August is coming to a close, and the three remaining kids at home have all returned to school for the year. One has gone back to USC for her sophomore year, then I have a junior & senior to keep me running like a mad woman for the next nine months!
You would think after twenty years of “First Days” (my oldest is 24 now) I would have the ability to pull off a flawless First Day, but the truth is, I don’t have a clue. There is always something that doesn’t go as planned, which is why this year we found ourselves doing back-to-school shopping at 10:30 pm the night before classes were to resume!
While I may not have mastered the art of a perfect First Day of School, I have learned several things over the last twenty years that do make those First Days and every day thereafter so much easier to manage.
So, here are eight simple things you can try to make the beginning of the school year a wee bit easier in your home!
1. Plan your breakfast/mornings ahead of time to minimize chaos. Plan out your menu and even go as far to set the table the evening before.
Don’t teach your kids to eat on the run, it’s a horrible habit that is very difficult to break and can lead to other unhealthy habits as they get older!
Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate. If you want to serve cereal and milk, by all means serve it, just go an extra step by setting out bowls, spoons, juice glasses, etc., early so you aren’t slinging everything around the next morning trying to rush out the door!
If you prefer to cook, plan ahead and make sure you are up early enough to do it! Breakfast doesn’t have to be elaborate, just planned and easy to execute. Pancakes (yes, from a mix) are always an easy option as are scrambled eggs and bacon. One of my favorite things to make for morning breakfast is homemade muffins. These are so easy and so flavorful. Give them a try!
2. Sign all paperwork and homework the day before. There is no worse feeling than to have a wad of paperwork shoved into your face five minutes before you walk out the door for school. Seriously, it DOES NOT get any better when your kids become teenagers, so make the conscious effort to ask your kids if they have anything that you need to sign or review when they are pulling things out of their backpacks for homework.
3. Set aside a jar or special bank to hold only lunch/fee money. As each pay day arrives, go ahead and count out what you know your kids need for lunch each day (should they buy) and then stick an extra $5, $10, or $15 in the jar for emergency fees. If your kids carry their lunch, still have an emergency fee jar available. That speedo for swim team that was $50 last year may have gone up to $65 this year, tee-shirts for homecoming are $15 x’s two or three, and for some reason there is never enough notice when field trips are planned. This emergency fee money is one of the best things I ever implemented in our home!
4. If you plan for your kids to carry their lunches, have them assist you in packing them the night before. While you make sandwiches or pasta salad, they can be getting ziplock bags, fruit, chips or crackers, and granola bars to add. Not a fan of store bought packaged food? Try this easy, peasy granola bar recipe. You’ll all love this one and the kids can mix them up as well!
We have a tradition of having homemade chicken salad each year for the first day (and many other days through the year). While I love to take the time to bake my own chicken, for the salad, sometimes, grabbing a rotisserie chicken from the deli is a delicious, time-saving option when lacrosse practice has run over the night before.
Also, pack lunches in age appropriate bags or containers. My 16 year old son has absolutely no desire to carry a lunch box. He is also a growing body builder, so he doesn’t carry sandwiches, but grilled chicken. We found a great lunch kit that allows him to pack his protein powder and aminos as well as help him measure out the chicken or salmon he might carry.
Now my seventeen year old daughter? Give that girl a monogrammed bag please!
5. Keep a dry erase calendar in your kitchen. The first of every month take 20-30 minutes and update it with everything you know that is on your schedule from dentist appointments to sports practice.
I also add holidays, youth group events, my personal schedule and my husbands travel schedule. You can also color-code this, giving each family member their own color. When the kids are older have them add things that come up after your calendar is up to help keep everything current. Doing this becomes a visual reminder for everyone in the house, especially teenagers who need that reminder of some things every now and then.
6. Purchase a day planner and package of colored pens for each preteen and teenager to help teach them how to organize their life and time.
There are some awesome planners that begin in July (generally when early practices for high school sports begin) and are tailored to fit the school year by month. I also use the same style calendar so that we are on the same page. Our planners are organized so that homework is one color, sports practices another color, appointments yet another color, and youth group/church activities another. It works well for keeping track of little details most teenagers seem to forget. This has worked wonderful for my girls, and now I have my son doing this as well. You can find adorable planners at Barnes and Noble, Swoozies, and Target. Boys of course want a more manly look, so check out Staples for a professional planner for him.
7. Set a specific time for turning off social media and going to bed. My kids have never been allowed to watch TV on school days, but now we face the battle of Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Netflix on their iGadgets and Kindles. While I would like to think that they are old enough for me not to have to monitor them, they are still kids. At 10:00 PM I want the electronic devices off. If they don’t comply, the item becomes mine. Rest is so important to these growing bodies. Even though they don’t want to admit they are tired, their bodies are whipped, and they need at least seven hours of sleep. How else does a 16 year old boy recover from growing 12 1/2 inches in two years?!
8. Start each day with a devotion or prayer. This is a great way to begin the school day on a positive note. You can find devotional books with little 2-minute devos at Walmart, Barnes and Noble and (don’t laugh) truck stops like TA or Loves. Let the kids read so that it makes a little more of an impact on them. We kicked our year off with Audley offering a prayer for our kids. It was such a special time, especially since he is usually on the road traveling for work. It was also a reminder that while you often hear “it takes a village to raise a child,” the reality is 95% of what a child learns and habits they develop come from the home, so why not give them positive vibes to carry with them through life.
I hope your First Days and all the ones following while not perfect, are a wee bit easier to manage this year!