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The start of the school year means the return of a regular routine as well as a busier schedule with the addition of homework, extra-curricular activities, and sports. September, especially, can be overwhelming and stressful for many families, including my own, but I have found some back to school hacks that have helped make the transition from summer to school a little bit easier.
1) Prepare breakfast the night before
My daughter does not last on cold cereal alone, so when possible I try to prepare a hearty breakfast beforehand. Whether it is cooking an extra large batch of pancakes on the weekend and freezing them, baking muffins, preparing berries and fruit that can be easily thrown on top of yogurt with granola, or preparing a pot of overnight oatmeal in my slow cooker, knowing I have a plan and have prepared a hearty breakfast saves time and fills bellies with a lot less stress. Websites, such as this one, offer many nutritious and easy-to-make breakfast recipes that can be prepared the night before.
2) Keep sticky notes handy
School days are busy days and I am constantly saying to myself (or whoever is around to hear me), “Oh, I must remember….” And as soon as I say it, I forget it. Put sticky notes and a pen in your kitchen, on your nightstand, in the family room and anywhere else you’re known to have a brilliant moment that you know will vanish as quick as it came if you don’t write it down. Your memory (or lack there of) will thank you later.
3) If you don’t have a wall calendar – get one!
I don’t know how families survive without an old-fashioned wall calendar. Everyone in my family contributes to our wall calendar with birthday party dates, weekly activity times and anything else that everyone in the family should know about. We have ours hanging on our pantry door – a place everyone goes into and will see.
4) Keep your schedule top of mind
Take a picture of your weekly calendar and set it as your locked picture on your smart phone. It’s a fast and simple way to know what time you have to pick up who where, and a quick way to know what’s going on that week should someone ask you if you’re free.
5) Empty and fill backpacks as soon as you see them
Make looking for notes from the school a priority as soon as everyone gets in the door – either have a central bin and ask the kids to make sure permission slips and school forms that must be signed and returned are put in there on a daily basis or have a daily dumping of the school bag. Then sign the forms and have your kids put them in their bags right away. As this becomes part of your after school/work routine, you may notice less and less forms go missing (unless they get eaten by the school bus on the way home, which often happens in this house). ;)
6) Google Translate is your friend
My daughter is in French Immersion and although I speak a little French, I cannot speak it well enough to help my daughter with some of her homework. So, I use Google Translate a lot – on my laptop and on my iPhone. So, if you don’t speak or read French (or English or any other language) well enough to keep up with your kids, get the Google Translate app on your phone – you can take pictures of documents and it will translate them for you. Time saver extraordinaire!
7) Schedule date nights (way) in advance
Book a night a month solely for date nights – no matter what. It doesn’t have to be a weekend either. If Tuesdays are better for you than Saturdays, then make Tuesday your date night! The same should also be done for self-care appointments such as massages, beer nights and girls night out – it’s important to step away from the every day and have fun away from the kids, regardless of how busy life is.
8) Batch cook or get an Instant Pot (or both)
Similar to planning and preparing breakfasts in advance, batch cook suppers so you have home cooked meals in the freezer that can easily be thawed and cooked when you need them. Meal preparation places, such as Supperworks make meal planning simple and can ensure you have nutritious meals every day of the week.
Similarly, the addition of an Instant Pot can save you valuable time on weekdays. We have one and I love that it can cook a whole chicken in 45 minutes and hearty soups in 30 minutes. It's my favourite kitchen appliance.
9) Don’t be afraid to set limits and stay within them
It can be easy to say yes to everything and then feel overwhelmed by all the commitments. If you can’t fit parent council meetings into your schedule or can’t make it to a book club meeting during busier times, don’t feel guilty about it. Be honest with yourself and those around you about what you can and cannot do. No one can do it all – and no one is, despite what you may think.
10) Remember Netflix is waiting for you
My favourite day of the week is Friday. It’s an evening of wine and Netflix with my husband. So remember, quiet moments will come and go throughout the school year, and they are there waiting for you despite the chaos and stress that comes along with the return of another school year.
