My youngest child started school four years ago so I’m well and truly into this new stage of parenting. I remember when my four children were all little, and I dreamt of a time when they would all be able to pee in the toilet by themselves, AND I would be able pee in the toilet by myself too. Now that it’s here, I’ve come to a realisation that every stage of parenting is just as challenging but in different ways. There’s a lot more emotional needs rather than physical. More logistical intricacies rather than logistical restrictions. There’s more external worries and less physical exhaustion. I think that is why it’s so important to embrace the stage you’re in, whatever that may be.
Organising kids for school in the setting of everyday life is a big job. I’ve written about this before in detail a couple of years ago here. I’ve fine tuned organisation strategies over the years and I have it down to a fine art now! There are a few mindset changes I’ve had to make over the years to ensure our family life is supported, rather than put under unnecessary pressure, and there are three main things to note before I even get into the organisational methods I use.
Establish Micro-Systems, Don’t Micro-Manage
I had to say no to micro-managing, because it really doesn’t work long term in our family life. I wrote about what that looks like here. BUT I do establish a series of micro-systems based on what works in our family. These micro-systems, when established (and it can take a while and patience to do this), help our family run smoothly and ensure everyone can be ready for all the wonderful things they will learn and do every day. The idea is these systems help the kids to help themselves, rather than me micro-managing everyone one in the family, which just turns me into a nag.
Responsibility Ownership: Modelling and Expecting
One thing that has helped over the years is to show the kids that everyone has certain responsibilities in our family. So for example, at the moment, my job is the wash uniforms, fill out forms for kids, do lunches. It’s the children’s responsibility to be able to follow the morning routine by themselves. This is worth a mention because there are times, for example, when I have been late making lunches (for whatever reason) and then I can apologies to the kids because it impacts on everyone when I don’t do my responsibilities, and this also works the other way with the kids (when they aren’t ready, it impacts on everyone).
Everything takes time and patience. I have to keep reminding myself of that. It all looks nice and neat putting it all in a blog post like this, but in reality, it’s not a perfect system and it all takes time to establish, allowing for grace and learning.
Over the years, what I’ve found out works best is to establish micro-systems for each part of what is necessary with having children at school. The first thing is to break it all up into pieces, and then the second part of this is establishing the systems over the first weeks (sometimes months) of school. I’ve lived in over 10 houses since I married, and with each place, I’ve had to establish slightly different routines depending on what I have to work with, but they are all along similar lines.
I don’t iron uniforms. Ever. I have four kids, lots of uniforms (blouses, pleated skirts, tailored dresses, sports shirts/shorts), cargo short, tailored shirts), and there’s no way I’m spending hours ironing every day. BUT, I do want my kids looking neat and tidy for school, and so I’ve fine-tuned the way I wash uniforms so I don’t need to iron (EVER).
- Wash Separately: I wash uniforms (including school socks) separately from my regular washing. If you add a bit of fabric softener to the cycle, it can help too.
- Dry A Few: Once the uniforms are washed, I put them in the dryer, a few pieces at a time (I use my line for the majority of the clothes but not the school uniforms).
- Hang in Laundry: Once the uniforms are dry, I take them out and hang them directly on hangers on a rack (pictured below) immediately. Unless they are sports shirts/short which I fold and keep in boxes. The uniforms come our beautifully and don’t need ironing. If you don’t have a dryer and want to try this, I have also done a similar thing with washing (shaking out) and then hanging directly on hangers to dry in the laundry. Not quite as good result as the dryer but still enough to get away with no ironing.
Note: I keep all uniforms in the laundry, not in the respective children’s rooms. My laundry is small, but it can fit a hanging rack and a few boxes where I keep sports uniforms and socks (as shown below). The kids get their uniforms from the laundry when they need them. The reason I do this is because over the years I have found it more streamlined if I wash and keep everything in one place for people to come to.
The best thing I have ever done when it comes to laundry is KEEPING SOCKS OUT OF THE CHILDREN’S ROOMS. I tell you, the socks we have lost over the years! Now, I keep all socks (regular and school) in the laundry in two different boxes. I don’t have enough room for multiple socks so everyone’s socks are in together. As my kids are older now, they either have the same size school sock size (my three girls do), or have different school socks (grey for boy), so it makes it easy. In the past, I’ve used a marker system so I can match up the right sock with the right size and you can find more about it here.
