Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Back-to-school strategies from moms and students

From last week's Briefing

One of my recent discoveries is the website Pinterest, a virtual bulletin board where users “pin” things they find online and want to remember.
I’ve had to impose a daily time limit on my Pinterest browsing. It’s the kind of site that sucks you in. Not only do you post your own treasures, but you can also view other people’s boards.
Before long, I’m convinced that I need to redecorate the dining room, plant an English garden in the backyard, bake batches of chocolate peanut butter brownies, direct my children to create melted-crayon masterpieces and design a Christmas wreath made entirely of hand-built felt poinsettias.
What I really need right now is a bulletin board of back-to-school tips. All those great hints I’ve heard or witnessed over the years but have inconsistently incorporated into our routine.
I quizzed some of my savvy mom friends for advice on how they create a smooth transition from summer break to fall semester. Here is some of their advice.
Take it easy: Cyndi, whose younger child will be a senior in high school this year, emphasizes the importance of easing into school preparation.
“Never rush them into preparing, and don’t get things that they say that they don’t need, even if you really, really think that they do.”
Boys especially need a laid-back approach to their wardrobe, she advises. 
“They don’t really like to stand out. Let kids find their own style, especially in that awkward middle school and high school time.” 
Mental exercise: Allison likes to mentally walk through the first-day-of-school process before it begins. Two kids at school means two sets of registration forms, two backpacks, two lunchboxes, two school spirit shirts, two sets of school supplies.
(More than one mom strongly suggests buying pre-packaged supplies from school, if that’s an option.)
Early to bed, early to rise: Melinda starts her kids’ bedtime routines a week before school starts. She also wakes her daughter and son up early the week before, so they’ll have time to adjust before the big day.
Morning rush hour: Beth plans ahead for the inevitable rushed mornings. That means clothes are laid out the night before. And before the kids are even awake, she packs lunches, makes breakfast and loads the van.
“I also say, ‘This is what we are having for breakfast,’ not ‘What do you want for breakfast?’ That has seemed to help a bit.”
This school year will bring a change to her house: No television in the mornings.
Don’t sweat the small stuff: Kristin, mom of twins, believes in choosing battles. “Don’t get into fights over little things that don’t really matter, i.e. how to do their hair, unmatched clothing, etc. You will have plenty of things to hash it out about that really are important.”
Dinnertime: Suzy, who works outside the home and is an active volunteer, has been collecting new slow-cooker recipes to make evenings smoother.
I also quizzed some smart students about back-to-school advice for high school and college.
Branch out: Leah, who is starting her sophomore year of high school, emphasizes the need to expand your circle of friends.
“Don’t have a set group of friends in mind and seclude yourself to only them. It’s definitely good to stay faithful and have a ‘shoulder to cry on,’ but there is no obligation to hang with one specific crowd.”
Get involved: Sarah, a recent graduate of the University of Texas, advises college freshmen to find activities quickly.
“Moving away from home was really hard for me, and I was really homesick for the first semester. I learned that I didn’t really know how to make friends, since I’d been around roughly the same group of kids my whole life.”
Engage in class discussions: From Sasha, who is starting his final year of art school: “You’ll get more out of the class and the experience as a whole, and in my experience, professors will have more respect and understanding for you if you participate.”
Leave your comfort zone: Tara, a college sophomore, suggests: “Talk to people who you wouldn’t normally talk to. Network and put yourself out there. To meet people you sometimes have to be the first one to say hi or start an awkward conversation.”
That’s good advice for all of us — students or not.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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