Why I Love Labor Day

Many people think of Labor Day as the end of summer, but for those of us who thrive on schedules and routine it marks the end of a time when routine and schedules are not as easy to follow. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy summer vacation. But I can handle only so much of it, before I am begging for school to start again. Even as a teacher I feel this way. I can’t wait for school to start. It brings back the routine I need to find some sanity in my life. With the start of school comes Labor Day weekend, which has it’s own benefits for helping ease the transition of back to school.

The Long Weekend

This year my daughter and I had school for three days before we hit the three day weekend. It got my family back into the routine and my students at school through those first few days of organization and procedure teaching. We were rewarded with a long weekend. Although my family is usually quite busy over the weekends, we had one extra day during which we were able to do a family activity together.

Chaos of Summer Ends

No longer am I running around trying to fit in visiting with family, doing fun things with my kids, and still trying to find time to work, but I can know have a schedule that simplifies my life. Yeah, my kids go to bed ridiculously early, but they have activities planned each day whether that be school or daycare. I know what needs to happen when in order for my day and theirs to be successful.

A Break from the Schedule

Getting back into the school routine is hard, even for people who thrive off of living on a schedule. For my family and I getting those few days to make the schedule work and then having days where we don’t need to live on such tight schedule really helps everyone reset and be ready to go back to the schedule on Tuesday. It gives us a chance to reevaluate and make changes to our schedule so hopefully everything can run more efficiently.

Relaxing, Family Time

My family doesn’t always get to relax around the holidays. Our holidays are rather busy with my husband working most of them. This is one holiday where he doesn’t work and we are able to enjoy time as a family. This year is was as simple as being able to go on a picnic. Yes, it was slightly chilly, but it was something that got us away from our house and let us focus on ourselves and our kids.

Do you enjoy the Labor Day weekend? Do you have any traditions that you do on Labor Day weekend? Is the end of summer awaited eagerly at your house? Let us know in the comments below.

Getting ready for the school year: Having a schedule

If you have school age children and you haven’t already gone back to school you soon will be. How do you make the transition? Do you go crazy the first day trying to get there on time? Do you live all summer on your school schedule? Here’s how my family does back to school.

AUGUST: Week 1

The first full week in August is routine time. We start by going to bed at school time. (My kids are still pretty young they went to bed pretty early all summer. You may want to take a few days to do this, slowly moving bedtime earlier.) This doesn’t mean they are getting up at school time yet but their bodies are adjusting to going to bed earlier and it may make it easier for them to get up earlier. Here are the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations for amount of sleep children should be getting.

AUGUST: Week 2

We start getting up at school time and following a loose morning routine. We start to enforce school wake up times. There are no time constraints yet so we iron out the wrinkles as we go and make adjustments. This isn’t so much about the time things get done by but the order in which things happen in the morning. The hope is my kids will go through the routine like it’s second nature by the time the school year actually starts.

AUGUST: Week 3

Now its crunch time. We get up at a consistent time. The kids follow the schedule. We try to be ready by the set leave time for school. This week is about making the final small changes so our mornings flow as smoothly as possible.

My daughter’s school starts at 8AM. We have about a fifteen to twenty minute drive to get there. I don’t work in the mornings so me getting to work isn’t part of this schedule equation. She also has two younger siblings that I need to load into the car before we can leave. I get up well before my kids so I can shower, read a devotion, and get some writing or work done before managed chaos descends on my house.

Sample Schedule

6:30 This is my kids wake up time. They are usually up before this.

Once my kids are up, my oldest knows to get dressed. We try to aid this process by laying her clothes out the night before. Her next step is to brush her hair so all I need to do is put it up in some way.

6:45 Breakfast

Starting about age two, we require our kids to be dressed before breakfast on school days. Her little brother is still working on this rule which makes for some interesting mornings.  Breakfast is an easy affair most days being cereal or oatmeal and some fruit.

7:00 Finishing touches

My daughter brushes her teeth. I make sure her hair is done. I make sure the younger two children are some semblance of dressed.

7:15 Load up

Getting three kids in the car in any sort of timely fashion, especially when they are all still in car seats takes some time. This can take my kids anywhere from 5-10 minutes depending on how cooperative they want to be that day, so I give myself some wiggle room here so my patience isn’t flying out the window as we get in the car.

