I know that some of your kids have already headed back to school but here where I live, the new school year starts the day after Labour Day. Either way, there are still some things you can do to get your family organized for the rest of the school year and make things easier on all of you. As a teacher and a mom, I know how important these things can be in making your year run smoothly. Here are my top ten hints:
My grade 2 class picture – can you spot me in there?
1.When those lists of school supplies come home, take the time to do a quick inventory of what you already have in your home. Often you’ll come up with most of what’s needed just by shopping in your own home first! Now, if your kids are anything like mine, they want some brand spanking new items to take back to school but there are ways you can take what you’ve got leftover from last year and spruce them up a bit. Give your kids some magazines and let them go through to find some pictures of things they like. They can make a collage on their old binders and then just use some clear contact paper from the dollar store to protect their creations! Or buy some of those cool new colours and designs of Duck Brand duct tape and use that to cover up and repair the old binders. You can even do the same thing with plastic pencil boxes, lunch pails, and the like. Not only will this save you some money but it allows your children to personalize their supplies and make them into something unique that no one else has!
2. Just like with the school supplies, you should go through the kids’ fall clothing before you head out to the stores for any new items. Of course when they’re younger, kids grow so quickly that they may have outgrown it all but perhaps you have some hand-me-downs from your older children that could be used. Have the kids put on a fashion show for you and take inventory of what they have so you can make a list of what’s needed. Don’t forget to shop the outlet and second-hand stores too! You can often find some amazing bargains on high quality gently used clothing that will help you round out your children’s wardrobes without breaking the budget.
3. Set up a landing pad for each child. My nephew built child sized cubbies into his front hall closet designed to be just at the right height for his kids to be independent about getting ready in the morning and putting their items away at the end of the school day. Don’t have space for a cubby? When my daughter was little, I simply put a couple of hooks inside the coat closet at a height she could reach so that she’d have a spot for her coat/snowsuit and her school backpack. We also had a predetermined spot for her to place her lunch box in the kitchen so that we didn’t have the problem of it being forgotten inside the backpack overnight or worse, for the whole weekend! Yuck! It’s important to have a landing spot for any notes or assignments that the kids bring home that need your attention as well. It’s a great idea to supply your child with some plastic folders or large freezer bags to place these items in – this not only gives both of you a set place to look in but also protects the papers from any lunch item spills.
4. I kept a jar with small bills and change in it tucked away so that I’d always have lunch or field trip money handy. I found that way I could sign the permission form, attach the money and send it back right away so it wouldn’t be forgotten.
5. Colour coding was really valuable for our family. We each had our own colour on the calendar so we could see at a glance which of us had appointments or events for that day. With more than one child, assigning a different colour to each of them for their folders, binders, and other school supplies can prevent a lot of aggravation. If you keep a calendar online, I find that my Google Calendar is really helpful as it also allows for colour coding. Cozi.com has an online family calendar with places for a calendar, to do lists, shopping lists, meal planning, a journal and more. You can even share the password with all family members and leave messages for each other online. There’s a mobile app for it too so you can use it on the go!
My baby on her first day of Grade 5; also her first day at a new school as she started going to the school for the arts.
6. Set up a homework/study area for each child now and make sure it’s outfitted with everything they’ll need. The number one requirement in my opinion? Good lighting! Strained eyes just make it even harder for them to get their work done! Remember that a traditional desk doesn’t work for every child. Put my daughter at a traditional desk and she’ll just procrastinate and never accomplish anything (I was the same way!). One thing that worked well for us was to do homework together at the dining room table. She could do her homework with me right there for assistance and motivation as needed and I could work on my marking or even menu plans or budgeting. We’d start out by having an after school snack together while we chatted about our days – great way to get kids to open up beyond the “nothing” answer that you usually get to “What did you do at school today?”! We called it our “tea time” and it has continued on, even though my daughter is now 24 and in university. We still head out to a tea room and catch up over some tea and scones. For other kids having a rolling laptop table or a lap desk works better so have a chat with your kids about their preferences and go from there. In my classroom, we also set up areas with those three sectioned project display boards to form some study carrels. I let the kids decorate them so they would be appealing to them and when they felt they needed a little less distraction, they could go there to do their work. This can help out at home too especially if it’s tough to find enough room for all the kids to have a private space to work in.
7. I always liked to set up some kid friendly areas in the kitchen to help my daughter be a little more independent when it came to packing her own lunch for school or getting a healthy snack. One of the drawers in our kitchen was known as the snack drawer – it contained a variety of healthy non-perishables that my daughter knew she could help herself to for an after school snack or as part of a packed lunch. I would divide the items up into appropriate serving sizes. If you put out the entire bag of crackers, they may eat the entire bag so this way I could have a little portion control in place. We had a tray on the kitchen counter with other items such as containers of cereal and a bowl of fruit – she could pick out breakfast from these. And, we had a tray or a shallow bin in the refrigerator to house the perishable foods. Want to add a few special “once in a while” treats to these? Add happy face stickers to the healthy items. Talk about nutrition and its importance with your kids in simple terms and let them know the rules for having those special treats. This makes it easy for them to make their own choices and to start learning which foods are good for them and which ones need to be saved for special occasions. (My grand nephew every now and then will ask his mom and dad, is today once in a while? What he’s really asking is if he can have some ice cream!)
8. Label your child’s items. This is oh so important because I cannot tell you how many times, as a teacher, I found items lying around my classroom and not one single student would claim them. If the kids are young, they tend to forget exactly what their items look like, especially if they’re new or somewhat indistinct (plain black toque anyone? I usually had about 10 in my classroom unclaimed at any given time). For safety reasons, there are certain items you may not want to label with a child’s name, in particular if the name would be visible to strangers. I suggest a symbol instead. Let your child help pick a symbol that is something they like and they’ll tend to remember it better. And let your child’s teacher know what the symbol is so they can be on the lookout for those lost items too!
9. Always always always have a backup plan. You never know when the school might call home saying your chld is ill and needs to be picked up. That snow day will almost always happen at the most inconvenient time. What will happen if you get hung up in traffic and can’t be home when your child gets there? Anticipate any possible bumps in the road that may occur and try to put a contingency plan in place. Perhaps you can work out a mutual arrangement with a neighbour that if one of your children comes home and finds no one there, they are to go to the other one’s house for the time being. Maybe you have a family member who is willing to step in on a moment’s notice to take care of your child if they’re home sick. You might even be able to work out a plan with your employer to work at home when needed. Some cities even have agencies that will provide child care at the last minute when such things crop up. Whatever the backup plan is, make sure your child is fully aware of it and knows what will happen in advance. Most children don’t react well to last minute changes to their routine without being informed of them ahead of time.
10) Adjust your child’s schedule and set new routines. The first week back to school can be tough especially if the kids are used to staying up and getting up later than they do during the school year. Easing them back in by starting prior to the week school starts to adjust the schedule is always a great idea but we’re often reluctant to give up any of those last bits of summer vacation. So, at the very least, start the first week back to school as gently and gradually as you can. Limit after school and evening activities and add them in gradually beginning with the second week. Plan for some fun on the weekend but don’t overdo it. They’re going to need some down time to rest after their first week back!
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