Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

As my children grow older, I strive to find more meaningful ways to celebrate holidays. The 4th of July has always been a burst of red, white, & blue through our home, but I can’t say that we have ever spent time together discussing the importance of this day and getting to know the heroes behind what makes the 4th of July so special. Today I want to share with you a fun way you can share about the 4th of July Heroes in your home and a fun way to incorporate their images in your home to make the day more meaningful and festive.

I partnered with Walmart on this project and all the materials you need for this can be found at their store.

To begin, you can select your 4th of July Heroes that you want to talk about. I found this great list for kids that I used to select our heroes to focus upon. I then headed to Wikipedia and found images of each of our heroes and converted them to black & white and saved them on my computer. If you would like to use the same heroes as us, here are the heroes we selected for our project.

George Washington

George Washington

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

John Hancock

John Hancock

Crispus Attucks

Crispus Attucks

John Adams

John Adams

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your heroes selected, head to the Walmart Photo Site and upload the images there. In addition to having 1 of each image printed in 4×6, also add 1 set of wallets for each person.  If you send these to the one-hour lab, it will be less than $6 for all of them. While you are there, you can also pick up a package of mini-clothespins, a set of notecards for your kids to write on, supplies for this easy flag bunting, and this burlap wreath to decorate with. Since I already had these things in our home, it helps cut down on cost and storage for us this year.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once you have your images, have kids select which person they are interested in discovering and have them find information about their 4th of July heroes. I challenged my kids to find one or two facts about each hero.  We also read about the first 4th of July and how different is from how we celebrate today.

I am embarrassed to say that I was learning right along with my children and soaking it all in as much as they were. Abigail Adams, for example, was one of our favorite people we learned about. Did you know that she had five kids that she cared for and homeschooled while her husband was away serving his country?  Not only was she passionate about women’s rights, but she was also passionate about equality for all people, whether they were black or white. She helped care for the soldiers in her home (feeding them and treating their injuries), and she even learned how to make her own gunpowder. Emily and I are big fans of Abigail Adams now and all she did for our country.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Likewise, my son loved John Adams and his fun fact was that he thought his teachers, “held him back.” Despite being held back from his true potential in grade school, he passed his entrance exams to Harvard and his parents, who were farmers, gave up several acres of their own farm land to pay for John’s schooling. And, boy, did that pay off! John Adams strongly supported independence from Britain, signed the Declaration of Independence, and negotiated the treaty ending the Revolutionary War. He later became the nation’s first vice president and second president.  This led to a great discussion about recognizing our true potential when sometimes others do not.

Did you know that Dr. Martin Luther King referenced Crispus Attucks in one of his speeches? He held him up as an example of black patriotism at the beginning of our nation’s history. Yet, we never knew anything about what he did for our country. I’m so glad we know now.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids
Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

If you have smaller kids, you can share simple facts and have them draw pictures. Clearly, the fact that Abigail Adams rocked it as a mom and had five kids was worthy of a picture. Make this time fun for your kids while acknowledging the sacrifices that so many gave up for our freedom.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

Once we were done discussing our heroes, I incorporated these pictures into our holiday decor. I pulled some of the flags off of our bunting and switched them with pictures of our heroes.  I took the items off of my burlap wreath and clipped the wallet images with mini clothespins on the wreath. I hung this in the center of our mirror and added the flag & hero bunting around the frame of the mirror.

Celebrating 4th of July Heroes With Kids

I love these touches to our 4th of July decorating, but I love even more that my kids know about these patriotic heroes.  I hope this idea inspires you to learn more about this holiday and the heroes who made this day possible for all of us.

Happy 4th of July, friends!

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8 Simple Tips To Help Your Child Read

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

Take away the skill of reading and not only books become a mysterious and foreign world, but reading train timetables, ordering from a menu, understanding bank statements, and any number of straightforward daily activities become virtually impossible.

If your child is struggling to read, the effects of their problem can reach into adulthood, be humiliating, and extremely limiting.

The world of a non reader is a mixed up place where only those who know the ‘secret code’ can decipher the strange symbols around them and fully participate.

