Originally published: September 2012
It’s such a jam-packed, chock full, anxiety-producing, exciting, head-spinningly busy time of year but I love it!
Back-to-school for me anyway, has always been about renewal, rejuvenation, raring to roll up my sleeves for new discoveries, adventures and learnings!
Perhaps it comes from being a journalist — a profession that really amounts to a daily and ongoing education about life — except that I also get paid for it! Yes, I consider myself beyond lucky, thank you!
It has remained an exciting period for me, even as a parent for a host of reasons.
Of course it is rife with the odd challenge — exotic lunch ideas chief among them, but it’s also a time of the year where I tend to learn a great deal about my children. And the older we all get, back-to-school also represents a time of the year where experience and the use of tried, tested and true tips help simplify most of that which was once stress-inducing.
Here are some of the tips that I’ve learned over the years that have helped me forge such a positive relationship with back to school.
About two weeks before school starts set aside a couple of hours with the entire family.
Organize the radio or CD player and pop in your favourite tunes!
Working with one child at a time, get them to pull out all their clothes of out their closet.
Have them decide what fits, what doesn’t, what they want to keep and what they want to get rid of.
Make a list of clothing items needed.
Retrieve winter clothing boxes, and parse through items in the same way.
The sense of fulfillment that your child will feel will fuel them for some time and help foster a rewarding sense of responsibilty in them for some time to come! Hopefully, anyway!
Once the clothes have been sorted, ask your child if they would prefer to donate them to charity, Goodwill, etc., or if they would like to take them to a second-hand clothing store to give and then receive payment.
Have your child accompany you to either venue and feed their sense of accomplishment.
If depositing to a gently-used clothing store for payment in return, let your child decide what they would prefer to do with the money they get back — donate, put in their piggy bank, reward themselves with an ice cream!
Check out online and in-store sales, research discount and promo codes online, create a list of stores to visit.
Keep you child involved in as much of the research and process as possible — such a great teaching and learning opportunity.
Take out the list of clothes needed that you previously created.
Set a budget.
A week before school starts, have your kids help create a lunch list ie. all the items they like to eat, including snacks and after school lunches.
You can further create a Monday-Friday school lunch and snack list from the original list.
Post all lists on the fridge or easily visible area in the kitchen. Your kids can have fun colouring the list or personalizing in some way.
The weekend before school starts, get your child to create a grocery list derived from based the school lunch/snack list and requirements of the upcoming week.
Have your child cross items off the grocery list, as you both grocery shop.
Make sure your kitchen contains at least one drawer, a centralized and easily accessible area — with all the dishes, Tupperware, sandwich wrap required to pack lunches.
Ensure your fridge is organized so that all school lunch items are easily reachable and packed togethr eg. All sandwich in one container, all cheese in one container, etc.
The day before school, help your child make his/her lunch.
Assist their lunch-making for the first couple of days, then let them do it on thier own using the fridge list and their own imagination.
Parental involvement should be kept to a bare minimum except where safety may be compromised (cutting a sandwich).
Before you know it, your child will be educated and empowered to make their own lunch which is an invaluable skill and which will help them appreciate the process of food preparation, understanding foods, etc.
PRIVATE OR PUBLIC
With a child in private, and two in public school, my husband and I have learned a thing of two on this topic over the years.
We have always judged the quality of the school by what our child looks like exciting the building.
Are they happy, enthusastic, eager to share their school experiences when you pick them up or at dinner time or are they the opposite?
If they are happy, chances are they are learning and engaged.
If they are not happy, everything else is also a negative experiences .
Whatever school system you decide on, research relentlessly but within reason — pick 3 credible sources — word of mouth, online forums, school test scores — are three examples. Do not overwhelm yourself, but be educated about your decision.
Depending on your budget, let your child select one sport and one arts-type activity (music, dance, drawing, singing, etc)
Whether he or she is athletically inclined, coordinated or not, is irrelevant. Sport is important for a host of reasons in addition to exercise.
Encourage them to get involved in school sports and activities as soon as they are able to do so (depending on their age).
One sport and one arts activity feeds two critical parts of the brain and psyche, not to mention the physical benefits.
Yo can choose to have them change choices each school year — the key is exposure, the more a child is exposed to, the better chance they have of deciding what they like, what they may be good at and simply enjoy the pure pleasures that discovery bring.
A healthy dose of butterflies buzzing in one’s stomach the night before school, the first week of school — is natural and a good thing. Don’t let too much analysis, irrational thoughts spoil the wonder and anticipation of this journey. Negative thoughts usually emanate more from the parental brain than a child.
Keep involvement in school to a healthy arm’s length relationship. This strategy helps everyone in the long run, most importantly your guilt-level and sanity. Over volunteering, too much zealousness, constant presence, uber involvement is like too much of anything. Moderation is a practical, rational and sensible approach.
Try to resist the temptation to measure your parenting skills against those of other parents. If your child says everyone in their class has an ipod, you don’t need to buy your kid one if you deem that he does not need one, as an example.
In the days leading up to the first day of school, during the period of school supply shopping, which should be approached with the same measured, organized and sane strategy as the clothing purge and purchase — set aside a half an hour to get your kids to devise their own school Schedule — starting from when they get up to when they get to bed. Have them print it, decorate it, and post it on their door or in their room or wherever easily visible. This list should include such responsibilities as :
6 :00am Get up
6 :15am Brush teeth
6 :17am Make bed
3 :30pm Bus arrives
3 :35pm Unpack bag and lunch bag, eat snack.
3 :40pm Play outside
4 :30pm Do homework
The schedule does not have to be too detailed so as to be intimidating, but a friendly reminder of proper organization and time management which are always important lessons for all of us to learn.
It can easily be broken up into to sections BEFORE SCHOOL and AFTER SCHOOL
Consider establishing a ritual of 20 minutes of reading time after dinner. If your child reads even 10 pages in that time, every day that’s 3,650 pages in a year which amounts to roughly 10-15 book of 300 pages in length.
Reading before bedtime is another option, but is sometimes trumped by everyone’s exhaustion and ends up putting everyone to bed before any quality reading is achieved.
The after-dinner option allows digestion to take place, ensures people are still quite awake and is a family-type activity that everyone is involved in – either reading individually or parents helping children to read.
Hopefully these few proven tips can help your entire family embrace the wonder and excitement of a new school year! Or at the very least minimize any insanity that comes your way!
Managing Back to School Stress with Vikki Stark, Family Therapist and Author