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5 Life Hacks for a Pain Free School Year

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Hello Parents,


It’s September, and that means back to school for many families. Over the years, I have given much advice about how to handle the daily family chaos that accompanies kids going to school.  For this month’s newsletter I am compiling my best advice and life hacks to help you kick off the school year well!


1. Managing and Unloading Knapsacks


Knapsacks are your child’s possession. To help them feel a sense of ownership, they should have a say in picking out the type they like, within your budget range. In order for children to know that their knapsack is their responsibility, you have to train them to take responsibility for it. To do this, never carry their knapsack. EVER.


If they refuse to carry their bag, don’t get angry. You must neither fight, nor give in.  Simply stand next to the knapsack and state “your knapsack is your responsibility” or “that’s your job”.  With time and consistency (and not fighting), your child will develop the expectation that it is theirs to care for, not yours. That means one less fight or roadblock in the day!


Next, train them on how to manage the contents of their knapsack. Again, we have to take time for training. Show them the steps to go through each day when they come in the house:


  1. Open knapsack
  2. Place lunch containers in the sink for washing
  3. Place your daily agenda and/or any paper work for parents to read or sign in a designated inbox in the kitchen
  4. Establish a location for where knapsacks are to be kept. A large square wicker basket in the foyer did the trick for our family. You may have a mud room with hooks. It doesn’t matter so long as that it gets there daily.


But, what if they don’t open the knapsack, empty the contents, place items in your inbox, and put it in the knapsack basket???


It’s bound to happen, but do not worry! Just use what we call a “when then statement” to hold them accountable. This helps teach children that we do things in order.


“WHEN you have your knapsack jobs done, THEN I will know you are ready for snack”.


After that, be patient. It may still take them 40 minutes to manage their knapsack duties, but eventually they will be intrinsically motivated to look after those responsibilities.


2. Making Lunches


I made my children’s lunches until about grade 4. After that, they made their own.


It’s hard to think of something to pack for lunch when you still haven’t had your morning coffee! But, I also didn’t want the kids to open the fridge and say “there is nothing in here for me to bring for lunch”.


To avoid that conflict, I had my kids write a list of 6 lunches (to ensure enough variety) that they liked. It was my job to make sure there were groceries in the house for the 6 lunches, but it was the kids’ job to prep it.


If they grew tired of Alphagetti and wanted it off the list, I was fine with that, so long as they replaced it with something else. It didn’t matter what replaced Alphagetti, but the burden was on the children to change that item on the list. My job was simply to ensure the fridge was stocked with the right items.


Did they always eat their lunch? Did they throw stuff out, or trade with other kids? I don’t know. That is there business. I did my part, and they looked after theirs.


3. Managing the Family Calendar


Family life is very busy and juggling multiple balls is always stressful for parents, and keeping all the various commitments straight is overwhelming. When is picture day? What time is your ortho appointment? Did you change car pool for the class trip? It’s exhausting!


To gain control and feel calmer, I suggest trying a family calendar.


I like a huge dry erase version with multi-color markers that mounts on the kitchen wall. Doesn’t matter what style you pick, so long as it has all family activities and commitments in one place for everyone to see. If there is a birthday for Olivia on Saturday, you need to see it on the calendar so that you can make time to pick up a birthday gift.


With that in mind, you can let your children know that you need a week’s notice if they add something to the calendar that requires time or planning on your part. You do NOT need to be ordering birthday gifts on Amazon Prime for overnight delivery if your daughter forgot to let you know she’s invited to a birthday tomorrow.


Instead, respectfully let your daughter know that you didn’t get enough advance notice required to pick something up, and she will have to figure something out on her own. Not your problem. Your children will learn to be better time managers if you don’t let their poor planning become your emergency.  Allow them to experience and learn from the consequences.  I know I know, it’s easier said than done, but the younger you can start this the better!


4. Getting to School on Time


Getting children to school on time creates huge amounts of stress on parents. Let’s face it, it’s embarrassing to drop your child off late. What will the school think of me as a parent if they miss the bus?


This year, let’s try something new: Have your children create a morning schedule for themselves.


Discuss what time you have to leave the house in order to be at school on time and then do a work back schedule together. You can even write this up on paper, noting all the steps and the time each step takes. You can discuss who’s responsible for what task at each step.


For example; it’s my job as a parent to have healthy breakfast foods on the table from 8:00am to 8:20am. Your job as a child is to come to the table to serve and eat your breakfast between those times.


You don’t have to manage the child’s jobs. Just do your responsibilities and let the chips fall where they may. When it’s time to walk or drive to school, announce that you are ready to go and wait for them outside. Dawdling requires an audience. They will exit the house faster if you are outside waiting for them, rather than inside yelling at them.


5. Prep the Night Before


To help make mornings smoother, try to get as much of your planning and prep done the night before. Pick out tomorrow’s outfit, pack tomorrow’s lunch, and pick out what you are taking for show and tell. The next morning will flow much more smoothly! Try it for yourself. It sounds so simple but bears repeating.


Hope this helps, and have a happy school year!


About Alyson

Alyson has been blogging parenting advice for over 15 years. She has been a panelist at BlogWest, Blissdom, #140NYC and more. Her content appears on sites across Canada and the US, but you can read all her own blog posts right here.

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2 Responses to “5 Life Hacks for a Pain Free School Year”

  1. Shelah

    At what age could you start implementing this?

    • Alyson Schafer

      You know your child best, but the sooner the better. 🙂 My children were responsible for carrying their own diaper bag to preschool.


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