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Back to School Basics

Getting ready to head back to school - how one family handles the bedtime routine, supply shopping and readying the wardrobe for fall.

There have been a few nights this week that my soon-to-be kindergartener has gone to bed well past 9 p.m., due to her older brother's athletic events... Since it's summer, and she can sleep in, it hasn't been a big deal. But last night I realized I really need to start reining it in and getting the kids ready to go back to school. 

As much as I try to deny the summer is coming to an end, the school supplies are on the shelves, the summer clothes are on clearance and the emails from school are increasing. For our family, the kids go back to school before Labor Day, so the time is now for bringing bedtimes back to a more "reasonable" hour, getting our school supplies in order and going through the wardrobes to see what we've outgrown and what we need to shop for.

Bedtime adjustment is more of a challenge with my teenager, as the kindergartener is actually quite tired at the end of a busy summer day! For the teen, we try to give him a range, and then lovingly nag him until he complies. It's important to remind our kids (especially the older ones who seem to need evidence) that their bodies and minds need a certain amount of sleep to perform well, and to stay healthy. Most "experts" recommend shifting bedtime forward about 15 minutes every few days (or weeks, depending on when you start), until you get to where you need to be. For the younger set, it's a great idea to get into a routine that will resemble a school night — dinner, play time, bath, reading, hopping into bed, etc.

It's also important to consider the wake-up time — they need to get used to waking up earlier (some parents, do, too!), so there will be time to get dressed, have breakfast, do the hygiene routine and be ready for the bus or carpool in time. For some families, the times will change this year if their kids are moving up to the next level of school, and this will take some adjustment.   

For school supplies, we like to reuse what we can — sure, it's frugal, and I like to save a buck, but it's also "green" and provides an opportunity to talk to our kids about being fortunate enough to be able to walk into a store and buy nice, new, shiny things every year if they need them. There's nothing wrong with sharpening the colored pencils and putting them back in the same pencil box from last year — the cardboard box they come in will be trashed soon, anyway, so there's really no difference. (I'm not making my kids bring 2" stubs of pencils and broken crayons to school, even though they'd still survive if I did.) 

I'm not a fan of driving all over the state to find the cheapest 2-pocket folder, so I usually eyeball the ads, and then we go to one place, armed with our updated list from school and get it all done in one trip. We might make an extra trip for a calculator or backpack, if we need to. Everything gets labeled and put into the backpack, and then into the front closet, ready for school. Each family has their own traditions and habits here — my only advice for this is not to wait too long, or you'd end up driving all over looking for college-ruled paper or the requested Prang brand watercolors that have been requested, or paying $7 for them at an office supply store (hmmm, sound like I'm talking from experience?). 

For the back to school clothes shopping, it requires some painful work in advance. The worst part is requiring a teenage boy to try to everything that is "questionable" — i.e. all of his pants and jeans, long-sleeved shirts, and those t-shirts that look a little short. We do it over the course of a day or two, and make piles of clothes for the trash, Goodwill, and to share with some friends from school. Shoes that are too small, if in good shape, go to one of our favorite organizations, Soles for Jesus (our school has a collection bin all year long). Everything is washed and put away or packed up. 

Then we make a list of needs for the fall (new shoes for school and basketball, winter jacket, jeans, etc.), and we go out and get it done. Shopping for a 5-year-old girl who loves clothes is a lot easier than a 13-year-old boy who would rather not have his mom asking him how the waist of the jeans he's trying on fits, but over the course of the next few weeks, we'll be ready to rock, until either of them hits a growth-spurt, and we have to do it all over again! 

For some families, you might need to talk to younger children about spending time away from home, and what a typical school day will be like. You might need to prepare your older students for being more prepared and organized, or how to manage time after school with homework, extracurriculars, etc. It might be a good idea to help reluctant readers get back into reading every day or night if they've gotten out of the habit, or to break out some flashcards — or even check out the Khan Academy math tutorials to brush up if kids are feeling nervous. 

After the big tasks have been accomplished, I start looking at my old posts, blogs, and cookbooks, looking for inspiration for quick and healthy breakfast foods, fresh ideas for the the daily school lunches I will need to pack, and hitting up the Pinterest boards I've been pinning all those cute notes and treats for teachers and kids to send throughout the year. I am working on a better system for organizing all of the paper and information that we will be bombarded with, and on the best family calendar system for our changing needs (traveling spouse, multiple sports teams, work deadlines and projects, special days, field trips, social engagements, etc.) — more coming on all of that in the next few weeks...

How does your family get ready for back-to-school? Any tips to share? Teachers, any advice for parents prepping their kids for returning to the classroom?

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Jill Baker July 20, 2012 at 01:17 PM
I know, I know.... We got the supply shopping over with last night so we don't have to think about it again until the first day of school. :)
Colleen July 20, 2012 at 02:26 PM
My suggestion...I am in denial and not even giving it a thought yet! Ha! OK, so maybe that isn't the best way to deal with it. Bring on the suggestions for keeping school paperwork under control!!! Oh my....least year I felt like I was drowning in it. I missed more than 1 deadline for returning paper to school. Nice job my friend!!! And we love Soles for Jesus too!!!
J D July 20, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Sorry, but I won't do any school supply shopping til August! We still have a lot of summer to go, and we are enjoying every minute of it!
JustMe July 20, 2012 at 03:23 PM
Another year of never ending supply lists and rising student fees. Glad I don't have to do that anymore.
Me in the Falls July 21, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Here's my best tip for school supply shopping. Give each child their own cart at Shopko ( or your other favorite shopping place) and their own shopping list. Help your younger one if they need it. Go to the school supply area and park the carts off to the side in the main aisle. You stay by the carts, the children go into the aisles with their lists and bring back things to the carts. You approve the items before they go in the carts. They keep running back in filling their list and bringing stuff back for you to approve. At the end, help them find the few things they couldn't find on their own. Then at checkout, ring up each cart separately and bag each cart separately. This method lets the child choose their own things, let's them see how much their stuff costs, and makes it so that you do not need to sort the supplies out when you get home. I've been doing this with my kids for a few years and it works great for us.

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