Back To School, Getty

Children’s author Rachel Hamilton has had to go through the school of hard knocks to learn how to get organised for the new school year. But the mother of two is convinced she now has a system down pat… Summer is all about freedom and sunshine and laughter and excitement… until suddenly it isn’t anymore and it’s all about worrying that you should be getting ready for the next school year. Every year, I start the worrying early but leave the organising until the last minute, convinced this will hold off the new-term blues. It doesn’t. It just means my preparation degenerates into manic squeals of panic and a lot of hoping for the best. But this year I will not wait until the last minute.

This year I will be alpha mum… OK, maybe beta mum… alright, alright, I’ll settle for any kind of mum who doesn’t end up desperately searching the mall for school shoes the night before term starts. So, I have plucked up courage and consulted ‘the other mothers’. You know the ones – whose children who arrive that first morning in September with hairstyles that wouldn’t look out of place in a L’Oréal ad and with shoes so polished I can see my red, sweaty, last-minute-panicking face in them.

Here are the tips I collected:

Make sure your children continue to get their beauty sleep through the summer

There is an Irish proverb that says: “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.” Being an insomniac comedy-writer, I score highly on the laughing, but not so well on the sleeping. So I can understand why kids rebel at the idea of fixed bedtimes during the summer. But to avoid last year’s scenario where my son and I regularly bumped into each other at 3am, roaming the house in search of entertainment and/or chocolate brownies, I am determined to maintain some kind of routine this year. Even though my two are getting bigger, they still need between nine and ten hours of sleep a night and research suggests that keeping roughly the same hours all year round is the best way to ensure good sleep patterns. Worst case scenario: if bedtimes do creep later without the threat of the 6am school-run alarm to terrify us into an early sleep, I will at least re-establish routines several weeks before the beginning of the new school year. That way, by the time the alarm resumes its ‘arggghhh-no-one-should-be-up-this-early-o’clock’ wail, my night-time brownie-hunters will be used to the new curfew. Screen-Shot-2014-09-02-at-2.40.45-PM

Do the big school shop early

The one thing that torments me, every year, is the never-ending need for ‘stuff’. Stuff from the inventory the school sends home; stuff from the seemingly endless list of requirements my daughter comes up with every time we enter a stationery shop; and stuff nobody tells you about, but which becomes vitally important as soon as you don’t have it – like tissue paper, glitter, paints, tape, feathers, stickers and other random nonsense needed to complete bizarre homework projects. Plus, on top of all the original stuff, you also need the back-up stuff, because everything you’ve bought starts running out the minute school starts. I don’t know whether my two eat glue sticks and pencil sharpeners but they’re always the first things       to go. Never be tempted by things that glitter. If you go for glamour rather than quality in your HB pencils, you’ll be listening to the sound of graphite snapping and kids whining all year.  Beautiful rubbers are even worse – yes, love, it does look like a lovely tube of pink lipstick, but it won’t rub anything out!  The early shop is the easiest way to avoid buying shiny stuff to appease small people in a moment of panic. Another advantage of the early shop is you can lay out this bounty of stuff and create a ‘schooly’ atmosphere. “Ooh look Mum, here’s my beautiful uniform/bag/lunchbox/stationery – I can’t wait to go back to school,” said my kids never. But I can always dream. A further problem with leaving items like shoes and trainers until the last minute is you’ll never find your children’s size in a style they like. One year I ended up buying my son trainers a size too big. He became the first child in school to score a goal with both the ball and his shoe. Screen-Shot-2014-09-02-at-2.41.03-PM

Get organised and learn to love charts

I know a woman who writes up her schedules and then laminates them. I can only aspire to that level of organisation/obsessive behaviour. But this year I am determined to plaster the house with ‘to do’ lists  – on the fridge, the front door, even in the car – because I’ve discovered my children are far more likely to obey a piece of paper than me. Charts also help the kids keep track of homework assignments, projects, activities and family chores (my favourite). One of the best pieces of organisational advice I was given was “do it the night before”. Lay out clothes/uniforms so no one has to do that half-blind early morning scrabble for things. Pack school bags and set them by the door ready to grab (or trip over). Make everyone shower at night to avoid drippy hair-mares. I even lay the table for breakfast, so the house looks like some kind of abandoned Goldilocks film set. Those are the best tips I collected. However, I’d like to finish with a few words in defence of slightly useless parenting. I believe it’s valuable to give your kids a degree of responsibility for their own belongings and punctuality, whether intentionally or accidentally. Of course, it’s not perfect if your kids forget to pack their homework, but it does teach them that their actions – or lack of them – have consequences. By failing to leap to the rescue now, when the homework is a page of colouring-in, hopefully you’ll help them build a sense of independence and self-sufficiency for when it   really matters. I thank ‘the other mothers’ for their words  of wisdom and should  stop here so I can start making lists… front-cover-high-res  

Rachel Hamilton, Children’s Detective Story, THE CASE OF THE EXPLODING LOO, published by Simon & Schuster, available from Amazon, iTunes and book stores.

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