Friday, August 16, 2013

Back-to-school tips from the real experts: Moms

From today's Briefing:

If I followed years of cultivated magazine advice, I would have to wake up at 4 a.m.

No time for exercise? Wake up 30 minutes early. No time for reading? Wake up 15 minutes early. No time for journaling? Wake up 15 minutes early. Want to enjoy solitude and quiet before the day begins? Wake up 30 minutes early.

I learned long ago to read tips and apply only what makes sense for me. With that caveat, at the dawn of this new school year, I offer advice for the beginning and beyond, culled from the people who know as much or more than East Coast magazine editors: real moms who juggle carpools, careers, PTA, housework and more.

Planning ahead

Stephanie says: We start walking through our back-to-school routines several days before school starts. We go to bed at school-night time, lay out clothes before bed, pack backpacks and set them “on-deck” to be taken to the car, and have breakfast at school-day time. Saturday and Sunday before the first day of school, we actually do a dry run, getting out the door, into the car and heading through the carpool lane. It makes the first day of school less stressful for all.

Kari says: I get my life/house organized and situated before the craziness of school starts. I lose total control once I have to deal with homework, show and tell, star of the week, sports practices, etc. I find the more I can get things under control beforehand, the better I am (or the further I get before absolutely losing my mind and my cool).

Ria says: Make sure you always have plenty of computer paper at home and all colors of ink for the printer. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve called a neighbor in a complete panic because the ink was low. Also, keep extra poster board and tri-folds on hand for those projects that go awry at the last moment.

Farrah says: I make sure my daughter is ├╝ber-prepared for school and has everything she needs, but when she brings that first round of homework home and we can’t find acceptable pencils and her little brother hid the sharpener, chaos erupts. So this year, I put together my own box of school supplies and stashed it in a high cabinet. It’s labeled “Mom.”

Establishing responsibilities

Renee says: The most important thing for me to do at the beginning of the school year is to realize that the coming year offers each child new opportunities for growth. Instead of thinking of ways to bring order, I began engaging them in doing some of what I had previously been doing for them: making their lunches, picking out and organizing their supplies, setting their clothes out. They gained confidence and learned to contribute to the family and others in the process.

Amy says: We established a couple of routines/responsibilities when the kids were young. They unpack their backpacks and leave folders in a certain spot for me to look through and sign. They also take their lunch boxes and water bottles to the sink. In the morning, I leave their folders back on the counter along with a lunch. It is their job to pack the backpack as well as choose their own snack for the day.

Getting dressed

Ria says: Have girls choose their clothes the night before. This includes all hair accessories, socks, shoes, camisoles, everything. Girls are dramatic about this and can set the entire household into a tailspin as they are searching for that one item!

Tracy says: For my son with ADD, I absolutely had to put one of those cubbies in his closet labeled “Monday-Friday.” He and I together would choose a week’s worth of clothes and put them in the cubby, and that’s what he had to live with for the week. Otherwise, clothes would hold him up every morning.

Marie says: During chilly winter mornings, getting out of a warm bed is the hardest part. Warm school clothes in the dryer to give your kids something snuggly to get into. If you have a gas fireplace, flip on the fireplace first thing.

Packing lunches

Stephanie B. says: I plan lunches by printing and creating options for lunch combinations: almonds, string cheese and crackers plus an apple, or a tortilla with cream cheese and some rolled up ham, etc. It helps them to pick things and me to pack lunches the night before.

Beth says: If your kids are older than first grade, have them make their own lunches for the next day after they finish their homework and before they start free-time activities.

Making memories

Stephanie says: We take a video of the girls at the breakfast table before they leave every year on the first day and ask the same question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Shari says: After school, have your kids rate their day from 1 to 10. Have them tell you one good thing that happened in school and one negative thing. Ask: What could you have done to make today a better day?

Beth says: Plan an after-school celebration the first day. I took my kids out for ice cream when they were younger. Now that I have kids getting out at different times, I plan a dessert for the evening meal, so everyone will stay at the table longer and we can take turns telling about our day.

Offering encouragement

Ria says: Each child truly is unique and has their own gifts. Strengths and weaknesses vary in academics, athletics, and most important, character. The best encouragement I can offer my children is to do everything with excellence.

Tracy says: We encouraged each boy every day by saying, “Make this YOUR best day!” I truly believe that you can encourage your kids and love them through just about anything!

Being realistic

Tammy says: Accept that you won’t be perfect and that you will make a mess of something. Don’t forget to pray for your kids each day; that will cover all our mistakes!

Shannon says: We wing it, run late, are unorganized. We don’t lay an outfit out the night before. But every day on the way to school, I grab my son’s hand in the front seat and pray.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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