After School Hacks for An Easy Back-to-School Routine

School is back in full force in our house. And things are trying to get back to our normal routine. I actually thrive on routine and a schedule, but still, there is nothing like waking up an hour earlier and trying to hurry kids to shuffle out the door on time. Our mornings are filled with alarms, lunch packing, last minute paper signing, hair brushing, shoe finding, and scarfing down breakfast as we run out the door. And now that I have one kid in middle school that means a longer school day and another in multiple afterschool activities, so we have had to adjust with some tips to keep the chaos at a minimum. Here are our afterschool hacks for an easier back-to-school transition.

Afterschool hacks to transition into an easy back-to-school routine.

1. Prep and plan dinner. On days that you actually have time to make dinner for everyone, double up the recipe so you can freeze half. And then you can pull something out of the freezer for days you don't have time to cook. I have a ton of great freezer friendly recipes available on my blog. Not only does cooking at home save money, but it makes the day less stressful when you know what's for dinner already. I also made a meal plan menu that is posted so I don't have to think about dinner on our busier days.

2. Prepare the snack drawer or bin. My kid's make a literal bee line to the snacks as soon as they come in the door. BUT I don't want them filling up on junk before dinner. So, I have prepped a snack drawer with better for them alternatives. Although they get pretty much whatever they ask for, I do require them to ask for permission before they get anything. I have learned this was best to teach them, so they didn't just go into people's pantries when they visit others' houses. Not only are my kid's hungry when they come in the door, usually I want them fueled up for the afternoon activities we have between sports and church that take place almost every day.

I like to stock my drawer with cheese sticks, veggies (cucumbers, bell peppers, or carrots) with a dip (hummus, salsa, or guacamole), apples, oranges, strawberries, grapes, and no sugar added Greek yogurt. 

I keep a snack bin stocked in my car that includes trail mix (without chocolate), veggie chips, dried fruit and granola bars, so we don’t have to rummage through the cupboards looking for something to satisfy hungry kids. Older kids can even help themselves to their afternoon snack when you have a bin of pre-approved snacks at the ready.

3. Make time to read with your child. My son is in third grade and since he was in kindergarten his homework has been read for 20 to 30 minutes. But when he was in kindergarten there was no way, he could read for 20 minutes by himself. So, I would read with him and still will to this day. It has been a great bonding moment for us; we talk about what we read together, snuggle with each other, and he likes to take that time to tell me stories that go with the book or something he learned. This way he can read books that may be a little above his reading level because I'm there to help him sound out the words correctly. 

4. Display a to-do list. We have an easily accessible (on the fridge) to-do list for each child, this way our kids know that they need to empty their lunch boxes, place any papers on designated place on the counter for parent to sign, make their beds (if they didn't that morning), empty the dishwasher, plug in their chromebooks or other school electronic, etc. as soon as they have completed their homework. Call it an afterschool check list, chore chart, or afterschool schedule, but something that is visible, so they know what to do as soon as they come in the door. Your expectations are clearly communicated to them, and they know what to expect of the day.

5. Help your kids learn to multi-task. If both kids have a practice that day, then have one of them do their homework while the other is at a practice and vice versa. They could also get it done in the car on the way to practices. This way when you are finally home for the day, you will have less to worry about. Or take a stroll to get your steps in while they are at practice.

6. Always be prepared. I carry an emergency kit in my car that has bandages, ointment, sanitizing wipes/spray, water bottles, and of course extra snacks in my car. My kit also includes deodorant, hair ties, socks, and I even try to make sure there is an extra change of clothes for each kid too. Dryer sheets can help keep your car staying nice and fresh smelling. Rolled up newspaper can be stuffed into wet shoes.

7. Get them a phone. Depending on their age this may not even be a topic of concern in your house, but even with my son in elementary school we decided to get him a phone. With activities and today's age of no one having a house phone, it just made sense to me. I didn't want him to have access to any crazy apps or internet, so I got him a phone that just has texting, calling, and comes with a parent app that I can use to monitor everything including turning it off remotely.

8. Set up for the next day. The biggest thing that we have learned to do is set out clothes and pack lunches boxes the day before. It makes mornings run so much smoother if this is done. There is even a cubby hanger that you can buy so your child can pick out the entire week beforehand. And yes, I get my kids to help with these tasks. Another thing that is important to prepare is if they need special uniforms for school or afterschool activities, that they are thrown in the washer and dryer, so they are ready to go as well.

9. Write out a calendar. We have a dry erase calendar that we display where everyone in the household can see it. It has everyone's schedule written on it so my children can know what activity they have the next and prepare the day before. They also look at it in the morning for another reminder of what the day holds. If they know, then even they can help me remember on days when I'm slacking.

10. Create a homework caddy. This is a little bin that you can carry from room-to-room or even in the car that has everything they might need to do their homework. Pencils, notebook paper, crayons, scissors, and glue. We even have an expandable accordion folder to keep important papers, but also keepsake papers that I can place in their keepsake boxes at a later time.

11. Set a bedtime routine. This has helped us the most that whatever our busy day has brought, then they can still wind down at night because they know what to expect as we do the same thing every night before bed. Get dressed in pajamas, brush hair and teeth, read a book, and say prayers. That way even on nights we are a little late for bedtime, their bodies will wind down naturally.

Getting into a routine is the most important thing about keeping the afterschool chaos to a minimum. It can take two weeks to make something a habit, but instilling a few parenting hacks now with your children, can set them up for success later.

Remember to have patience and give grace, not only with your children, but with yourself. It is okay if everything doesn't look "perfect" because perfection isn't real. If anyone hasn't told you today, you are doing a great job!

What are some of your back-to-school afternoon parenting hacks?

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