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Making the Most of Organized Chaos

Melissa Roja Lawlor
June 13, 2012

Blogger Heather Ayala shares how to handle getting four kids ready for back to school as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Managing family schedules can be a little like herding cats - no one's ever in the same place at the same time! If anyone's an expert schedule juggler, it's mom blogger Heather Ayala, who writes about life with her bilingual family of six over at Not Everyone's Mama. We asked her to share some insights on how she manages getting not one, not two, but four kids ready to go back to school; see how she has expertly handled her family's master calendar, the bullying of her oldest son, and her secret to keeping school supplies from wandering away before the first day!

Tell us about your family.

We are a family of 6: my husband, myself, and our four kids who are 13, 8, 5, and 3. Much of our family time revolves around soccer; I played when I was younger, my husband still plays, we both coach, and my kids all started playing at 4. My 3-year-old cannot wait until he is old enough to join a team.

How do your kids generally feel about school?

My oldest does not care for school, my girls love it, and my 3-year-old is stoked about going to preschool this fall.

Over the summer months, how do you keep their brains working?

We visit the library, read a lot, and do math facts. I spend a lot of the summer taking them to zoos and other areas where we can learn about animals too. We do a lot of stuff that isn't related to their basic education skills.

What do you worry about most when you send your children back to school?

I really don't worry about my 8-year-old - she loves school. I'm nervous about my 5-year-old and how she'll feel about all-day kindergarten after going to a preschool that is 3 1/2 hours a day, 4 days a week. My oldest has been bullied a lot, and while he is learning to be assertive and stand up for himself and it's getting better, it has caused him to hate school. I get calls about missing/late assignments quite a bit. He also has ADHD and anxiety. When you pile everything together, the school year can be stressful for both of us.

What are some essential items your child must have before the first day of school?

The essentials off the school supply list, a backpack they are excited about, and though we aren't rich, and it's materialistic, I try to get them the clothes and shoes they want that make them feel good when they hit the school doors. With 4 kids, that can be a struggle for us.

What are some organizational tricks you use to get the kids ready to go back to school?

We get school supplies a month in advance. Things are checked and double-checked, then packed into book bags so there isn't a last minute rush. My kids usually have their first day of school clothes picked out when we buy them and they are hung up in a special place ready to go.

Have you ever had to deal with any issues at school? How have you handled it?

My oldest has been bullied since kindergarten. He's had his life threatened and been jumped off the bus in elementary school. Lucky for me, the staff at the school were incredibly supportive. There is zero tolerance for bullying at our school and there were always repercussions for the bully. In middle school, I have really been encouraging him to stand on his own two feet, and it has helped. I sought out a therapist who has taught him skills that help him when he gets into those situations and it has made a world of difference - so much so that he has now taken to standing up for others who don't have the confidence that he has to stick up for themselves. He has learned other ways of dealing with it rather than getting physical. And he is starting to be a leader for other kids.

What's in your child's emotional backpack?

My girls are pretty steady and have no problems in school. We just encourage that confidence they have. With both of my sons, we are building their confidence and with my oldest, continuing to work on his assertiveness and his ability to not get anxious in certain situations.

How do you handle the logistical transition from summer back to school? What are your schedules like?

They get to stay up later. My husband works long hours, 6 days a week, so that I can stay home. In the summer, my kids stay up to spend time with daddy. They sleep a lot later, so they are still getting those sleep hours they need. A couple of weeks before school starts, we start transitioning to the earlier bedtime.

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?

Everything goes into my Google calendar the minute I get it with a very loud alarm set. Everything. I check that every morning when I get up and try to check before I go to bed for the next day. I can't rely on my memory. There are times when I have had 3 soccer games on one day, 2 at the same time in different towns. In the morning, I always go through our appointments or whatever it is we are doing that day with the kids so they have a heads up.

What tips can you give parents who might be struggling with the transition to going back to school?

Get things ready early. Don't wait until the last day to go supply shopping or you'll be missing supplies when the stores are sold out of that specific brand of the specific number of markers your child has to have. Double-check that you have everything and pack it in the book bag when you buy them. Then put the bag up high, or you might have children like mine who get into their book bags and start using their supplies. Start psyching them up for what an exciting time they will be having early on. Get them on that school bedtime a couple of weeks before school starts so they don't start that first day tired. My point? Don't wait until the last minute for anything.

Heather Ayala is a busy work-at-home mom whose brood includes her husband Pato, her four bilingual children, and more than a few birds. She enjoys blogging at Not Everyone's Mama, digital scrapbooking, singing, and dancing. She and her family reside in Iowa. You can also find Heather on Facebook or Twitter.

For more helpful tips, check out the Care.com Interview Series: Secrets to Back-to-School Success ยป

Image used with permission from Heather Ayala.

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