Back to School! That phrase conjures up all kinds of emotions. For some, it’s anxiety. For some it’s relief. But no matter how this time of year makes you feel, there are some things you can do to make this time of transition a smoother one. In my experience, limiting uncertainty and decisions at home will make everyone happier.
What do I mean by that? When I was a teacher, I had a routine we did at the beginning of every class, (It was different depending on the subject) but students came into class knowing how the first 5-7 minutes would go. It was constant. It was a way to ease into the class period and it gave students confidence. That concept is the same at home. Find ways to implement a routine at home that will be something constant when things feel out of control.
Regular Homework Time:
One routine we’ve used is something we call “homework half-hour” which later became dubbed “half hour of power”. Don't ask why. This is a half hour we carved out of our evening and everyone participates. (As kids get older, you may need to do two sessions to accommodate lessons and practices.) I turn on some quiet music. I often brew a pot of decaf tea. My kids love Bigelow Decaf French Vanilla. Sometimes, I buy some cookies to put out and we all do homework for a half hour. Sometimes the kids have actual homework, and sometimes they use the time to read or do flashcards.
I put together a little caddy with the basics so we’re not spending time looking for crayons. Take advantage of school supply sales this time of year and get some crayons, a few pencils, some hi-lighters, erasers, or anything else you think they may need. As a parent, you should participate too. Find something you want/need to read. Allow your kids to see you actively learning as an adult so they know we learn our whole lives. This regular, special time will not only give kids the time to catch up on their work. It also serves as that confidence-building routine they desperately need this time of year. The tea and cookies just makes it more fun.
Another thing students (and adults) need during transition is relief form decision making. Decision fatigue is a real thing and limiting the number of decisions your household needs to make will make this time less frustrating. I take some of the decision making away by making a weekly menu, outfit boxes, and morning checklists.
I know it’s not rocket science to make a weekly menu. There are thousands of blogs about meal planning, but it’s worth mentioning anyway. So many good things come from having a plan. We spend less money when we plan meals for the week. (Especially if we use certain items for more than one meal.) In our house, the menu is great because the kids often make their own meals. If they get up before I come downstairs, and they see today’s a cereal or bagel day, they can simply make breakfast for themselves. But, am I stunting their development by not giving them choices? Nope. They are overwhelmed. Fewer choices (especially in the morning) makes things much smoother. If they really want choices, have them help you make the menu. You can even reward your kids by giving them the chance to choose a dinner idea. The routine of a menu that’s clear to everyone will be something they’ll come to love. I use a template like this one. I actually laminated it and use wet erase markers to write it out each week. (dry erase gets smudged too easily) Use the link below for a free Printable Meal Planner.
Another thing I do is outfit boxes. When I’m folding laundry, I fill plastic bins with outfits -including socks and underwear. It’s actually easier if you do it right away. I fill all the boxes once a week and place them in a closet organizer like this. I've found it's easier to use the boxes inside the organizer so they don't don't drop smaller items getting them out. The kids simply take out their outfits for the day. You may be thinking I’m a control freak and of course you’re right, but think about all the clothes-related conflict in the morning. For older kids, have them put together outfits they like when they have time. But don’t wait until the morning before school to make these decisions. We’re all a little dumb in the morning, so be proactive and limit decisions.
Lastly, a morning checklist may be something that’s helpful for your kids. We’ve used these for years and it helps kids stay on track in the morning. You can have a set list for every morning, or you can write it out in the evening. (For instance, maybe they don’t shower every morning.) I remember the week of my wedding, my sweet German exchange sister kept us on track. We’d be sitting around talking and she’d say, “Where is this on the list?” There are a lot of things that can happen in the morning, but ask your kids, “Where is this on the list?” If your kids are like mine, they’ll like checking things off. And maybe there is time for doing something fun, but they should do it after the list. Here are some printable checklists you may want to use. Again, running these through a laminator will make them reusable.
Kids will be weird this time of year. You’ll find yourself saying things like, “Don’t put dish soap in that water gun,” or “Who ate bacon on the stairs?” or “I don’t care if it’s your bus or not, just get on it.” I’m joking…really, I am. The only thing that’s certain in this time is things will be little off until the transition is over. In the meantime, do some things to make home a little less chaotic. And give hugs. Lots of hugs. Let your kids (even your pre-teens and teens) fall into your arms and hold them. They may resist at first, but usually they’ll give in and let you comfort them like when they were little because they will always need you.