I’m not sure why we call them ‘back to school‘ tips. Kids go ‘back to school’ a small number of times, but they are ‘at school’ for thousands, and thousands of days. Don’t tell them that!
You know there are probably more back to school tips floating around than there are school children. It’s not surprising, of course. School is a complicated business that requires considered planning, endless organisation and enthusiastic monitoring.
I’ve sent three kids ‘back to school’ a total of 24 times and this is my 9th year of being a school parent. That’s a lot of learning right there. Here are my best 9 back to school tips that I’ve gleaned over all those years. I hope they help you out.
9 useful back to school tips
1. Have a routine for your routines
I can’t stress enough how important routines are to school kids – and their mums. With some really firm structures in place you can almost ‘set and forget’ both the mornings and afternoons. With a good routine the kids can get on with things while we do whatever it is we do when we’re not tending to the kids.
To set up a good routine:
Get consensus – let the kids help you sort out the routine so you can agree things as you go along.
Be clear – make sure all instructions are understood by each child individually.
Be realistic – keep tasks appropriate to your child’s abilities. School mornings are not a good time to challenge the kids to reach new heights. Save that for the weekend.
Write it down – everything that needs to get done by whom and by when. Put the routine up somewhere prominent.
Stick to it – be firm about your need for everyone to follow the routine and clear about what will happen if a kid doesn’t cooperate. Let natural consequences be the order of the day. For instance, if you dawdle over putting your shoes on, you might find yourself at school in your slippers (this may or may not have happened at our place).
2. Get everything ready the night before
I’m such a firm believer in this that I almost tip into religious zealotry when trying to convert people to my vigilant night-before ways. No matter how tired we are, the man and I still get the school uniforms and lunch boxes ready to go the night before. Actually, these days we drill-sergeant the kids to get their own.
My kids are still borderline for being responsible enough around a hot iron, so we iron the uniforms and leave them out in the kids’ bedrooms ready to go in the morning (sans shoes – shoes are definitely the kids’ responsibility). Actually, the husband does all ironing in our house – it’s simply not something I do. Why can’t we all just be crinkled?
Last thing at night, I make up all the lunch box items and put them into a caddy in the fridge. In the morning it’s up to the kids to organise everything beyond that – getting themselves dressed and packing their lunch boxes and bags.
3. Get the kids involved
Most school children from Kinder and up are capable of being responsible for their own school bags. That means making sure that everything is packed and ready to go on time. When the kids were younger, we had a list of what should be in the school bag (you could use pictures for non-readers).
The kids can then take responsibility for making sure they have what they need. Lunch box, hat and drink bottle every day and then any other paraphernalia that needs to be added on top of that – library bag, sports bag, homework folder, etc. If anything is missed, it’s definitely not Mum’s fault!
Once they hit late-primary and definitely by high school, it’s fair to say I have nothing whatsoever to do with their school bags. Other than occasionally carrying out a random inspection and going ballistic over finding a rotten apple inside. Yuck.
4. Use a folder to conquer the paper
At the beginning of the year, each of the kids gets an A4 folder to fill with anything they want to keep. It’s up to them to put in their artwork, notes, projects, assignments, awards and any other thing they deem memorable. I put everything into a drawer during the week. At the end of the week I clean the drawer out. So they need to rifle through before Sunday or it’s gone.
This might help too: The anxious mum’s guide to back to school
5. Get to know the village
Every school mum needs a posse of back-up mums and at least two really reliable, do-anything-for-you mums. These are the backbone of any school family. “I’m running 10 minutes late, can you keep an eye on the kids for me?”; “Is tomorrow Cupcake Day or is it next week?”; “Can you take my girls on Tuesdays and I’ll take yours on Thursdays?”, etc, etc and so it goes. The beauty of this is that you get to be someone else’s back-up mum in return and there is true beauty in getting to know other people’s children in this useful, heartfelt way.
6. Just get the homework done
Homework sux. I mean, I really, really hated it when I was a kid at school and I probably hate it ten times more now that I have three lots of it coming through my house each week. It’s just so tiresome and part of me wants to become a conscientious objector, but a bigger part of me just wants to be conscientious. If a teacher gives out homework, I want my kids to do it out of respect for their teacher. So we do it and we try to get it done sooner rather than later in the week so it’s not hanging over us all week. Do it and it’s done (which is one of our most used family mottos).
7. Polish the shoes
Keeping their shoes neat and polished is an important part of my kids’ attitude towards school. Part of their schooling is teaching them to take pride in their work and appearance and respect their property. A good shoe shine covers all three basics. Plus I figure if the shoes are shiny and the socks are white, no one will notice that I never iron the school uniforms.
8. Make the lunch box a big deal
Not only is the lunch box important for getting the right nutrition into our kids so they can learn all day, but it’s also a little piece of home in the school bag. I’m not one to go all bento box, but from time to time I do like to pop a little something into the box to surprise my kids. Try a tattooed banana, a sweet treat or a little love note. A reminder of home is always appreciated, especially by our more anxious kidlets.
Lunchbox sorted: Some great tips to pack a healthy lunchbox
9. Don’t go extra-curricularazy
I freely admit that my kids do too many extra-curricular activities and I wish I had never been so quick to say yes in the beginning. I get that we want our kids to have the opportunity to trial all things, but a sport, an instrument, an art class and a dance group quickly add up to one very tired child. Even without the busyness, too many organised activities leave little time for family and unstructured time like playing at a friend’s or with siblings.
I like the approach of a friend of mine who allows her kids to do one thing a term and it’s up to them if they want to change to something different the next term. One thing a term sounds imminently sensible for both the child and our budget! I have no idea how to back-track my busy children, but if I find a solution, I shall let you know.
What do you struggle with most about school?