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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

7 Ridiculously Simple School Hacks That Will Make Parents Go, "Ahh!!!"

Life is supposed to get easier once all the kids go off to school, and in many ways it does: there are no more diapers to change or naps to tiptoe around; you’re no longer responsible for filling 100% of your child’s day with the optimal combination of activities to stimulate mind, body, and soul; and if you play your cards right you can once again enjoy chunks of uninterrupted time just for you. Fist pump!
But school also comes with a whole new backpack full of hair-pullers: morning clothing meltdowns, troves of paperwork that you would swear multiply every time you turn your back on them, and scheduling conundrums that make your existence an absurd, life-size Tetris game.
After a decade of experiencing Operation Shock and Awe school life, our household has uncovered a few hacks that help tame the chaos.
Clothing Cubbies
Available at Amazon. 'Cause what isn't?
Clothing cubbies, especially for young kids, are the best thing since potty training. (I mean, since the results of potty training. Not the potty training itself. I’d rather give an alligator a bubble bath than potty train another child. Shudder.) I got this hack idea from a friend of mine who is always one step ahead of me in everything. I used to be indignantly jealous. Now I just appropriate her very good ideas, and my life is better. (Thanks, E!)
HACK: Get a hanging shelf system for the closet, or if you have the space, a free-standing shelving unit with five horizontal slots in it. Label the shelves Monday – Friday. Add stickers for special stuff, such as P.E. days when pants are necessary for the girls. On Sunday, put outfits, complete with socks and Fruit-of-the-Looms and hair accessories (if applicable) in the cubbies. The rule in our house is that a child can replace any outfit I made with one of his/her own, but only if the swap is completed prior to bed the night before. Once you get up in the morning, you wear what’s in the queue for that day. No more 7:00 a.m. clothing crises!
The Folder Of Destiny
Oh, the paperwork associated with school: first-day forms, field trip forms, health history forms, announcement flyers, calendars, schedules, sports info, classroom rules… and that’s just the stuff for the kids’ lives. Organizing and managing all the papers that filter through my fingers each day proves one of the most demoralizing aspects of life on this mortal coil.
I got enormously fed up with stuff littered across my countertops, jammed into the past-month pages of my wall calendar, and piled atop my bread machine, which never got used, hidden as it was beneath a mountain of I’ll-Deal-With-This-Later and If-I-Lose-This-Thing-Life-As-We-Know-It-Will-Implode-Like-a-Dying-Supernova documents. (Now the bread machine doesn’t get used simply because I’m too lazy.)
So I spent twenty cents on a two-pocket Folder of Destiny.
HACK: Keep your Folder of Destiny handy in the kitchen or dining room or whichever room you do paperwork, scheduling, and organizing. Put in the left pocket everything you need to keep (bus schedules, field trip info sheets, club schedules, parent address/phone directories, etc.). The right pocket holds TBD stuff that you can’t enact or decide on immediately (e.g., afterschool club applications, holiday requests, summer activity fliers). I use my Folder of Destiny for everything I need to hang onto, not just school stuff, and purge it every month or so.
Field Trip Forms From Hell
Public School Field Trip Form
(Well, it feels like it.)
Photo by Phillip Wong