A sad, lonely, and stressful place indeed.

The time to catch your child’s reading problems and support them in their quest to become a confident and capable life long reader is Primary School. Preferably before they reach Grade 3.

Your school will be monitoring your child’s progress and implementing a detailed plan to improve their reading skills and strategies. But, if you’re worried that the school is not, then an appointment with the teacher is a must to thoroughly explore your concerns and issues.

Do not put this off!

After Grade 3 it is more difficult for children to bridge the gap, learn new patterns of reading behavior, and develop appropriate reading strategies. Encouraging them while they’re young is vital, and there are some things you can do at home to complement and support your school’s efforts. Here are 8 simple ways to help your child if reading is a struggle for them:

  1. Make your reading time a regular activity at a specific time each day. Children love structure and will look forward to the closeness and bonding this time brings.
    For some children this may be the only intimate one-on-one time they get to spend with a parent on a regular basis. Making reading together a special time for just the two of you only takes 10 or 15 minutes a day, and the rewards are tremendous.
  2. Vary how you structure your reading time together. Don’t always expect your child to read to you. Read to them sometimes. Take turns reading. Read out loud together! Make sure it’s a stress free and enjoyable time together.
  3. Use the 3 P’s. Pause, prompt, praise.
    Pause when your child comes to a word they don’t know. Don’t jump in straight away by telling them the word or getting them to sound it out. Let them think.
    Prompt your child if they haven’t answered after about 10 – 20 seconds. Say ‘Make your mouth say the first sound’, or ‘ What word would make sense there?’, or ‘Can you tell me what would sound right there?’. Only sound out the word if it can be effectively sounded out.
    If your child doesn’t get the word after a couple of prompts or an attempt at sounding out, tell them the word straight away. You want to avoid feelings of failure, plus make sure they get on with the book while they can still remember what the story is about.
    Praise your child for their efforts. Say something like ‘Well done, you made it look and sound right’, or ‘Well done, you used the first sound to help you figure out the rest of the word’. If they didn’t get the word, simply praise them for trying their best… ‘That was a great try – well done‘. Be as specific as possible.
  4. Not every single word has to be right. Refrain from picking on every last error unless you want to make your child feel inadequate and fearful of making too many mistakes. This will contribute to their negative attitude towards reading and make their progress even slower.
    If your child is gaining the overall meaning from the story or text, then they are achieving the major goal of reading – to decipher words and receive a message.
  5. Talk, talk, talk…… Ask your child to retell their favourite part of the book in their own words. Talk about what they would do if they were a person from the book. Talk about the way the characters in the book felt and why they felt like that. Talk about interesting words from the book and what they mean. This will help increase your child’s level of comprehension.
  6. Be seen to be a reader. It’s surprising how many kids never see their own parents reading a book. A newspaper yes – but not a book! Kids are the greatest mimics in the world, and they especially love to copy their mum or dad.
    Sit down and read your own separate books at the same time. Share parts of your books with one another by reading them out loud and telling why you chose that part. Make it obvious that reading is something you personally value and think is worthwhile.
  7. Don’t cover up the pictures! Never. Ever. Using pictures is one of the ways children gather information to support their use of sound, letter, and word skills. Pictures support the meaning of a story and provide a context to help children solve unknown words.
    Picture story books have pictures for a reason. Many times the text doesn’t make sense without the pictures, and asking your child to read it without looking at the pictures will often feel like trickery to them.
  8. Last but definitely not least – make reading fun! The last thing it needs to be is a chore. You can‘t blame any child for being unwilling if something is hard AND a bore.

Find books about topics your child is interested in. Read craft books and make things. Get out a cookbook and follow a recipe. Get out the words to favourite songs and follow along. Create a treasure hunt with lots of clues to read – anything that makes reading something to look forward to.

Make your reading time together regular, interesting, stress free, and fun. Your child will benefit, and so might you!
Happy reading!

What is Homeschooling?

Thursday, August 18th, 2005

Do you know what these famous people have in common?

