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Back to School–Calming the Chaos

Whew! What a whirlwind couple of weeks. We returned from our two week vacation up to Northern Michigan on Monday night (pictures and details of our glamping trip to come soon, I promise!), and went right into Back to School prep. School started Wednesday, so we only had 24 hours to prepare. I was worried that it would be totally crazy, but in fact, it turned out really well! LittleMissSunshine is now a big third grader. It is her first year not in a montessori style classroom, so I’m curious to see how she does with her dyslexia and ADHD issues. JD is now a seventh grader–I know puberty, girls and all that goes with that are just around the corner! We went up to visit his school and there were teachers and administrators coming over every couple of minutes to welcome him back and give him hugs. It really was so good to see him embraced and loved the way he know he deserves to be loved! For the first year ever, he was really looking forward to starting school again. Camp Ernst Middle School really rocks!

 

LittleMissSunshine was also eager to start school–she couldn’t wait to meet her friends. She wasn’t as eager for me to take pictures on the first day, as you can see. Apparently, my photos were embarrassing her in front of the trees who might see me. (There were no other kids or people around!)

JD leaves early in the morning before the sun–or any sane human being–is awake, so I took this photo after school. Think he had a good day?

Back to school can be such a headache for so many. I thought I’d share some of my tips to keep it simple, but make it special at the same time.

  • Shop weekly for back to school deals  You don’t have to get the whole list in one trip. Every week the different office supply stores have good deals on school basics: glue sticks, crayons, folders, composition books, pencils, etc. My husband and I take turns making a five minute stop every week at Staples and Office Depot to pick up a supply of these sale items and then keep them in one large drawer in my office. When the big day hits, I reach in the drawer and pull out 80% of the supplies on the list. The other specialty items are then easy enough to pick up without fighting huge crowds. All said, by watching the sales for the past month, we’ve spent a total of $48 on school supplies for both kids, and that includes a brand new LL Bean backpack for LittleMissSunshine.
  • Wait a few weeks to buy the new Back to School clothing  It’s still warm out, they’ve got good summer clothing, why buy all the clothing now during one of the busiest shopping periods of the year? Wait a week or two and buy the new fall clothing after the majority of the schools in your area have started. You’ll find better sales and won’t have to fight large crowds to get the things you need.
  • Scan the standard school forms and fill them in on the computer  Even though the kids are in two different schools, we see the same forms time and time again at the start of the year. The kids come home with a huge pile of forms that have to be filled out for each of them. (They gleefully tell me I have “homework.”) I got wise to this a couple of years ago and decided to scan the basic forms in and fill them out electronically. These would be the forms with routine information on them, like the enrollment card, the field trip permission slips, the computer use form, etc. Anything that required me to repeatedly fill in information like our address, our doctor’s information, our work information, etc–those were scanned and filled out. Now we just update a line or two with their new teacher’s name and print them out. This makes field trips a breeze too!
  • Pray over each child the night before about the entire school year  While we pray for the kids every morning for a good day before they get on the bus, we like to pray with them about the new school year. We pray for things like good friends, getting along with their teachers, a good seat assignment, etc. We let the kids pray as well over this. I’ve always felt like it gives the kids a safe place to voice what concerns or fears they might have, and let some of that stress go because they know that God will take care of them. It relieves a good bit of stress for mom and dad as well. :)
  • Keep lunch simple  The first day of school is really chaotic for the kids. They’re getting introduced to new teachers, being told a lot of new rules, and getting used to a whole bunch of new things. The lunchroom is especially chaotic. They don’t know where to sit at first, who to sit with, and the whole scene gets a bit overwhelming. We keep the lunchbox really simple: we give them Lunchables. It is a first day of school treat that we don’t really repeat the rest of the year, but the simplicity of it makes it easy on them. They don’t have to worry about getting in the lunch line or remembering their code. They know they have a simple lunch they love, and they can sit down and have a bit of peace for a few minutes in the midst of the chaos.
  • Drop little notes in their lunchboxes  I always tuck a little post it note inside their lunchbox where only they will see it, wishing them a good day. Both kids hug me and thank me when they come home, saying it made them feel special.
  • Give them space for quiet when they get home  School is chaotic. There are 20+ kids in the classroom with them, each with their own loud voice and personality. The teacher is new to them and has a brand new set of rules for them to learn. The lunchroom is noisy, and don’t even get me started on the chaos on the bus! When most kids get off the bus, they have held it together all day long, but are this close to a meltdown. Ask them a few questions about their day, but then let them have a little quiet space to decompress a bit. This is probably why for generations moms have had snacks for the kids after school. This quiet time is important for about the first week or two of school, especially for younger kids or any kids making a big transition. Both of my kids get an hour to themselves for “quiet time” after they get home. They read, watch tv, or play quietly in their rooms. When they come out of that, they are ready to tackle the evening’s activities without whining or melting down. Homework gets done a lot faster! This hour is especially important if you’ve got an Aspie or a sensory-sensitive child. They really have had to work hard all day to keep it together and meet the behavior standards of the other kids and teachers all day long. They need an hour of space and control all their own when they come home.
  • Go into the school to visit a few days before school starts  This is a key step for any child who might have anxieties about middle or high school.  JD and I go in to find his locker, try out his combination, put in the locker shelves and any decorations he might want. We drop off some of the school supplies then in his locker, so he doesn’t have to carry a heavy backpack to school the first morning. We then pull out his schedule and walk from class to class (trying not to disturb the teachers, who are usually busy setting up the classroom) so he can get comfortable with his daily routine. Even if you don’t have a child with Asperger’s or transition issues, this can really make or break the first week. Being familiar with where your classes are, what order they come in, and being prepared for things like Spanish or Algebra really help take a lot of the stress out of the day.
  • Do something special for yourself  Go out to get coffee. Go shopping. Read a book. The first day of school can be a bit of a conundrum for parents: there is both a celebration (the kids are out of the house! Hurrah!) and a heartache (my babies are growing up!) for most of us. Go do something with that time so you don’t spend the day dwelling on it. Celebrate. Enjoy your day as well. Every year I make a point to invite a friend or two over for coffee and cinnamon rolls. They come over and before we know it, it is lunchtime! The day flies by, we have a good time with our friends, and by the time the kids get off the bus, the stress is all gone.

 

These things have really helped us minimize the chaos and keep things simple and peaceful for back to school. Less stress equals better transitions, and with an Aspie, that is probably one of the most important things we can do for him. What do you do to make the first day of school special?

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