I have to confess. I love back to school season. For me, it’s right up there next to Black Friday. Parents all over the country are stressing over back to school and kids everywhere are moaning and groaning, but when I see aisles of fresh notebooks and packages of brand new number two pencils and unused erasers, it brings tears to my eyes. I love school supplies so much that most years I buy school supplies for the hell of it.
I think my love of back to school season comes from feeling like my mother just loved us more when we were in school. Summertime was chaos and craziness, but school time brought structure and routine, which my mother craved. Who wouldn’t blame her though? An 8-hour break from our madness probably seemed like a vacation to the Bahamas.
She took school seriously, and so she planned our schedules and prepped the home to make certain that we learned to love school as much as she did. If you have a little one, keep him on track with some order in your school days so you guys can enjoy my happiest time of year, too.
- Introduce checklists.
Kids love checklists, (and when they grow up into adults, they will thank you for that). Checklists are great because even if you have a pre-reader, they can use pictures to make their lists. Use checklists everywhere. Whether it’s as simple as “4 Things To Do Before Bed” or “3 Things I Need In My Backpack”, creating and referring to lists together develop your child’s ability to be responsible and organize their time.
Whether it’s mornings, after school, or before bed, pick one time of the day that seems to cause the most trouble in your home and start there. Make a checklist and put it somewhere that your little one can see it and clearly follow each step. When they get the idea, introduce checklists in other areas of their lives.
My girl friend has twin boys (my nightmare) and keeps a dry erase board on the fridge. She makes her boys check off every night when they complete their nightly routines. It gives her some structure in all that madness and gives them a sense of accomplishment.
- Household schedule
Summertime is when the livin’ is easy, but school years need structure. Start at the beginning of August to establish and stick to a regular dinnertime and a regular bedtime. This pattern will ensure your child is well-rested and ready for school.
Get started: Start by deciding when you need to start your day in order to get to school on time, allow time for tantrums – from the little ones or you, depending on how much coffee you have or haven’t had, set a bedtime for 10-12 hours before that to allow adequate sleep for most students. Once you can wake up on time and get to bed early, schedule out the rest of the day to include all of your daily activities. For example, once little Billy is comfortable with structure, he might actually become a punctual functioning member of society one day. We can only hope.
- Buy school gear together.
Bring your child to the store with you and help them get excited for school by picking out their own supplies. Look for items that encourage organization, such as a backpack with multiple compartments.
Get started: Most schools post a supplies list on their website; check online to get an idea of what school supplies you’ll need without waiting until the last minute.
No, really, get started: The holiest of places (Target) typically debuts back to school supplies (notebooks, clothes, shoes, etc.) two to three months before school starts. Don’t be the shitty mom/aunt/sister who waits until August and all the Paw Patrol pencils are already up some other kids nose. Go earlier. It also helps the little one adjust to the idea of going back to school – helps pre-planning (like starting bedtime, house schedules)
Hint: If you’ve already missed the bus on this, there’s always the savior – Amazon Prime.
- Organize the backpack with them the first time
Help your child categorize and organize their materials to get ready for the big day. Show him how to organize, where each notebook goes, etc. Then, have him show you his work and how he keeps it organized. This is a great way to allow your little one to show off their hard work and for you to follow up on progress throughout the year.
Lesson of the day: make a homework folder and double check it.
I know from experience, dude. One day in elementary school, I was taking a test a school. One too many PB&J’s later, my fingers were sticky and I just had to touch everything. So of course, my test stuck to my homework. I brought home a finished test that I forgot to turn in while at school. Although the teacher was understanding, it could have been avoided had I checked my homework folder like a responsible child. But I’m pretty sure crying profusely would have also worked.
- Summer Clothes Organization
Start by putting some of your summer clothes away for the fall. Then fold one week’s worth of clothing together in outfits. Pants, shirt, socks, and undies all folded up together in a neat stack. This way, kids can still pick out their own clothes, but you know it matches and they have everything they need.
Get Started: Start by sorting summer clothes from school clothes. As you do laundry the last few weeks before school, begin to put away summer clothes and match school clothes into outfits. This is also a good time to put away clothes that are too small and see what new items your kiddo might need.
- Cook together.
I tend to eat out a lot in the summer because I spend a lot of time out and about, but cooking together is a great way to teach measuring, following directions, sorting ingredients, and managing time for kids. It also helps to encourage routine and structure at the end of your day.
Get started: Hop online and gather a few of your favorite recipes and make a menu plan for the week. Create your menu on Sunday and write a grocery list at the same time, then go grocery shopping Monday morning and you’re off to a great start for the week.
So what if you’re no Iron Chef and still can’t correctly cook noodles to save your life? Kids are amazed at anything. Have you ever known a little one to get more excited about making foie gras than animal-shaped chicken nuggets? If you have, get out, because you’re a liar.
If your child isn’t amused by cooking (I wasn’t, and it is a bummer since I am still talented enough to burn noodles at times), then this is also a great time for them to be doing homework at the kitchen table while you prepare, until it is time for them to set the table as their chore.
- Assign chores.
Every kid can do at least a couple of household chores. Sorting laundry, empty the trash, cleaning up toys, and other simple sorting tasks are great for preschoolers. Older kids can help set the table, vacuum, sweep, etc.
Get started: Make a list of all the chores that need to be done around the house. Assign jobs based on ability, but don’t underestimate what your kids can do. Even small kids can put clothes in a washing machine or wipe down a counter or table.
Use that handy-dandy checklist system from #1 and put it to use for chores. If you set it as a weekly chore, help them decide when they should do them and hold them accountable. Teaching them responsibilities early can help them in life — plus, you don’t have to do the chores. Win-win.