  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • George Patton
  • Albert Einstein
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Winston Churchill
  • Agatha Christie
  • George Bernard Shaw
  • Will Rogers

If you guessed that they were all homeschoolers, you’d be correct. This is a very short list of famous and successful people who were educated at home. If you would like to expand this list, do a search on the Internet for “famous homeschoolers.” There are many websites that list these people and some provide detailed biographies. There is even a book called, aptly, “Famous Homeschoolers“, by Nancy and Malcolm Plant.

The point here is to get into the mindset that people can be educated and become successful adults without attending public school. And because I can almost “hear” what you are thinking, no, it is not necessary to have a high school diploma to go to college.

So what is homeschooling? In the broadest sense, homeschooling is educating your children at home. You, as parent, become teacher. Parents homeschool for more reasons than you can imagine. Some want to avoid having their children exposed to violence and peer pressure. Some homeschool so that they can make sure their children’s education adheres to their religious beliefs. Some live a different lifestyle: perhaps they travel a lot and want their children’s schooling to be flexible enough to fit around that life style. And some, like me, simply enjoy being with their children. They don’t want the public school to interrupt and weaken the parent/child bond that they have been working hard to create for the first five years of their child’s life.

Just as there are many reasons to homeschool, there are many methods of homeschooling. All the way from “un-schooling” (learning by doing, learning from life, not using textbook type materials) to “school at home” (using textbooks at desks set up in a schoolroom at home) and everything in between. It’s very easy to find hundreds of homeschool Websites by using a search engine, but just to get you started, try: Jon’s Homeschool Resource Page

When I decided to write this article, I thought hard about what I could offer that wasn’t being displayed on thousands of Websites on the Internet. I realized that the only thing I have to offer anyone interested in homeschooling is my experience. So everything in the article below comes from my fifteen years of experience homeschooling my four youngest children. I hope it is of some use to you.

Deciding to homeschool your child may be one of the most important decisions you ever make as a parent, and it will take a lot of thought and soul searching. To the newcomer, it may seem impossible, overwhelming and very, very lonely. But like most huge obstacles, once it’s broken down into smaller pieces, it becomes manageable. We’ll take it one step at a time, in small enough chunks to get a hold of. So, if you’re game, roll up your sleeves and let’s get to work figuring out if homeschooling is for you and your child.

First things first. Organization is the key. Get a three-ring binder (homeschooling parent’s LOVE three-ring binders) and put a label on the front. (If you’ve made the transition to digital record keeping, you can just start a folder on the computer. But it’s not as much fun.) Label it something serious, like “My Homeschooling Plans” or “Homeschooling Thoughts.” Put some paper in the binder, find a really comfortable ink pen, and sit down somewhere quiet.

Ready? Good. Now, let’s get started.

What are your reasons for considering homeschooling? Even if you haven’t actually made the decision to homeschool, the fact that you are here reading this article says you are curious. Perhaps you honestly don’t know the answer yet, and that’s ok. The remainder of this article is going to try to help you start to find those answers.

Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, but each state has it’s own set of laws that must be followed. Compulsory (how I hate that word) education here in Washington State starts at the age of 8. Even though I had been homeschooling him from birth, to stay legal once my son reached 8-years old, I was required to become “certified.” That meant I either had to have two years of college education, or take a “certification class.” I met this requirement by taking an independent correspondence class, during which I was asked to put on paper my goals, philosophies and reasons for wanting to homeschool. I’d like to help you do the same right now.

Start a page–either the “tree” kind or a file on the computer and title it, “My Educational Beliefs.” List what personal beliefs you have about education especially the education of your own children. Get as detailed as you can here–the value is in the thinking process behind the list. Take your time, I’m in no hurry.

As an example to get you started, I’m going to share with you what I wrote on my list nine years ago:

My Educational Beliefs

1. I believe my child’s attitude about learning should be: One of continual curiosity and seeking of knowledge.

2. I believe my child’s learning should lead towards a lifestyle that is: Rural, physically active, creative.

3. I believe these basic values should be part of my child’s learning:

  • Respect for others
  • Loyalty to family and friends
  • Honesty
  • Generosity

4. I believe children learn best: Through hands-on learning experience, reading, workbooks.

5. I believe a teacher should:

  • Provide side-by-side assistance and direction.
  • Interact with the child.
  • Provide the structure within which the child may explore, experiment, study and achieve.
  • Provide a good example of excitement in learning.

