Summer moved way too fast! My kids are now back at school here in Chicago. Depending on where you live, your kids may have started a couple of months ago (which is nuts!) Here in Chicago we always start after Labor Day. I have mixed feelings about it. Kids going back to school means that I have to get up earlier, drive further and fight traffic. And these past 3 weeks have been no exception. One day last week was particularly bad. When we left the house Waze said that we will get my my daughters' school at 7:40. As we progressed more time was added. We went from 7:43, 7:45, 7:50… you get the point. We didn't get there until 7:57 which was right in time! Today, was a bit better, although traffic was horrid because of rain. I will able to make it time, but it still took took too long.
Getting back in the swing of things can be HARD. During the summer kids are used to sleeping late, eating dinner late, and staying up late. Just the other night I told my girls they should go to sleep. They proclaimed that they were going to make brownies. It was already 10:30! LOL! This is a common occurrence. They are 16, so they sometimes like staying up late. Me? I'm usually headed towards my bed by 10:00. For the most part, my days of staying up late are long gone.
But now the to do list is never ending! And trust me, as a mother, unless you are perfect, you are not expected to have it all together before the first day of school. It can take practice, trial and error, and making adjustments as you go. And it can be hard to keep track of it all. Here are 5 tips from me to try to stay organized during back to school madness. Plus, it can take some time for school to really get into the swing. Just this week my girls started after school meetings for one of their clubs. In Spring, my daughter will start Lacrosse. And I'm sure that my boys will find something to get into in the next couple of weeks.
Utilize Your Smartphone
Smartphones were created to keep us connected and organized. Learn how to use yours, and utilize your scheduling and organization apps to keep you on track. You can set reminders, mark items off your to do list, and of course keep up with your email. If the kids have phones (and they should), make sure that they know to keep them fully charged. Equip them with portable chargers and extra USB cables that they can keep in their backpack. Also, make sure that they have a great, protective case!
Everyone in my house is equipped with an awesome smartphone. Blame my husband's awesome grandfathered Verizon plan. We both have the Samsung Galaxy Note 9. Yes, I want the 10+, but I can wait a bit. The girls have S9s, and the boys have the Google Pixel 3. This means we can always keep in touch with each other, look at our schedules, and stay connected.
Once everyone has a great phone…
Track Your Kids
Yes, really. In my family we use Life360. It's actually a product that I first learned about ages ago through blogging. I loved the concept, so about a year ago I purchased a subscription. I don't do this because I don't trust my kids, but because I don't necessarily trust other people. My kids are sometimes on the loose on their own in the city of Chicago. I can clearly see where they are, create bookmarked locations like boys' school, girls' school, grandma's house, etc. and I can get alerts when they leave or arrive at home or school. Since we meet up in the afternoon after school to ride home together this is very helpful. Instead of bugging my girls and asking, “are you on the train yet?” I can just pull it up and see where they are. And, I made my husband install it, too. I want him to see where I am at all times since my side gigs mean that I am often all over the place. Head over to Life360 to sign up now.
Create a Schedule
These days this is easier said than done. Our schedule changes. I'm divorced and we have a one week on, one week off schedule that works for everyone. So… I have a bit of a “break” from the kids to catch up on things like shopping, cleaning, and the like. However, on the weeks that I have them it can be madness! I go to work, the girls have after school jobs with the After School Matters program, and sometimes the boys have club meetings. One thing that keeps me in line is having a schedule. Do I follow it strictly? Heck no. Some things are very important and cannot be missed. Doctor's appointments, special school functions, lacrosse games, and some weekend activities have to go on the calendar. Of course, if your kids have very busy schedules related to school or extra curricular activities you will want to add everything.
Share Your Schedule With Your Family
Some families like to put a paper calendar on the wall, others paint a fancy chalkboard wall and write things on it. But, both of these things pretty much keeps the calendar IN the home. How do you know what is going on when you are out? Part of what keeps the household in line is everyone being aware of what is going on. I keep a separate calendar for my kids' schedule in my Google Account. It is appropriately called “Kids”. I share this calendar with my ex-husband, my current husband, and our household calendar. Our household calendar is where we put appointments related to the household such as repair appointments, vacations, or other things that we need to remember. Here's what's nifty, the household calendar is displayed on my Samsung Family Hub refrigerator in our kitchen. We can all easily access it. And of course, this calendar is accessible on all of our mobile devices, so we always know what is going on.
