Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Surviving School: A 5-Step Guide

The following is an excerpt from my book, Mommy Simplicity: Finding Calm in the Chaos.

Surviving School: A 5-Step GuideSchool. I don’t know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with school.

In August, I’m completely obsessed with school. I love shopping for new school supplies, the smell of fresh crayons and newly sharpened pencils delight me. I love getting my boys their back-to-school haircuts, freshening their wardrobes and spiffing them up after a summer of chlorine-filled pools acting in place of their daily showers (I know I’m not the only one…). I’m filled with relief and a sense of freedom as I drop them off at school, giggling as I head out for a coffee-laden wander through Target child-free (again, I know I’m not the only one — we’re in there clinking coffee cups as we pass in the aisles). I eagerly look forward to every piece of paper that comes home, read every word the teachers email us and enjoy looking for new ideas to make lunch boxes fun.

By May, eegads, are we over it. I haven’t signed a folder in a month — and I’m not even sure the first grader knows where his folder is. We forget to pack snack at least twice a week, and I cannot wait for summer break just so *I* can have time off from the terror of 4th grade math homework. Teacher emails with the subject line “special project!” make me want to hurl my laptop across the room. My neighborhood mom friends now meet for margarita lunches instead of morning coffees. The lunch boxes are dusty in the cupboard, and I’m pretty sure they’re eating ice cream and French fries for lunch. From the looks on the teachers’ faces, I think they’re just as over it as I am, and I’m bringing Sonic Happy Hour drinks up to the school with prayers that it’s not my kids making them consider early retirement.

Homeschooling mamas, I really don’t know how you do it. My hat’s off to you.

School doesn’t have to be this stressful, of course. Planning ahead and going into the school year with a game plan can make the whole year go smoother.

Get the right supplies.

It can seem like schools are sending out longer supply lists every year, but it’s important to remember these lists are the tools your children will be using all day, every day, for at least nine months. Before heading to the store, check your home stash to see if you have any of the requested supplies already on hand. Do the bulk of your supply shopping kid-free if possible, especially if you have younger children. Most kids gravitate toward the pricier or fancier options not on the list, and it can be challenging to argue prices and required lists with kids in the middle of a crowded shopping aisle. They’ll grab whatever they want, whether they actually need it or not. After you get what they really need, take the kids shopping for a few fun supplies that can really show their personality.

Don’t stress the back-to-school wardrobe.

Many parents feel like they *have to* rush out before school starts and buy their child a whole new wardrobe. You don’t. In many places, the first month or two of school is still summery weather, so they can continue wearing what they already have. Here in Texas, it can be months before my kids even need a long-sleeve shirt.

Instead of springing for an entire new closet of clothes, evaluate what they already have. Get rid of anything outgrown or too stained and holey to wear in public. Check that shorts, skirts, tops and tank tops fall within the boundaries of school dress code policies, and make sure you have one or two pairs of pants and a jacket that fits in case cooler weather sneaks up. Then don’t stress. Pick up what your child needs as she needs it — it’s much easier on the budget and less wasteful of perfectly serviceable clothing.

Plan a homework spot at home.

Put together a homework station, just a simple caddy, drawer or shelf of extra school supplies. Include a nice selection of sharp pencils, a pencil sharpener, a large eraser, a few pens (including a red pen for marking), presharpened color pencils or fresh crayons, loose-leaf paper, and a ruler. I also keep a few sheets of poster board and a bin of construction paper, blank index cards, glue sticks, white glue and markers for last-minute projects. I prefer to keep these separate from our regular art supplies, since my kids love to do art on their own, and I like to have fresh supplies ready for school projects to avoid late-night trips to the store.

Plan ahead for school lunches.

If your children buy lunch at school, go ahead and fill up their lunch account with money or keep an envelope of small cash set aside for the inevitable cry of “I need lunch money!” If you have younger children, check into the option of limiting what they can buy if they have access to sugary treats in the lunch line. My children usually bring lunch from home, but I always keep a few bucks in their school lunch accounts in case we forget to grab the lunch box or if something unforeseen happens. If you send lunch from home, check your supplies to be sure you have a sturdy lunch box, reusable containers, and even small cloth napkins for your kids to use. Consider putting together a week or two worth of lunch menus or a choose-your-own lunch chart with options for sandwiches, finger foods, side dishes, beverages and healthy desserts to make putting together a healthy lunch fast and easy. Older kids can make their own lunches, but a menu or chart of options can help them make healthy decisions.

Decide in advance what extracurricular activities each child will participate in.

As much fun as sports, music, and clubs are, too many activities can wear both you and your kids out, and school work can suffer. Sit down before school starts to discuss what activities each person wants to do, and create a calendar that shows at-a-glance who has what activities each day. Your daughter’s soccer schedule and your son’s band practices affect not just them, but their siblings and you too, so it’s important to consider each person’s schedule for the simple sanity of the whole family.

This post is an excerpt from my book, Mommy Simplicity: Finding Calm in the Chaos. If you found it helpful, please check out my book on Amazon. It’s available in both print and Kindle versions.

Surviving School: A 5-Step Guide