imageAre you ready? It’s back to school time. Time for life to fall back into a scheduled routine (pun intended!)

Summer has a different call, even if you worked all summer and the kids went to camps, grandma’s or day care. There wasn’t any homework to contend with at the end of the day, and the kid’s schedule unlikely demanded full attentions spans on their part.

But now it’s school time. And I’m suggesting you not wait until the night before school to get a routine in motion that will help your kids succeed and make yourself less crazy.

I’m a huge proponent of a schedule for kids of all ages. Schedules help everyone know what to expect and they cut down on misunderstandings and forgetfulness. Here are some of my scheduling suggestions to help make this back to school time go more smoothly.

1. Schedule a bed time. This is easier when your kids are younger, but if your kids are older, don’t think this isn’t necessary. Sleep is key to learning, developing and getting along. Sleep deprivation is ugly and has many hidden consequences. You may need to be firm. You may need to take away electronics after a certain time, but do whatever it takes to help your kids understand how important sleep is to their success.
2. Schedule time to plan meals. Breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner. Then schedule a time to go grocery shopping. If you have a meal plan, and a shopping list for the necessary ingredients, you will have what you need on hand and are less likely to find yourself making multiple shopping trips, running through the drive through or eating stuff you know isn’t healthy for your family. Obviously, if your kids are part of a lunch program at school, that will be one less meal to worry about, but making sure breakfast and dinner are organized, will be less stress each day. Make meal planning more effective by planning meals around the activity schedule. If Tuesday night is the night everyone gets home late because of sports or band practice, make a meal in the crock pot that day, or plan left-overs so there is less time before you are sitting down to eat when you get home. Cook or prep as many meals as possible at one time, or cook extra meals on the weekend to freeze and have on hand for quick meals in a pinch.
3. Schedule time to stay informed. Get the low-down as soon as you can. Class schedules, bus schedules and stops, verify there are no changes from last year. Get the times for open houses and meeting new teachers. I also found it very helpful to cut yourself out as the go-between. Request both parents be put on email lists and mailings for school calendars and events, that way it isn’t always your job to get school programs to the ex or you aren’t waiting for the other parent to inform you. Schools in our area have internet updates for daily/weekly progress and electronic ways to stay in contact with teachers. Sign up and schedule a regular time to keep informed for less surprises at report card time.
4. Schedule homework and study times. Help your child break down and schedule projects into manageable bites, so they get a little done every day and it’s doesn’t become a ginormous, last minute headache. Help them understand what works best for them, is it better to get their most hated homework done first, or their hardest homework while they are fresh. Can they study with music or is quiet better. Set up a regular scheduled time for homework, at the peak energy time for your child and you. And be sure to keep distractions at a minimum.
5. Schedule activities carefully and judiciously. No one is successful when they are overloaded. It’s appropriate to set boundaries around how many activities can be handled at a time, especially if you have more than one child. Schedule some unplanned time into your kids schedule too, every moment shouldn’t be programmed, kids need time to play and day dream. Determine what will work in your situation and stick to it. Unfortunately, single parent families have less time. Time is lost in exchanges and visitation schedules, and moving back and forth between two households. Be aware and proactive so the stress level is more manageable for your kids.
6. Say no. It’s O.K. to say no. This may not technically fit my “schedule” list, but practice saying no without guilt. Yes, there are lots of volunteer needs at your child’s school and sports teams, but you also need to prioritize your sanity. You can’t do it all, and as a single parent, if you don’t pace yourself you will wear out. If you can only miss one day of work to go on a field trip, plan which field trip you can go on. If your schedule won’t accommodate attending every breakfast and special event, ask if you could do something different, or what other help the teacher may need. Be realistic and don’t over-commit.

I hope your back to school weeks will be organized and less stressful! Let me know how these scheduling ideas help, and any others you think would help another single parent.