Back to School Education Parenting

Back to School – Getting Out the Door

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

It’s back to school time again, and that means morning chaos.  At one point, we had four kids going to three different locations every morning, plus ourselves to get ready.  It wasn’t easy, but I have a few tricks that work to make the back to school season a little easier.

  • Stagger wake up times.  There is no sense in all four of our kids getting up at the exact same time and then fighting for the bathroom.  Our teenage daughter gets up first—she requires the most time in the bathroom, so she has to be the one to drag herself out of bed the earliest.  Next our youngest daughter gets a turn.  The two girls leave early with me.  The boys get their turns next, and have a bit more time to get out the door with dad.
  • Lay out clothes the night before.  Our kids pick their outfits for school before they go to bed at night.   They have their homework done, their backpacks ready, and everything they are taking with them set out by the front door.
  • Pack lunches early.  For us, it works best to pack lunches in the morning—my husband does it while I am in the shower.  But it would be great to have it done the night before, too, in the fridge and ready to go.
  • Set limits—Neither of our daughters, during the teen years, would ever leave for school if we did not set limits on the amount of time spent in the bathroom, our rule that she has to make time for breakfast before she leaves, and our unwillingness to write her an excuse for a tardy to class that would have been easily avoided.
  • Keep things simple.  We do cereal for breakfast during the week and save big breakfasts for when we have more time on the weekend mornings.
  • Realize that the best laid plans will still sometimes go awry, and that all you can do is be flexible, go with it, and try to laugh it off.

We’re down to our last one child heading back to school – but she has to manage her schedule around her brother-in-law, who is getting ready for work, her pregnant sister, who has to pee every five seconds, and her niece, who is potty training. Yes, our circus has changed over the years, but these tips still help keep us all sane.


Back to School Groove

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

It feels like summer’s barely started and already stores are showcasing their “back to school” items. Aisles once filled with picnic baskets and coolers have given way to pencils and notebooks. A new backpack, supplies, and a broken bank account later for school clothes, the shopping is done.

No matter the age of the child, it’s a big adjustment getting used to the rude early awakening that first school morning. Gone are the summer days of sleeping in, and here comes the morning chaos.

About a week before school starts, we set our children’s alarm clock progressively earlier so their internal clock can adjust. It doesn’t have to be the exact wake up time but it should be close. Once school begins,  we cope by:

  • Packing lunches the night before and make sure ice packs are in the freezer and ready
  • Signing papers, completing homework, and making sure everything is in the backpack the night before
  • Feeding them a healthy breakfast

It’s also a great time to talk about schedule expectations for the new school year such as after school activities, homework, and curfew. How do you prepare for the new school year?

Healthy Eating

Back to School: Healthy Cold Lunches

Schools are burdened with responsibility when it comes to doing right by our kids, so it’s no wonder they take what shortcuts they can when meeting nutritional needs – things like classifying ketchup as a vegetable serving. Packing cold lunch for your school-age children will not only ensure that they are taking foods that they’ll actually eat (and be able to identify) but you can also make sure they are eating as healthy as possible. You probably aren’t faring much better than a typical hot lunch if you send the average cold lunch with your child consisting of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, potato chips, cookies, and the banana they throw away because it’s “mushy.”

The first major change you can make is switching to whole grain bread. Whole wheat doesn’t have to be full of nuts and grains (although if your kids will eat this bread it’s worth it), and they now have bread on the market that looks like white bread but still has all of the nutritional value of whole grain.

Peanut butter and jelly is not a bad sandwich choice, but if your child is a bologna kind of kid, you can make a major difference in the amount of unhealthy fat and preservatives your child is eating by switching to a low-fat turkey breast deli meat. Another culprit, for both kids and adults, is mayonnaise. Mayo is hard to keep cold enough to be safe, and switching to mustard saves a ton of fat grams and calories!

Potato chips can be replaced with wheat crackers, dried fruit, celery sticks or carrots. Send dessert, but make it a small square of dark chocolate. Ask your kids to help you pack, and make them aware of healthy versus unhealthy choices. By having control over some of the choices, they’ll form lifelong healthy habits.

Looking for a way to make life easier when it comes to cold lunches? iHeartOrganzing and Fabulously Frugal tackle how to make it a painless process that gets your kids involved and gets them eating well.

