Stress Free Back to School Preparation

When I start to hear those back-to-school commercials on TV and radio or see those advertisements online, my heart sinks. It’s a reminder that the summer is coming to a close and it’s time to change gears to get back into the rat race.

I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not looking forward to being much busier. As a career mom and grad student, I am personally experiencing the pressures of creating a well-organized planner and schedule to keep my head above water.

If your kids are young, time management is extremely tasking. You won’t be able to rely on your young kids to be on-task consistently all the time. You need to give them a chance to be kids and have play time and not over delegate chores to them. You will need a really strong support system from friends, family and colleagues to keep your household running smoothly. This is the time of year that you may want to let your employer know that you may need some time off work to settle the kids in to the new school schedule especially if there are extracurricular activities involved.

If you have teenage kids or adults living at home, you have a little more breathing room if they are trained to help with managing household duties. The key is to communicate to your household members what your expectations are so your family is working like a team and you, as a single parent, do not feel like you will drown.

Creating a schedule and communicating expectations will reduce the stress factor in your home. Communication doesn’t mean just posting a calendar in a central location in the house for everyone to see. It means that people involved in these activities, whether they are household members or not, are aware of requirements like the preparation of checklist and coordination of transportation.

To stay on top of your busy schedule, you need to agree on a tool for communicating everyone’s activities first. Then create a regular schedule for meeting with your kids to go over the past week and the next week on the schedule. Here are some tips on how to manage your family’s schedule

Then create a regular schedule for meeting with your kids to go over the past week and the next week on the schedule.

Preparing your Family Calendar as a Communication Tool
Choose a calendar type

Decide on the type of calendar you want to use. You can use an online calendar like outlook or google calendar that you can share with your kids if they are old enough to have their own email account. If they are too young, you can print out a large calendar that you can post in the kitchen or den or in a room that is accessible and frequently visited.

Assign a color code to each family member

For visual simplicity, use color coding so you can quickly identify each person’s activities on the calendar. For example, Karen = pink, Tom = blue, Devon = yellow, Mom = purple. So all of Karen’s activities will be in pink, Tom’s in blue and mom’s in purple. If you are using an online calendar, you can color code their activities for outlook and google calendar. If you are using the printed calendar version, buy colored post-it notes and again write all of Karen’s activities in pink post-its, Tom’s in blue and so on. You may also want to use their assigned colors to post their house chores (for example, Tom makes dinner on Tuesdays at 6pm)

Calendarize your recurring events

Start with one month at a time. Identify your weekly recurring activities like dance lessons every Monday at 4pm. Place all the weekly activities for each person. The most important thing to note is the activity, the time and the location. Then insert your special activities or one-time events like “PTA meeting” once a month or a “Bingo Fundraiser”. You may even want to assign a different color for special activities that are not directly related to one person in the family.

Share your calendar

If you have an online calendar, then invite your kids via email to view your family calendar online. With the color coding, they can easily see everyone’s activities. If you are using the printed version, you must all decide on a location in the house where the calendar will be seen and used. It would not be practical to have a calendar that no one sees and uses.

Schedule activities and invite

Don’t forget that when you schedule a task or activity in your online calendar, you must “invite” the email address of those you want to share the activities with. For example, if you have a teacher meeting with Karen and she uses an online calendar for her individual activities, you need to invite her email address in order to have this activity show up in the calendar she owns as well.

By inviting people to activities, you are proactively making them aware of the activity by allowing them to accept it and log into their calendar. For online calendars, you can set reminders that will notify them of the upcoming event 1 day before or 15 minutes before the event will start.

Create the individual calendars

After creating a family calendar, you may also want to create an individual calendar for each of your kids. So they know not just where and what everyone is doing, they also know what is expected of them. Giving them their own calendar teaches them discipline and time management skills.

For the individual calendars, instead of color coding them based on people, you can color code activities or events based on categories. For example, for Karen’s individual calendar, dance lessons are yellow while soccer is blue and girls scout is green. You can color code and categorize each individual’s activities in the same way with your online calendar.

Schedule on the Go

Use a mobile app to keep track of your schedule. Go to the app store (Google Play or Apple) and download the free calendar app for Outlook or google calendar. You can access your calendar if you already have an email connected to your mobile phone but the calendar feature is not as mobile friendly as downloading the actual app. Set your reminders on your events and activities to ensure you don’t miss a thing.

Having Weekly Family Meetings

Schedule weekly family meetings

Each week, review your family schedule. Discuss any changes in plans and have alternative solutions if there are last minute changes. For example, if grandma is no longer able to pick up Karen from dance lessons, what is the plan? Who will be impact? Who is responsible for ensuring she is picked up? It’s important to remind or confirm, with friends or family members who are involved in your activities, whether there are any changes to your scheduled events and tasks. If so, it’s better to find out a few days in advanced than to scramble at the last minute.

I remember one time I was 30 minutes late picking up my 7-year-old son from basketball. Luckily one of the parents stayed behind to keep him company until I came. I was so stressed thinking about him standing outside by himself at a school that was locked up for the day. Had I prepared alternative drivers in advanced, I could have easily contacted them to pick him up with a simple text message.

Communicate expectations

With tasks or activities that require preparation, ensure you communicate what you expect from your kids. If Tom has a hockey game next week, ensure he has prepared all his equipment for the game and not just show up for the game expecting you to have laundered his jersey and sharpened his skates. Preparation reduces the stress of scrambling at the last minute and giving them the responsibility to prepare will make them accountable for their own activities. Use a checklist if this helps them to plan and prepare.

Decide on how you communicate changes

If there are any changes to your schedule plans, decide whether you will communicate by phone or text or both. If one person is a texter and another is a caller, then communication may be amiss.

My kids are a generation of texters. They assume that if they text me, I will see it and respond to it more quickly than a phone call. Despite the number of times I tell them to call me for emergencies, they insist on texting. To resolve this, we just agreed that I will always check my text messages. We now use What’s App and created a family group so all the texting is visible to everyone in our family group.

Having a calendar to coordinate and communicate your schedule is not enough. Weekly meetings are equally important in proactively communicating expectations and potential changes. Ensure you have alternative back up plans from your support group (family or friends) to help you manage those unexpected changes and ensure your kids are accountable for managing their own individual schedules if they are old enough.

Having an online or mobile app calendar is convenient and easily accessible but ensure that everyone is actually using it with reminders set and required tasks written for activities that need preparation.

Most importantly, the family should agree on how you will communicate to each other changes and adjustments to your schedule. By using calendars and regular family meetings, you can reduce the stress of the rat race and more easily transition from the lazy summer days into the back-to-school mode.

Chanelle Dupre

Chanelle Dupre is a writer of parenting articles and was a single parent for 20 years to two sons now in their late 20's. She had a column in 3 newspapers and this blog is a curation of old and new stories around the challenges of single parenting and ideas on how to make life easier.

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