Parenting hacks: back to school

For parents of young children, the summer holidays can stretch forever. As much as we love our kids, too much of a good thing can get, well, too much, and we can’t wait for that first bell of the year to ring. However, the school year brings its own challenges. Yvonne Walus shares some savvy back-to school life hacks.

Although your early learning centre or kindy will do their best to prepare your child for “big school”, here are a few things you might like to do:

First day of school ever?

If the school has a uniform, ask your child to wear it for a few hours during the holidays so that it doesn’t feel strange on the first day of school. Break in the school shoes, too. Make sure they know how to open the lunchbox, the juice box, the yoghurt container. Explain what to do with sandwich wraps and any uneaten food. If your child is used to having the toilet door open while they’re using it, practise having the door closed “like at school”. Make sure they can manage the lock on the door in the school loo too.

The school fees

While education is free in New Zealand, almost every school asks for annual donations. Although it’s voluntary, schools really do need that money to provide the best experience for your child, so it makes sense to put it into your budget. If you can’t afford it all at once, ask the school if you could set up an automatic payment scheme to pay off small amounts regularly.

The lunch box

“Consider the environment,” they say. “Make it healthy,” they say. “But absolutely no nuts…” The rules and guidelines can be hard to remember, but they’re in place for good reasons. Over the years, I’ve developed a few golden rules: Prepare as much as you can the night before. No meat in warm weather, except stuff that really won’t spoil, such as beef jerky. Variety is good. Pack in separate small containers. Speaking of containers, make them see-through, so that it’s obvious which ones are still full. Speaking of see-through, the lunch box itself must not be see-through, or it might attract unwanted attention. Aim for healthy, but settle for something that will actually get eaten. Speaking of healthy, absolutely no whole fruit like apples, oranges or bananas: Somebody will have the bright idea to throw them at other children. Pinterest lies. No lunch box ever looks like those photos, particularly once it’s been shaken in the school bag for a few hours.

The school run

This seems like a nobrainer, right? You’ll choose what suits your family best. The reality is, though, that some days will differ from the norm. So when you’ve created Plan A for travelling to and from school, when you’ve done a test run to make sure it all works, consider the contingencies: What if it’s raining, what if the car won’t start, what if one of the kids is sick, what if your partner is away on a work trip? If you live in an urban area, remember the traffic will increase the minute the schools go back, so add extra time to your test run estimates.

The stationery

Inspect what you have leftover from last year before buying. Scissors, rulers, and pencil sharpeners don’t get used up, plus there always seem to be more than enough blank books and pens. Some children prefer one big pencil case, while others opt for separating the colouring pencils from the glue sticks. Remember to label everything before you send it to school. Remember these tips when you need to replenish stationery supplied throughout the year.

Bonus tip:

The one tip to rule them all. Just because a particular life hack works for others, it doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Always feel free to disregard the advice of well-meaning friends and magazine articles.

Back to the routine

It’s back to school, but there’s still a lot of summer light left come February, so practise getting the kids into bed closer and closer to their usual bedtime, starting at least a week before. Think about breakfast, for you as well as for the kids: What can you serve that’s nutritious, quick to put together, with a good chance of being eaten? Ideas include eggs, baked beans, muesli with yoghurt, smoothies, and the now infamous smashed avo on toast. Revise the rules about the amount of screen time allowed on school nights. If you’re like most parents, holidays mean fewer restrictions. However, with each new school year, the children may have more schoolwork that’s done electronically (power point presentations, writing essays, watching the news, research). Create a calendar to track everybody’s commitments, including after-school activities, haircut appointments, play dates, family dinners, birthday celebrations and – yes – the next school holidays.

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