Last year at this time my family and I were exploring the Canadian Rockies and working on Junior Ranger badges and practicing flash cards on the road. After spending last year’s school year traveling around the US and Canada, getting back into the swing of things this school has been challenging, mostly for me, the girls are doing just fine. We have had a few challenges as we have been getting started – to name a few we added a new puppy to our family and my husband recently had surgery, making it tough for him to help out around the house. Even with these difficulties we have been trying to keep some things consistent for the girls so that the school year goes smoothly for all of us. 

Even if you didn’t take the last year off, these tips might help other families that are managing the hustle and bustle of back to school: 

Giving Kids More Responsibility – My older daughter has returned to school to a Montessori middle school which emphasizes that the kids need to take responsibility and contribute to the community, whether it’s the school, neighborhood or family. In our house, the girls are responsible for making their own breakfast and lunch each day, cleaning their lunch boxes at the end of the day, emptying the dishwasher, cleaning the dinner dishes, helping with making dinner, walking the dog, cleaning their rooms, putting laundry away and helping out when asked. My girls are older (9 & 12) but kids starting at age 4 or 5 can help out in small ways, things like picking up toys or helping with small tasks while you make dinner are great places to start.  By having a list of chores they are responsible for, helps them understand that they are part of the family and we all help out in order to get things done. 

Understanding All the Work Coming Into the House – At the beginning of each week we go over the expectations for the week, including all the extra activities going on that week, so we know what to expect. Each night once we are home from school or activities, we make sure the girls get a good dinner and have time to focus and get their homework done or have some quiet reading time. This is also the time I go through any of the paper work that came home from school for me, I think the hardest thing about back to school is the information overload. 

Limiting After School Activities & Play Dates – Along with understanding what work that needs to be done, we need to make time to get it all done. In order to have enough time and energy to get all our work done, we are limiting our activities to one night a week and that’s it. We make sure they have physical activity they are involved in and otherwise they can walk, run and play at the park, but we will only drive them to one activity and have planned it that both girls have it on the same day to limit our carpooling for the week. 

Planning Family Time on the Weekends – After spending a year together in our camper one thing the girls were very excited about was getting to see their friends and being part of a real peer group again. But for my husband and I, we really cherished our family time, even when we get on each other’s nerves it was nice to be able to hike together, eat our meals together and have all our downtime together. Now that we are back home we are trying to schedule at least one family day on the weekend. Whether we are going to the farmer’s market down the street, running a trail run or going on a hike, it is great to get out and do something just as a family, without the pressures of being on a schedule. 

Consistent Bedtimes, Wake Times and Screen Times – As much as possible we are trying to keep the girls on a regular bedtime and wake time. Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time is important to staying healthy and also keeps their lives in routine, so they know what to expect next. This is something we have been trying to work on with our new puppy too, so it helps everyone. We are also reeling in the screen time for our girls as well, after having a fairly loose schedule over the summer, screen time has been limited to 1 hour in the evening, only when all home work and chores are finished and on the weekends when we have downtime. Because most of the  screen time is on the computer, we have used Microsoft Office 365 Home with family safety features, to manage their access (there are a number of other parental control options available, this works for us because of our software). We have parent controls so that the girls can’t log in on weekdays, if they are done with all their work and we feel they can have some downtime we have to log in for them. We would also have to grant access if they need to work on school work on the computer as well, which is another great way to discuss school work and projects they are working on. 

Be Flexible – Obviously, not every day goes perfectly and we bend our expectations when we need to because every day is different, but it is nice to have guidelines to fall back on. The first month of school is almost coming to an end and so far we are all surviving!