Back-to-school hacks for busy parents
With a new school term just around the corner, Arlene Harris gets the experts' advice on how to prepare for it
It's that time of year again and after the relaxed vibe of the summer holidays, getting the kids (and ourselves) back into some sort of routine can be difficult - with the shock of early mornings taking its toll on every member of the family.
But with a little forward planning, the transition from holiday mode to term-time organisation can be made easier, so we asked some experts for their tips on how to save time and be more efficient on the school run.
⬤ Sarah Reynolds of organisedchaos.ie says a few small adjustments can make a big difference when it comes to being organised for school.
"To help your head feel more organised, place books, stationery and uniforms together in one room so you can clearly see what you have and what you still need to get, as it can be hard to keep track of what's still to do if everything is spread everywhere. Keep a list of 'to-dos' and 'still to get' near this pile so it's easy to refer to, and perhaps photograph the lists so it's in your phone when you're out and about. Then, once you have everything, distribute out to each child ready for the new school year.
"It's also really important to create a habit of getting school bags ready the night before. This routine should include getting sports gear packed, pocket money ready and school notes signed - with everything lined up at the front door. It takes five minutes as soon as homework is done and yet it'll save you time, energy and arguments the next day.
"During the term, kids arrive home with all sorts of paraphernalia from school which first lands on the table or kitchen island before being pushed aside to make room for dinner and the next morning, nothing can be found. So assign a cupboard for school accessories - one shelf per child if possible, then anything to do with school can be placed in there. A small paper tray on the counter can be used for correspondence so nothing will get lost and important information or fun dates for the diary won't be missed.
"Also, give each child an expanding file for artwork, exam results, certificates and drawings which will keep them tidy and will be keepsakes."
⬤ Making sure that children get the right nutrition is important and Dr Marian O'Reilly, Chief Specialist in Nutrition with safefood.eu says we should start focusing on this before the new school term starts.
"With school around the corner, it's all about getting back into routine and that includes how we eat as families. To make that transition easier, start getting kids to eat their snacks and meals at more regular times of the day. Eating together as a family, whenever you can, is both a social and a healthy thing to do and numerous studies have shown that children and teens who eat with the rest of the family actually eat more vegetables, more fruit and less fat.
"If your usual habits have been relaxed over the summer, start to reintroduce them as getting kids involved in setting the table and meal preparation helps them feel involved and part of the routine. As parents, we're role models for our children so leading by example helps with re-establishing healthy routines at home. If TV and screens have become part of mealtimes during the summer, start to cut back on them - they distract us from what we're eating and prevent conversation."
⬤ Siobhan Berry founder of mummycooks.com has recently published her second book, Lunchbox Made Easy. She says children often don't have enough time to eat healthily at school and is urging the Government to extend lunch times to ensure that healthy eating policies are enforced. But in the meantime, she has some ideas which are quick and uncomplicated but most importantly are full of goodness.
"The search for new, healthy lunchbox ideas seems never-ending as you want to ensure your child is getting the correct balance of nutrients. The most filling aspect should be made up of starch foods such as bread and pasta but think pitta or wraps instead of always using the same bread. Offer whole-grain carbohydrates to maximise health benefits - but if your child is reluctant to eat wholegrain foods, use a combination of both.
"Some of my favourite lunchtime dishes include chicken carbonara which can be kept warm in a small thermal food flask. Quick and easy quesadillas are a lovely twist on the school sandwich and this crispy tortilla will go down a storm and only takes 20 minutes to prepare.
"Pasta with pesto makes a tasty and delicious lunch and is a great way of getting vegetables into your child without them even noticing.
"Protein is very important for children and eggs are a wonderful source, so omelette fingers are great - cut them into finger shapes which makes for a more fun and interactive experience. Peanut butter cookies are also a fantastic way of upping your child's protein intake and most children adore the taste - also these treats only contain peanut butter, honey and egg.
"It is also important that your child gets enough portions of fruit and vegetables. However, this can also be the area where children can start to be most fussy so try homemade vegetable crisps, mini-cheesy vegetable scones or homemade chicken soup. The Mummy Cooks Lunchbox Made Easy recipe book has lots more ideas for your child's lunch."
⬤ Stella O'Malley, psychotherapist and author of Bully-Proof Kids and Cotton Wool Kids, says children often feel anxious about returning to school, particularly if they had a negative experience in the past, so it's important to address these issues before the term starts.
"It can be helpful if parents encourage kids to be reflective of the year before - almost as we might think about our lives coming up to New Year's Eve. So parents might ask, 'Is there anything you would like to do differently this year compared to last year?' If they can't think of anything it can be effective if the parents join in by saying something like, 'I know I plan to wake up earlier so that we aren't rushing around in the mornings.'
"Reading books which deal with social issues in school, such as Bullies, Bigmouths and So-called Friends can be really helpful for children who find it difficult to navigate the social scene - while older children could be encouraged to read Wonder or watch Mean Girls. The more children realise the universality of social cliques, of bullying and feeling lost or left out, the more they will realise that they need to be pro-active about making sure they have some happiness despite these social dramas.
"Also, it can be effective if parents open up reflective conversations about how each year has gone so far - for example, 'In Juniors and Seniors you just dashed into school but then in First Class things became a bit harder.' This can open up a reflective mind-set that each year is just one part of the arc in their life and it is important to keep perspective about this."
⬤ As head of community for mummypages.ie Laura Erskine knows what Irish parents want when it comes to going back to school and she says making simple changes in the run up to the first day helps to make the transition easier.
"Children's sleeping patterns will have been varied over the summer months, so it's important to start a sleep schedule as early as possible, gradually bringing back bedtime over the two weeks before school starts. This way it won't be a shock to them and they will hardly notice the transition.
"Also, about a week before school starts, sit down as a family and map out the term time and after-school rules. Agree when and where homework will be done, the amount of time that's allowed for watching those screens and playing games on devices. Discuss which extracurricular activities they would like to try out or continue from the previous year. Set out one day a week for playdates with friends so that everyone knows where they stand and there are no disappointments.
"Stay on track by placing a large calendar in the kitchen to list everyone's appointments or activities and use a different colour pen for each family member. You'll have a better idea of how to manage time and can plan around the schedule - also encourage your children to add to it and check it before they go to bed.
"Having an open conversation about how everyone would like to start the day is beneficial - would they like to get up extra early so they have more time before school, would they like a shower in the morning or a bath the night before? This discussion will help to create the right rhythm so that everyone's day starts and finishes on the right note."