Managing the Back to School Shuffle

By: Katie Haxton, Postpartum Doula

If you’re the parent of a school-aged child, you know how stressful the back-to-school season can be.  Between keeping your calendar up to date with all the school events, fielding emails from the school and teacher, and the mad rush to get out the door in the morning, you may feel like you want to crawl under the covers and hide.  Or maybe you’re the type of parent who rises enthusiastically for the challenge, with your fist in the air and your coffee in hand, shouting, “Let’s Do This!”  If you’re that type of parent, we whole heartedly applaud you. 

Whatever type of parent you are, you can probably use a few tips for a smooth transition into the school year.  Here are some we swear by at my house:

Get Organized

Have you ever had a child insist on wearing clothing that is ripped, stained or too small when you’re trying to get out the door?  It is no fun.  Go through your children’s clothing and get rid of anything that they have outgrown or is no longer wearable.  Wee Sale Children’s Consignment is a fabulous way to consign outgrown clothes and toys.  Have your child pick out their clothes the night before school; they love to being given the choice of what to wear.  Making picture labels to put on your children’s drawers is a great way to help them find (and put away) their clothes.  This even works with with preschool aged children who are learning to take on responsibility and help their parents.  Also, avoid the shoe scramble:  lay out school shoes the night before too.

Designate A Space

You know when you’re trying to get in the door to your home, your arms loaded with groceries, your purse, keys, and the baby, and you find yourself kicking through a pile of backpacks, jackets and shoes?  Ask children to put their things in their proper places as soon as they come in the door.  We have a large basket for shoes and a wall-mounted purse and backpack rack, but there are tons of ideas out there—check Pinterest!—for organizing your entryway to suit your own personal style.  You may find yourself repeating to your children day after day that they need to put their belongings away as soon as they walk in the door, and that’s ok!  Eventually, they will start to do it without asking. 

The second space to designate is Paper Mountain—that space everyone uses to drop the mail, the school papers, and the homework assignments.  We use a wall-mounted mail organizer to sort mail that needs to be opened, bills that need to be paid, and things to go in the filing cabinet.  We also have an upright paper holder with a folder for each family member’s important papers.  Office supply stores have lots of these types of items to help you get and stay organized with your paper flow. 

Finally, designate a space for homework.  This may be as simple as having the kids sit at the kitchen table with a shared box of pencils, erasers, and other homework supplies, or you may have desks in the children’s rooms where they can work quietly and alone.  Whatever the space they use, keep it comfortable, quiet, and well-lit to help decrease distraction.

Managing Mealtimes

If you make your children’s lunch for school, you can save yourself a lot of stress by doing two things:  make lunches the night before, and get the kids to do as much of the work as they can.  Portion out snacks into small snack bags at the beginning of the week and put them, and the other lunch ingredients, where kids can reach them.  Let them pick which servings of fruit and vegetable they would like. If your kids like sandwiches, let them make their own (this may get messy, but they will enjoy it!). Have them fill their water bottles the night before too, and put everything together in the fridge where they can reach it in the morning. 

Dinner time when you’re a parent can be one of the most stressful times of the day.  Everyone is tired/grumpy/waking up from naps/hungry/getting home from school or work, and you’re trying to figure out what you can throw together and put on the table that will incite the least amount of complaining.  Meal planning and prep is a lifesaver for busy parents.  It can also help you from getting stuck in a recipe rut.  Sit down with your coffee on Saturday morning and browse your favorite recipe sites.  Make a list of what”s for dinner each day of the week and stick it in your fridge.  (Later in the week when you’re asked the obligatory “What’s for dinner?” you can just point to the menu.)  Then compose your grocery list with all the ingredients you’ll need for the week’s menu.  I’ll admit, this is somewhat time consuming and can take some getting used to.  But it is worth it for all the time you’ll save later in the week wondering how to cook a not-yet-thought-of meal while there’s a stampede of hungry people in your kitchen. 

Stick to a Schedule

It’s a well-known fact that children thrive on routines, but parents do, too.  Set your alarm for the same time every morning, have everyone sit down to breakfast at the same time, and allow plenty of time to get ready before you have to be out the door.  Once your children are off to school, if you’re a full time parent, use this time to run errands, get things done around the house, or spend quality time with children who are not yet school-aged.  I like to have a playdate scheduled or take my two youngest for a long walk or bike ride as soon as my eldest is on the bus.  They look forward to this time every day, and then we finish up in time for lunch and naps. 

Having dinner, bath and bed time at the same time every day is another way to stick to a routine.  It can be challenging when kids are involved in sports or other after-school activities, but we all do the best we can with the time we have.  Once the kids are in bed is a great time to check emails and social media messages and update your calendar with all the meetings, events, and social gatherings that come with being a parent.

So there you have it, four of my life and sanity saving tips to get the most out of the new school year.  Being a parent is the best and the hardest job in the world.  I hope you can apply these tips to your life and shave some stress, to allow more time tickles, laughter, and family bonding time.