Looking for back-to-school organization tips for moms (and dads)? Read on…
Maybe My Dandelion Wish Is For the Death Of All Future Dandelions
When colorful displays of back-to-school necessities (llama-shaped locker mirror anyone? Totally necessary in my book) start popping up in every department store, how does it make you feel?
Would you say…wistful? Contemplating the end of dandelion wishes, fireflies on warm evenings, burgers on the grill, and lazy summer days spent poolside?
Or do you experience a manic joy bubbling up uncontrollably inside of you as you count down the days?
Do you know exactly how long it will be until sand stays outside, lunch is made (and cleaned up) in a school cafeteria, and “Mom, I’m borrred” is no longer a daily refrain?
Well, I’ve felt both (depending on the summer), and whether you’re Camp ILoveCraftingWithMyKids24/7, or whether school bus yellow is the prettiest color in your rainbow, you still might dread the transition that the new school year brings.
At least if you’re a mom with a flaky tendency or two.
IT WOULD BE RUDE TO CALL HIM A GESTAPO…IF HE WASN’T SUCH A GESTAPO
As a scatterbrained mom myself, the new school year has always dangled the promise of that fresh start… that chance to finally get it together.
While also filling me with anxiety over……well, over trying to finally get it together.
- My inability to determine the correct page of the handbook to sign may keep my baby inside while the other kids go out to play after lunch.
- It’s embarrassing to scurry into the doctor’s office on the last day of summer, desperate for proof that I am not a drug lord.
No, I’m not sending Ritalin to school for my kid to make some extra pocket money. Here is his doctor’s signature swearing that he needs it. Trust me, if we had waited another day or two, you would have discovered this for yourself.
- And I hated being the harried mom in the school drop-off line, bed-headed children spilling from the sliding door lugging gaping, unzipped backpacks, desperate to reach the door before last bell. Again.*
If you’re tired of being that mom, too, I feel your pain.
Luckily, I’ve found that zoning in on a few vital areas can get your kid:
- Out of recess jail,
- On the meds he needs to focus during the school day, and
- Into the school building before the hall monitor Gestapo slams the door in his face.
The most important area is getting your own head on straight.
You can do this (I know you can!) with a plan to carefully tackle excruciatingly tedious administrative chores…the ones we must slog through with every school year reboot. The ones that make you want to rip off your clothes and Zentangle around your belly button, just to relieve the boredom.
GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR…SAND
Because when you’re easily distracted, easily bored, don’t transition or adapt well, and sometimes forget about consequences, winging it is a serious no-no.
But a little advanced prep and a commitment to destroy (or maybe just leap? I’m feeling a bit aggressive today) each hurdle as it appears, smooths out the transition.
Hurdles like head-in-the-sand procrastination tendencies that stand in the way of “just get it done already!”
WHO DOESN’T ENJOY A LITTLE FORT CAKE NOW AND AGAIN?
My own biggest brain block is the ever-changing systems each school uses for lunch accounts, communication, assignments, grades, absences, etc. The ones they heartlessly update just when I have them figured out.
And when I had kids in three different school systems, each with its own procedures, policies, and calendars, my propensity to “ignore it and eat cake” (literally) went into overdrive.
I know, instead of getting all of the school stuff organized, how about we make a big cake shaped like a crayon and eat it in a fort? Won’t that be fun??
If you have these same tendencies, do not pull out your baking pans, clothespins, and old bedsheets right now.
You can do this.
Crayon cake later.
If you’re good.
FITTING ROOMS DO NOT VIOLATE THE GENEVA CONVENTION
Let’s start with some pre-planning.
If you’re reading this before the school year begins, you’ve got a jump start.
- First, as soon as the school calendar goes online, copy everything over onto your own personal calendar.
If you’ve ever had your first-grader shuttled back to the school because you weren’t at the bus stop…
Today was early dismissal? Wait, what?
…then this one’s for you. Cheers!
- Next, use slower summer days to gauge the clothing situation. Not fun if your kids consider trying on clothes equal to water boarding level torture. But do it now, while you can still find shorts and t-shirts in stores.
Even though flip flop weather sometimes lasts around here ‘til October (Pennsylvania), cold weather gear appears in like, July. Good luck finding summer clothes after that.
So if you don’t want your kid posing for first day pics in scruffy, rocket-pop-stained shorts, then move up this priority now.
Or crop the picture so it’s only waist up. Your choice.
And tell me below how your kids behave about new clothes. Can they try on three pairs of pants without collapsing on the floor in an exaggerated fit of exhaustion? Am I the only one whose kids would happily wear high waters and zippers that no longer close, just to avoid trying on anything…ever?
WAIT, THAT’S A HORSE?
- Finally, in the pre-planning department, get their classroom supplies early.
- Most school supply lists are available before school starts. Walmart and Staples probably even have yours on file (they’re good that way with trying to get your money and all). Knock out the bulk of your shopping before stores are wiped out.
- If your kid is taking a specialty class, get that list as soon as you can. It’s super frustrating to wait until the last minute to buy sculpting tools for your kid, only to realize the other 30 parents got there first. No more $10 beginner packs…no – your 6th grader is now the proud owner of a professional grade set of chisels.
Overkill for creating a sad, lopsided bowl and a statue of his…um, hamster maybe?
