Fall is my favorite time of year. I love pumpkin spice-flavored everything, fall leaves, warm sweaters, and most of all, sending my lovable knucklehead kids back to school. The prospect of having seven and a half hours without enduring the sibling bickering, constant pleas for snacks and electronics, and the chaos of multiple kids running amok through the house sounds heavenly.
And yet I know the novelty will wear off once we’re a few weeks into the school year. It’ll be harder to drag us all out of bed so early, homework will be a chore, and any number of “extras” will add to the stress. I know (the hard way) that it’s easier to do the thankless task of maintaining a working system than it is to fix a broken one. So I have a few techniques to help you keep your school year running smoothly.
1. Clean and Tidy
My kitchen table is the landing pad for just about any papers, kid’s artwork, coupons, or “that one thing I don’t exactly know what it is or what to do with it yet.” It’s an utter mess. And unfortunately, it’s the only flat surface my kids have to do their homework.
Studies have demonstrated that excess clutter has a distracting, stimulating effect on the brain. We all have different tolerances to clutter, so your little piles of this-and-that might be much more disturbing to your child’s brain than it is to yours. It’s hard for kids to concentrate after a long day as it is, so let’s encourage focus by clearing out study areas before homework time.
Also, have all the supplies your child might need to do their homework easily accessible. Usually this includes pencils, pens, an eraser, pencil sharpener, crayons, colored pencils, markers, scissors, and glue.
2. Connect with the School Staff
On weekdays, your child’s teacher will probably have more face-time with your child than you will. He/she will need to be your biggest ally (after any spouse, of course) when it comes to parenting your school-age kid. Keep an open line of communication with them.
Last year one of my children started having some behavioral problems at home, which I chalked up to just being a moody kid. I didn’t check in with her teacher about it, and by the time parent/teacher conferences came around, I realized we had a full-blown problem on our hands. I didn’t realize she had been acting out at school as well. At her age, it would have still been appropriate to be checking in with her teacher every once in a while, and if we had been doing that, we’d have caught it sooner. I really dislike helicopter parenting, but I think I swung too far in the other direction, and it took some extra work to help her get back on the right track.
Additionally, the other staff at your school are also really helpful. The office staff, teaching aids, specialty teachers, nurses, counselors, and principal all play an important role in your child’s education, and it’s important to keep a good rapport with them, too.
3. Routine, Routine, Routine
If we even had a summer routine, it’s broken down and now my three kids roam the house from dawn to dusk like wild pillagers, looking for anything that they haven’t already played with 10 times in the last week (and snacks). I am looking forward to having us all on a routine again.
Just because your kids aren’t in preschool anymore doesn’t mean they don’t need routines any less. Heck, I’m thirty-something and even I do much better on a routine. There is a catch, though, which is this: you need to actually stick to the routines for them to work. Then your children will learn what is expected of them, and when. We have gotten into routines for getting ready for the day in the morning, getting ready for bed, and what happens after school.
In our house, our after-school routine looks like this: We come in the door, my kids empty out their lunch boxes in the kitchen, and then they sit right down at the kitchen table to empty out their backpacks and do their homework. I receive any papers that have come home and recycle (SLYLY!) the ones that aren’t important, which helps us with clutter. I stay in the kitchen washing lunch box dishes and prepping dinner, where I am easily accessible to answer questions they have or give directions. Only after they’re done are they allowed to go play, and since we’ve stuck to the routine, they don’t ask otherwise. The homework is done, the whining is minimized, and we’re all winners.
4. Good Nutrition and Sleep
First, a caveat: We mothers are all human and imperfect. Sometimes there’s no time for a proper meal, or there’s that one night that your kid needs to stay up to finish a project. You are still a good mom. Flexibility is in your job description. Tomorrow is a new day.
That being said, we’ve come a long way about understanding how different foods affect the body and mind. Healthy fats are vital for forming healthy brains, and some sources of these healthy fats are fish, ground flaxseed, non-skim milk, avocados, walnuts, and olive oil. Proteins are great for building muscles, and after all, don’t your kids want to grow up “big and strong?” Proteins are also great for helping the body to feel full longer (helping with concentration in school), and some sources are dairy products, nuts, meats, eggs, and beans. Carbohydrates are a mixed bag. Complex carbohydrates give your body energy, and if you eat the whole grain variety, also add fiber to your diet. Added sugars, even honey and other natural sugars, put stress on they body. And while a child’s body is usually pretty resilient about metabolizing them, over time as a person ages the body’s mechanism for metabolizing them becomes fatigued and it leads to a whole slew of problems, including obesity. I’m pretty strict when it comes to how much extra sugar I let my kids have. My kids do eat a lot of cheese, nuts, and fruit for snacks.
Sleep is also vital. If a child is doesn’t regularly get proper sleep, it may cause declines in impulse control, concentration, memory, and immune function. On top of that, chronic sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, type II diabetes, and even mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. To say it’s important is an understatement! Kids in lower elementary grades should get 10-11 hours of sleep per night. Upper elementary needs 9-10 hours, and teenagers need 8-9 hours. Using a bedtime routine at the same time every day (yes, on the weekends too!) is often good for helping young ones get to sleep, as is having a no-electronics after bedtime rule for older ones. In our family, we leave our phones in the kitchen at night.