Jenny Mathews, contributing writer

While sending the kids back to their “pencils, books and teachers’ dirty looks” means a greater likelihood of peace and quiet during the day and the return of a daily routine. It also means lunch-packing, carpooling, morning and evening chaos and… HOMEWORK! Try these simple life hacks to beat the back-to-school madness.

Morning mania

We’ve had plenty of crazy mornings over the years – trying to wake sleepy kids, preparing a healthy breakfast, wrestling the child who won’t wear socks or a jacket, or searching for a shoe, a page of homework or an overdue library book. A morning like that is no way to start the day! I now keep all the kids shoes, socks, jackets, backpacks, lunchboxes and library books organized in one space near the door to the garage. To wake that stubborn sleeper, a friend recommended putting a wireless intercom system in their room to use after the initial gentle rousing is unsuccessful. It even has an “call” feature that beeps loudly if the sound of my voice isn’t irritating enough! Another time-saving tip: choose the next day’s outfit at bedtime.

Better breakfast = better day

We know children need protein and whole grains in the morning to keep them from having an energy crisis before lunch. I’ve seen dozens of great recipes online, but time is always an issue. My kids love whole-wheat toaster waffles with a little nut butter or Nutella and fruit. Fold the waffle in half and you have our favorite on-the-go “waffle taco.” My older boys like to grab a banana and Greek yogurt or a granola bar on their way out the door.  Healthy morning smoothie recipes are everywhere and super quick and easy!

BTS paper palooza

Oh, how I loathe sorting through all the papers that are sent home, especially during back to school. And it’s not just papers, but flash cards and lunch money envelopes. In the same space where I keep all the kids’ shoes, backpacks, etc., I have hung a filing system I found at a craft store. There is one slot for each child. Attach an alligator clip to the top of each slot for urgent items like teacher notes or lunch money. Each time you are given a lunch menu, team schedule, roster, fieldtrip flier or vocabulary list, you have just the place for it!

Super structure

For a simple solution to calendaring, scheduling and structuring your family’s daily life, I have three words: THE MORNING CHECKLIST. If you are not doing a morning checklist, I am telling you to try it.  In the last nine months, we have done one for each child every weekday morning, and it has been revolutionary! We list their responsibilities for the day along with their schedule, and each item has a box to check when complete. One small spiral bound notebook per child and you have all you need to help everyone keep themselves on task and on schedule. I’ve also found two family scheduling/organizing apps that work really well: Cozi and Hub. These are especially good for families with busy teenagers because they will notify members of the family of new events and send reminders for appointments as well as provide each smartphone with access to the family’s shopping list and calendar.


The best advice I’ve ever heard on homework was from a teacher. She suggested working with your child’s teacher on expectations for homework based on your child’s situation.  As long as the child’s day is filled with healthy and responsible activities – not TV or video games – and the child is keeping up with the classwork, homework may not always be necessary. If homework is necessary, try setting a timer for 10 minutes. Ten minutes of homework = 10 minutes of their favorite show or game.