6. Other beliefs:

I believe my child should grow up to be self-reliant and occupationally secure in a field of high interest to them.

Now, that wasn’t too bad, was it? Don’t give up on this until you have at least something written down, but don’t agonize over it either. You can come back to it later if need be. Next, start a paper or file titled “Life Goals For My Child.”

I want you to write down what kind of person you envision your child being as an adult. What are your hopes and dreams for him/her? What educational gifts do you hope to be able to help them find that will serve them their entire lives?

I’ll share mine from 9 years ago, just to get you started:

“Life Goals for My Child”

  • Be literate.
  • Be self-reliant.
  • Compete well in their chosen field of occupation.
  • Appreciate art, music, and literature.
  • Be creative.
  • Be inventive and resourceful.
  • Be healthy, mentally and physically.
  • Co-operate with others.
  • Maintain a strong sense of self-worth.
  • Maintain a life-long curiosity, seeking knowledge as a way of life.
  • Look to the future with a sense of excitement and adventure.

For the last exercise, start a third paper titled: Why We (I) Am Going to Homeschool Our (My) Child? (Yes, single parents can successfully homeschool their children.) You may not have all the answers for this one yet either, but just get something down. All of these ideas and beliefs can start getting mixed in with other people’s opinions once we start educating ourselves in depth about homeschooling, and you’ll be glad you have these lists tucked away.

Okay, here’s my old list:

Why We Are Going To Homeschool Our Children

Our family consists of myself, my husband, a 21-year-old daughter, a 19-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old son, a 7-year-old daughter, a 4-½ year old daughter, and an unborn son due in 6 months. My two oldest daughters (from my first marriage) were in the public school system for the whole of their educational years. It is largely a dissatisfaction with the public schools and all it’s attendant problems (academic, social, and moral) that has caused us to make the decision to homeschool our youngest children. We decided, even before our 8-year-old son (the oldest of the younger set) was born, that somehow we would find an alternative to the public schools.

We want to homeschool for some additional reasons. We want added closeness with our children. We want more independence, greater control over our family’s moral and philosophical values, and better awareness of our children’s interests.

We dislike the thought of any government agency–no matter how well meaning–directing the raising of our children.

We intend to homeschool because we do not want our children’s academic, social, and moral education taken out of our hands.

We believe these areas of a child’s education are a parent’s responsibility, right, and pleasure.

I’d like you to spend some time going over these lists until you feel they accurately reflect your feelings about homeschooling your children. When I did these exercises, I had only a vague idea about why I wanted to homeschool and what kind of education I wanted to help my children acquire. These simple exercises helped me to solidify my ideas and provided the basis for our future homeschooling methods. I hope they help you to do the same. Keep these lists in a safe place and add to them as you explore the possibility of homeschooling your child.

Developmental Toys

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

When I was pregnant with my first child a friend said to me, “You know, you don’t need to buy many toys for a child. Just make sure you have some Tupperware, a cardboard box, some plastic measuring cups, and a wooden spoon and she’ll be happy”. I chuckled at the time, thinking “How many toys can one little baby need?”, but by my child’s first birthday I was no longer chuckling. Toys seemed to spontaneously generate in our living room. There were dozens of things that people told me my child needed . Mothers in my play group didn’t ask IF we had something, but HOW MANY we had. I received emails regularly from toy companies touting their latest toys that my child needed to have to develop on target. I conscientiously read all labels, did safety checks, scanned Amazon reviews, and kept checklists to make sure that I got my child what she needed when she needed it and that it was safe and reliable.

