Navigating Back to School

Back in June I wrote about summer strategies to get through those yawning weeks when the usual childcare arrangement (generally known as school) suddenly disappears and parents across the land scramble to keep the kids safe and occupied. So you’d think that would mean that back to school would mean a big sigh of relief. While it certainly solves a lot of problems to have the kids back in school, those first weeks can present their own challenges.

Here’s my best advice for navigating the new school year:

Remember that transitions are tough: As Allure magazine once wrote, transitions are hard, it’s why we have commas and training wheels. Any change in the routine – even when it’s welcome – can take some time to get used to. Try for extra patience in the first few days and weeks as everyone settles in.

Invest money to save time: If your school offers a service to buy school supplies and deliver them to your child’s class, do it. If not, buy as much as you can online. You really don’t have to run around like a madwoman trying to complete the “school scavenger hunt” game. As a friend of mine once wrote of her daughter’s back-to-school list on Facebook: “I never did find one of the specific items she supposedly needed. Funny thing, they didn’t prevent her from matriculating.”

Anticipate problems: One thing I’ve come to know as a New York City school mom is that every year will bring a new challenge with the bus. I’m not sure why this is, though I imagine the logistics of transporting hundreds of thousands of school children is daunting. I know the first week or two is going to involve some bumps. I try to avoid early morning meetings during the first week or two. Whether it’s forgotten forms, a hiccup with the aftercare program or an unexpected schedule change, be ready to handle the inevitable bumps.

Transfer the school calendar to your calendar: Every year my husband and I take the school calendars (we manage three – my daughter’s, my son’s and their Hebrew school) and put all the dates onto our work calendars. I’m not going to lie – this doesn’t totally prevent the “Wait, is Sam off today??” panic, but it mitigates it. It also helps to see the year laid out to facilitate planning for days off, half days and vacations.

Don’t forget to celebrate! A new year is exciting. Try to plan a special dinner for the first night and give everyone the chance to talk about the first day.

Review and tweak: After the first month or so do a review of what’s working and what’s not and make any adjustments. Do you need to think about a sitter for a few hours to ease the end-of-day crunch? Is it time to think about a meal service to make dinner a little easier? Now that everyone is in their groove is a good time to review where stress points are and figure out how you can alleviate them.