Smoothing Out the School Transition
One mom's take on how to keep calm during the back-to-school season as part of the Care.com Interview Series
When it comes getting back into school-mode after a summer filled with adventures and fun, Amanda Rodriguez is no dummy. Between keeping up with summer tutoring and taking advantage of summer's lazy days, Rodriguez makes sure her three dudes are ready for anything come the first bell (even if she's not sure how any first grader could need 10 glue sticks). We talked to the Parenting by Dummies blogger about how she makes the back-to-school transition as smooth as possible with her iPhone and a lesson or two on how to be a hit on the playground.
Tell us about your family.
I am married to my college sweetheart and we are the cool parents to three handsome, energetic, mischievous Dudes. We also have a baby dog daughter, to break up the testosterone around here!
How do your kids generally feel about school?
My kids have a love/hate relationship with school. They love gym and recess, and hate everything else. Kidding! They enjoy all aspects of school, they just wish it started later and got out earlier. And maybe had a course on video gaming.
Over the summer months, how do you keep their brains working?
My oldest son is in year-round math tutoring at a popular tutoring center. Other than that, we just do a lot of reading and I require them to play at least 30 minutes of an educational game or app before they are allowed to enjoy non-educational entertainment.. I'm all about embracing childhood. Not just for them, but heck, for me too! I LOVE a relaxing, outdoor summer. We do visit a lot of museums and historical places and we try to let our children have non-traditional educational experiences, like interacting with different cultures, or reading maps while on a scavenger hunt.
What do you worry about most when you send your children back to school?
My main worry is that they will have a difficult time adjusting socially. I've never been fearful about my children not being able to adjust academically.
For me, I'm more concerned with social stuff because I know there's not much mom can do about that. I mean, I guess I could march on the playground and demand that people play with my kid and treat him like the amazing creature he is, but I'm guessing that would be awkward for everyone involved.
What are some essential items your child must have before the first day of school?
- A comfortable, sturdy backpack.
- A good lunch box.
- A nice pair of sneakers (seriously, Crocs are NOT okay for gym class, I don't care how much little Jimmy loves them).
I guess you should also make an effort to get all of that stuff the teachers put on that list they send home too. Although, I can't imagine that my kid really is going to go through 10 glue sticks on the first day. Maybe I'm underestimating the current glue usage of the average first grader.
What are your kids' lunchbox favorites?
My 7-year-old declared himself a vegetarian earlier this year. Apparently he is also kind of into the whole raw movement. I swear we're related. For him I do a lot of fresh, cut-up veggies with dips. Pretzels are another thing all of my boys enjoy. And fresh fruit. We also don't do juice. For some reason they don't like it that much. Instead we do the chocolate milks that come in the bottle, or plain water in a reusable drink bottle.
What healthy things are surefire hits in your kids' lunchboxes?
Fresh fruit or veggies with dip. The dip is imperative to their enjoyment.
What are some organizational tricks you use to help yourself get the kids ready to go back to school?
For us, the main thing we need to get used to is scheduling. We start to adjust bedtimes a week out. Having a smooth morning is the most important thing I can give to my kids to ensure they have a great day. No one wants to be rushed or yelled at before they have to head out into the world. Not me, not you, and certainly not a 7-year-old.
Have you ever had to deal with any issues at school, either with your child's teacher or another student and his/her parents? How have you handled it?
My son was placed in math intervention in second grade. Not wanting the stigma or the challenge to follow him for the rest of his schooling experience, we took matters into our own hands and enrolled him in a tutoring center. He is currently the top performer in his math class. And his confidence is through the roof!
As you approach the first day of school, what are some specific things you do to prepare your children for the big day?
Rolling back the bedtime, talking to them about their new schedules and commuting procedures, and addressing any fears they have about a new teacher and making new friends.
What's in your child's emotional backpack?
One of my sons is extremely shy. We have to work with him consistently to give him good tips for inserting himself into a play situation and making new friends. He has some awkward behaviors that we are helping him focus on as well, to get him to understand how he can alienate or scare off potential friends. There are just things about having interpersonal relationships that come easily to some people and not so much to others. I used to struggle with that as well and I spent many playground days feeling it. You can learn to be more open and outgoing, just like you can learn to rock the block with your 4 Square skills. Both of those things come in handy on the playground. So we are working on conversations starters, having an inviting personality, and learning to put a killer spin on a rubber ball!
How do you handle the logistical transition from summer back to school?
Oh, childcare becomes so much less annoying come school time! Finding a sitter during the summer months is a consistent challenge for me as a work-at-home mom. Especially because no one seems to understand that just because I'm home doesn't mean I don't have to work!
Multiple kids can mean multiple activities, carpools, parent-teacher meetings, and sometimes even multiple schools. What are some tricks you use to stay on top of it all?
I have no tricks. I forget things constantly. Important things, like my children. Kidding. I mean, mostly. My best tip is to use an electronic calendar with active alerts. I alert myself to everything, from time to wake up, to dates of projects. I even put in when I need to bake something for a school function so I can stop what I'm doing and get it done. I don't know where I'd be without my iPhone.
What tips can you give parents who might be struggling with the transition to going back to school?
- Make lists. They help you have a visual reminder of what needs to be done, and the creating of them helps you focus. Plus, checking things off as completed feels so, so satisfying.
- Make it fun. Everyone likes having fun. And you want your kids to like school. Insert enjoyment into the process whenever possible so they don't start to hate it.
- Ask for help. Seriously. If you're really having a difficult time, ask for help. Or set up things designed to help many people, like car pools, or snack lists. Chances are if you're struggling, you're probably not alone.
- Relax. I know, easier said than done, but if you're all wound up, your kid will be all wound up, which in turn, will get you even more wound up. It's a vicious cycle you do NOT want to be a part of.
Amanda Rodriguez, or "Dumb Mom" as she calls herself, is the writer behind the popular humor and parenting blog Parenting by Dummies. Outsmarted by her children daily, she attempts to navigate motherhood, childhood and everything in between. She lives in Maryland with her husband, three boys and baby girl dog. Find Amanda on Twitter and Facebook.
For more helpful tips, check out the Care.com Interview Series: Secrets to Back-to-School Success »
Photo used with permission from Amanda Rodriguez.
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