Does every school year feel like a blurry whirlwind of stuffing backpacks, dragging kids out of bed, and racing out the door, only to return home later with the same frenzied rush through dinner, homework, and bedtime? This year, make these 12 resolutions for better, more- productive (and less-exhausting!) school days. Follow these tips and then print out this list to hang on your fridge and keep your family focused and less stressed.
Make Mornings a Breeze
Routines may seem boring, but kids really thrive on them. From day one of the school year, help your family get into the school-day groove by planning efficient, never-miss-the-bus mornings. This printable morning routine checklist can help everyone stay on track. Every day should start with a healthy meal, and there are plenty of easy breakfast ideas.
Pack Healthy, "Green" Lunches
Homemade lunches are usually much more nutritious than the school cafeteria's options. If you're short on ideas for lunches, check out these easy alternatives to boring sandwiches, plus these healthy snacks to pack in addition to fresh fruit and veggies. Keep Mother Earth in mind when packing lunches by ditching the brown bag, reusing plastic snack bags, and following these other tips for "green" school lunches.
Encourage Kids' Independence
Do yourself a favor this school year, Mom, and teach those kiddos to tackle some tasks themselves. Kindergarteners should be able to handle basic grooming — such as bathing and brushing their hair and their teeth — without your help. Older elementary school children should be a wiz at making sandwiches and handling their chores, and teens should be very self-reliant in the kitchen and in general. Anything that you can take off your plate and reasonably delegate will help your household run like a well-oiled machine.
Help at Your Child's School
If your school district is like most, it's probably strapped for resources and can use all the help it can get. Lending a hand when you can feels great and benefits both your child and the school community. That said, don't feel obliged to become the Mother Theresa of the PTA if it's at the expense of your family's sanity. Consider helping your child's classroom or school with one or two fundraisers or events per year.
Stick with an After-School Routine
Having an after-school routine may sound counterintuitive (the kids have had structure all day in school!) — but hear me out. If your child gets in the habit of unpacking his bag, going over his assignments, and making sure he has all the materials he needs, that saves you from having to track down the school janitor at 7 p.m. when you realize your youngster forgot his science book. Routines = organization = happy Mom.
Make Homework Time Painless
Let's face it: Homework time isn't exactly fun. But as a parent, you can take some steps to make it a little less painful. Having a separate workspace for each of your kids, or asking your teen to abandon his cell phone during homework time can make all the difference in the world of homework efficiency. Check out these homework pointers for parents, and communicate with your kids to ensure they complete all their work.
Keep Kids' Schedules Manageable
Does your school-year calendar look like a solid block of sports practices, dance recitals, music rehearsals, and birthday parties? This might be the perfect year to curb all the extracurriculars. Over-scheduling children depletes their energy and enthusiasm. Have a chat with your child about which sport or activity she truly enjoys, and stick with one activity per season so that she can still focus on school and just being a kid. If your family is hooked on being overbooked, write "Downtime!" on your calendar one day a week and make it happen.
Communicate with the Teacher
Communicating with your child's teacher helps both you and the teacher support one another and your child. Launch a strong relationship in September by writing an introduction letter, and prepare for productive parent/teacher conferences during the year. Building strong ties with the teacher is especially important for parents of struggling students or children with learning differences.
Fit in Physical Activity
Studies show that physical activity gives kids' brains a boost. Nudge your little couch potatoes outdoors for some good old-fashioned backyard games after school and on the weekends. Talk with other parents in your neighborhood, who probably also want their kids to play outside more often, and organize some group games for all ages. Set a good example and squeeze in some exercise for yourself by trying these fun family fitness activities.
Make Time for Family Dinners
While you may not have time for a homemade, sit-down dinner every night, regular family dinners add something special to your family's day. They're a time to take a breather, check in with each child, and share a few laughs before it's back to the grind of homework time and preparing for another day. No time to cook dinner every night? These make-ahead dinners can be frozen and heated up whenever you're ready for them.
Establish Screen-Time Limits
Most of us are guilty of too much screen time these days, and children are especially hooked on their tech-y toys. Instead of playing outdoors, many kids reach for video games, tablets, and cell phones for fun. Set some firm rules on screen time, keep tabs on your child's technology and Internet use and safety, and encourage kids to play educational apps and online games rather than violent video games whenever possible.
Be Firm About a Bedtime Routine
Bedtimes are hugely important for kids. Most children don't get the amount of sleep they need. Setting a firm "lights out" time and using a consistent bedtime routine will help your child catch the 8.5 to 11 hours of zzz's she really needs to get through eight hours of learning and growing tomorrow.