All the kids are back in school, right?
There might be a few stragglers waiting to start after Labor Day, but for the most part, all the children have returned to their classrooms with sharpened pencils and fresh notebooks. (Or fully charged iPads and not-yet-lost chargers, whatever.)
Nothing makes me get my act together like a return to school. The beginning of school, whether I’m in the classroom or not, means new pens for the new calendar I will use to get my life in order. I vow to go through folders on Fridays after school instead of five minutes before the bus comes on Monday morning. I am confident in my proclamation that every packed lunch will have a fresh fruit and a fresh veggie.
I am living my best, most put-together life in August. (Also see: the consistent amount of writing I do in August.)
In March, things have slipped. I already know we’ll eventually be there. I anticipate the giving up just as much as I like the renewed energy of the end of summer.
I embrace all my contradictions. Ellie is in fifth grade this year, and Harper is in third. We’ve got the school-year routine down now. I know what will actually stick all year and what is a good idea, but will be gone by Christmas. (Or fall break, really.) I have tested and tried them all. I love any promise of saved time or efficiency, any hack or “secret” the internet has to share. I have been a routine scientist, taking my experiments very serious with great attention to variables and controls.
And here’s what sticks each year, what’s good for us and actually finds its way to the May finish line:
One file folder for each kid
I begin the new school year folder with the paper they hold up on the first day of school for pictures, the one that says their grade, school year, etc. That little paper marks the beginning of a new manila folder year. Then as the school year progresses, anything of importance gets put in that folder. If it doesn’t fit, we don’t keep it. This might require a quick December clean out, especially if your kids are younger. The older they get, the less stuff they come home with. I put report cards, sports awards, school pictures, etc. in the folder too. Anything from that age/grade goes in the folder, it doesn’t have to just be school-related things. We keep filling it in June and July also; the new folder doesn’t come until the first day of school (see above if you forgot that already).
At the end of July, the folder gets one quick review. The end-of-the-year report card makes all the nine week ones void, so they get thrown away. Sometimes I ask the girls what they want to get rid of. They love looking through the folders, even if it’s the most recent one. Then the folder goes into a plastic file box (like this) in my office. We started them in preschool when 37 pieces of paper came home every single day, and I’ll keep them up until high school graduation.
Backpacks and shoes by the door before bedtime
This is to save time in the morning, but also to make sure we get a quick homework/important paper review before it’s too late. Every parent knows the I-forgot-to-do-my-homework freak out five minutes before the bus comes, and it never, ever ends well.
Also, I hate running late in the mornings. I still remember what it felt like to be stressed and rushing when I was younger, it made my whole day feel off. (Hindsight: highly sensitive children will carry the stress of a bad morning all day.) I try really hard to not send my daughters out the door in a tizzy or upset. They’re going to encounter grouchy people at school, hard assignments, and friend drama, they don’t need to feel on edge before they even leave our house. Of course, sometimes this can’t be avoided (seriously, how long does it take to put on TWO SOCKS?), but making it the exception instead of the rule is my goal.
Clothes for tomorrow picked out as you get in your pajamas tonight
We’re past the point of the girls letting me pick out their clothes. In second grade, I could occasionally still get away with it with Harper, but third grade seems to be the year they draw a line in the sand. They will not be wearing what I suggest. They will actually pick the opposite of what I suggest. I don’t fight this or care, but it means they now need to make these choices the night before. If it’s spirit day, you need to find your black and yellow before bed, because I will not be running around the house in the morning looking for your favorite basketball shirt. If you planned to wear your flippy sequin unicorn shirt to match your BFF, you’ll need to make sure it’s clean before you fall asleep.
Added bonus: it doesn’t matter what time they go to bed, they’re going to be tired in the morning. Asking them to make any choice takes twice as long as 7 AM than it does at 7 PM. So get your hard choices done the night before.
Have your husband be in charge of lunches at night
First off, I’m not apologizing for this so skip this section if you want me to feel bad about Chris Graham being in charge of lunches.
I make dinner every night. It’s not always my favorite thing to do, but it’s one of my household jobs. I’m not on clean-up duty, though. That’s my husband. Clean up duty includes getting lunches ready for the next day. He’ll normally take leftovers. The girls sometimes do too. Either way, he packs everyone’s lunches after dinner so there’s less rushing (and more sleeping) in the morning.
Quick aside: For lots of reasons, it’s important for my husband to pack lunches for our girls. One of the reasons is we’re working on balancing household responsibilities in a healthier way, and another reason is it helps him care for them in a way he’s not accustomed to. Of course, he doesn’t always pack lunches the way I would (I’m all about efficiency and like to bag carrots, chips, etc. on Sunday night so I can just throw them in lunchboxes all week), but he’s in charge of them so I get to not worry about it.
I’m not actually saying your husband should pack lunches like that’s a rule. I don’t know your family’s schedule or dynamics. But I will say that it’s important for our kids to see everyone help the family run smoothly, not just the mom. Balance and equal buy-in to the never-ending jobs of keeping kids alive and well isn’t just for one spouse. How that looks for your house is up to you.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go to teachers the last week of school
Grab a copy of this book now if you see it in stores. It will be everywhere in April, but it will also be sold out everywhere. I started sending Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss with Ellie in preschool and now the girls start asking about it as May approaches.
I send the book (buy the hardback one!) with a sticky note attached, asking the teacher to write a note to Ellie or Harper about the school year or whatever they want (encouragement, observation, a hope for the future, etc.). They can pick any page–teachers are scared to write on actual story pages, encourage them to!–to leave their thoughts. When we moved in the middle of Harper’s kindergarten year and Ellie’s second grade year, we had both teachers write in the book to remember that’s the year we left the city.
The girls, even at eight and ten, love looking back at the notes their teachers have written. As an adult, I think about my favorite teachers (Mrs. Blair and Mrs. Theur) and wish I had their beautiful handwriting tucked away in a book to remember them with.
It’s not too late to start this, even if you’ve missed a few years. It’s better late than never.
We’ve tried and failed other routines during the school year. Sometimes a great idea sounds so easy yet doesn’t work for us. Maybe these won’t be a good fit for your family, but if you see something that will make the crazy school week a little less stressful, steal it! Or if you have something else that works well for your house, let me know in the comments. It might be helpful for someone else too. (Also! Most of these things are good for adults and work too; I don’t leave the house every morning like I used to, but when I did, I used most of these routines.)
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