Keep a Detailed To Do List
I am addicted to notepads, planners, and sticky notes, and I make a lot of lists. I swear I make lists for my lists. I try to make a list of everything that I need to do for the day. I also use the To Do List feature on my smartphone so that I have the list with me at all times. There are several options for making lists. If you are like me and addicted to paper, get a nice notepad that fits in your purse. My favorite apps for my smartphone are Evernote and Google Keep. Keep is super easy to use, and is great for making quick lists including shopping lists. Then you can take my advice and add things to it that you already did, so you can feel accomplished when you check them off. 😀
Scan and Organize Important Papers
Use a scanner to make an electronic copy of birth certificates, medical records, and other important papers that you might need. Keep these securely on your computer, or in Google Drive. You can easily pull them up when it's time to submit them, fax them, or make copies. While I have a scanner on my Epson ET-4750 All-in-One, I also love my ScanSnap portable scanner because I can move it to the table, kitchen island, or even take it with me when I need to for easy scanning on my laptop.
Create a Homework & School Supply Station
With 4 kids they are usually spread out all over the house doing homework. This makes for papers all over my kitchen table, dining room table, and in the the kids' rooms on the floor. And then when someone needs a pencil, notebook paper, or a ruler, I can hear them mulling about asking each other. This year, I improved on one major thing. We recently moved our old kitchen table up from the basement where it was collecting dust and set it up in our 2nd floor family room. My daughter instantly took to it and started doing her homework there.
I also put all extra notebooks, folders, pencils, erasers, etc. etc. in an orange bin next to the table tucked behind the case. I may make a better solution for this soon, but for now, it works.
Make Sure that the Printer Has Ink
I just mentioned my Epson EcoTank ET-4750 above for scanning. But, this is also an awesome printer. What I love about it most is that instead of buying expensive cartridges over and over I can just fill the tanks. The EcoTank series of printers come with enough ink to last for 2 years. These printers are perfect for households with a bunch of school aged kids. They always need to print. We also sent an Epson EcoTank Et-3600 to school with our college student. The ink costs on average $50 for a whole set, and lasts a LOT longer than traditional inkjet cartridges.
Try to Meal Plan & Shop For the Week on Sunday
I find that during the week I sit at my desk at work and think, “Hmm… what will I make for dinner tonight?” Now, I don't mind cooking 3-4 times a week. However, stopping at the store on the way home to grab dinner ingredients bugs me? Why? Our commute is long enough and it extends it and cuts into homework and dinner time. I may not do a full meal plan. But on Sundays, I am going to at least try to make a brief list of what I think I want to make for dinner for the whole week and shop to make sure that I have those ingredients. At least then I will not be running to the store every day after work. Bonus points if you make a meal on Sunday that can be stretched out over a few days. If you make a bunch of meat or poultry ahead of time, be sure to follow safe food guidelines.
Get some awesome glass food containers so that you can easily see inside, and you don't have to worry about them wearing out from the dishwasher. They are also BPA-free.
Clean Up the Kids' Computers
My kids are all blessed to have their own laptops thanks to his blog. They do a pretty good job or taking care of them. But, of course using them, playing games, downloading new apps, etc. can take their toll. You want to do a bit of maintenance. On the computers. Things like updating the virus software, checking for malware, and running Windows updates. Check out my post, 10 Things to Do When Your Windows PC Behaves Badly, for more info and ideas.
Whew, I am still struggling!! Last night I was in bed by 8:30! I didn't even have to say it. Everyone seems to know that it was an “every man for himself” dinner situation. LOL! Even my 16 year old daughter declared that she is tired and asked if we can just stay home on Saturday rather than go out. Hopefully with a couple more week under our belt we will all be ok! But for now.. YAWN!!
What are some of your best tips when struggling to get back on track after school starts?