I keep hair items in a dedicated drawer in the bathroom. A few containers keep things sectioned.
The children keep their bag in their rooms (they all have their own room so there’s enough room for bags). If I had enough room the the house, I would love to have one of the Echidna Krafts school stations.
I’ve gone into detail in this post about my lunch box system (too much to explain here). But I do have a system with washing/storing them.
- The kids put lunch boxes on the bench of the afternoon. If they fail to do this (fine) but they will have to do the washing themselves. If they remember to do it, I wash them all in the afternoon.
- I wash lunch boxes, and leave them all in the drainer to dry. They stay there until the morning and I get them directly from there to pack food in the morning.
- Ice packs go in freezer and insulated containers up in the cupboard.
There’s a lot of school notes to go through each week! I have a homework station (which is a small trolley from IKEA) where I get the kids to put both their homework and school notes. This makes it easy to grab when we need to do homework and everything is there. I usually fill out notes before school and give them to the kids to take (if I do it in the afternoon, chances are the kids forget it’s in their bag).
Note: A few small bottles of roll on sunscreen are handy if the kids need to take it to school. Label it ready to go.
The homework trolley sits neatly under the kitchen bench near the table, so when it’s time to do homework, we just pull it out, and the kids sit at the table.
Note: My two older children in high school are independent when it comes to doing homework and have their own systems. This is for my two younger children in primary school.
I have morning cards which act as a sequence for the kids to follow to establish a routine. You can find these printable cards here. The afternoon schedule is much more flexible because each afternoon can look different so it’s just a general guide.
Having four kids at school means a lot of different things to consider each day, like sports day, swim days, music days, library day etc. As my kids get older, they tend to be able to remember this sort of thing themselves (hallelujah!). This year, I printed off a weekly schedule (found it here) which I am still filling in for my own record, so I can keep track on who is doing what each day. This is a fixed thing, so each week is the same (I don’t change the paper). This is pinned on a board in the kitchen, and I also pin certificates and other random things. For excursions, meetings with teachers and other one-off items, I record them in my iPhone calendar with a reminder.
In the past when the kids have been younger and needed more support, I did a code system and I detailed it here.
My kids don’t produce much school art anymore so it’s not such a big thing, but I do like to keep some bits and pieces during the year and I do that in one of these drawers. At the end of the year, I put it into a scrapbook, and you can read more about my process here. In the past when my children were younger and produced a lot of artwork, I hung pant hangers on the wall to display current artwork (see a picture here). For even more ways to store children’s artwork, read here.
Why Micro-Systems Support Family Life
The systems are there to make things easier, quicker and more organised. I try and focus on running a family home rather than how I want the home to be. In this way, I am absolutely fine with kids establishing their own systems IF THEY WORK (and/or contributing their own ideas on what works best). And as my kids get older, I find they do learn to establish their own micro-systems, and that is just the best outcome! I also find establishing micro-systems a useful tool when it comes to learning natural consequences for certain choices. For example, while it is my responsibility to wash uniforms, if the kids don’t give them to me to wash (their responsibility) and they are in a crumbled mess in their room, they will need to iron them themselves in the morning (because it won’t be done by me). Same goes for lunch boxes. I’m happy to wash them in the afternoon (because that is part of my responsibility at the moment) but if they don’t put the lunch on the bench, they have to do it themselves (and they might have to make their own lunch as well if it’s not done in time…and they might not be able to have the yummy colder food I usually put in the lunch box because their ice pack isn’t cold…and so on). I like to avoid yelling a reminding a million times. I rather like to allow an extension of natural consequences. Kids tend to learn pretty quickly this way.
It seems quite full on when I write it all down like that! However, once established, these little systems work brilliantly when it comes to running the family and making sure everyone has the freedom to do what they need/want to (including myself). Everyone takes ownership over these systems, everyone has certain responsibilities, and we all pull together to make it all happen.