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Getting Organized for Back-to-School

best_of_fall_2015-01Back-to-School is a huge deal for families with children. While it’s the “most wonderful time of the year” for some folks, it can also be a huge challenge to get organized and ready for what has become the real New Year for many families. Here are some simple steps you can take today, to make the next school year a huge success for everyone!

The Schedule

This is the most critical piece to organizing your family for the school year. And the more children you have, the more it matters. Getting everyone where they need to be, when they need to be there, rested and fed appropriately, is a huge challenge in this busy season. Here’s what you need to do:

o    Most children thrive with a structured schedule. This is especially true during the school year. If you have let the youngsters run wild all summer, begin getting them into a routine a couple of weeks in advance. If they are already in school, it’s never too late to set up a predictable, daily schedule for them. This even applies to teenagers – they may protest, but even they can benefit from some structure.

o    Bedtimes are critical for children to learn and thrive at school. And yet it’s remarkable the number of Canadian children who do not have a bedtime. School-aged kids need anywhere from 10-12 hours of sleep per night. Figure out when they need to get up in the morning and work backwards from there. Now you have a bedtime.

o    No matter how much they protest, do not let your teen stay up until all hours on school nights. More than ever, they need a good night’s sleep. Insist that they get to bed at a decent hour.

o    Also set a regular dinnertime. This may have to move from day-to-day to accommodate evening activities, but try to keep it within a range of a couple of hours. While you’re at it, make a meal plan for the entire month of September. If you want to be the most organized parent in the world, make a few freezer meals in advance for those extra crazy nights. Families are busier than ever, so a plan is always the way to go!

o    Keep one central family calendar. This is a highly personal choice. Some people like the large paper calendar on the refrigerator. Others opt for a planner notebook. My family has gone entirely digital with our calendars. Find what works for your family and get everyone on board!

o    Teach your kids to get everything ready the night before. This bit of advice has been around since the dawn of time because it works! Have backpacks ready to go by the door, clothes laid out and lunches made (fully or partially).

o    Make a plan for how you will tackle homework. There are a million ways to do this. Some families have everyone around the kitchen table right after school. Some families let their kids decompress for a bit, but then they go to the desks in their bedrooms right after dinner. Some parents of little ones just have a set reading time before bed. However you are going to handle homework, just be consistent.

o    If you have teens or tweens and only one bathroom, you’ll need to set up some kind of bathroom schedule. This may sound ridiculous until you have World War III in your house because one child needs to straighten her hair while the other needs to water-pik, and the bus will be here in 10 minutes! Not that I’ve been there or anything. Allot each child their half-hour (for example, Becky’s time is 6:30-7:00 and Stacy time is 7:00-7:30) and consider it an investment in family peace!

The Supplies:

  • Don’t feel you need to take your children with you to purchase school supplies. If you are prone to giving in to the “Can-we-buy-it’s”, leave the darlings at home and save yourself a ton of cash!
  • What you will need to purchase will vary wildly from province to province. If you have recently moved, double check with new friends or neighbours about what the expectations are in your area. When I first moved to Ontario from Alberta, I was pleasantly surprised at how much shorter the school supply list was!
  • Take inventory of what you already own so you aren’t buying duplicates.
  • Whatever you do, don’t wait until the first day of school to pick up the school supplies. Have you been to Walmart on the evening of the first day of school? That’s a mistake you’ll only make once!
  • Re-think the first-day clothing. In many places in Canada, it’s still too hot in early September for those adorable, on-trend fall outfits. Can you make do with something nice from their summer wardrobe? Then pick up fall clothing once it starts to go on sale later in September.
  • The opposite is true of snowsuits and winter coats. Don’t wait too long to get these items as they get picked over fairly early in the season. And you won’t be able to find a pair of snowpants in January to save your life!

Lunches:

  • Lunch-making seems to be the single most dreaded task of Canadian parents from coast to coast! The first step is to lower expectations. While it’s important that you provide your children with nutritious, balanced lunches, they don’t need to look like works of art. If you’re into that, go crazy. But take the pressure off yourself – their fruit does not need to be cut into cute shapes.
  • Teach your kids to make their own lunches. Sandwich-making is not rocket science. They can handle it, I swear. You’ll definitely have to supervise for the first little while, but eventually they will have it down pat. That said, you will want to do the occasional surprise lunch-check – just to make sure they’re taking fruits and veggies!
  •  Prepare for lunches on the weekend! Bake a batch of muffins and freeze them. Chop veggies and fruit into bite sized pieces and pre-pack them into plastic bags or containers. Portion out crackers or pretzels as well. I even know a Mom, who makes the week’s sandwiches on Sunday and freezes them wrapped in plastic wrap. She just takes one out of the freezer the night before, and it’s defrosted and ready to eat the next day!

Other tips:

  • Many military families keep one binder for their family, filled with all of the paperwork they might need for a new school – immunizations records, individual education plans, reports, assessments, etc.
  • Make room in your schedule to deal with the mountain of forms on the first day. Don’t make any plans for that evening … just fill out the darned forms. If you procrastinate, not only will you embarrass your child (who wants to be THAT kid), you’ll also run the risk of losing forms.

Get your kids doing as much for themselves as possible. They can make their lunches and their beds. They can handle hanging up coats and getting dirty breakfast dishes to the sink. They can get their dirty clothes to the laundry room and make sure their library books are in their backpacks. As a parent, your job is to eventually make yourself obsolete. Start today. And have the most wonderful school year yet!

Laura also writes her blog at www.HappyCanadianHome.com.

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