading in wholesome meals for pre-packaged 'garbage' (sorry, but as a nutritionist I have to say it as it is! And I'm just as guilty as anyone else for doing this when I'm under extreme stress!).
It's time to take our family's nutritional status back into our control!!!
When my children were all in school full-time we also used to try and buy same/similar foods for their packed lunches. Large warehouses (like Costco or Sams) are great places to purchase food in bulk for lunch packing.
*For lunches think nutrient dense foods like: sprouted breads with healthful additions, hard boiled eggs, rice salads or quinoa, fruits and veggies, rolled up nitrate free meat cuts, healthful crackers (watch labeling!) with sides of cheese or other peanut-free butters added in; water to drink or 100% fruit juices
6) Go over your back to school routine with ALL involved--> don't leave hubby or wife in the dark about your 'new' plans!
I have made this mistake more than once....
"So, tomorrow night so & so has dance class...can you drive them?"
"So, after so & so comes home from swimming someone has to rush out and take so & so to their piano lesson...can your help with the drives, or watch so & so during class?"
It's much better to map out your family's fall schedule (including ALL extra-curriculars for EACH family member, include ALL of your & partner's activities that will regularly affect the calendar) and then make sure everything will fit together and will run smoothly.
I keep a gigantic sized calendar on our fridge which includes ALL activities so we can easily schedule Dr's or other medical appointments as well.
Key point: just make sure you don't leave anyone in the dark.... :)
7) A simple one, but sometimes overlooked, is to have your entrance way prepared for easy exit and entrance during the school year!
This may include:
-adding new coat hooks, racks
-adding shoe organizers for easy access
-having a key hook, so everyone knows WHERE to put the home/car keys
-having a bin for mail to be easily sorted in when coming in (a bill section, etc)
-have an area for extra-curricular gear (like dance outfits, swimming gear, music books...each should have their 'special place' somewhere in your home
-for us homeschoolers: I prepare an area of schooling prep when I store all my excess school necessities (like pencils, erasers, pens, etc); and I keep an area for each child for their curriculum that is their own; school/book shelves are ready with readers and leisurely reading as well; not in the front entrance but right around the corner in my dining room (easy access is key!)
The point is you want to make YOUR home as efficient as you can, so you can conserve as much time as possible & run things smoothly.
8) Consider celebrating the back to school season with a special family tradition!
This may include:
-a special restaurant visit the week before
-a memorable shopping excursion that includes the child picking out their own backpack or other gear
-a favourite beach or nature area to be visited the weekend before
-a family movie night, etc. etc.
The point is to mark the transition from summer fun to fall learning, with a positive emphasis. Memories will be made, and every year your children will look forward to a repeat :)
9) Enlist help where necessary: don't forget about those unexpected emergencies that will arise throughout the school year!
What if you're sick? What about if you have to work late and can't pick the children up? Which spouse will take the day off work on a PA day? Do you have friends/grandparents who'd be willing to help out if an emergency should arise?
For us homeschooling parents--> Do we have times of planned relief so we don't experience burnout? Do we have support groups that we plan to frequent for consistent encouragement and support? Are our spouses willing to help share the load when necessary? Do we have resources ready & available if we get bogged down in material? (Note: online homeschooling groups, say like Facebook ones, are great I've found for this sort of thing)
10) My personal favourite encouragement to pass along: make sure to get a day/time slot to YOURSELF to be able to be refreshed BEFORE you jump into the busy season!
My hubby took the kids most of today so I could continue to get things ready, and rest up with this pregnancy. We realize that our lives will dramatically change in a few months with baby's impending arrival, and neither one of us wants to experience BURN OUT! It is something I've experienced before, albeit in small doses, and it usually takes a truckload of help to crawl out of...remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure :)
Some ideas for you before back to school:
-each spouse takes one evening to get out to do a fav activity he/she enjoys
-a date night for both parents to just get away before the mayhem
-perhaps, if you can swing it, a weekend get away for the two of you!
-book a planning evening where Mom/Dad can (hopefully uninterrupted) take time to go over any upcoming changes; even financial ones, as they prepare for the school year
-a pedicure date by yourself, or with a close friend
-a refreshing hike (and no cell phones allowed!)
The ideas are endless...but ensure you are starting this season well rested and refreshed. If you can't afford a sitter, even pray/look around for another busy mom/dad to trade off with?
There you have it! My personal top ten list for ensuring a smooth transition for back to school.
***As promised above, here are some FREE templates for scheduling, etc. (particular for homeschoolers, but also some included for ANY household--> http://www.titus2.com/master-list-downloads.html (ONLY for personal use)
***Please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments below--> how do you transition to back to school?