The last week has been packed with school preparations. Collecting, labelling and sorting books, hemming, washing and ironing uniforms. Collating forms and invoices for school, planning the school lunch box menu. There are so many things that no one ever tells you about how to “do school life” as a family. So many practical ideas and words of wisdom that I have had glimpses of but never really nailed- do you know what I mean?
So this pre- school term season has allowed me time to gather some thought on the subject of doing school life well as a family. We have five students to organise and each one has specific needs and requirements. Whether you are in private or public schooling I have no doubt we have a lot to learn from each other.
Here are my tips for being ready for the school year. I would love you to share your ideas too.
1. Opportunity: Our local op/thrift shops carry a range of second hand uniforms. Browse regularly to pick up basics. An extra pair of sports shorts, end of line stock that has been forwarded to the op shop and occasionally school bags and books. End of term or academic year is often peak times when there is an abundance of uniform. One op shop volunteer confessed that they stockpiled school uniforms for the summer/winter change over.
2. Flexibility: Don’ get locked into ordering all of your books, uniform and so on from the suggested retailer if there is choice. Some key pieces which have logos and so on maybe best bought from the schools retailer. However, I have found there is generic basic uniform from many larger department stores that can be bought in store or online. The same applies to textbooks – be bold and check the online competition, as sometimes you can save 30-40% off the suggested price.
3. Network: Sometimes we have connected with friends who have children in alternate years to us. We have found that you can come to an understanding that textbooks can be passed from family a to family b for a year and then back to family a when the next child requires them. There is of course the issue of care for property and the possibility of losing a text, but generally people are are generous and careful about these things.
4. Marketing: Don’t get sucked into the back to school marketing. I have been there and bought enough stationery supplied to open my own store, only to find the kids do not want to use a particular pen or notebook. Some back to school sales are going to save you money but buying another whizz bang lunchbox will not make school lunches any easier. Trust me I have tried many, many plastic, metal, fabric insulated options and I am still not entirely happy with our current arrangement. Buy what you need and what you know works for our child – yes, you might be buying 5 different styles of the same product!
5. Design: I have four girls who are artistic and love things to look beautiful. So we have spent days decorating books and folders. You don’t have to spend a fortune on matching books and binders if you are willing to make time to ‘make friends with the contact roll’. Contacting is one thing I struggle with, but the results are always fun. This year the kids have printed out pictures and pasted and contacted them on with their subject labels.
6. Labels: Years ago when the kids were few and young I was seduced by the kid marketing and bought packets of pre-printed labels in coloured plastic, complete with motif. They promised to stay on forever and be dishwasher safe. Well they come off. And they are expensive, especially for us when we need to be buy five sets! A cheap but effective laundry marker, a permanent marker pen with a chiselled edge and a Dymo labeller are all fabulous and effective.
7. Change: Don’t be afraid to change something as you go. After first term it is usually clear what is working and what is not. We are forever tweaking the 2 big transitions each day- getting to school and getting everyone home again (after sport and music commitments). My man and I share taking big and little kids to school. The older kids are taking advantage of supervised study sessions after school to complete homework before getting home later in the afternoon. And I have learnt to say no – to pull kids out of an activity if it was not working. Do something for a term rather than a year, after all 10 weeks of swimming is still of benefit. Ask you music teacher if they offer fortnightly lessons – a financial saving but a time saving too.
8. Names: One thing that I am less good at is remembering the names of the parents in our school community. I can spot Joe’s mum from 100 meters but do you think I can remember her name? Make use of class lists, parent contact details and so on if you school shares that info ration with you. It is helpful to annotate these with any information for you and your partner. For example, Joe has two older brothers or Maggie’s mum has breast cancer right now. If you enjoy chatting to a parent or want to get to know your their friend’s family ask to share mobile numbers.
9. Communication: I have only used a large arch lever file in the last couple of years to collate and keep track of all the paper work that our school sends us. If I don’t do this I lose everything, well a lot of things. I have a section for each child, plus an admin section. To help with all of this communication find out how you can access things online. An online newsletter for example, a class blog for parents/students, email addresses of teachers and key staff or maybe your school has an app like we do which contains contact information, updated notices and alerts when there is a sudden change to an excursion pick up time or sport training is cancelled due to bad weather. My man and I also sync our iPhones so that our calendars tell each other about school and work events.
10. Choices: As a parent you don’t have to say yes to everything. If you are in a season of small children then offering to help with reading in your child’s classroom may be more stress than one Mama can handle. Decide how much time you have and when/how you can support the community. Don’t let those zealous parent and friends types intimidate you into signing up for every canteen duty in the next term, but do what you can with what time, energy and money you have.
And enjoy each school day. Some days will be easier than others. But everyone tells me these years fly by. How do you do school life?