What are some of your back to school hacks?
by Penny Mayo
It is THAT time of the year again. The time when the evenings get cooler, the days get shorter and we are winding down our summer activities. It is also the time when we are preparing for the transition to back to school. Some parents love the return to routine and the end of camps, while other parents dread the return to making lunches and stressing about making it to school on time. Some kids can’t wait to meet up with their friends and pull out all those new notebooks, while other kids worry about remembering locker combinations and the amount of homework they might receive. Which one are you?
But it really doesn’t matter which one you relate to since there is one uniting factor - that almost everyone has jitters about something as we transition to the new school year.
How do we curb those first day/week of school jitters for you and your kiddos?
It is a challenging time for most parents and kids even if it is a time everyone is looking forward to. Here are 5 quick tips to make it through the first week or two.
1. Keep it very simple!
We’ve all heard how important it is to Keep It Simple. You may be wondering how you can keep it simple when we have no choice but to get the kids to school for the starting bell after being fed, dressed and, hopefully, hair and teeth brushed. But we do have plenty of choice for the hours that we are not at work and school. Just simply keep the expectations for these times low, don’t stress about the chores or the elaborate meals, don’t take on extra commitments and be sure to leave more time to get to places and get things done.
2. Keep it low key!
Especially for kids and parents who may be nervous or have some anxiety, try to keep it low key. Society and Facebook might make it look like you need to have special first day of school outfits, have a special routine for the first day, have perfect first day of school pictures, have a new school bag and lunch box, etc. Well, the reality is, this is not a true expectation. Your family might work better if you go to school in the clothes you already have in your closet, with the back pack from last year. Save shopping for when the stores are less busy.
3. Plan ahead!
Planning is hard after a summer of less structured time but the rewards are worth it. During the upcoming long weekend, take the opportunity to cook a few pounds of ground meat, cook some chicken, and bake a couple dozen muffins or protein bars to put in the freezer. In the morning, grab something out of the freezer so you know there is something easy waiting for supper when you get home and some healthy snacks for lunches the next day.
4. Don’t write a to-do list or make a to-do pile!
If you are anything like me, my house is full of to-do lists and piles of papers that need attention. It only gets worse in the first days and weeks of school when all forms need to be completed NOW! Instead of putting it on the to-do list or the to-do pile – just sit down and fill them out and send them right back to school. Since you are having low key evenings, there is time to just sit down and fill them out.
5. Allow yourselves to be lazy!
How can we allow ourselves to be lazy when there is so much to do with back to school time? The lazy days of summer makes for a hard transition to the crazy days of fall. If you balance the crazy school and work days in that first week or two with some lazy after dinner times, it will be an easier transition. If you can avoid going out during the evening of the first week of school and instead go for a family bike ride, go to the park or play some video games or board games with your kids, it will really help the transition to when extracurricular activities ramp up. By then you’ll be ready for it since you allowed yourself this calmer transition time.
How are you going to be gentle on yourself and your family during this year’s school start?
Penny Mayo is a parenting coach at yourparentingcoach.ca
I feel so lucky that I will be spending the summer playing in the park. This gives me the chance to enjoy so many of the simply wonderful aspects of life so I thought that I would write about my experiences and observations.
This year I have a 1 year old, one that is 2 and three quarters, and two eight year olds in tow. My 11 and 14 year olds and their friends will be hanging around as well. This should bring me some challenges, a chance to practice living in the present and lots of fun.
Because I am a bit of a parenting nerd, being in the parks also gives me the chance to witness parents and notice all of the different parenting that goes on. Sometimes I get some new tricks to use and sometimes I see techniques that don’t fit with me at all; but whatever the case I always enjoy seeing the different ways that parents and their children relate. It gives me the opportunity to connect and fine tune the way I choose to parent.
I do this by observing other parents, checking out the way kids play together and getting into many conversations with other caregivers about the issues that are being presented every day.
This week I was a bit surprised when another caregiver lifted the 2 year-old that was with me down from a climber. I don’t know exactly what she was thinking but I sure was curious and will guess at a few of the reasons here.
Marley, who is 2 and three quarters, was up on a pirate ship climber and to get down she would have to climb the rope net ladder. This is a new challenge for her. She did get up but never down before and was asking for help. I was sitting about 15 feet away, so not right there. My 8 year-old daughter was right beside her but not strong enough to help her down. She was however able to start to instruct her about what to do to get down… “Turn around and go backwards… you can do it… I’m right here.”
