It’s almost that time of year again, for some of us anyway! Some of my friends’ children seem to have just gotten out for summer break, but in my house, August 7 is drawing near. While I’m ready for more time to myself to get work done, or even go to the bathroom without a herd of kids following me in there, part of me inwardly groans when I think of the back-to-school tasks at hand. It feels like a Mount Everest of spending money on school supplies I don’t even get to use, and a lot of paperwork. My hand cramps just thinking about filling out all of those forms for four kids (shudder). Because thinking like Pollyanna gets me through a lot of undesirable parenting situations, I’ve decided to come up with a list of tips to help all of us conquer the enormity of back-to-school madness.
1. Turn School Supply Shopping Into a Scavenger Hunt
Since you’ll likely be in Target with all of your kids for back-to-school shopping, turn the endless search for the correct package of washable markers into a game. Grab multiple copies of the school supply list from the kiosk holding the lists for the local schools. Make sure you choose the list for the correct school and grade levels or you’ll be stuck with a lot of nonreturnable stuff labeled with your kid’s name and have to shop again (ask me how I know). Circle the stuff you want the kid to find and send them off with a Target basket and the list. Save the more difficult, specific items for yourself to find. Promise them that the kid who finds all of their items first gets $10. Sip a Starbucks, stand by the spiral-bound notebooks and watch them reenact Supermarket Sweep.
2. You Pick One, I Pick One
Clothes shopping becomes an increasingly stressful task once our kids hit a certain age. They have visions of dressing like a Bratz doll or an NBA star, or just really, really, really like one color a whole lot, but you envision them going to school looking like a respectable 10-year-old who isn’t obsessed with green. Play the “You Pick One, I Pick One” game with them and watch how fast they learn to compromise on their more outlandish pieces. If she chooses a neon green miniskirt that barely covers the subject, then you counter with a tea-length khaki canvas skirt with pleats. Eventually you will arrive at a skirt that’s both cool enough to keep her from hiding in the bathroom all day and respectable enough that you don’t have to accidentally “lose” it in the laundry.
3. Printed Labels for Supplies
Instead of writing your kids’ names over and over again with an army of Sharpies, buy return-address-sized printer labels. Create a Word document with the printer label template and type your child’s name into it, resisting the urge to use a cutesy nickname for them. No one will know who “Bunny Boo” is, and if they do, your kid’s life will be hell. Stick the labels on their supplies and feel awesome.
Also, use your printer’s nifty copy function to make filling out the mountain of incoming school paperwork easier. Fill out one form that all of your kids have in common (like health forms and school office forms, anything that’s not class or grade specific) with all of the information that your kids have in common (like address). Make enough copies of the written-on form for each of your children, and fill in the remaining child-specific information on each one. Boom! I also do this in doctor’s offices with the dreaded information and insurance sheets that I’m forced to fill out for four kids, annually.
4. Save Money Where You Can
Don’t be afraid to shop bargain basement shops for supplies. Wide-ruled notebook paper bought at Dirt Cheap can be written on or turned into paper airplanes just as well as organic, recycled wide-ruled paper from other stores. Hit up tax-free weekend for all of your back-to-school needs, but be prepared to fight Black Friday-esque crowds for lunch boxes. Avoiding tax can be helpful for those of us who have high sales tax percentages (10 percent where I live), especially on big-ticket items like computers. Be sure to look for newspaper ads for places like drugstores (CVS, in particular) that sell school supplies, because sometimes they have better deals than the big stores. With the drugstore reward systems, you might even be able to find some items for free.
5. Stock Up
Buy tons of extra paper, pencils, crayons and other rapidly consumable school supplies while they’re at the absolute lowest prices of the year. You can even use some of these things (like markers) in birthday gifts for younger kids’ friends and stocking stuffers at Christmas. Be sure to choose a cabinet in your house that your spawn can’t access in order to make the stuff last. I’ve learned the hard way that stacks of construction paper, glue sticks and fresh colored pencils are seriously tempting to my kids, and if they know where they are stashed, the minions will tear through them like Jaws at an all-surfer buffet.
Just remember, hectic back-to-school preparation is the lion’s roar before the blissful lamb’s peace and quiet, when you will be enjoying some blessed quiet for a few hours of the day. Whether you’re hosting a “Yahoo” or “Boo-Hoo” party with other parents sending their kids back to school, enjoy the settling dust in their absence…at least until the first school holiday rolls around.