Education Let's Talk

#BacktoSchool: The Battle of Homework Hill

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

School will be back in session here soon, and once again we’ll begin the battle of homework hill. You know, the part where teachers assign huge projects, send them home for the kids to do, and leave unsuspecting parents to pick up the pieces the night before the project is due.

The thing is, kids need parents to be part of their success academically. They need you to teach them how to prioritize homework over video games; they need you to teach them how to break a big project down into manageable steps.

Doing homework at the end of a long work day, which usually means sitting at the computer for even longer than we already have isn’t always what we want to do. But as parents, it is certainly something our kids count on us to do.

It’s worse when our kids are not enthused about the assignment. It’s worse when our kids forget to tell us they need poster board (by tomorrow). But it is part of the back to school process.

We also understand that many times our supervision is necessary, which is not really what we want to do at the end of the day, but it is what it is. What makes this experience even more tedious is when the child is downright unhappy with the task of completing their assignments.

In our house, we require homework to be done before anything else. No computer time, no video games, no friend time, no iPods, no dance lessons, no guitar lessons until homework is done. We aren’t ogres. We let them go to the bathroom and get a snack.

Because our kids have had this expectation from the start, we no longer have to wrestle with them. They simply know it has to be done. It saves us the enormous stress of bedtime homework and the even lovelier early morning oops homework.

It’s not a perfect system, and there are times when we just can’t get all the math problems done before we have to head out the door for dance class. But for the most part, we’ve solved the battle of homework hill by making it the top priority – the JOB – for our kids after school.

When other activities are not allowed until after homework is done, kids often find a motivation to complete assignments that weren’t there before. It sets a standard of good priorities and gives your child time to complete everything. They may not be in love with the task but homework (done well) is non-negotiable.

Back to School

Back to School: Been Here Before but It’s All New

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

Well, it has been a while since I’ve found any time to think let alone write. I spent the summer having fun with the kids, and for some reason (probably their ages) I found that it took up almost all my time. That’s not a complaint, just how it turned out.

Now school has begun. My daughter is in third grade, which means transition from earning satisfactories to earning real grades. That makes me nervous. As a parent I believe it is my responsibility to support what she learns in school, and to encourage her to follow rules, follow directions, and strive to meet expectations. I’d like it if she would exceed expectations, but I want her to have fun and stay interested too. Delicate balance, that.

She’s been in school now for nearly a month. She started homework on the second day of school, and the battles have been consistent with what they were last year; however, the stakes are higher. It’s her homework, but I feel the pressure. I’m the one who has to ask if she has homework, knowing every day that she does. I’m the one who has to direct her to sit down to work on it. I’m the one who has to check over it and call her to task if she makes a mistake. Basically I’m the mean mommy overlord.

Then there’s my son who is beginning preschool. He doesn’t start until after Labor Day, but there’s a mountain of paperwork to fill out, a home visit to set up, a staggered entry day for him to attend, then his special services to schedule to address his autism. That doesn’t embarrass me or scare me for my son, but it does mean a lot more to keep up with making me his advocate.

My daughter has already noticed the different level of involvement I put in. She doesn’t fully understand the why, and points out the lack of fairness. I struggle to help her understand her new level of responsibility as a third grader and older sister, and to understand the differing needs of her brother as he’s entering preschool.

My mommy guilt level feels a bit high right now, no matter how much I try to stay focused on what needs doing for each of my children and loving them. I’ve already caught myself a few times stressing out, and baking more cookies than is wise. My husband has been doing his part, but even he looks at me with that pre-stress meltdown expression that has me scrambling to make sure things don’t crash around our ears.

Fortunately, things really are well in hand thanks to my organizational skills. It just feels like a lot to deal with. This is that time when things are changing, shifting, and we are trying to find our new normal. I know this. It happens every year, really. Back to school means back to routine and order, but first we must reestablish the routine and order.

And for me, this year’s routine and order is going to involve more.

Here’s hoping the adjustment goes well for us all.