As my kids get older and more of them are going to school this schedule will change and most likely become earlier. Getting my kids back into the routine before school actually starts makes that first week of school a little less stressful because they know what is happening in the morning and that it happens the same way every morning.

How do you and your family prepare for the school year? Have you found strategies that work for getting your kids to bed easily? How do your kids get up in the morning? Leave a comment below.

6 Ways to Save for Back To School!

As a follow-up to last week’s post about honoring your kids’ school supply list , as promised here are some ideas about saving money (without buying off-brand crayons!)

6 ways to save money on school supplies

This tips are carefully considered and respectfully offered.

Background: I grew up in a wonderfully thrifty household.  I was taught that a person’s value does not lie in brand names, but that school is of utmost importance and teachers are to be respected.  I was bullied in school (not oversensitive, legit bullied!) for my clothes, shoes, hair, you  name it.  I am a middle-school teacher on hiatus.  I am now a parent.

With all of that in mind, I can understand parents, children, and teachers involved in this whole back-to-school situation.  I have tried to offer tips that help your budget but are not crazy hard to accomplish.  I’ve kept in mind the reality of kid needing to be remotely “in style.”  All suggestions are made in hopes that this helps you afford the specific supplies your child’s teacher has asked for on The List.

Here we go!

1 – Sort, declutter, and evaluate first!

In June or July, go through the major areas of back-to-school – clothing and school supplies – and see what can be used again next year.

If your child wears hand-me-downs or you thrift/yardsale ahead of sizes, evaluate how many upcoming clothes they actually like and will wear.

Get their fall wardrobe out of storage and check what will still fit them, fold, and count the items against how many they will need.

If your students wear uniforms, check older siblings’ uniforms to see if anything can be passed down.

(A capsule wardrobe for your children will really help keep costs down, as well.  I hope to write a post about this in the future!  Kids need less clothing than we assume (we all need less than we think!) Better to wear and wash and love a few pieces than have a closet stuffed full, a bank account empty, and “nothing to wear.”)

UNPACK THEIR BACKPACK and check for salvageable school supplies (binders, notebooks, pens, highlighters, calculators, locker accessories) throw out what can’t be saved, and check this against the school supply list.  Again, check siblings’ supplies in case there are grade-specific supplies that can be used again (calculators for elementary vs. high school math, certain colors of pen, certain kinds of binders or folders, leftover index cards or wide-ruled paper vs. college-ruled paper.) There is likely at least a few items of clothing or supplies that you can use again!

Evaluate what is truly needed.  Sticking to the list is important, but “extras” are not.  Examples?  Your child may be required to get plastic folders, but there are likely several price options that are all plastic.  Perhaps they need a 5-subject notebook – but it doesn’t have to have a cartoon character on the front!  A separate pair of “dedicated gym shoes” does NOT mean “$300 Nikes.”  If you choose to upgrade a supply or purchase brand names when it isn’t necessary (or buy your student scented markers or Sharpies or locker decorations, for fun) that’s your decision and should be factored into your budget!

2 – Shop second-hand first whenever possible!

Second-hand clothing from yard sales, thrift stores, or children’s consignment stores are a great place to start with savings.  If you are brand-new to second-hand shopping, I suggest starting at a children’s consignment shop like Once Upon a Child or Too Little for Me.  I find that children’s consignment offers great quality and most items are still in style.  You decide whether to take your child along on these shopping trips or not!

If your children wear uniforms, still check for pieces that can be acquired second-hand.  Often uniforms contain polo shirts or button-down shirts that do not need to be brand specific.  Even khaki or navy pants can be found in these stores (if your kids need uniforms, odds are good other kids in your area have also worn the same pieces!)  Additionally, by all means buy used when it comes to your child’s at-home wear and/or gym clothing!

Some school supplies can be purchased second-hand as well!  I have found many binders and folders (even expandable files!) at the thrift store – just open them up and make sure all the rings work.  Thrift stores also usually have loose leaf paper and notebooks (just check the rule of the paper – bring a piece of the right size to check them against if they’re not labeled!)  For big ticket items like Algebra-level calculators, check Craigslist or local buy-sell-trade sites, as well as friends and relatives.  (My family passed around the same big calculator for many kids, and my in-law family did the same!  I believe my husband actually gave his high school calculator to our nephew, even.)

If you are in great need, there are usually free clothing and/or school supply resources in your county through nonprofits, social services, or a local swap group.  Search the Internet, and use those resources!