For years a little piece of my soul died every time one of my children brought home a field trip form. Of course I want my cherubs to experience stirring performances, browse magnificent museums, and encounter awe-inspiring insights into history. But although the front page of the permission slip needs only a few checked boxes and a signature, completing the back page rivals filling out a car loan application. Or penning your Last Will and Testament. Or applying for a no money-down, post-bankruptcy mortgage.
If you figure it takes about five minutes to dig up all the account numbers and addresses and phone contacts required to fill out each Our-Lawyers-Say-We-Need-All-This-Stuff-So-You-Can’t-Sue-Us-Later-and-Singlehandedly-Dismantle-the-American-Public-School-System form, and assuming kids go on six or so field trips a year, that’s about thirty minutes per school year of filling out field trip forms for each child in your family.
We have three.
I really did smack myself in the forehead and cry mingled tears of joy and regret (that I’d squandered so many hours of my life thus far scribbling out forms) when I finally figured out a work-around for this pain-in-the-neck aspect of school paperwork.
HACK: Next time you fill out the generic insurance/contacts/mother’s-cousin’s-doctor’s-wife’s-dog’s-maiden-name page of a field trip form, scan or copy it before you send it back to school with your kid. Print out twenty or thirty and keep them tucked inside your Folder of Destiny. From now on, you only have to fill out the easy-peasy front page and staple one of these pre-filled-out copies to it. Sweet! Go enjoy a milkshake with the five minutes you just saved.
The Obento Full of Leftovers
Hang on. Before you get all, “So you’re one of those women, huh?” and assume that I advocate the hyper-neurotic, Facebrag-photo post, I’m-a-better-Mom-than-you school lunch competition for the psychotically judgmental, hear me out.
I do obento-style lunches for my kids for four reasons:
1. They’re cheap.
2. They’re easy.
3. They’re environmentally friendly, while still being cheap & easy.
4. A packed lunch lets my kids eat for all twenty minutes of their allotted meal time, as opposed to stand in the cafeteria line for ten or fifteen minutes out of their scanty little lunch periods.
Photo by Atsuko Smith
HACK: Get a plastic food-saver box with a snap-on lid for each kid. If you’re feeling especially Pinterest-y, you can use some silicone baking cups as dividers. In the evening, when you’re cleaning up after dinner (or stacking the take-out bags in the fridge) throw some leftovers in the obento boxes: cut-up pizza, hot dogs, quesadillas; chicken nuggets, meatballs, fruit/veggie chunks. Round them out with yogurt tubes, cheese sticks, granola bars. Toss them in the fridge. They look pretty tasty, and when you get up in the morning lunch is already done.
White-Board, Out-the-Door Calendar
“Who has P.E. today? Wait—it’s Wednesday, right? So you have art club after school and Jennifer’s mom drives you home after. Or is today Spanish club, and I drive you and Erika home? What do you mean it’s early-release?!?”
Navigating a multi-person weekly schedule can feel like driving a car with bald tires. In an ice storm. With the accelerator stuck to the floor. And no steering wheel.
HACK: Make a white-board calendar, with the kids’ names down the left side and the days of the week across the top. In each KID/DAY grid write their school specials (P.E., art, etc.) and any afterschool clubs/sports/activities. Glue a bright red button or pom-pom or stray board game player piece to a magnet (one for each kid) and use these to mark the passing days. On Sunday jot in any one-off stuff you need to account for that week (like a field trip you’re supposed to chaperone). Everybody checks the board on the way out the door to make sure they’re prepared for the day. Use the cache of brain space you just freed up to memorize your kids’ social security numbers.
Message Board
This hack prevents you having to talk to your children.
No, not really. It just makes communication and information dissemination more efficient. Because the kids get mail, right? And they leave their crap lying around the house, right? And you realize at ten in the morning that you have to know today if they want to sign up for soccer or drama camp for summer vacation, right?
HACK: Get another white board and divide it into columns, one for each kid. Get a magnetic clip for each section. When a magazine arrives for Susie, stick it in her clip. When you buy Bobby that video game he wanted, write a You-Owe-Me receipt on a sticky note and slap it in his column. When some punk name Jake calls and wants to talk to fifteen-year-old Ella, slip a copy of the Application to Date My Daughter under Ella’s magnet, to be passed along to Jake.
The I-Made-You-This-in-School-Today-Mommy! Box
We're considering therapy
for the child who made this.

When your kid enters preschool, every hand-drawn picture, every illegible sentence, every picture/macaroni sculpture/clay… something is a priceless gem to be enshrined on the holy refrigerator or kitchen windowsill of your child’s unbelievable amazingness.
By the time first grade rolls around, the arts and crafts and gold-starred homework and adorable budding-novelist compositions will have taken over your house with the multiplicity of a box full of horny rabbits.
You must reign in the fertile bedlam.
HACK: Put a box somewhere off the beaten path, like a den or office. Display on the fridge/walls/shelves only the most magical and marvelous of your child’s creations; everything else goes in the box. If the child complains, say, “I’m saving it to put in a scrapbook of your wonderfulness!” At the end of the school year set aside an hour to go through the box. With the perspective of time and the abundance of material, the truly keep-worthy stuff will emerge. Deep-six the rest. Put the treasures in a photo box, labeled with your child’s name and grade. You will never look into these boxes again, but having them will palliate Mom-guilt, and give you something to deposit at your child’s house as soon as he gets his own place. And then you’ll have fresh closet space!
Mother Teresa said, “Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace in the world.”
My wish for all parents of school-aged kids today is that we’ll find ever more ways to alleviate the crunch, the chaos, the stress of everyday life, so we can find time and space for peace and joy and relationship.
And maybe even a milkshake or two.


  1. This post just made me anxious. I have to go through those preschool boxes? She packs her lunch, but she needs variety? For a picky eater, her lunch has almost the same thing every day. There's an option to stacks of paper? I think I will start with the clothing cubes as she will really like doing that with me.

    1. Oh no! It wasn't supposed to make you anxious. Just the opposite! And you're a pro at this stuff, anyway. Have a great school year!