Family Life

6 Back-to-School Hacks for Busy Parents

We hate to break it to you, so we’ll say this as gently as possible: Summer is almost over, school is already starting and you’re (really) not ready.

If your kids go to public school here in Indianapolis, you’re already about a week into the new school year, but you probably feel like you’ve been going at breakneck speeds for a solid month. It’s not easy to transition your household from the lazy, hazy days of summer vacation to the school time routine — and the pace is bound to pick up as we careen toward fall and the holiday season.

So what’s a busy parent to do? You figure out all the best hacks, tips and time-savers that you can use to lower your stress level and make the school year smoother. Let us help you get into the groove:

1. Pick Outfits Out on the Weekend

Organization is everything when you’re a busy parent. 

Whether you have one child or three that you need to get ready in the morning, the biggest struggle is usually trying to get them dressed. You may have one kid that will happily pick the clothes they wore yesterday out of the laundry and wear them again and another kid that will fuss if their outfit isn’t perfect. Either way, it’s a battle you don’t need.

Eliminate the whole problem and cut down the time it takes everybody to get ready by picking out the week’s outfits ahead of time. If you buy hanging clothes organizers and designate one day to each shelf, your kids can easily select and store their chosen outfits (and accessories) on the weekend. That can make for drama-free (and worry-free) mornings. 

2. Make Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner Easy

You can put more effort into family meals on the weekends: What you need on school days are efficiency and speed:

  • Breakfast: Have a variety of healthy, easy-to-fix options on hand, including cereal and milk, instant oatmeal, fruit, bagels, and hard-boiled eggs (pre-cooked and stored in the fridge). 
  • Lunch: If your kids buy their lunches at school, you can distribute their lunch money as they head out the door. If not, third-graders and up can help pack their own lunch. Set up a packing station with sandwich containers, granola bars, juice boxes and other lunch items. After a few days, the kids should be able to manage without supervision.
  • Dinner: It’s stressful to get home and realize that you have no idea what to make for dinner. Eliminate the frustration by planning your dinners in advance. Tape a menu to the fridge so that you remember what needs to be defrosted for the day.

3. Set Up a Dedicated Drop-off Station

Unless you want your house to constantly look like it has been invaded by a mini-tornado of books, papers, coats and shoes, you need space for all these items to gather. 

The ideal spot is just inside the door where the kids leave in the morning and return in the afternoon. Whether it’s your front hall or the mudroom by the garage entrance, set up a “drop-off” station. Give every kid their own hooks for hats, scarves and coats, and their own basket for bookbags, musical instruments and sports equipment. 

Not only does this keep the rest of your house clutter-free, it also helps eliminate lost textbooks, missing papers and forgotten assignments, which minimizes other problems parents encounter during the school year. 

4. Create a Distraction-Free Homework Zone

Once your kids have had a break and a snack, it’s time to deal with the homework. A distraction-free zone is the best way to get your kids to focus and do their work — so this is a parenting essential.

Decide on a good spot for your kids to handle their work. If they’re older, that could be their respective bedrooms — as long as the doors stay open so you can occasionally peek in and see if they’re staying on task. If they’re younger, you may need a table and chairs where you can easily join them and help with the hard stuff.

5. Organize a Family Command Center

We’ve mentioned before that organization is critical when you’re juggling the parenting demands of the school year — and the pinnacle of organization is the “family command center.”  

Start with a large calendar on the wall and a stack of colored markers so that you can mark down important events, like band and choir concerts, and parent-teacher nights. Add a dry-erase board so that you can jot down reminders or pass on messages. Add a basket for important papers and you’re set! You have a functional point of control that anybody in the house can check to see what’s happening and what needs to be done.

6. Have a Bedtime Routine

A good night’s sleep is critical for both your children and you — so don’t overlook the power of a structured bedtime routine. Naturally, you should customize it to your family’s internal rhythms, but it could look something like this:

  • At a set time, shut off the television, turn off game systems and close laptops.
  • Rotate the kids through their baths or showers and get them into their pajamas.
  • Have a group snack, chat about your day and get ready for bed.

Once the kids are tucked into bed, don’t forget that you need a few minutes of TLC each night, too. Relax in the shower, read a little or have your nightly glass of wine in peace before you turn in.

Finally, we’re offering one last tip that can help make the school year easier for both kids and their busy parents: Don’t forget to take time to recharge. You can’t really control your schedule during the week, but you can give yourself a much-needed break on the weekend. Dedicate half of your weekend to do something fun and half to “down” time so that nobody (adult or child) ends up feeling overwhelmed by school time pressures.