3 – Sales and Discounts

Of course.  But many school supply sales begin early (like July early!) so be on the lookout and have your declutter and second-hand shopping done so you can walk into those sales prepared!  Something you possibly don’t know is that some states offer tax-free back-to-school shopping weekends where you automatically save your state’s sales tax on everything.

Some things can be stocked up ahead, especially if you have multiple children attending the same school so you have a good guess about what will be needed in the future.  Standards like the 24-pack of Crayola crayons, Ticonderoga #2 pencils, Kleenex, can be purchased in multiples if you catch a great sale!

Use those store coupons and discounts as they come to you (again, have the decluttering and thrifting done early!), even if that means buying one piece at a time.  Stores like JCPenney, Kohls, Macy’s, etc often have $10 off coupons that can be used in-store or online, and offer uniform pieces or regular clothing.

If you have a store credit card or gift cards, now is the time to use them!  I personally only have experience with Kohls as far as store credit goes, but they send a 30% discount every 6 weeks or so.  Along with $10 off $10 coupons.  (Absolutely no affiliation or kick-back.  I wish!)  I do not advise credit if you have difficulty paying it back!  Open and use lines of credit like cash – budget to pay the whole bill every month.

If you rack up customer rewards at non-clothing stores, see if they carry school supplies.  I get Goodwill Reward coupons for $5, and I know Shopko offers rewards coupons after spending money on prescriptions.

4 – Budget ahead of time

This may take a year or two to work the kinks out, but back-to-school happens every year.  For at least 13 years.  This should be part of your yearly budget, not a big surprise in August!  A few hundred dollars should cover clothing, shoes, and supplies if you shop prudently.  This is similar to the price of one new smartphone, 4 rounds of eating out at a restaurant, a couple household gadgets… things that many people purchase without much hesitation, and come from a “fun” budget category.  Supplying kids should be its own category.  We started a “kids” section of our budget before each baby was born, and have used this fund to cover baby supplies, diapers, booster seats, clothing, school tuition, art supplies… you name it!

5 – Outlet stores

If your children have strong opinions about brands, see where your nearest outlet store is for Nike, UnderArmor, Adidas, etc.  (Personally, I hope my parenting style leads to not having to buy these brands, but I digress.)  I have shopped these stores looking for sneakers for myself, and the pricing seems fair (less than full retail, but things are new and still “in”  so more expensive than thrifting.)

6 – Carry around the school supply list!

After you’ve decluttered and checked off what items can be reused, borrowed or bought second-hand and checked off those items, start carrying that list around in your purse or pocket so any time you are out running errands you can reference it and pick up something if a deal appears.  Perhaps you find you have a little money left on a gift card.  Maybe you get a free item with purchase at an unlikely place like a grocery store.  Maybe you’re out of town and happen to see a sale you don’t get the ads for.  At a rummage sale with a friend and happen to find something your child needs?  No problem!  Your list is with you and can be referenced and checked off immediately.

Forgetting what is already owned and duplicating purchases is a huge budget killer in any area of shopping!

 

Do you have great tips for saving money on back-to-school essentials?  Leave them in the comments (if they don’t involve off-brand crayons or skipping the Kleenex!)

6 ways to save on back to school essentials

To work or not to work? Is that the question? -deb

So your pregnant and are looking to the future. Are you going to stay home with your newborn or are you going to go back to work? It’s a question all new parents must struggle with. In sharing my story I’m hoping to give you some insights into why my family made the decisions we did as pertaining to working with kids.

When I caught baby fever, about a year into our marriage, my husband and I talked about how we wanted to raise our family and when it would work best for us to have our first child. We originally made plans that I would be a stay at home mom and we would adjust our budget to make that possible. This seemed like a perfect plan, my husband was on schedule with his schooling to get a full-time paid internship and then would only have one year of school left. We figured we could make the sacrifices needed to make our plans a reality.

When we found out we were pregnant with our first it seemed like our plans were falling into place.  God had different plans for us though, my husband’s school track changed. With my husband’s school track changing our plans changed and we decided that me working full-time would be the best decision for our family. My husband’s schedule changed to classes twice a week instead of everyday so he was able to be home with our daughter most of the time and when he had class we had been able to find an in home daycare for her to go to. I regretted not being home with her but I told myself that she slept most of the time anyway so I wasn’t missing much. I took advantage of every minute I was home with her though.