Then one day, after I had had my second child and the toy parade had started up its encore, I decided to stop the madness. What did my child really need? I certainly survived childhood (and even came out okay) without all these things to stimulate my left brain, my right brain, my intellect through music, and the many, many electronic items that cause my husband and I to purchase batteries each time we’re near a Target. I took a step back and thought about what we had that we really needed, versus what we enjoyed. The following article covers items that I feel really do contribute to a child’s development. Please note that it is NOT an all-inclusive list. I’m sure there are more things out there, or your own child may have benefited from or loved another item. These are not the “items any mother can’t live without” but my own personal take on “the type of toys that you should invest in since they contribute to a child’s development in his/her first 18 months”. Feel free to add to this list through one of the Mom Advice forums!

For the littlest ones, let’s start with toys that promote sensorimotor development. Rattles encourage reaching and grabbing and help motor skills development. Mobiles encourage visual tracking and reaching. Textures, such as rough, soft, crinkly, etc. give varying kinesthetic responses for your baby. Setting interesting toys just out of reach while on the floor encourages a slightly older baby (4+ months) to reach, roll, or crawl. Having an unbreakable mirror available for “tummy time” is fun for the baby and encourages beginning social skills.

As the child grows, ride-on toys that roll or rock are good for gross motor skill development. Soft balls for throwing and catching are great for outdoors or indoors. A larger, soft ball for rolling, kicking, and throwing with both hands is useful, too.

Language is an area that most parents focus on, and the best way to promote these skills is by talking to your child. (This is even free!). Naming items, talking to your baby whether he or she can understand the words or not, singing, and reading to your child are all important. The importance of reading to your child can’t be underemphasized. However, I have noticed that children’s books are as expensive, if not more, than adult books! The public library can be a super resource for the family. Many libraries also have baby or toddler programs with story time, etc. Books are plentiful and free. Most libraries also hold book sales where you can get children’s books at a bargain. Garage sales and discount websites are good bets, too.

Speaking of books, I’m often asked my opinion on the many electronic books available today. Here’s what I think: they are fun but not necessary. A good, old-fashioned book will do everything you need it to just by being a good story. (I read some interesting research through the International Reading Association recently that suggests that these electronic books are actually a bit of a distraction for “readers”. They are best for preschool and older children who already have the concept of a story (beginning, middle, end, etc.) to enhance the story as opposed to distracting from the language for younger ones).

While we’re on the subject of books, I can’t resist mentioning the oh-so-popular “video board books” that are ubiquitous these days. Do we own them? Yes. Do I like them? Yes. Are they essential for good development? No. There is nothing in these DVD’s that you can’t get from a classical music CD and a good book. (However, I do love how they calm the kids at “fussy time”!!).

This leads me to music, or more specifically classical music. When I was first pregnant I picked up a “brain builder” CD of classical music (for $17.99). I was shocked to see that it was all music I already owned. There was no big secret here. It was basically a lovely selection of classical pieces. Additionally the research on the “brain benefits” of classical music is pretty shaky; however, I’m a big believer in exposing kids to music (not just classical), so a good radio station, or calming CD’s, or favorite digital music station on television is always okay in my book.

As young children develop spatial skills, their cognitive skills develop as well. That’s why is useful to have some simple toys around to build these important skills. Stacking/nesting cups or blocks are usually cheap (mine were $2.99 at Target) but focus on important skills. “Shape sorters” are good, too, to develop cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination. And, I just can’t say enough good about old-fashioned blocks. These can be an essential tool for development that correlates with later math skills (there’s great research out of Boston College on this). I have noticed, though, that it can be hard to find old-fashioned, wooden building blocks, and once I found them I nearly fell over when I saw the price. However, they are a good investment for both boys and girls.

These months from birth to 18 months are key for developing so many skills. Children’s play is largely motor driven at first, and then exploratory. Language is critical, and you want to continue to foster those important language skills with your children through play. By 12-18 months, little ones are ready for a bit more challenge with play, and you can introduce crayons and markers to build motor and spatial skills (and foster creativity!), puzzles for perceptual organization develop, and “imaginary play” items, such as a play kitchen, tool bench, or dress-up clothes.

