As the beginning of a new school year draws near, be sure to consider that everyone is a year older and expectations need to be updated accordingly. Try to build in opportunities for your children to do more for themselves, which ultimately benefits you and your child. Twenty years of teaching and parenting has conditioned me to make life less complicated.

At our house, we are setting expectations for a sophomore and a junior in college, a senior in high school, and a third grader. The divide is wide, which is one reason we try to simplify when and where we can.

Here are three easy ways to get the school year off to a good start.

Label, label, label!

Get out your Sharpie marker and simplify your life by labeling all the belongings that you would like to have returned. Lost and Found works best if the items that pile up in it can be easily identified and reclaimed.

Make labeling items a learning opportunity.  Younger children will become familiar with their supplies if they hand them to you as you label them. The same is true for older children who can label the items themselves.



Our third grader is locker room ready. Last year, there was a mix up, and he brought home someone else’s PE shirt. No big deal! The shirt he brought home was not labeled with a name, but since his shirt was labeled “CASPER,” it was easily identified and returned to him the next day. Phew! Crisis averted.



We own two copies of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because someone forgot to put her name in her book. Talk about a stressful situation! You can see the first copy has been thoroughly annotated. But when you misplace your book, you have to annotate your new copy in two days, so that you can hand it in on time. The old copy was found a few days later. Ouch!

Lunch – Order’s Up!

Our children began making their own lunches in second grade. Why? Because they could! When our oldest daughter Grace started second grade, I was still a full-time stay-at-home mom and had every intention of making lunches, mainly so I could leave funny notes on their napkins.

Grace had other plans. She plainly informed us that she could make her own lunch. I still slipped notes in from time to time, but I never made her school lunch again. Claire, Sarah, and Stephen followed suit. On the whole, they continue to make lunches that resemble the food pyramid. 


Here are some tips for creating successful lunchtime experiences and building independence.fullsizeoutput_28cb

  • Order school lunch: Stephen’s school has a great school lunch program. To streamline things, we print out the lunch menu for the month, he highlights the items he wants to order, I place the order online, and then we post the highlighted calendar inside our pantry door. This helps me grocery shop more efficiently, and it gives him the opportunity to make choices and practice being independent.
  • Leftovers: When we have a dinner I know they love and will pack well for lunch, I make enough to guarantee that there will be leftovers.
  • Make Ahead: Being able to grab-and-go starts the morning off right. I would rather face the stand-off over the last pack of snack size Oreos the night before, instead of, five minutes before we rush out of the house to begin a new day.


These are some avoidable lunchtime stresses that I have seen as a teacher at an EC4 – 8th-grade school.

  • Forgotten lunches: Lunches that children help make or make themselves are forgotten at home less often. Ask the front office staff at your school about the number of forgotten lunches dropped off each day. For most families, it is a once in a while occurrence and not a big deal. Sadly, for some families, it is the norm and a stressful way for a young learner to go through the day!
  • “Did I order lunch?” OR “My mom said she ordered me lunch.”: These are two avoidable situations that I encountered as an 8th-grade homeroom teacher and mother. Students frequently asked me if they were on the lunch/snack order list for the day. Consider creating a system your family can use so that everyone leaves the house knowing what to expect.

Time for a Routine Reboot

I am often accused of being OCD because I like to organize and plan. I like things in their place because then you can find them easily; I am a fan of color coding because it helps you organize what needs to be done and see it at-a-glance; and who doesn’t like their house to look like a catalog more often than it looks like a crime scene.

The crime scene below is courtesy of our dog, Luna. We broke routine and did not crate her that day.  Lesson: Change routines slowly!fullsizeoutput_28cc.jpeg

As you prepare for the new school year, think about how you can streamline your daily routine.


  • Pack backpacks, lunches, PE clothes, etc., the night before. You don’t want to realize at 7:30am that your son’s uniform shoes are at the neighbor’s house, and they already left for the day. (Tip: Write a note to the teacher. It shows that you are a proactive parent.)
  • Establish and consistently keep age-appropriate bedtimes and bedtime routines. You realize that lack of sleep is turning your angels into demons. You wonder if more sleep or an exorcism is in order.
  • Make your bed every morning. Your little buddy is in class when he realizes, for the third time this month, the book he needs for the class is wrapped up in his sheets at home.
  • Use a family calendar. We share a Google calendar. Share and share-alike. Free yourself of being the only one that knows what is going on and wondering how it will all happen.
  • Designate times and places that promote good study habits, including charging laptops and iPads used for school. Your daughter can’t submit her online assignment in class because her laptop just died!

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