- Structure your weekends.
Avoid panic on Sunday evening because you didn’t accomplish everything you should have and you’re up at midnight finishing a science project. Creating a weekend routine with scheduled free time and study time helps prevent Sunday meltdowns. If only I could do this myself… But I digress.
- Get ready the night before.
This one’s always tough — for everyone— but it does work if you can get in the habit. Start by establishing a bedtime that is approximately 10-12 hours before you have to wake up the next morning. Once the kids are in bed, spend a few minutes organizing breakfast, school supplies, and morning necessities to ensure a smooth morning.
Better yet, teach them how to make their own lunches. Yo, take a banana.
- Don’t rush.
If you need 30 minutes to get ready, but your first grader needs 45, get up 15 minutes earlier to make them feel comfortable. Allow them time to adjust and practice getting up and getting ready each day the week before so they get into the habit.
Get started: If the goal is to get out the door by 7 a.m., start a week ahead of time and get up at 9 a.m., then the next day get up by 8:30 a.m. and so on until you are ready for the day in order to get to school on time.
- Avoid overload.
While it’s great to keep your kids involved in multiple programs, don’t take on too much, especially at the beginning of the school year. Wait until your child is comfortable with the new school routine before adding in soccer practice and piano lessons. Don’t worry, you haven’t missed your chance at soccer mom of the year. You can always force him into programs later in the year, too, with enough begging and brownies. And lemme tell ya, bitches love brownies. Including me.
- Prepare them for the new experiences
School is about a lot more than ABC’s and 123’s, it’s about responsibility, empathy, friendship, patience, and following directions. Practice these basic skills in your home so they aren’t difficult to use at school.
Besides, you’ve created a human being. Make him a decent one.
- Lock it down
If you have a new middle schooler in your home, the locker may be their biggest hurdle this school year. I’ve never been so nervous about a metal box in all my life, but no one wants to be the one kid left in the hall trying to open their locker. This seemingly simple task can relieve a lot of back to school stress.
Get started: Buy a combination lock and let your child play with it, practice opening and closing over the summer so they are a pro before school starts. It’s practically a fidget spinner anyway. Later, they can use the locker in the gym. If you want to really challenge them, put it on the bathroom door. On second thought, that’s asking for a lot of messes. But, it would teach them speed.
- Focus on the front door
No longer is your front door just a door. It is command center, grand central, and the vortex of your day. Make a “Go” box at the door with a place for your child to remember everything they need to take to school. Create an easy place for kids to grab their stuff in the morning and drop it off in the afternoon. Use magnets or sticky notes on the door for reminders.
Get started: Clean out the area near your front door, remove any unnecessary items. Replace only the most important items (shoes, backpacks, etc.). If possible, add a white board, calendar, bins, or hooks to keep everyone organized on their way in and out.
- Use memory aids.
Memory aids and mnemonics make it easy and fun for kids to remember their responsibilities. One of the most popular mnemonics is “Never Eat Soggy Waffles” helps kids to learn North, East, South, West. The same idea can be used to teach kids to get out the door with everything they need. A popular example is CATS (C=Carry, A= Assignment, T=to, S=School).
Try and tell me you forgot what My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas stands for? (RIP Pluto.)
- Color, color, color
Use colors to your advantage. There are several ways to use colors to organize yourself and your children. Make the time to color-code your planner, using one color for each child and then you can glance back in a hurry and still know what you need to do. Color code materials so kids know exactly which notebook belongs to them and which does not, this helps to avoid material mix ups.
Assign a color to each important category of your lives. After-school activities could be blue, while green could mean you need to send your kid’s basketball dues with him on the 5th.
Consistent color coding can be used in a variety of ways to help keep the entire family organized.
- Clean out the clutter
If you look at a child’s backpack at the end of the school year, you can literally get lost in the landfill pile of crumpled paper, candy wrappers, and broken pencils. Don’t let their backpack become a breeding ground for germs… and smells. Clear out the backpack at the end of each week to keep supplies organized and ensure papers stay neat and tidy.
Learning to stay organized is a process, have patience with your little ones (especially those under the age of 10). For some kids, staying organized and tidy comes naturally, others might need a little extra help. Stay patient and flexible to find a structure that works for both of you. Share your organization tactics with your child. You could be surprised to learn a new way to coordinate your calendars, closets, etc.
It’s hard to stay patient, but remember, there’s always a glass (or bottle) of wine to calm you down.
- Do it with them!
Staying organized is a family affair, everyone needs to be on the same page in order to make anything work. It makes it easier to find scheduling conflicts and teaches kids that staying organized is important throughout their lives.
Get started: Use a large wall-sized calendar for the household, (not just for the kids). List family commitments, schedules, events, meals, and anything else that is important to plan AND COLOR CODE IT.
Spend a few times each day asking about your child’s day. After school, during dinner, or before bed work well for catching up with your little ones. Be especially aware of patterns. Is spelling always due Thursdays? Math tests on Fridays? Put it on your own calendar so you can remember to ask next time. This helps you stay organized, but also gives you something to follow up on so you can stay involved in what is going on in your kiddo’s world beyond the screen.
Last, but certainly not least, keep that baby safe. As tempting as it is to label everything with their precious name, be mindful when it comes to backpacks, bumper stickers, or anything else a stranger could see. Although they would probably return Jimmy after encountering the barrage of “Why? Why? Why? Why? BUT WHY?”, it’s better to avoid that whole situation, to begin with.
I may still have a few years before I’ll be needing to put these tips into practice myself, but let me tell you, anyone can appreciate an organized kid. I’m sure his teachers will, too. One less glass of wine they’ll want to have each night.
Let me know how these tricks work for you or if you have any other ideas!