- And for schools with rotating schedules, find out now what’s coming up later. Nothing like shopping for trunks in January when the swim unit finally crops up in gym class.
SCHOOL STRESS SNOWBALLS HAVE ROCKS IN THE MIDDLE
Once the first bell rings on the first day, the school stress snowballs fly.
Breathe (after you duck – those suckers hurt), and then let’s deal with the barrage of information.
- As soon as possible, designate a backpack dumping spot. Not a final resting spot, just an “inbox.” This is where you’ll sort, deciding what to:
Announce this spot before papers appear in the car, on the coffee table, in the bedrooms, and on the floor next to the toilet.
- Unlike more reasonable paperwork, school papers are not civilized. They have immediate deadlines, so read through them each night.
You can’t just batch process them all at one time on the weekend, because, like potty-training toddlers, most school papers demand attention right now.
- As you skim, add action items to a “to do” list right then. Don’t depend on your memory.
- For papers with long-term information you may need to quickly reference, take a photo.
- For physical papers you decide to keep, find one place for them to live. Preferably an action/pending box. If you don’t have one, at least keep them all in one place.
- Actively search for principal, teacher, and guidance blogs, Twitter accounts, and Facebook pages. This might be counter-intuitive to avoiding overwhelm, but sometimes I, personally, need to be knocked in the head with information (but not with rock-filled snowballs, please) before I notice it. Redundancy helps with that.
Your kids are not a reliable information pipeline, especially once they outgrow the backpack phase.
- Start a page of notes with logins, phone numbers, etc., and keep it with the papers. Then you can refer to it instead of digging through the pile. Or use Evernote or Google Drive to contain it all.
ALTHOUGH A GLASS OF WINE IS PERMITTED BEFORE MAKING SAID LIST
- After parent nights and teacher conferences, transfer action items immediately to a “to do” list, just like you would with backpack papers. Putting the handout covered in scribbled notes into the paper box won’t work. You’ll be vaguely aware of the notes floating around in there, but you won’t remember to make them happen.
Instead, move them to a list as soon as you get home, even if it’s kiddie bedtime. Then later, you won’t have five small “to dos” scattered among 17 sheets of multicolored/multi-sized paper covered in hieroglyphics.
While the tasks themselves may not be daunting, retrieving them later will be. Trust me, you’ll put them off.
- Speaking of action items, here are some to watch for.
- Set up lunch accounts and grade-tracking accounts.
- Set up online parent accounts (Schoology, Blackboard, Google Classroom).
- Add money to lunch accounts. Make a calendar note to refill them, and sign up for low balance alerts.
While you’re at it, see if you can put limits on the account before your kids blow through an entire month’s worth of lunch money at the chips & ice cream bar (I discovered this possibility the hard way).
- Take care of volunteer prereqs: Clearances? TB shot? Someone to swap babysitting with if you have littles still at home?
- Note your child’s bus number. Even if you handle transportation, what if you can’t get to school on time? Your child may not even know what bus to ride on that inevitable day you forget you have a kid and don’t show up to get him (okay, maybe not forget totally that you have a kid but maybe forget you’re responsible for one).
- Plug relevant phone numbers into your phone –school buildings, teacher cell, the main district numbers, and the like.
These will come in handy when you’re frantically trying to reach the school because you got distracted and need to give permission for your mom to get your kids.
It’s also helpful to know who’s calling you, so you can quickly answer that call from your son’s teacher. Or, depending on your son’s school history, so you can ghost the teacher, do a quick meditation, eat a chocolate bar, and then make the return call.
OR YOU MELT DOWN OVER YOUR 5-YEAR-OLD STARTING KINDERGARTEN
Once you’ve got own your act together, you can move on to cheering on your kids through their own obstacles.
That way when your 5-year-old melts down over starting kindergarten or you get a note from the nurse telling you your 3rd grader needs glasses or you realize your 9th grader is in over her head with all honors courses, you have the basics under control.
You’ll be ready to deal with whatever unpredictability the school year throws at you. There’ll be more room in your brain for those speed bumps you didn’t anticipate while you were happily choosing your daughter’s Pet Patrol lunchbox and WWF backpack.**
While it’s tempting to give in to overwhelm and delay it all ‘til “later,” avoidance only leads to anxiety and fires to put out (or snowballs to duck, to continue our strange analogy that I pulled out of nowhere).
Instead, try to:
- Plan what you can.
- Pay attention to what’s incoming.
- Make note of action items.
- Keep everything in one place.
- Take care of the boring administrative stuff immediately.
Conquer these before anxiety has a chance to sneak in your side door while you’re otherwise occupied blowing bubbles with your kids (or hiding from same in the pantry with a bag of Bugles and your iPad, streaming reruns of The Nanny – because summer, am I right?).
I know, not so much. But just take it one thing at a time and resist the temptation to declare an impromptu Fort Cake Day.
And if you really want to knock it out of the park, here’s some help with general paperwork.
Meanwhile, comment down below with tips for back-to-school preparation and organization tips for moms (and dads) and how you feel about summer coming to an end.
Which camp are you in?
*I don’t know about your elementary school, but ours hires sadists who gloat while slowly closing the inner door as stragglers race toward it, clicking it soundly and gleefully into place in front of their noses at exactly 7:20. As though the arrival time of 7:20 wasn’t sadistic enough already.
**Odd combo but whatever, she’s her own person. You done good.