And, of course, everyone (at all ages!) needs at least one good “lovey”!

Raising Creative Kids

Saturday, February 12th, 2005

“Where did he come up with that?” Kids often amaze us with their imaginative ideas, and we should give ourselves a pat on the back for playing a role in this development. Innovative thinking is essential for success in school and in life, and it’s our job as parents to nurture our kids’ innate desire to be creative. Inventive play fosters original thinking, an asset when children are confronted with new situations. By providing activities that use their creativity and imaginations, we are giving our children an important tool to deal with life down the road.

Give them ideas

Children come up with things to do on their own, but we also need to provide them with new ideas of interesting activities. Think back to what you did as a kid. Did you write a diary, create elaborate puppet shows, or sing and dance for relatives? Share ideas from your own childhood experiences. Offer creative writing ideas like writing an episode for a favorite television show or writing a new ending to a favorite story. Craft projects offer another outlet for inspiring imaginations. Craft kits, especially those from Curiosity Kits and ALEX, offer a wide variety of unusual and fun projects. They’ve brought us a long way from the sock puppets of our youth. These manufacturers offer ideas and supplies to make such things as scrapbooks, powerballs, soaps, candy, sun catchers, dolls, planes, dinosaurs, jewelry treasures, and lots of decorative items. Kids can gather ideas from the instructions, and then give the projects their own unique touches.

Keep ideas fresh

Pick up any parenting magazine and you’ll find lots of ideas to get those creative juices flowing in your kids. Search the web and check out craft stores. Keep a journal or file for magazine clippings and ideas as you find them. Stockpile so that you’ll know how to answer the whiny “I’m bored” call from your kids.

Give them freedom

Once you’ve given your kids some suggestions and supplies, step back and see which they choose and where they go with them. This unstructured play time gives kids an opportunity to stretch their creative muscles. Watch as they incorporate your ideas and branch out on their own.

Set an example.

Chances are, if you are a creative person, your child will be too. You display creativity in your everyday activities like when you reason with a disgruntled child, change lyrics to songs, and maybe even do some interpretive dancing to entertain a toddler. Your children see your silliness and it rubs off on them. You surely use creativity to juggle your and your family’s schedules. It’s a great idea to point out to your kids how you use creativity in your daily life.

As parents, we always try to do the very best for our kids and provide opportunities that will help them mature into intelligent, capable adults. Nurturing their creative spirits helps them along this road. With their well-developed imaginations, maybe they’ll turn it into a yellow brick, pink polka-dotted road with sparkles!

Reading to Your Children

Tuesday, September 21st, 2004

When is a good time to start reading to your children? The answer is, as soon as you can! Babies in utero can hear the outside world starting at 4-5 months, so you can start reading aloud to your baby before he and/or she is even born. Reading aloud to your children is one of the best things you can do to promote language development and to encourage a love of reading. This can prime them for future school success. You also don’t have to stop reading with or to your child once they learn to read by themselves. Reading together can be a lifetime joy.

Reading to your young child (age 0-4) fosters their understanding of language. It provides and introduces them to new vocabulary words. It enhances their speech and language production. Children this age also love to hear the same stories again and again, then to “read” it themselves from memory. This is great practice! Plus, reading to your child is a great bonding time together.

Reading with your preschooler can be a great avenue into their own world of reading. Furthermore, it can enhance problem-solving skills, listening skills, and foster attention span. As you read, move beyond the words on the page to point out the pictures, ask questions, have your child predict what will happen next, etc. These are all great pre-reading skills to foster. Additionally, children at this age are learning “concepts about print”: how we read left to right, how you hold a book right side up, how you turn pages as you read. These skills are important pre-reading skills.

As children start school they will be learning to read themselves, if they haven’t started reading on their own already. Reading aloud to them continues to model reading expression and fluency and encourages them in their own reading attempts. One thing to incorporate at this stage is “fingerpoint reading” – pointing to each word as you read. This “points” out for the child that each word is a unique entity. (Studies done at UC Davis by Linnea Ehri have indicated that fingerpoint reading actually helps children move into independent reading).

