Parents often greet the back-to-school blizzard of papers, schedules, passwords and carpools with a mixture of hope and dread. But it can also be a time of joy and new family traditions.
Successfully navigating elementary, middle and high school can require some new routines, and we have tips to help. But we have also gathered some fun ideas from parents over the years on ways to make the first day of school something to look forward to and look back on fondly in years to come.
• Throw a bus stop bash: Talk to some of the other parents in the neighborhood or just do this yourself at the foot of the driveway, bus stop or with your school carpool. In the book My Great Idea, published by FamilyFun Magazine, one Michigan mom sets up a picnic table at the end of her driveway, and in the morning, it's decorated with balloons and set with juice, muffins and doughnuts. She writes messages in chalk and the kids can add their own. But there's one more surprise: "We always make up a little plate for the bus driver, too."
• Pep talk in chalk: Surprise your kids with messages on the sidewalk leading to the school or down the driveway. Encouraging words like "Good luck!" and "Have fun!" and "You are going to shine" can set the mood. You also could write notes to slip into a lunch box.
• Homework rituals: Let kids have some time to unwind after school, then make homework time a little special by making a batch of popcorn. To encourage getting weekend homework done, announce that you will have a special make-your-own-sundae bar Sunday afternoon, but only those who have finished all their weekend homework will get to dig in.
• Start a keepsake video or photo collection: For photos, have the kids hold a sign saying "First day of (fill in the grade)" to avoid the problem of trying to remember what year it was. In the week leading up to school, take a video of your kids answering questions like what they think the new year is going to be like. What do they want to be when they grow up? Will they ever have kids? What was last year like? Also take video of them on the first day as they brush their teeth, have breakfast and get ready for school. But the kicker is that you save the video and show it next year. Over time, you will have a collection you can play each year before school starts, showing them how much they've grown and reminding them they didn't really have anything to worry about.
Getting ready for school
• Get some sleep: Now is the time — a couple of weeks before school starts — to start getting your kids into sleep shape for school. Do it gradually by moving bedtimes and wake-up times earlier (about 15 minutes every other day) until you reach a point at which kids will be able to wake up in time once school starts.
• Designate a "launch pad": Pick a chair or a place near the door to set backpacks, lunch boxes and sports gear.
• Think about your daily routine now: There are a lot of papers, permission slips and homework reviews ahead, so now is the time to plan and vow to make it a strict daily routine to go through backpacks and sign what needs signing, send in money for field trips or note meetings in your calendar. Don't put it off; do it that day. This could also be the time of day (or day of the week) that you set aside to log onto the school's website to check for announcements and grades.
• Get a notebook for yourself: Start the school year with your own neat binder for school papers, fliers, website passwords and carpool information. You could have one massive one or create a notebook for each child.