When our daughter was a year old I was able to be a stay at home mom. I thought I would rock at this job. This was my dream come true. I had all of my time to dedicate to my daughter and would be able to give her all my attention. I knew getting out would be key to my success, so we went to story time at the library. I had all this time and she was showing signs of readiness so we started potty training. I would had all sorts of time to do anything we wanted. It didn’t take long though till I was crazy and bored.

My daughter wouldn’t take naps when I wanted her to. I was unable to do even my short to do list. My daughter wanted me to sit and watch her play for hours. I couldn’t handle it. My one year old was emotionally draining me everyday and I wasn’t finding any joy in being with her. Although staying home was something I thought I wanted to do I was really struggling with this lifestyle mentally and emotionally.

I went back to work when my daughter was 19 months old. I worked full-time and sent my daughter to daycare. I was again struck by mom guilt with leaving my child under someone else’s care, but I realized I was able to enjoy spending time with her in the evenings and on the weekends instead of dreading the whole day when I woke up and didn’t really know what the day would bring.

I thought that maybe the number of kids affected my ability to stay home, so when we had our second child I again tried to stay home. It wasn’t the crazy boredom this time but the housekeeping that drove me crazy. Maybe I have unrealistic expectations for myself and just can’t let them go. I felt that since I was home all day there really wasn’t a reason why I couldn’t keep my house immaculately clean every day or cross items off my to do list every day.

So when I was offered a position to teach part time which I jumped on it, and here I am now working part time with three kids and for the most part enjoying the craziness that a busy schedule brings.

Do I think all parents should work? No. Do I think all families should have one parent at home with their kids? No, that has to be left up to each family to decide. I want people to realize that there is more to consider in the decision making process then can we afford this option or that option. Leave yourself open to both options if at all possible. Be aware that what you always saw for yourself as a parent may not be what works best for you in the trenches of parenthood.

Are you a stay at home mom or a working mom? Do you have any pointers on how you made the decision to work or not to work? Leave a comment below.

Book Review: The Connected Child

 
Find on Amazon: http://amzn.to/2kVZggW

 

This is a great parenting book even if all of your children came into your family biologically.  While it is directed specifically at helping children who do not have strong attachments or who are not used to authority figures, it’s great for toddlers!  Many of the tips are related to the Love and Logic approach, and more are just good sense parenting of children who are exhibiting defiant behaviors.

Surely I’m not the only mom whose “threenager” exhibits defiant behaviors.

I enjoyed that this book is authored from the perspective that a warm, nurturing home and simple living is best for children with any number of difficulties.  The authors actually came out and said that families should strictly limit their “business” and activities outside the home so that they can focus on parenting and nurturing, unhurried and unobserved.  I agree with this so much!  (I should write a blog post about it.)

“Many families live at breakneck speed.  they hurry to work, to day care, to civic meetings, and to social engagements.  They ferry the kids from scouts to soccer to piano lessons to school and back again.  the parent becomes the chauffeur with a checkbook, someone who waves good-bye in the morning and barely says hello again at night.  As parents whip through these hectic days, children are expected to just tag along, absorb life lessons, and feel connected to their families.  But an at-risk, attachment-challenged child just won’t get it.  Adopted and foster children need lots of individualized, focused time with their parents in order to catch up developmentally and to form close and loyal family bonds… parents who are seriously committed to helping a troubled and challenged child thrive will vastly increase their odds of success by making a fundamental policy decision: to slow down their lives and put their child’s needs first.  Joining the women’s league can wait for a few years; this youngster can’t.”

That.  One of the most poignant paragraphs in the book, affirming what I believe to be true about family life.

This book would even be a good refresher for parents whose families are well-established.  You learn something new every day!  (My mother just came out of my mouth.)

Format-wise, this is a quick read.  I finished it in three days because I had to return it to the library, and I’m a procrastinator.  It is broken up with lots of headings within the chapters.  There aren’t too many anecdotes (I don’t enjoy excessive anecdotes) but the authors did provide examples when helpful.  There are also checklists and tables of information sprinkled throughout, some of which would be very useful as actual checklists.

The books ends with a chapter about the parents’ own childhood and attachment levels.  This is something I’m noticing is prevalent in preparation for foster care or adoption – everyone is very concerned that you get in touch with your own childhood experiences and any emotional difficulties you might have.  This chapter (the entire book, really) actually provides an encouraging perspective, and offers practical ideas for resolving or improving your personal emotional state (and your whole parenting style) rather than giving the impression that imperfect people shouldn’t parent.

