Back to School Sanity Savers

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I work in education. I was a former teacher. I was ready to be a school “mum”, or so I thought! When my son started kindergarten, I was overwhelmed by the amount of “homework” it took to be a parent of a kid in school. School letters home on Tuesday, class newsletters on Friday, check for fliers Tuesday night, sign planner, review homework…and fit in the part-time taxi mom gig to and from sports and dinner! The first time I forgot to check his backpack I was so embarrassed. I couldn’t believe I forgot. The first time I sent him to school without a lunch I was mortified. Since then, we have created some routines that have helped save my sanity!

First, designate a “drop off zone” in a high traffic area.

I like my kitchen island as I walk by it multiple times each night. Teach your kid(s) to drop their backpacks in this same spot each day. When we started with the “drop off zone”, I went online and Googled pictures of their backpacks. I printed them out and taped them to the side of the island as a visual reminder for them.

Once your kids learn where they need to put their back pack when they get home, teach them to empty their bag.

A visual is also helpful for this. I taught my kids to empty their lunch boxes and place it at the corner of the island. This practice is totally for me! It creates a visual for me to remember to make them their lunch each night!

Have your children take out their folder, their planner and any other papers they have in their backpack.

I purchased paper trays and designated one per kid. This gives them a “home base” for all the fun things they take out of their backpacks. My son went through an Origami phase…his paper tray was ALWAYS full of creations! I had to get him an additional tray…one for school papers and one for fun papers. The trays help me organize their papers and again, provide me with a visual that I have a job to do before I go to bed.

I also purchased plastic hanging tickets, which are like sheet protectors, but designed to hang. I placed school calendars, newsletters, the lunch menu (with circled dates when my son is a buyer), and any other important papers each in their own sleeve and hung them on my garage door. This forced me to look at them each day before leaving the house.

Routines make everything easier … including getting homework completed. As a behavior specialist, I always turn to the “Premack Principle”, which is the fancy name for “first-then.” Kids are more likely to complete less preferred activities when they must complete them to get to the more preferred activities. It is hard to transition a kiddo from TV back to doing their homework. It is much easier to schedule homework when you get home and use, “first homework, then TV/play with friends/play video games,” a.k.a the preferred activities to encourage your kids to complete it.

Checklists can also be helpful for the mornings as mornings can be a mad rush from the moment alarms go off to getting kids to the bus stop, especially if you have an overly tired 8-year-old each morning! A checklist helps my husband and I make sure we give the kids their vitamins, feed the dog, let him out, grab the kids’ lunches and water bottles and get on our way. Our daughter also has a visual (that I found on Google) that has Velcro checkmarks she can use when she is finished with a task. Her visual reminds her to get dressed, go potty, brush teeth etc. It is a big motivator for her to know she can do it independently.

Speaking of getting dressed, the five drawer plastic towers are great tools for organizing your kid’s clothes for the week. On Sunday, my daughter and I pick out her clothes for the week and any accessories she may need. We place an outfit in each drawer, which are also labeled the days of the week. In the morning she just opens the drawer and gets her clothes out! I really need to start doing this for me too!

I can’t say it enough, label EVERYTHING! Even the most responsible kid will lose something at some point. I still remember the look on my mom’s face when I came home from school without my new pink coat. I looked everywhere for that coat and never found it. My son has a fab secretary that has saved me from buying water bottle after water bottle by returning my son’s back to him since they have his name on them!

Lastly, schedule some time to meet up with your friends. The back-to-school struggle is real, and it’s always nice to sit with friends and laugh about the time you forgot to send your kid to school in their field trip shirt, or the time your child lost a very large library book, or the time your child came home head-to-toe covered in mud (I still don’t know what he got into!) It’s a good reminder that we are all in this together and even parents make mistakes!

Tina Pratt is the mom of two littles. She is a former PreK- 5 special education teacher that now works as a behavior coach. She enjoys being a tourist in her own town and finding ways to embed lessons into everyday fun!

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