As children begin to read on their own, many parents feel they should no longer be the readers, but the audience. While it is wonderful, and often necessary, to listen and support your child as they learn to read, this doesn’t mean that reading to them has to stop. Beginning readers often want to read or hear books that are far above their reading levels (the “Harry Potter” books are a good example). This is a great time to select a challenging book that they are interested in but cannot read on their own. As you read to them, you will be continuing to foster their reading and language skills.

So while there is no magic age at which one should start reading to his or her children, there also is no magic age at which to stop. Sharing books aloud can continue into adulthood! Developing a love of reading and literature is a lifelong gift that you can give your children.

Back to School Tips

Thursday, August 12th, 2004

It is hard to believe that summer is coming to a close, but the fall and school season is fast approaching. Our son will be beginning his first year of preschool this year and we are both excited and nervous. How nice it has been to not be on a schedule and to be able to lounge around in our pajamas, yet at the same time I am looking forward to having some time on my hands to tackle those projects that have been looming before me all summer long.

I remember the hectic mornings of my youth with three children in our parent’s house. I remember the constant fight over the bathroom, the rushed breakfast, our poor mom driving us to school every single day, and the frantic sense of urgency that we all had to get to where we need to be. I hope that with a few of these organizational tips that you can avoid those hectic mornings and be able to really sit down and enjoy that cup of coffee before your hurried day begins. Here are a few of my ideas for staying organized during a more stressful part of your day.

Plan Ahead

Much of the stress in our lives can be avoided if we can plan ahead and this is the case with returning to school. Usually the teachers send home with your children a list for what will be needed for the next school year and it is important to get all of the required items as well as several back-ups for later during the year. Take advantage of all of those back to school sales with the huge bins of notebooks, loose leaf paper, and pencils and stock up. Designate a spot in your home, which is accessible to the children, for storing all of your back up supplies. Be sure to check your local dollar store as well for the pricier items that your child will need in order to get started for the year. You will be very grateful when the spring rolls around and you do not have to make another trip to the store and pay higher prices for the same items later in the year.

Next, label, label, label. Everything will need to have your child’s name on it and you will be glad that you labeled your child’s items when another child accidentally brings them home with them. You can write your child’s name in permanent marker on belongings such as backpacks, lunch boxes, gym shoes, and other fabric items. For notebooks, pencil totes, and books it might be a good investment to purchase a self-stamping rubber stamp with their information on it or purchase address labels. A good place that I have found to get these is ChecksUnlimited and they offer a wide selection in different styles and fonts.

Be sure not to miss the child’s Back to School night and introduce yourself to their teacher. Be involved in any capacity that you can whether it is room mother, volunteer teacher, or just to help on those field trips. Not only will your child be grateful, but you can establish a relationship with the teacher and open the doors of communication. Remember that if you do not have a wonderful first impression of the teacher to reserve this information when you are around your child. Your negativity can rub off on them and immediately start the year off on the wrong foot.

Clothing Wars & Other Battles

Around the age of two or three you will start to see your child developing their own opinions on what looks good and what does not. Maybe looking like a “fashion don’t” isn’t of any concern to them, but it might be a concern to you on your child’s picture day. It can be a true battle of wills, but there are ways to help your child choose their own clothing with your help.

Invest in a five compartment sweater organizer and use the top one for Monday, the second one for Tuesday, and so on. On Sunday evening have your child help you plan the clothing for the week. Preset everything down to underwear, socks, barrettes, whatever you can do to help make their morning easier.

For younger kids, preset their combs, brushes, toothbrush, towel, and toothpaste so that they can quickly get ready in the morning without you getting everything out for them.

Be sure to have purses, briefcases, coats, and backpacks waiting at the door ready to go for you so that you don’t have to rush around getting everything together in the morning. You will be grateful when you don’t have to spend twenty minutes looking for that one paper or your keys when you are already rushed to get to where you need to go.

