4 Things You Can Stop Doing This Back to School Season
I used to love back to school season. School supplies, new beginnings, the arrival of fall. As a child, the weeks before school started were full of new possibilities.
As a teacher, my love for all things back to school grew. Like many teachers, I arrived on campus weeks before the official start of professional development to set up my new classroom and plan.
But as a parent, the phrase "back to school" has become an irritant. The month of August has become one long and expensive source of anxiety for many parents. Spend more than 5 minutes in the school supplies section of Target and you will likely see the following scenario play out:
Mom (almost always mom) is navigating the crowded aisles scrolling through the school supplies list on her phone or flipping through the packet calculating all the variations of notebooks needed for different subject areas. She is on her fourth attempt to tally the notebooks (2 composition, 4 spiral, one quad ruled composition, etc.) when one or more of the kids will inevitably spot "THE SUPPLY".
You know the one. The one pencil case, binder or lunch box that will magically make this school year the best one ever. Mom is still trying to tally the notebooks (how many are wide ruled?) when the asking/begging/pleading over "THE SUPPLY" will commence. She will stand firm at first, but somewhere between the 3 pack of Clorox wipes and the bottle of hand sanitizer, one of two things will happen. She will cave, or she will lose it.
My money's on "losing it". In fact, I've seen two moms yelling at their kids and one crying in the last two weeks in the school supply section. And I get it. It's not just the ever-growing supplies list (and that's a whole other subject). The whole back to school season has been ratcheted up to ensure maximum stress.
I'm here to tell you there's another way. Believe it or not, many of the traditions that surround this time of year are unnecessary and unsustainable. The way we have come to behave during back to school season represents much of what is worst in our society (overconsumption, inauthenticity, social media-driven madness).
This year if you find yourself emotionally or financially stressed out preparing your kids to go back to school, stop doing these four things :
Stop "Pinteresting" back to school season:
You can stop with the chalkboard signs on the first day of school. No really, you can stop. Oh, you don't believe me. Turns out they will actually let your child into school the first day even if you didn't create an adorable chalkboard sign. Turns out they have to.
Fine, if you love creating these signs and curating the perfect photo for Instagram, great. Go for it. However, if you complain that back to school time is stressful and you'd rather not spend the evening beforehand lettering your child's favorite food onto a sign, you can quit.
And let's be honest, their favorite food probably isn't butternut squash. But, because you plan on plastering social with the pictures, you have to make this one sign a physical manifestation of your worth as a parent. Insert eye roll emoji.
Maybe it's because I gave birth to my first child way back in 2007 B.P. (before Pinterest), but I don't feel the need to consult Pinterest or any other social media site when I'm developing family traditions. Pinterest has become Dr. Spock for millennial moms and it's causing unnecessary stress and setting up unattainable expectations.
Don't get me wrong, I love Pinterest, but much of what we take for granted as normal and required parts of parenting (gender reveal parties, Elf on the Shelf, chalkboard signs the first day of school) are completely unnecessary.
If you enjoy this particular tradition that's awesome. If not, stop!
Stop going "back to school shopping":
I mean obviously buy what your kids need. But don't for a minute buy into the idea that every year your child needs an entirely new wardrobe and all new school supplies. I'm not sure how we got to a place where last year's perfectly good lunch box needs to be stuck in the back of a closet or worse, thrown out just because it's back to school time.
If you didn't put aside school supplies that came home at the end of last year, resolve to do it at the end of this school year. Have your kids "shop" the house for items like scissors, pencil sharpeners and protractors that are almost certainly in perfectly usable condition. If you are in need of a folder, spend the extra 25 cents on plastic or vinyl folders that can be used for multiple years. We just put a label over the subject in the top corner if it doesn't match up.
Teach your older kids not to pick at the plastic on a three-ring binder and to make sure caps go back on highlighters. If they have their heart set on "THE SUPPLY", let them know that it may mean making do in another area.
It's not just a matter of finances. Yes, of course, this unnecessary shopping is a slap in the face to every parent who has struggled to keep the electricity on in August because of back to school shopping. It's also incredibly wasteful. Every perfectly good pencil box that is discarded in favor of a new one, is just more cheap plastic entering into circulation.
Set budgets, talk to your kids in an age-appropriate way about what is and isn't necessary and resist the corporate marketing campaign telling you that your child needs all new sweaters in late August or a new pair of scissors every year.
Stop searching for the perfect workbook to use before school starts:
Y'all summer slide is real. Any teacher will tell you that. From a teacher's perspective, it's difficult and time-consuming to spend much of the first quarter reviewing last year's skills. But, let me let you in on a little secret: A certain amount of review time is built into the first six weeks of school.
What your child's teacher would far prefer their students work on in preparation for school are the socialization and executive functioning skills necessary at the beginning of the school year. Organization, time management, the ability to communicate with a partner or a small group. These factors play a much larger role in the first few weeks of school than any specific content knowledge.
Of course, if your child struggles in a specific area you should work on closing the gap over the summer. Practice those multiplication tables, work on sight words. But, if your child is performing at or above grade level, chances are they don't need the workbook.
Stop worrying about the perfect workbook. Instead, schedule a few playdates, take advantage of free or cheap day camps and work on returning your child to a more normal sleep schedule.
Above all, READ. Hopefully, you've already established a family reading culture. Not sure how to begin, start here. In the meantime, spend the last few weeks of summer making sure your children are reading or being read to. In a 2012 study children who had an opportunity to choose their own books over the summer scored higher on comprehension and fluency, then those who didn't.
Reading doesn't just increase academic performance. The characters and stories our kids come across in their reading tell greater stories of empathy, kindness, and justice. Those are skills your child's teacher wants them to have too.
Stop signing up for "all the things":
It's meet the teacher night, then curriculum night. There's a parent night for scouts and an informational night for band. Somehow late August and early September blend together in a blur of sign-up sheets and google calendars.
When I was a full time working mom, I spent much of back to school time signing up for as many volunteer activities as possible out of guilt. I knew I'd be lucky to make it to one field trip, so I agreed to bring all the gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free cupcakes. I'd make sure to purchase the extra classroom supplies and agreed to bring a snack twice during the soccer season.
Here's the thing. I wasn't doing this for my child. I've had my share of mom guilt, but honestly, my kids could care less who brought the paper plates to the Halloween party. I was over-committing to prove to my child's teacher and other parents that I "cared". Rachel Hollis talks about this in her book, "Girl, Stop Apologizing."
I gave up this bad habit a few years ago. I sign up for what I can reasonably do (a little more now that I'm not teaching) and make peace with the rest. I'll reach out to the teachers mid-year to check if they need anything. If my kid misses a crazy hair day or if I only bring baby carrots to two parties a year instead of four, I'm ok with that. You can be too!
There are no guarantees in parenting. Life is stressful and certain seasons of life are more stressful than others. But, consider stopping the above four back to school habits and see if it makes a difference.