Back to School

New School, New Chart and New Attitude

Getting Real With Veronica Ibarra

When we had first looked into schools for my daughter before her beginning kindergarten my husband and I had many concerns and differing opinions. He had been an Army brat and, for reasons that he could never really explain clearly, he believed that the schools he had attended on the various bases his family had been would be his first choice for our daughter. However, since neither of us was enlisted–him having served his eight years prior to our having kids–private school seemed his second ideal choice for our daughter. That too was not a viable option for us, and neither was homeschooling, so we went to the local magnet school fair.

The options seemed wonderful, with everything from a school focusing on science and technology and Spanish immersion, to Montessori, as well as other schools offering some exciting specializations. We picked our top three choices with our daughter being allowed to pick the order she liked them in and filled out an application for the lottery. As with any lottery we have ever played, we did not win, leaving us with the local public school.

Neither of us were really fans of the public school system in general, but as I had survived my entire public school education from K-12 and managed to get into college and graduate with a bachelors, I knew it wasn’t going to be the worst thing for our daughter. Her public school was highly structured. At first I didn’t think much about it one way or the other. Our daughter was making friends and she seemed to be doing well with all the target goals. Talking to my parent-friends at other schools they seemed very impressed with her curriculum. Even in kindergarten she had reading homework and spelling words to learn, with a spelling bee!

However, towards the end of the year our daughter had a mixed feelings about the prospect of first grade. We applied to the magnet school lottery again, but as before we were left with allowing her to continue on with her public school education. Behavior issues began to crop up. Her desire to socialize with peers was at times interfering with class activities, and she began to struggle with the structure of things. The reports were never horrible, but I got the distinct impression that we needed to do more at home. That’s when I started instituting the behavior/chore chart that was similar to the one they used in her class. It helped, but I could see the strain it put on her and us to be consistent.

Once again we applied to the magnet school lottery and lo and behold we won! So now she is in her second week of second grade at a Montessori school.  I know it’s still too early to really tell anything, but we’re all excited.  She liked her teacher so much that after her first two days she came home and began writing a story she wanted to share in class. Chapter one has three pages. She only ever wanted to draw pictures for her other teachers, and would refuse to write a message on the picture when encouraged.  She is going to have homework, but we haven’t seen any yet, so I’m hoping it will not garner the tantrums of the previous years–I realize that hope may be in vain, but I’m hoping anyway.

In honor of her new school with its differing teaching philosophy I’ve developed a new kind of chore chart at home. Instead of the grid with columns for each day of the week and rows of chores to be done I’m getting more creative. She still needs to be fulfilling her responsibilities and participating in the daily maintenance of living, but I’m trying to be more flexible. I found this Complete the Picture book with 12 different designs and I’m using it to make the charts. This week’s chart–I use that term loosely– is a goldfish jumping out of its fishbowl. Inside the fishbowl I listed all the various chores from daily teeth brushing to the as needed toy pick up. Every time she completes something she puts a sticker in the bowl. The number of stickers at the end of the week will determine our family activity on Saturday, which could be a trip to the zoo, museum, park, or something around the house.

We are going forward with a new attitude, or at least a more hopeful one. My daughter is hoping to have more fun and learn lots of cool things. My husband is hopeful that with our daughter enrolled at the Montessori school that enrolling our son will be easier when his time comes. I’m hopeful for all of the above.

Back to School

Back to School Routines Can Be Stress-Free and Satisfying

Throughout August, MomsGetReal will be celebrating back to school with daily reviews & giveaways. To get us thinking about (can it really be coming up so soon?) school, MomsGetReal™ Featured Contributor Lisa Van De Graaff shares her favorite back to school products and routines.

Here are a few ideas that have made our back-to-preschool routine stress free and more satisfying…

Bento Box
I ordered this box from Pottery Barn, and it fits perfectly inside a standard lunch box. My daughter and I prepare her lunch together so she can make her own healthy choices (apples or grapes, cucumbers or carrots). It is fun for us to load up the little compartments, and she can keep all the elements in one place at lunchtime. I’m considering one for myself…

A Basket
This sits near our front door, and my daughter loads it up with all the things she wishes she could take with her to school but can’t (stuffed animals, flip flops, peanuts, her red sequined purse, etc). I grab it on my way to pick her up after school, so she’ll have her treasures in the car for the ride home. I prefer a basket with a handle across the top, so I can throw it over my arm when lugging my own load of stuff to the car (in order of priority: latte, cell phone, purse, sunglasses, shopping bags, car keys).

