February 8, 2011

Over the last 7 years, I’ve managed to get three of my children off to school.  Successfully? 

Well the proof will be in that pudding in the years to come.  No doubt as they enter their insensitive, hormonal and ‘totally black & white’ (think “You are SO old Mum” or “I canNOT believe you just said that in front of my friends”), I will receive their feedback.  But until then, I feel as though I did an OK job.  At times I certainly felt a little overwhelmed but nothing a quick retreat back into my shell to reorganise and reshuffle my day couldn’t fix.

These thoughts are nothing like the standard “Don’t let them carry their backpack on one shoulder” or “Don’t buy school shoes too big lest they suffer foot issues later in life”.  They are mostly about just thinking a little differently for a bit.

Tip No. 1 – Assume your child will be incredibly tired from Day one.

If you work on the fact that the combination of excitement, new friends, a very structured schedule, incredibly intensive learning and a massive amount of stimulation will make them more tired than they have ever been, you’re off to a good start.

I did make this assumption and it made a world of difference.  I’ve always believed that ‘everything is worse when you’re tired’ – it applies to everyone – the CEO of Westpac, a breastfeeding mum or a gorgeous little kindy kid. 

Assuming this I therefore had a good long think about how I could create pockets of downtime that would enable everyone to cope with the new routine and the tiredness that ensued.

For the first term, I cancelled after school activities (you know, swimming/tennis/ballet lessons etc) and promised that we would come back to them once we’d gotten into the new groove.  This gave us the time it took to manage school pick up calmly and to have the spare 10 minutes for the kids to play in the playground while I chatted to other mums.  If it was hot, we could stop and get an iceblock on the way home or we could splash around in the blow up pool.  Most importantly it gave me the ability to build into our schedule some very relaxed down time before the night time routine had to start – which was the perfect time to talk about the day, what they did and what their highlight of the day was.

Tip No. 2 – Give them dinner the minute they get home

I found my kids were absolutely starving the moment they walked in the door.  I don’t know whether it was because they had thrown half their lunch in the bin or whether they were literally just so busy all day, they had chewed through their usual energy stores, but they were ravenous.  If I’d let them they would have consumed fruit, biscuits, yoghurt, icecream – as much ‘afternoon tea’ type food they could lay their hands on.  And then, come dinner time a couple of hours later, they would not be hungry.

So I switched the routine for quite a time.  While the youngest two slept at lunchtime, I’d get dinner underway – actually a really organised and smooth way to get dinner done.  I embraced the slow cooker bigtime and also got into the habit of cooking double meals and freezing one for the following week.  That way, dinner was done as soon as they walked in the door. 

Yes, I know it seems wierd to be having lasagne and veges at 3.30pm but it worked. 

Then when it was ‘dinner time’, the kids would have crackers, cheese & yoghurt or fruit or vege sticks with humous or salsa or a burrito/tortilla wrap with a slice of ham & cheese – or even just vegemite.  I fed them their main meal when they were most hungry which meant they weren’t filling up on junk.

Tip No. 3 – Find other like minded mums and share the load

Chances are if your first child is starting big school this year, you have younger children.  Which means that getting everyone out the door by (anywhere from 8.15 to 9.00am) is not going to be a walk in the park.  Gone are the days where you could rock up to childcare or pre-school pretty much when you were ready.  No, school is a lot about routine and the teachers and the education system find it quite distrubtive to have a steady stream of children, in varying states of clinging to mum’s leg, arriving in class after the last bell has rung.  I even have a couple of friends who are chronically late to absolutely everything, including school drop off, who ended up getting a ‘talking to’ by the teacher and in one case, a letter from the school asking if there were problems at home given the fact the child was always so late to school.

So, quite quickly another mum and I got together and realised that we lived within seconds of each other.  So one more morning I collected her son and got him to school safely along with mine and then another morning, she returned the favour.  This was fantastic for everyone – suddenly there was one morning of the week where the younger children and I could stay in our pjs and I could focus on getting my son ready for school rather than everyone.  The littles had breaky and then had a quiet morning pottering and Toby thought he was very special and grown up skipping down the drive to go with the other mum.

Tip No. 3 – Forget about looking glamorous

And the biggest condition on this tip should be IGNORE the mums who do look glamorous – day after day, week after week.  They are either freakishly genetically blessed, have a house full of helpers or get up at 5.00am to blow dry their hair, select wardrobe and apply camera ready makeup.  I was not, and still am not, one of those mothers.  Your objective, at least for the first time should be about getting through the new routine with your sanity in tact. The only thing you may want to focus on is just having a selection of clothes that can go on in two seconds and just be presentable (dropping off in your pjs may raise some eyebrows!)

Tip No. 4 – Pack the night before

This tip applies to life – truly!  In fact, I’ve been trying to get some of those close to me to embrace this concept for the longest time.

It will make the biggest difference to your day if you start with everything in its place and all the bags for the following day packed. 

If there are no last minute “Where’s your hat, where’s your homework book, what is this note and why didn’t you give it to me last night”, you will be relaxed and so will the children.