Meals

Much can be said about meal planning not only for your hectic morning, but also lunch preparation can be particularly cumbersome when you are trying to get your children to school on time. The supermarkets offer a variety of food that is both unhealthy and pricey, catering to the harried parent who doesn’t think that they have time to be creative. You will waste a lot of your money by buying these convenience and individually sized items. Instead of buying these, look for foods that are nutritious and which will offer your child the nutrients they need for energy to get through their school day. Buy large packages of crackers, cheese, milk or juice, carrots, celery, and other healthy foods and start by dividing these large packages into small lunch-size portions in baggies. Keep these baggies in a Rubbermaid container and then just grab them and drop them in the lunch boxes in the morning. Save your used yogurt containers and refill these with the boxed pudding or Jello that you can make large batches of for a fraction of the cost or refill them with yogurt from larger and less expensive containers. Instead of purchasing juice boxes or individual milks, fill a thermos with the drink of your choice. For younger children you can dilute the juice so that they are not getting too many empty calories. Be fun and creative with lunches and a little note to your child (or your husband for that matter) will really make their day and remind them of how special they are to you. By preparing these meals the night before, you will save yourself some time in the morning.

With that being said, don’t forget to offer your child a healthy breakfast in the morning. It is proven that children perform better on tests and have less health problems later in their life if their day is started with a healthy breakfast. Have a variety of foods on hand such as fruits, whole grain cereals, whole grain bagels, and other healthy foods on hand that your child can prepare for themselves. For the more motivated mother, you could even prepare large batches of French toast, waffles, or pancakes and then freeze them in individual portions for your child to zap in the microwave in the morning. I like to do this on Saturday mornings when I have more time on my hands to really prepare a nice morning brunch and just make tons of extras for those days during the week when I have less time.

Preset your table with silverware, bowls, and plates the night before. Place cereal and other breakfast items on the table where they are accessible to your child to help prepare their breakfast in the morning. Also make sure that your dishwasher is empty the night before so that you can immediately move breakfast dishes to the dishwasher avoiding a sink full of dishes to come home to after your busy morning.

Papers, Paper and More Papers

The beauty of your children’s craft projects from school will wear off if you are saving every single picture and drawing that they have done. Save yourself the loads of clutter by allowing your child to help you pick their most favorite projects for saving. Invest in a couple of inexpensive frames for their bedroom and reframe these periodically with their beautiful artwork or choose one picture for the refrigerator or front of one of your cupboards for saving. By allowing your child to help you choose, they learn the importance of weeding out paperwork.

It is also smart to create an area in your file cabinet or a plastic file crate for your child’s papers and report cards. Have them help you with labeling the folders or decorating them with stickers that they have chosen. This will give them a sense of ownership of their work and also teach them the importance of filing their own papers.

As a parent, your child will be bringing home lots of papers that require your reading or signature. Designate a spot in your home for an inbox and outbox for these papers. Label them clearly for your child and instruct them to unload their papers into the inbox. It also helps if you can create a box for them for their own room where they can put their own homework in that they need to do for the evening.

For papers such as emergency contact sheets, permission slips, and immunization records which come up frequently during the school year for field trips and sports, it is a good idea to invest in photocopying these documents and keeping them in a file for yourself so that you don’t have to constantly be signing and writing the same things over and over again.

When you get papers on bake sales, field trips, and other school events, be sure to immediately transfer these dates onto a calendar. If you have more than one child’s events to attend, assign each child and family member a color for their events. It will make it easier to see that it is Susie’s concert that you need to attend and not Billy’s. Buy a calendar that has plenty of room in it for all of your information and by immediately putting this on your calendar in a neat and organized way, you will have less chance of missing those important events. Consult your calendar first thing in the morning so that you know exactly what you need to do for the day.

A+ Work

Don’t forget to set aside some time in the evening for your child to work on their homework. By setting aside time in the evening you will not have to be trying to complete homework pages first thing in the morning. Take the time to check your child’s work and discuss their homework with them. If you have no idea what they are doing, bluff your way through it or run over to the internet and see if you can figure it out. Trust me, our parents did it- we just really believed them.

Now you truly can enjoy that cup of coffee, your morning paper, and your smooth morning.