Evening Routine
For us, a successful school day starts the evening before. We try to keep a consistent bedtime on school nights: take a bath, eat a healthy supper, make the next day’s lunch, set out school clothes, read, and snuggle. When we put forth this extra effort, the morning is usually smooth sailing.

Remembering our Community
Buying back-to-school supplies is expensive in the best of times, but with the economy in such a slump many families can’t afford the basics. This year, we’ve decided to buy two of everything we need and donate the extra. If we can’t afford to buy two, we don’t need one.

Getting Dirty
I believe Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus is absolutely right: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!” How can a child learn to be an artist without splattering some paint? How can he learn to cook without slopping some batter out of the bowl? How can she build a bridge to a magical place without getting her hands in the mud? School clothing should certainly be clean (at the beginning of the day) and mended, but keeping the apparel practical, washable, and comfortable is far more important to me than fashion. (Fashionable clothes for high tea in the garden are another story to be discussed in a future blog….) Another quick note about clothes: lightweight, long-sleeved shirts can lessen the amount of sunblock she needs on sunny days.

Show and Tell
“What did you learn at school today?” was the standard question at my childhood dinner table. I sometimes had to scramble to remember (or make up) a tidbit, but I always felt listened to as I gave my answer (especially when there were follow-up questions!) We have incorporated this question, or a derivative of it, into our dinner conversation – Each member of the family shares some element of their day, and everyone listens intently. We then follow up with expectations for the next day, which seems to help her get her head around anything that will be out of the ordinary the next day (field trips, substitute teachers, Daddy picking her up instead of Mama, etc).

The Toast
My mother used to get us on the bus and then go out with her best friend on the morning of the first day back at school. She used to tell me it was a planning meeting or some other nonsense. It was actually a celebration, a toast (perhaps with mimosas), to the end of summer (insert tongue in cheek) and a job well done for the mamas. This may be the best back-to-school tradition ever.


Autumn is the Time for Renewal with Zen Shiatsu

MomPower Contributor Lisa Van De Graaff

In Oriental Medicine’s Five-Element Theory, it is the time of Metal. Specifically, the peak time for the Lung Meridian (which brings in the new) and the Large Intestine Meridian (which eliminates that which we no longer need). It is a time of grieving loss and letting go to make room. We may feel our losses more poignantly now, be it the loss of a loved one, the way our children grow up too fast, or that those once perky breasts now tuck into our waistbands. Grief is normal: Feel it, grieve, and let go of what no longer serves you. You will rest more easily when you do, and you will be more prepared for the inward emotional hibernation of winter.

As mothers, we are experts at nurturing. Nurture Metal this season with your breath: Exhale first, emptying yourself of all you don’t need, then inhale and bring in that clean, cool autumn air and let it fill you.


Back to School Time

It’s back to school time here next week, and as Parker will probably tell you, I am all emotional about the prospect of another school year starting. I think it’s worse this year because we just took our daughter, Kira, off to college. She’s 20 years old, so I should feel lucky we got the extra two years to enjoy her at home while she attended community college, but now the house is a little bit quieter, and I’m aware that the kids are all at an age now where they are more independent.

This is also a transitional year for Parker, who will be starting middle school. We live in a small town, so the adjustment is minor; he will simply move to a different wing of the same school he was in. He will still use the same gym, the same choir room, and eat in the same cafeteria.

But still!! My little guy is heading into MIDDLE SCHOOL – the place where the boys start talking and thinking about sex and the girls get boobs and start their periods!! Is it any wonder I’m slightly insane at the prospect??

Do other moms have a tough time seeing their kids grow up? As much as I love seeing my kids’ personalities develop and how much I enjoy watching their individuality establish itself, there are times when I would prefer to simply freeze time and keep them small enough that they will always let me cuddle and kiss them.

For the first time, it dawned on me that we are on the downhill side of parenting. Three of our kids have safely reached adulthood, and while our youngest is only heading into second grade, it sure seems like she is growing up fast and that it won’t be long before we’re taking her off to college too.

I know I can’t stop time. I guess I don’t really want to. I am excited to see what my kids do with their lives and what impact they can make on the world.

And hopefully, they’ll understand if I hold them extra tight and hug them just a little more often over the next few days.