Tip No. 5 – Make friends with the granny next door

I mentioned when my oldest started school, I had another two children under 2 and a half.  So not only was the morning drop off a challenge (when the littlest was ready to go back to bed for morning sleep) but the afternoons almost felt worse.  It didn’t matter whether I put them to bed at 11.30, 12.00 or 12.30pm for their day sleep, it seemed they were never awake when it was time to get into the car to go and collect from school.  And we all know how long the afternoon can be when the littles haven’t slept!  So, I decided to think a little differently again.  Next door was the most gorgeous lady.  She was over 80 so I probably wouldn’t get her to babysit when the kids were all bouncing around but I realised that she was the perfect person to call on for the 15 minutes it would take me to nip up to school, pick up Toby and come straight home.  It worked and treat and she felt like she was really helping me out.  She would literally sit in the lounge and read her book while the girls slept.  They never knew I was gone and the pick up was a dream.

If you don’t have a lovely neighbour, revert to Tip No. 2 and find another mum who lives nearby (preferably one who does not have little kids) who you can text at the last minute to do the pick up for you if the babes are sleeping.  They’re all mums and they all understand.

Tip No. 6 – Embrace your freezer

Get into the habit of making as much of the school lunches as possible ahead of time.  On the weekend, buy two loaves of fresh bread (I buy wholemeal and high fibre white and mix them up), fresh ham, fresh chicken, fresh whatever your children like on their sandwiches and make up both loaves into sandwiches.  I obviously don’t add cucumber or tomato or lettuce at this stage – preferring to send cucumber sticks and cherry tomatoes separately so that the sandwiches don’t end up soggy.  Wrap each sandwich in cling wrap and then put a little tiny note just inside the last fold of cling wrap that tells you what is on the sandwich.  This also helps little fingers unwrap the cling wrap which can sometimes be quite tricky.

I also do the same with mini muffins, scones and pikelets. Wrap them all up and freeze them!  Then each school morning the kids can grab their own sandwich, morning tea and then all they need to do is add some fruit.

Tip No. 7 – Get a fruit box delivered

I tell as many people as I meet that this is one of the single best things I have ever added to my week.  Every Friday morning for the last 6 years I have had a fruit box delivered.  It’s not flash and it’s not expensive.  But for $30 a week, I get a big box of fresh, straight from the markets fruit and veges.  And why is this relevant to your sanity regarding school?  Basically it means that if you’ve been too snowed under to get to the groceries, you’ll always have some lovely fresh fruit to pop into their lunchbox.

Tip No. 8 – Plan a day off mid term

This one loops back to  Tip No. 1 (remember they will be incredibly tired).  Your school may even recommend this too but if they don’t, I guarantee it will make a difference.  Your first term will be somewhere between 8 and 10 weeks – a long time for you but seemingly an eternity for a tiny little person. 

So about halfway through the term, plan a pyjama day.  Yes, a school day where the new kindy kid gets a day at home.  They don’t need to be sick – they just need to chill, hang out, reconnect with you and re-energise. 

Don’t drag them to the shops, don’t get other friends around – just treat it like a sick day but have a lovely big rest.

Tip No. 9 – Get up half an hour before the kids

As painful and torturous as this sounds, I have attempted to do this for years and again, it makes the world of difference.  I make it my aim to be 80% dressed with hair brushed and makeup on (obviously work days require more effort than home days) by the time the kids come down.  Sure I’m always in my thongs until we literally walk out the door but the point is that I can then focus on getting the kids ready rather than myself.  There is nothing worse than trying to get myself dressed and running to the top of the stairs to shout down ‘have you finished your cereal’ ‘Are you brushing your teeth’ ‘I said turn that TV OFF’ ‘Who has put their lunchboxes into their bags’ – not a good vibe for the family or for the noise levels of the neighbourhood!

Tip No. 10 – Set up a huge noticeboard

I nearly forgot this one but it’s vital.  If your schools are anything like ours, you will not be able to believe the number of notes that come home from school.  Honestly, your head will spin.  For the first few weeks, I kind of went into denial and thought I was being very good putting them all in a pile on the kitchen bench.  Then I started to realise that today he was supposed to bring gloves for clean up day, or wear sandshoes even though it wasn’t sports day, or that sports day had changed but just for this week, or that today was Waste Free Wednesday.  What the? It was worse than working!  So, I had to bunker down and figure out the solution.  Again, it comes down to being organised – get yourself a huge noticeboard and put everything up the minute you get the note.  Write dates on a big calendar, pin up the Class Contact List and make sure the Canteen Menu is right there front and centre! 

PHEW.  I didn’t mean to overload you with all these ideas – I actually thought it would be about 3 tips.  But on reflection, I’ve employed every one of these tips to varying degrees, and they have made a huge difference.  Even if you just try one – if it saves you a few minutes, makes you cope just that tiny bit more easily, or it makes for a happy little poppet, I’ve achieved my objective.

Happy school days Mums.  Embrace the journey and have fun!

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