5 Ways To Save Your Sanity This School-Year

A recent question posed on Facebook by a local news outlet got me thinking about back-to-school organization. There are lots of things families can do to ease the transition from summer vacation mode to back-to-school. Many of these tips also will translate to an easier flow during the school-year.

1. Start transitioning your child to their school year sleep routine a few weeks before the start of school (and stick to it!)

During summer break, it’s easy to let bedtime slide, especially for older school-aged children. A later bedtime also typically means that kids sleep later in the morning. Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with having a relaxed summer sleep pattern but it can lead to challenges at the beginning of the school-year if  the children are not transitioned back to a consistent schedule.

2. Organize all school-related items before going to bed in the evening. 

Pack backpacks and place them at a landing zone where your family will depart in the morning. It’s mich easier to track down a library book in the evening than racing to find it before the bus arrives in the morning.

Have your children choose their clothes (with your help if they are younger) before bed as part of the bedtime routine. I suggest allowing your child to help choose their clothing because it should help allieviate morning routine battles over getting dressed if they had a hand in what they will be wearing. Lay out the outfit choice with shoes (missing shoes can equal chaos in the morning). At wake up time, the child can dress before eating breakfast with the parent helping where necessary. There isn’t really any reason that a developmentally typical 4 year old can’t put their clothing on by themselves in the morning.

If your child brings lunch to school from home, pack the lunchbox in the evening as well. Getting children involved in packing lunches is a great opportunity to discuss nutrition and healthy choices. Children that help choose nutritious items for their lunchbox are more likely to eat them.

3. Create a homework zone. 

You may be thinking “My child is only in Kindergarten”, but I assure you, the homework zone will come in handy. A homework zone is a quiet place for your child to concentrate on their studies. It should be away from the television and other distractions. If you don’t have a designated desk space for them to work, you can set-up a portable homework zone for use at any table.

All homework zones should ideally have a table top work space and a chair appropriate to your child’s height (their feet should touch the ground or a stool can be placed under them so their feet can rest on it. Dangling feet can lead to distraction and poor writing posture..

Create a caddy (the dollar store sells little plastic buckets with handles) that contains pencils, erasers, crayons, a stapler, paper clips, sticky notes, loose leaf paper, and blank paper. Basically, stuff that your child may need to complete their homework.  If they are older, a ruler or calculator may be needed.

The purpose of the homework zone is so at when it’s “homework time” there is no time-wasting, excuses and frustration from tracking down a pencil or a red crayon.

4. Create a before-school schedule (and stick to it)

No one likes to start their day stressed out because they are cramming to much into the morning hours before work or school.

I suggest that parents wake before the children to tend to their own morning routine without the children underfoot. Take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, feed the pets, enjoy a cup of tea or coffee all before the tribe gets up.

Once you’re ready, you can tend to the children’s routine. Wake the children so they physically have enough time for their bodies to adjust to being awake. I recommend waking them at a minimum of one hour before they need to leave the house.  It may seem like a nice thing to do to allow them to sleep-in as late as possible, but you may be doing more harm than good. Think about how rushed and disconnected you feel if you sleep past your alarm in the morning and have to ram groggily out the door in the morning.

One example of a morning routine for a young elementary age child that takes the bus to school school could look like this:

6:00am-7:00am Parent Time 

7:00am-7:15am Children Wake-Up/Dress in Clothing Laid Out Night Before

7:15am- 7:30am Eat Breakfast

7:30am-7:45am Wash Face/Brush Teeth/Hair

7:45-8:00am Free Time

8:00am – 8:15am Lunchbox in Backpack/Shoes/Gather a Items from Landing Zone

8:15am Out the door to wait for bus. 

It’s much more enjoyable for everyone to have a leisurely morning to start the day.

5. Create an after-school schedule (and stick to it)

I know that’s easier said than done but consistency is key. Kids thrive on routine. It allows them to predict what will happen next and having a routine in place will make transitions much easier. One example of an after-school routine for a young elementary age child that takes the bus home from school and doesn’t have any evening extracurricular activity could look like this:

3:45pm – 4:00 pm Bus Drops off (shoes away, backpack in landing zone for parent to check, bathroom, snack)

4:00pm-4:30pm Homework Time in the Homework Zone

4:30pm -5:30pm FreeTime (earlier if homework is already finished)

5:30pm- 6:00pm Dinner

6:00pm-6:15pm Help pack lunches and pack backpack

6:15pm-6:45 Shower/Brush Teeth/Pajamas/Choose Clothing for Morning

6:45pm-7:45pm Free Time

7:45pm-8:00pm Bathroom/Drink of Water/Bedtime Story

8:00pm Lights Out
Of course, each family will have a different schedule depending on the age of their child, the activity level in the house, etc. The important thing to take away from this is that a consistent schedule (adjusted to suit your family’s needs) will help create a more positive atmosphere for everyone in the house.

