Oh, Oh! The party’s almost over. We’ve swam, vacationed, and pretty much partied our way through the summer. We’ve lived like rock stars…well, rock stars that have a 9:30 bed time. However, the reality is that change is in the air and school bells are about to ring across the country. Personally, I have mixed emotions about the approaching end of summer. While I am looking forward to some quiet time in my house (especially so that I can write during the day instead of the middle of the night), I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer with my kids, specifically my two youngest children. Also, I have not missed the hustle and bustle of school days. Between my schedule, my husband’s schedule and my kids schedule, it takes a lot of control and focus to keep things from getting chaotic.
As the mother of five, ages 23 to 6 (every time I say that out loud, it sounds crazier than the last time that I said it), I know just a few things about getting kids, and myself, ready for back to school. Over the years I have developed my approach to getting organized, back to school shopping and strengthening the parent/teacher relationship. I will share these with you in my next few blog posts and talk about when your baby goes off to kindergarten. I’ve sent a few kids off to kindergarten yet, never seems to get any easier. This back to school series is kind of my “blue print to sanity” to help me navigate my way through the school year. So, remember to check back often to keep up with the series or, better yet, check the “Follow” button at the bottom of this post and you will receive my blog in your in-box (it is also posted on my Facebook page, Twitter, Pinterest and Linked In) .
I have a confession to make: I am the most unorganized/organized person that you will ever meet. I tend to compartmentalize my need to be organized by the importance of whatever is going on. For the most part, I give myself a C+ on my general organizational skills. I just don’t put that much energy into it on a daily basis, as evidenced by the stacks of unopened mail on my desk. Sometimes in an effort to deflect my responsibility, I stack it on my husband’s desk. I don’t recommend you trying this at home. However, in the areas of my life that I am passionate about, I am almost obsessively organized: my kitchen, my blog and my kids. Not necessarily in this order. I discovered a long time ago that the key to making anything work, no matter how fervent you are, is to be organized in thought, purpose and action.
Organization in thought, when it comes to school, refers to the question: What do you want to get out of the educational experience for your children? It’s not just that you want to send your child to school to “learn”. To “learn” is very general so, be more specific. To learn what and how? What kind of curriculum does your district teach? For high- schoolers in particular, does the high school that your child attends have vocational training for students that are more inclined to go in that direction after graduation? Are you interested in a more holistic approach to learning or is it okay to predominately teach to the test? Look at the standardized test scores, but don’t get stuck on them because they don’t tell the whole story. How does the district and/or school deal with learning disabilities? Is there a gifted program? How do you feel about the push to common core standards across the country and is the school/district participating? How important are extra curricular activities to you and your students? If you don’t know the answers to these questions or have never thought about them, then you have some work to do. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH! Even if you are in a situation where economics dictates where you live and the school your kids attend, that’s even more of a reason to know the answer to all of these questions and more. Talk to other parents of current and past students; talk to educators in the district; go to the district and school websites; and search the internet for any news regarding the district. It sounds corny, but knowledge is power and by gaining all the information that you can, you will be able to leverage your insight to get what you want for your children.
Organization in purpose refers to: Determine your place, or purpose, in this process? Do you believe that the educational process starts at school and should be led by teachers or do you believe that the educational process starts at home and is led by parents? Are you looking to be partners with the school/district? Do you feel that you are an advocate for your child or do you feel that you should get involved as the need arises? Do you see yourself as proactive or reactive? That last question is probably the most important because it will determine how and when you interact with your child’s teacher, If you are proactive, then your initial contact will come earlier in the year and will probably be initiated by you. If you are reactive, then the first contact will most likely come from the teacher. These two approaches set a completely different tone in the parent/ teacher relationship. We’re going to talk about this more in a later post, but, it boils down to what you are comfortable with and, more importantly, what you want for your child.
Finally, organization in action refers to what specific things you do to help you create some structure around your life as it pertains to school. I am not going to go so far as to tell you what specific tools you should use to keep your school related items organized. We are all different so different things work for different people. For instance, I am not a fan of apps to keep my calendar on my phone. I am old school so, I have an actual notebook/calendar that I carry around with me. Old fashioned, I know but, it works for me. You do what works for you. However, I have developed some strategies that have helped me keep from going crazy in the whirlwind of activity.
- Keep copies of EVERYTHING! Every form, every application, every check, every communication with the teacher/school…EVERYTHING! I know that this will produce a mountain of paper (and emails) but, do yourself a favor and create a file for each child at the beginning of the year and do not throw them away at the end of the year. The goal is to have a chronological record of your child’s school career that includes academic and attendance records, standardized test scores, any disciplinary actions, academic or sports awards, etc. This is a great resource when it’s time to apply to college (everyone has a story to tell – it’s a road map) as well as a practical way to recall important events as the need arises.
- Set aside at least 15 minutes of your night with your child to go through his or her backpack. Ask questions; comment on returned assignments; and most importantly, LISTEN TO THEM. This is a small investment with big payoffs. You can and need to read information sent home from the school. They are there for a reason and if your kids are like mine you will never get the straight story from them. Additionally, you really need to know what their homework assignments are and I’m not just talking about young kids. While you may not go through your high-schooler’s backpack, you certainly can and should strike up a conversation with them just to see what’s going on. It shows your interest in them and their lives. It also serves as a conversation starter and trust me, you will need conversation starters with your high school aged children.
- Getting things done the night before a school day is critical to maintaining one’s sanity. Lay out their clothes, fill out any papers, pack lunches and snacks, locate library books that are due, etc. Do anything and everything that can be done prior to the next morning. It seems like common sense and so simple but, raise your hand if you have been held up on a school morning trying to do something that should have been done prior to leaving the house for school? Or, if you have ever uttered the words “Why did you wait until now to look for that ________ (book, shoe, sock, pencil, notebook, etc.)?” I know I’m not the only one with my hand up! Once, my daughter actually wore two different shoes to school because she couldn’t find the mate to her shoes and we were running late. She declared it the worst day of her life. Oh, well.
Some days all of this is easier than others. Admittedly, I have fallen off of the organizational wagon and by the end of the school year, I am usually holding on for dear life. However, start thinking about these questions that I’ve put to you and organize your thoughts. Let’s start this year off right. Next post we will talk about establishing the parent/teacher relationship.