As Marley started to do this the other caregiver said “I’ll help you down”, picked her off the climber and put her on the ground.
Here’s what I think about this…
1. I think so many people find it hard to watch children in any amount of struggle. The impulse to relieve them of this struggle can be very strong. But the struggle is the motivation to try new things, learn and grow. On the other side there is a reward of increased confidence and more possibilities.
2. I think that the caregiver worried about the child’s safety and was concerned that she might fall. I can understand this worry but in this situation I was very confident in Marley’s ability.
3. I think that the caregiver was not paying attention to the interactions that were going on between the children and what they were working out together. In an effort to fix the situation the children were cut off from the learning experience that they were sharing. And,
4. I think that it is surprising when someone feels comfortable picking up a child without having a relationship. It is interesting to me where people draw this line. When they feel it is their right or even responsibility to physically move a child in a situation instead of having a conversation with them.
I am only assuming here that the caregiver wondered why I had not gone over myself to help Marley down. She may have thought I was lazy or didn’t notice. I’m pretty sure she didn’t realize that I was consciously making the decision to allow Marley to try something new, challenge her self and work out a situation with her friend all while in the careful watch of someone who cares.
I’m sure there was no harm done here but I must say that I am a bit disappointed that Marley didn’t get to realize the full benefits of her experience learning to climb the ladder. I am consoled knowing that she will have many more chances to try something new and feel success this summer and in the rest of her life.
Kaeli Van Regan is the founder of Living Inside Out. She combines her love of life and nature with education in Child and Youth Work, Life Coaching and Energy Healing to provide coaching to expand and uplift the family unit. Check her out onTwitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Growing up, my Mum would always say “ask Dad” whenever we presented her with a challenging question. Dad was the bastion of knowledge and facts. He was also the dispenser of punishments, whilst Mum was the hugger, the advice giver. Perhaps because of their differing styles, they made excellent parents and I often try to emulate their example in my own parenting. I still ask Dad tricky questions from time to time, and I always go to Mum for emotional support and advice.
Although my husband and I try not to promote particular gender stereotypes, we do find that we parent our son in very different ways. My favourite activities to do with him are reading together, snuggling, chatting and going for walks. My husband’s top picks are taking him to the park, playing with cars, playing soccer and giving him a bath-complete with toy boats capsizing and lots of splashing!
And in that way Mothering and Fathering are very different schools of parenting, at least in our house.
Of course it’s quite sexist to suggest that all mothers are nurturing and all fathers are fun, but even if they are not traditionally different, parenting styles between the sexes do differ.
Something that brings me great joy is to spy covertly on my husband when he is playing with our son. I find their father/son interactions are so radically different from the way I play with him, and I am able to see my husband in an adorable role of doting father. Some things that they do together sans Mama, include:
• Laying on the floor, playing cars, complete with engine noises
• Gentle teasing- “Oh no-you don’t like going to the park, do you???”
• Chasing-around and around the living room
• Tickling and wrestling
• Making up silly songs (many include the word bum)
• Wearing empty toy boxes on their heads and calling each other “box heads”
• Watching classic Transformers episodes
In all these ways and more, I appreciate the balance, enthusiasm and affection my husband brings to our child’s life and activities.
So this Father’s day I am going to let Dad sleep in, while I take our toddler to the basement and try and take a leaf from Daddy’s playbook, get on the floor, make car noises and wrestle until we can’t catch our breath.
And then later we’ll treat Dad, by doing one of these awesome Father’s day activities right here in Ottawa and the surrounding area:
2940 Old Montreal Rd, Cumberland: Take a look at all the tools and trades. Participate in a carpentry activity, and watch blacksmith, woodworking, and sawmill demonstrations.
11 Aviation Pkwy, Ottawa - Get an up close look at all types of planes and helicopters.
2100 Cabot St, Ottawa - Father’s Day Antique Car Show, cars, BBQ, and live music.
270 Pinhey Point Rd, Dunrobin - Learn about traditional crafts such as blacksmithing, woodworking, and more.