What are some ways that your family stays sane during the school-year?

unnamedIf you need help developing routines in your home, creating a developmentally appropriate work space for your child or with home organization for a better flow around the house, contact Jillian at jshepard826@gmail.com for a consultation.


The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in ECE and Beyond

The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in ECE and Beyond

  1. belonging naturally; essential.
    “access to the arts is intrinsic to a high quality of life”
    synonyms: inherent, innate, inborn, congenital, connate, natural; deep-rooted, deep-seated, indelible, ineradicable, ingrained; basic, fundamental, essential; built-in

Way back during my undergraduate studies in psychology, I learned the difference between “intrinsic motivation” and “extrinsic motivation”. Intrinsic motivation involves engaging in behavior because it is personally rewarding, we simply just want to do it; while extrinsic motivation occurs when the individual is motivated to engage in an activity to earn an award or avoid punishment.

Think about all of the activities we, as adults, do that are extrinsically motivated. We work hard at our jobs to earn money or a promotion (reward) and to avoid getting fired (punishment). We pay our bills on time to avoid debt-collectors (punishment). We apply for a scholarship (reward). The list is endless. Now, what feelings or emotions come to mind while reflecting on your list of extrinsic activities…perhaps you feel guilt, shame, anger, fear, exhaustion, boredom, or annoyance.

Now, think about the activities as adults that we do that are purely intrinsically motivated; we do them because we honestly want to, no reward or threat of punishment necessary. We take a yoga class. We volunteer at a homeless shelter. We foster parent. We plant a flower garden. We do the Sunday crossword puzzle. We read a new novel. What feelings or emotions come to mind while reflecting on those intrinsic activities…happiness, relaxation, helpfulness, meditation, empathy, calm, serenity.

How about a child in an early childhood classroom? Would the child not feel the same emotions that we as adults feel for each type of motivation?

Child 1:

Child 1 attends a program where the teacher chooses a theme and the entire class completes activities around that theme. At the end of the unit, the class is awarded with a party to celebrate their success. If the child does not complete the required worksheets and craft projects they can not attend the party. Child 1’s teacher chose the theme “On The Farm” for the current unit of study. Child 1 dislikes farms; he feels they are dirty and smelly and he is afraid of animals. However, Child 1 knows that in order to attend the party, he must complete the activities that his teacher requires. He rushes through the activities in order to earn the party.

How would you feel as Child 1?

Child 2:

Child 2 attends a program that is child-led. Child 2 loves to create structures. She is fascinated by buildings. In her classroom, she has the freedom to mold clay into buildings, build block structures, and make castles in the sandbox. She even draws pictures of buildings. Her teacher wants to expand on this intrinsic motivation of creation and sets up the block area with a bunch of photographs of famous buildings. The child loves the pictures of the buildings and attempts to remake them using the materials she has at hand in the classroom. Each attempt is documented by the teacher and the student. The teacher helps the student journal about what worked and didn’t work about the structures that were created. 

How would you feel as Child 2?

Which child is learning more? The child going through the motions to earn a party or the child spending hours on her chosen activity?

Which child is happier and more content? The child going through the motions to earn a party or the child spending hours on her chosen activity?

For our young children, having an intrinsic motivation supported and expanded can help open doors to learning and understanding that parents and educators wouldn’t even dream of. Wouldn’t you love to go to school every day and work on topics that interest you? We as adults get to choose our professions, why can’t children?

Some may argue that children need to sit down and learn to write the alphabet at their desk and use teddy bear counters to learn 1-to-1 correspondence because that’s what’s expected in a public Kindergarten.

I ask you why?

It’s always been done that way.

So what?

Why can’t that same child who loves to build structures form her letters from blocks on the floor or write them with a stick in the sandbox? Why can’t she count out the number of blocks that she needs to make two walls of her building an equal height?

The value of intrinsic motivation in early childhood education can not be overlooked. In an age when many parents are expecting Kindergarten readiness at an earlier and earlier age, early childhood education is becoming more rigid and more academically focused with flashcards and worksheets and drills. Children don’t need all of those things. They need someone to spend the time getting to know them and what motivates them. Be the child’s guide and co-learner and the learning will follow naturally.

Do you incorporate child-led learning in your classroom or at home? What topics or activities is your child intrinsically motivated about? Share your comments below.


If you would like help incorporating a child-led curriculum into your programming or expanding a child’s current interests please contact Jillian at jshepard826@gmail.com for ways that we can best assist you.