The books are covered, the shoes are scuffed and the novelty of their new teacher and classmates has worn off. Sally Morrell talks about staying on track once the school year has kicked off.
This year you promised the school year would be different. This year you promised to be organised, up-to-date and the picture of calm. But only weeks into the school year those resolutions have already been forgotten under the weight of work, washing and homework worry.
Or maybe you are a first time school parent who thought it would all be so much easier once they got to school, only to find life has never felt busier. But it’s not too late to take control. A bit of organisation, a bit of planning ahead and a lot of communication will lower everyone’s stress levels.
Avoid the morning panic
A sure way to start the day off badly is to indulge in the morning panic. In the rush to find clean clothes, pack lunches, eat breakfast, brush teeth, finish homework and get out the door before the school bell goes, no-one ends up happy.
The time to set up the routines that will stand you in good stead in the years to come falls between the more leisurely pace of the pre-school years and the frenetic pace of the full-on later school years.
As a first time school mother, one of the traps may be that you haven’t used an alarm clock to kick start the morning, but have relied on early-rising kids waking you up in time. When they sleep in, you are way behind before you’ve even got a foot out of bed.
And what about when you think you can get everything ready for school the night before, but then decide you’re too tired – plenty of time for all that in the morning. There never is. Kids like routine. Find the routine that suits the rhythm of your family and they will usually be happy to stick to it.
One way might be to set an alarm and get everyone up at the same time each day regardless of age. Then it’s straight into dressing, eating, packing lunches and so forth in plenty of time.
Adopt the attitude that if a child can do something for itself, then they should be encouraged to do it. Even younger primary school children can dress themselves, brush their teeth and pack their bags. Above all, do not put the TV on or you may find yourself asking them to do all this ten or fifteen times a morning!
One Mum swears by this, coupled with a small whiteboard on the fridge. ‘It’s got the list of what they each have to do on it - and there is no TV until there is a tick by every task,’ she said. ‘It’s not unusual to find everyone ready for school half an hour before it’s time to leave. The pull of the morning cartoons is more powerful than all your nagging. So use it as a reward, rather than a given.’
Set up an after-school routine
A similar routine to the morning is handy at night. Get the kids used to the idea that a quick after-school snack is followed by play, then homework, dinner, bath, books and, finally, bed. And, well before bedtime, the bag is packed for the morning with all the things they will need for the next day and the clothes are ready to wear.
One mother of four boys has a large colored toy box for each child. ‘I got so sick of hunting for everything every morning. We could never find the library book on library day or the sports shirt on sports day. Now, even if it isn’t exactly Home Beautiful décor, at least we never lose anything anymore,’ she says.
Another parent found it too hard to remember which child needed sports clothes or library books on which day. ‘I ended up getting everyone’s timetable up on the fridge. So for each child there is a Monday to Friday list of what they do at school that day, what they need to bring and what they might be doing after school,’ said one mother of three.
‘And then I also have one of those big all-year family calendars which I fill with birthday parties, casual clothes day, Father’s Day Stalls at school and all that stuff that I used to forget. Now, whatever they are supposed to have at school on a certain day goes straight up on the calendar as soon as I get the notice. I’m finally not the only parent who forgets to send along a shoe box to school for that special art project.’
The parents of two girls who both work long hours found it hard to fit in everything between the short time between after-school care pick up and bed-time. ‘We found the girls were getting to bed too late and then they would be really tired by the end of the week,’ the father said. ‘We decided to ban TV, the Nintendo and the Game Boy on weekdays. All of a sudden we had all the time in the world.’
Plan ahead as much as you can for your own sake, especially if you are in the paid workforce. Some mothers like to make meals on weekends and freeze for use later in the week. Others prefer easy but nutritious meals such as stir fries, pasta dishes, fried rice and tacos that are quick to prepare when you’re asked the dreaded question, ‘What’s for dinner, Muuuummmmm?’
Leave most of the other things you need to do – the bills, returning phone calls, the washing or ironing - until after your child is in bed or over the weekend. Some working parents only have an hour or two at night with their children and it is important to make every bit of it count.
Don’t let homework be a hassle
Homework is a fact of life for school kids. Most of the homework tasks for lower primary include spelling, reading and making projects, all of which need a bit of help from Mum and Dad.
Make it a positive experience because it’s important that your child sees it as something that must be done as part of the after-school routine. If your child hears you complaining about homework, it won’t take long before they start complaining about it too.
Set aside a specific time for homework. Decide whether after school or after dinner suits your child and make sure you have set aside that time yourself to be on hand.
Remember, it is not your homework or project. What your child produces is their work and they, and their teachers, know it. But there’s no law against helping them cut out and paste or steering them towards the right research materials.
So you really need to be rushing out for that?
There seems to be a lot of pressure these days to enrol your kids in almost everything; to make sure they are not left behind. Some kids have so many extra-curricula activities, they rarely have time just to mooch. And, of course, every time you do an after-school activity you are delaying your after-school routine.
Most experts recommend one sporting activity and one other activity, such as music or art. And only those activities that the children really want to do and will commit to for a term at least.
As the holder of the family taxi license, remind yourself that two or three times children, times two activities a piece each adds up to a lot of driving around after school!
Next time you are thinking of booking them into piano, chess, gymnastics, drama, footy training, dance class or art class ask yourself if they really need it and can you afford it!
It’s surprising how often the answer is no.
Get the best from your school
Establish a good partnership with your child’s school. Study after study shows that when families are involved in their child’s education, the children do better emotionally, socially and academically.
There are many ways you can be involved in your school community. Whether it’s the classroom, canteen, P&F Committee or fundraising, you are demonstrating to your children that school and family life are linked.
As one school newsletter puts it, ‘“spare” time is something busy parents don’t have; time they are willing to spare is quite different.’
Make time to attend school meetings, briefings and information evenings to help with your understanding of your child’s life at school. When it’s parent/teacher interview time, make the most of the prescribed time by being prepared with questions and any concerns you may have.
Make the most of opportunities to know and be known around the school. The more familiar you are with the school and its teachers, the more likely it is you’ll feel in control of this part of your family life.
- I won't ride in a car without being buckled in to a car safety seat.
- I will keep myself, and the places where I live and play, clean.
- I will ask my mum or dad to read to me every day. If I'm old enough, I'll read to myself.
- I will brush my teeth twice a day, wash my hands after going to the toilet and before eating, and clean up my mess right away.
- I won't tease the family dog or even a friendly dog, and I will avoid being bitten by keeping my fingers and face away from his mouth.
School Age Kids
- I will drink more milk and water, and limit fizzy and fruit drinks.
- I will spend a couple of minutes every morning and afternoon applying sunscreen before I go outdoors. I will try to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I'm playing sports.
- I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like skipping rope, dancing, karate or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
- I will always wear protective gear – especially a helmet – when cycling, scooting or blading.
- I'll be nice to other kids. It's easier and more fun than being mean, and I'll feel better about myself.
- I'll never give out personal information such as my name, home address, school name, or telephone number in an Internet chat room or on an Internet bulletin board. Also, I'll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without my parent's permission.
- I will eat at least one fruit and one vegetable every day
- I will choose non-violent television shows and video games, and I will only spend one to two hours each day – AT THE MOST- on these activities.
- I will check to see if I can give away any of my unwanted toys to those in need.
- I will wipe negative ‘self talk’ (eg ‘I can't do it’ or ‘I'm so dumb’) out of my vocabulary.
By Sally Morrell
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, March 2003.