Which, obviously, they should.  We are all of us imperfect!

In conclusion…

10/10 Would recommend to any parent/prospective parent!

Book Review: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families

 
To be honest, this book began rather slowly for me.  There are a large amount of anecdotes from both the author’s own life and lives of others, which is not my personal style of understanding self-help information.
About at the middle of the book, when I was close to beginning to skip over entire pages, I found some gems.  During Habit 4: Think “Win-Win”, I found tips about mitigating competition among siblings and helping curb teenage rebellious behavior.  The overriding principle is to create solutions that help everyone in the family “win,” or have an outcome they enjoy.  This includes things like family activities where everyone feels successful (family point totals goals, for example,) and creating agreements with teenagers where parents get behaviors/responsibilities they desire in their children, but the adolescent children get the freedom or responsibilities they crave to show their independence.

Habit 5 is, essentially, about empathy.  The point was made that families often treat strangers and guests with more empathy than their own members, because families assume that love is constant.  That’s an eye-opener!
Especially for parents: the author also recommends positive feedback first when a child (or adult) has completed a task.  Even if it’s not done perfectly.  Even if the child “cleaned up” by schmearing something awful into your nice towel.  Because they are proud of themselves, and are looking for approval, even if later correction is needed.

Other key take-aways: How to really work together – using every family member’s strengths (viewing them as such, rather than weaknesses)
How to reach mutually agreeable decisions based on facts and principles, not emotions and
selfishness.

Overall, I feel like this book is a great place to begin, if you come from a troubled family background or feel completely lost in nurturing your own family’s cohesiveness.  If you’re finding a lot of strain in your relationships within your family, this book could be a life saver!

For my own purposes, it was more of a refresher of principles I already knew but had perhaps tucked on the back burner.  My intent was to seek insight that could help our family keep structure and consistency throughout and after our foster/adopt journey (suddenly adding an older child could throw everything out of whack!) and my reading has largely just reminded me of areas to focus on.

6.5/10  Would recommend in some cases.

Souvenirs for Kids

…that aren’t garbage.  Or toys.
When I was a kid, my dad traveled a few times a year for work.  He always brought back souvenirs for my sister and me, which was ridiculously exciting to my little hoarder self.  Postcards, t-shirts, stuffed animals, plastic travel mugs, tiny statue replicas… You name it, I had it.
I love what my dad was trying to do – generate a fun surprise for when he got home.  And it was wonderful!  
But the stuff.  
Oh my.
Going on a trip, and wanting to buy your children/grandchildren/nieces and nephews/nanny charges something? Great! Here’s some suggestions on how to do that without clogging up their room with stuff.
Washcloths or towels.  Especially those kind that come all compressed into a little brick and then revive when you wet them.  It’s super fun to make them grow, but then you have a very useful item left over.  Those washcloths are actually really soft and big!  Bonus: easy to fit in your suitcase!
These adorable washcloths are from Grandma and Grandpa’s trip to Hawaii.  I don’t know what “A Coconut Named Bob” is about, but it’s SO CUTE an SOFT.  Big L enjoyed wetting them and watching them “grow.”
A pen/pencil or eraser (for school aged children.). They can can use it at school and tell their friends about their cool relative who went cool places.  And it is consumable.  Rulers and folders are also good possibilities!
Candy/regional snacks.  Does your location have a particular packable food item that kids would like?  Saltwater taffy from the coast? Fudge from Michigan?  Maple sugar candies from Vermont or Canada?
1 T-shirt, 1 size too big.
Because they are already wearing their current size, so obviously mom and dad have dealt with their current wardrobe and they have enough clothes.  The shirt will get more wear if it is an intentional part of their next wardrobe.
A book.  Now, I am a softy for books – it is the one area of my home I have yet to purge.  That being said, a book about the cool place you went (at an appropriate reading level, of course) might be a perfect souvenir.
A useful item they can grow into.  For example, if your special child is almost ready for a water bottle, or a plate, or a baseball cap, or their own cocoa mug.  That way is not an extra of that item, but  it is the one the child uses daily because his/her parents know they already have one.
Any other great ideas for souvenirs for minimalist kids?  Leave them in a comment!  Happy travels.