To some people, the sounds of rustling backpacks and starched uniforms brings feelings of sweet relief; it’s the sound of children going back to school and the household returning to a normal schedule.
For working moms like myself, the sound brings feelings of dread. The school year will be beginning, necessitating extreme juggling skills to manage varying bus schedules, homework assignments, the unending list of supplies that are urgently needed, and the illogical school calendar which manages to give vacation to the children at least once a month, leaving parents scrambling for extra child-care.
The summer is a vacation from all that with late mornings when the kids can be packed off to camp wearing whatever they want without having to worry about dress codes, and just a quick glass of milk, knowing that breakfast will be served shortly, not to mention long relaxing afternoons, where every meal is alfresco (at least in our house) and the children are so wiped out from their exertions, their sleep is long and deep.
This year, we have three kids going to school for the first time. My oldest will be going to first grade, my middle child will be entering not just nursery but a brand new school system for both him and us, and my little toddler, only nineteen months, will be going to a small playgroup across the street with his bottle in his hand. Now before you exclaim at the pressure that parents are placing on their children to succeed academically, remember that I am not home during the day anyways, and I felt it would be good for my not-quite-a-baby-anymore to spend a few hours with other wobbly toddlers his own age instead of with the babysitter.
So with all these big milestones, each child in a different school and a different grade, we have been inundated with forms, letters, and supplies that are needed before the school year can begin. We would have been completely overwhelmed, if not for my secret weapon; my cell phone calendar. In there, I broke down all the major categories that we had to deal with: school supplies, forms, clothing, doctor visits, and preparing the children for their next big step in life.
School Supplies: I have been very blessed with a husband who loves shopping for deals. Because of that, we have a large closet filled with almost every type of school supply one might require from age 3 and up. For the small amount of things that we were missing, he kept track of the circulars being dropped off in the mail and went to Staples as needed. That’s his thing, and it definitely was a huge help, but unless Sunday-shopping-for-school-supplies is your thing, I wouldn’t recommend it, as it’s quite the time-waster.
Instead, schedule a day in your phone calendar, once you received all the school supply lists, and choose one store that has decent prices for most of the items you will need. Bang out the whole list and call it a day.
It is not reasonable to expect to get the best deals for everything, so whatever you end up spending a little extra on, chalk it up to time saved. In the future, remember to go shopping as early in the summer as possible, because the closer you get to September, the emptier the store shelves will be.
The Forms: The forms came in thick envelopes and contained such useful information as lunch forms, emergency forms, book forms, bus forms, school schedules, and family history. I took care of them as soon as they arrived, by filing the important forms I needed in the appropriate places and filling out the paperwork the school required, slipping them back into the manila envelope and into the children’s backpacks that were already waiting on their hooks at the front door.
Clothing and Uniform: Can I take a minute to say how much I love uniforms? What a pleasure to know exactly what to wear for the next day. No more giving choices, or explaining that we can’t wear Shabbos dresses to school. Thankfully, my daughter is very excited to wear her uniform, and she couldn’t wait to go shopping. We scheduled a day on my phone, and found a uniform store nearby that carried her school’s criteria.
Most schools have a uniform supplier. If money isn’t an issue and you are pressed for time, you can easily call them and make an order, which should be done as early as possible to make sure there is something left. Depending on how generic the school uniform is, there are non-Jewish stores and companies that sell uniform like skirts and shirts for a fraction of the price, such as Children’s Place or Gap, and they take coupons! When buying uniform from suppliers other than the school’s, make sure it confirms with the school guidelines in terms of length and other decorations.
I personally find shopping for shoes a nightmare, so all the money we saved on uniforms and school supplies, I spent on shoes. The easiest option for me, but not exactly the cheapest, is to go online and order from a website that offers free shipping such as Zappos.com. I order a few different pairs, my children pick the one they like the most, and I return the rest, all from the comfort of my home.
For the boys’ clothes, I scheduled a couple of hours on my phone, and went through their closet and hand-me-downs. I made a list of the items they were missing and went back online to finish the shopping.
Medical visits and Updated Immunizations: Needless to say, it is crucial for your children to have updated immunizations. The world has become quite small and although your children may not be world-travelers, there is no way to tell where those around them have been. In addition, most schools will not allow your child into school without an updated medical form. Schedule an appointment and mark it in your phone, making sure it doesn’t coincide with any of your other shopping days.
Preparing the Children for Their Milestone: I did my best to prepare the children along the way – when I bought my daughter her uniforms, we reviewed that she will be using them in first grade, what she will be learning and how the structure will be different than what she’s been used to. When we bought my son his backpack, I explained that he will be using it to go to his new big school, where his cousins go. For my baby…let’s just hope that his orientation won’t be too heartrending.
Good luck to all the little ones starting their new year, and may their new beginnings be full of success. Let’s catch up in the few months, and we can discuss the next big hurdle, getting your kids to do their homework!Pnina Baim
About the Author: Pnina Baim is the author of the Young Adult novels, “Choices,” “A Life Worth Living,” and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, “Sing While You Work.” The books are available at amazon.com.
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