Believe me. There is no one who dreads back to school as much as I do. My kids think they are the ones with all the stress and worry over going back, but under my cool and calm exterior my inner child is panicking about a forgotten text book, a poorly practiced Clarinet piece, and that stupid *bleeping* test on integers.
You’d think somewhere along the line that some of these things would fall by the wayside, but no, apparently not. School stress is the gift that keeps on giving. Years after the last notes have been shredded – or you know, set ablaze – and the last paper has been graded – an A, by the way – school stress rears it’s ugly head when you send your own children back each September.
In order to keep my own silliness in check and minimize stress for my children, there are a few things I try to make sure are done or in place before the first day of school each year.
6 Steps to Ease Back to School Stress
Go to Bed
No, no, tired parent! I don’t mean right this minute. Disappointed? My! You really have been burning the midnight oil, then, haven’t you? What I mean is, it’s time to get back into a decent and livable bedtime routine. If that means taking bedtime back 15 minutes earlier each night until you are satisfied with the hour, just like when you were sleep training (teaching, whatever!) your toddlers, then so be it. The important thing to focus on is the end result or outcome. You need a family that can function well in the morning, so that getting up, having a good breakfast, and making it to the bus stop or school on time is achieved with minimal stress. This might apply to the grown ups as well as the kids. Everyone needs a good night’s rest. There is no perfect bedtime (Have we discussed the word “perfect”? I’m not a fan.). What you are looking for is the ideal bedtime for you and your family. You will know you have found it when you are able to be up before the kiddos and manage to gulp down some coffee while it is still hot.
Purge The Closets
This is best if done on an ongoing basis, but if your kids, like mine, convince you to keep some of their clothes at the end of the school year/beginning of summer because they kinda sorta still fit, now is the time to recheck so that any jeans that are more like capris – which as far as I know are *not* the latest trend for 9th graders – can be donated to a local charity or thrift store. All the ratty, grape popsicle stained, too small t-shirts that are fine for sandy beaches, water fights and painting pottery can also take a hike at this point.
The goal is to see what you have that actually works for the upcoming school year. This is also a great opportunity to pare down in general. Don’t forget if you have band or choir students to make sure their uniform is the right size for the new school year. It’s a perfect time to get the basics at a great back to school sale price. While you are in that closet make absolutely sure that closed toe shoes fit. You might be surprised at how much those toes have grown over the summer and of course the kids don’t notice because their feet are flying free in flip-flops.
Summer is fleeting and because of this fact, even I – a sworn meal planner – tend to go off plan for meals. This can be a lot of fun. (I’m looking at you Cows Creamery Wowie Cowie for supper while on vacation in PEI!) Like anything else that is essential to life though, it can’t be all fun all the time. Since summer is short we have fewer planned meals, but we do stick to our family goal and have meals together as often as possible. It is nice to keep a bit of the routine, after all. Now that summer break is ending it’s time to get the menu planning back on track. I find this to be immensely helpful during the first week or so of the new school year. Having one less thing to question at the end of a busy day is great and the kids really appreciate having something to look forward to after homework is done. I write menus out each week and try to have something everyone enjoys for each meal. This doesn’t mean I am a short order cook. Not at all. It simply means there will be at least one thing on everyone’s plate that they will eat. I already have a plan in the works for the first day of school. Next Thursday I will be making a Taco Bake – my son’s favourite – because he will likely be the kid who has the hardest day. I could be wrong, but I’d rather send him out the door knowing he can look forward to his favourite meal, so right off the bat there is a positive in his day. Meal planning can really help to alleviate stress in the long run. It has the added benefit of saving money. I think all parents can appreciate that.
Now is the time to stock up on essentials. Don’t wait until school starts to see if you have what you need for the aforementioned meal plan, school lunches, or backpacks. Do a quick rundown of what you think you need and compare it to what is in your pantry. If your kids have favourite meals, it’s a nice idea to serve a few of those during the first week back at school. Likewise, school lunches or after school snacks. For example, my kids love Candace’s mini chocolate chip banana muffins, so they will definitely have some packed in their first day lunches and when I make them I will freeze some to use as after school snacks throughout September.
Another essential to make sure you have in ample supply is socks. Summer around here means bare feet almost exclusively. If I go and look at my daughter’s dresser drawers I will likely be buried in odd socks. I have no choice, but to double check, match – as futile as that seems these days – and buy at least a few new pairs to allow her to start her school year on the right foot. Hah! See what I did there? New shoes need to be worn over socks. Otherwise, my next post will be about blisters!
This leads me to my final stock check. School supplies. Go back into last school year’s stuff and if you haven’t already retrieved the good stuff, now’s your chance. There is no point in wasting perfectly good supplies just because they are last year’s. Let’s be honest. It was 8 weeks ago. Things such as scissors, lunch bags, backpacks, markers, crayons, white boards, and those latex-free erasers can easily be reused this school year. This saves money and is environmentally responsible, too.
Buy Essentials Only
You may or may not have a list of school supplies to purchase. It might be short and sweet (crayons, pencils, latex-free erasers) or it could lean towards the obscure, filled with brand names and scientific specificity once assumed only to be of use to NASA. (6 cerulean duo-tangs with 1 pocket only, gluten-free organic markers, 12 7 ml glue sticks) (Seriously?!?) Nope. My advice is to buy only what you are 100% (okay 99.9%) certain your students will need until you hear otherwise from their actual classroom teacher. We stock up on the pencils they prefer and lots of looseleaf. We have a binder or two and several notebooks that are easy to take to school on the first day, but really, that’s it. Until I know for sure their 2015-2016 teachers actually need 40 large plastic zipper bags and the 800 pack of crayons, I’ll wait. Thanks.
Revisit the Summer Bucket List
I know you are tired. I know that some days you feel you are spent and couldn’t possibly drum up an ounce of energy to do anything else, but look at it this way. The kids, once the school year starts, will be so bogged down with homework, extra-curricular activities, lessons, organized sports, and early morning band practices, that you will be wishing for a break. Do one last fun thing before summer ends. It doesn’t have to be a trip to Disney World. (Although, more power to you if you can arrange that!) It can be something as simple as a picnic lunch outside or an afternoon playing board games. The important thing is to choose something that was a goal on the kids’ summer list. In my family, both kids made a list of about 10 things each. Fill their buckets in the summer and reap the rewards all year long.
Start actively noticing the school zone signs in your neighbourhood. It has been 8 weeks since you have had to slow down as you drive by. It is good practice to seriously obey the speed limits that are posted where children are present. It doesn’t matter if everyone else around you seems hellbent on racing to the next stop sign. You need to do what is right. Don’t be the distracted driver accidentally passing a stopped school bus or getting a speeding ticket in a school zone. Think of your PTA (parent council? home and school? parent teacher group?) cred! Not to mention the awful and very real consequences that could occur if you ignore those signs.
So there you have it. Six surefire ways to make the transition from summer fun to scholastic excellence. May you have a glorious last week of summer vacation and may the school year ahead be filled with positive experiences and reasonable expectations. Here’s to lifelong learning!