School is solidly back in session -- what does that mean to you? For some people, it's finishing shopping for supplies, gearing up for PTA meetings, and artwork taped to the refrigerator. For others, it's the beginning of a constant struggle to stay on top of homework, extracurricular activities, and the household chores. How on earth do you make the transition without everyone in the family feeling the stress?
Keeping track of everyone's activities can be a real challenge once school starts. Not only do you have a new class schedule to contend with, but all those sports practices, academic clubs, music lessons, and other afterschool activities (that seem to eat up every free minute of your child's evenings and weekends!)
And don't forget mom and dad -- in addition to their regular household and work responsibilities, they now have to attend PTA meetings, soccer games, ballet recitals, swim meets, and school open houses. Then there's all the time parents spend toting junior and his friends back and forth to their activities -- a chauffeur's work is never done.
I'm amazed that families with children have any time leftover for sleep!
With all that's going on, there is really only one way to avoid scheduling conflicts and last minute scrambles -- and that is to set up a "family calendar." Hang a large wall calendar in a high-traffic area of the house (kitchen seems to work well, because everyone goes in there daily). Label each family member's activities in a different color (Susy in blue, mom in green, dad in red, etc.) for easy recognition. Then take a second to record every single upcoming activity for each person in the family -- meetings, social engagements, sporting events, doctor appointments, you name it. Every time someone brings home an invitation to a party or permission slip for a field trip, write it down. Every time the school sends out a calendar of upcoming days off, transfer it to the family calendar. When your child's piano teacher asks if you can switch from Tuesday to Wednesday because she'll be out of town, change the calendar. Get in the habit of putting EVERYTHING related to your family's schedule in one place.
The next step is to block off a regular weekly meeting with the entire family to go over your upcoming schedule. Take a look at any activities occurring within the next couple of weeks -- address conflicts (ex: mom's got to work late and Johnny needs a ride home from the game, so he should make plans to go with a friend), decide on any shopping trips you need for supplies (so you can bake cupcakes for the school party or get Susy's diorama put together), and make sure any new items are added to the calendar. For those family members who carry a personal planner or PDA, this is also the time to update your portable calendar with the current info (it doesn't do you much good to plan out the week if you can't see the schedule while you're out of the house!) Your stress level will drop by a factor of ten, just having each person's to-do's and responsibilities written down in one visible place.
Organizing The School Supplies
If you're not careful, the "back-to-school" paraphernalia can easily take over your entire house. You've got piles of supplies, stacks of schoolbooks, a closet full of new clothes, backpacks, lunchboxes -- and what do you do with it all?
Before you went shopping for the current school year, I hope you took a minute to clean out he old supplies -- if not, do it now. Throw out all the obvious "junk" (dried up pens and markers, broken and disintegrated crayons, pads with just one sheet of paper left on them), then create another box of labeled "outgrown" (that you can donate to the school or give to a younger child). While we're at it, do the same with any kid's clothes that no longer fit. You have to let go of the old to make room for the new...
Now, let's set up a "homework center" for storing all the current supplies. This can either be a stationary organizing system near where your child studies, or even a portable organizer that can be taken from place to place. Set up either a drawer or container (labeled, of course) for each type of supply -- writing utensils, art supplies, paper, report folders, and miscellaneous equipment (like scissors, rulers, and protractors and whatever your child uses in his classes). A freestanding drawer system or rolling cart is a great option for lots of little loose items -- and stacking trays work well when storing extra paper (white, lined, and construction paper).
One last step -- set up plastic tub with a lid for the new school year labeled "art/school papers." Each time your child brings home a drawing or an A+ report or other item that you want to save, put it in the box (instead of piled all over the desk or on the floor!) Then, at the end of the school year, you can pick your favorites to include in a scrap book. Back-to-school doesn't have to be a time of craziness -- it will go a lot smoother, with a little preparation and some good organizing techniques! You actually have a wonderful opportunity to help your kids start building the skills they will need to succeed in life as adults -- take advantage of it!