How to Battle Back-to-School Busy

For my family, the long, lazy days of summer are anything but boring. We stay busy during these warm months, camping and traveling and working on yard projects to say the least.

But compared to the controlled chaos of the school year, summer can seem downright chill. At least, as a family, we’re all on the same page in June, July, and August. Or in the same car. Or even in the same room. That’s not how it is goes once school starts up again. Come September, we all scatter off in different directions from morning until night, and it requires some major tactical planning for us all to stay connected and on track with each other.

File_000 (10)Let me tell you about the recent horrible, no good, very bad semester when I nearly lost my mind and learned a valuable lesson about maintaining my family’s busy schedules. It was early spring, when you just naturally want to be more active after a winter’s hibernation, and neither of my teens were driving yet. My son was dual enrolled at the local community college, with an odd mix of early morning and late night classes. He was also taking a driver’s ed course, volunteering at the food bank AND the library, working on his Eagle Scout project, and tutoring part-time. Meanwhile, my daughter was appearing in two separate theater productions, crewing for a third, involved with three afterschool clubs, volunteering at the library, taking voice and dance lessons, selling Girl Scout cookies, and had recently begun a regular workout schedule at the gym. On top of all that, believe it or not, my wife and I actually had our own work and leisure activities. The hectic and erratic nature of our four schedules was not new, but the sheer number of people, places, and things I had to keep track of was at an unprecedented level for me. It came as a surprise, but luckily I had habits and resources in place to help me settle in, even if it did scare me for a few weeks.

Surviving the busy work and school schedules of your family members takes some simple strategizing. I’ve found that a mixture of old and new technologies can bring everyone together so that nobody feels left out or lost.

Whiteboard
A centrally-located dry erase whiteboard is a must. If you don’t have one of these, of any size, on the wall of your kitchen, you’re missing out on an extremely effective means of family communication. We’ve been through several, some featuring a weekly or monthly calendar, some with attached bulletin board and magnets. In the end, a simple large blank white board with 2 or 3 different colored ink pens does the job perfectly, whether it’s for daily reminders or ongoing shopping lists. The board gives every member of your family pause to read or write a message that is important for all to see.

Calendar
A family calendar is also a must-have item for the wall of your house, if only to serve as a reminder that the days and weeks ahead are going to be busy ones. We use Google Calendar on our phones far more often to plan and coordinate events, but the old-fashioned paper calendar is an important back-up. Also, you get monthly pictures of kittens or Disney princesses.

Going Digital
The old-fashioned techniques still work well, but you absolutely have to bring your entire family into the digital age in order to stay connected these days. And that means everybody gets a smartphone. Sorry, there’s no debate about this. If you have a school-aged child involved in multiple extracurricular activities, and you want to remain sane, get them a phone for voice, messaging, and a synced calendar.

My family has a simple set-up. We each have our own Google account for email, calendar, and online storage. Each of our calendars is synced to the others and color-coordinated, so it only takes a glance to see where everyone is and what they should be doing. We also agreed to use one messaging service, iMessage, for family communication. My teens use other services, like Snapchat, to talk with their friends. Last, we use a locator app, Find My Friends, to find each other on a map. This comes in handy when my daughter is wondering how close I am to picking her up, but I can’t text while I’m driving to let her know.

Smartphones
For several years now, practically everything involving the management of the family schedule has gone through our phones. It’s one aspect of the omnipresent screen that I heartily welcome. Of course, one thing that isn’t so welcome is the huge wireless bill when you have a family of four constantly texting, emailing, locating, and communicating with each other all day long.

If a family-sized wireless bill is stopping you from getting everyone’s schedules sorted, there’s good news from Straight Talk Wireless. They offer easy, inexpensive, family-friendly phone plans. Just in time for school, Straight Talk has added more high-speed data to its unlimited $45 and $55 plans. Now you can get unlimited talk, text and the first 8GB of high-speed data then 2G* for $45 or bump it up to 12GB of high-speed data then 2G* for $55. There’s a reason that Straight Talk Wireless is the nation’s leading no-contract wireless carrier. They simply offer the best phones on the best networks for less. There are no contracts, no credit checks, and no mystery fees.

ST_WIRELESS_LOGOWalk into any Walmart store, or visit StraightTalk.com, for more information and ways to save on your family phone plan. You can set your family up with the latest smartphones if you want, including the Samsung Galaxy S8. Maybe start your younger kids out with something simpler, but don’t leave them out of the family connectivity. Get them used to communicating their activities now, and it will pay dividends later, especially during the teen years when kids seem to have trouble sharing much of anything.

As a parent, it’s extremely satisfying to watch your children pursue their interests, even if it seems like they’re going in a dozen different directions at once. An important part of childhood is trying things out, learning what works and what doesn’t, and developing confidence in favored pursuits. And an important part of parenthood is keeping track of it all. With a few simple techniques, you can save yourself a lot of stress and confusion in dealing with your family’s comings and goings. Most importantly, keep your family members connected with a reliable phone plan, like the ones offered by Straight Talk Wireless. There is no better way to stay in touch and on schedule.

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I have partnered with Life of Dad and Straight Talk Wireless for this post.

*At 2G speeds, the functionality of some data applications, such as streaming audio or video may be affected. Please refer always to the latest Terms and Conditions of Service at StraightTalk.com.

The Afterschool Special Snack

fruit wrap

One of the greatest challenges of my years of parenting has been keeping up with my kids’ everchanging interests and moods. Their likes and dislikes seem to vary from week to week.

Especially when it comes to snacks.

Once upon a time, when my son was a toddler, a simple bag of baby carrots would keep him happy in between meals. As he grew older, his tastes became more complicated. And then simple. And then complicated. Continue reading

The Night Before School

‘Twas the night before school, when all through the house
Not a creature was sleeping, not even a mouse hamster.
The books were all stacked by the desk with care
In hopes that wondrous knowledge would be found in there.

The children were flopping around on their beds,
While too much sugar pumped through their heads.
And mamma in her nightgown, and I in my cap,
Kept yelling upstairs, “Knock off that crap!”

When out in the hallway there arose such a whirl,
I sprang from the couch to see my 6-year-old girl.
She just couldn’t sleep, and neither could brother,
They both were too excited to even fight with each other.

“Now listen, I’m tired! And so should you be!
Exhausted, burned out, run down, drained, empty.
Not to mention fatigued, drowsy, finished, done for,
I’ll get out the thesaurus if you need to hear more!”

And then, in a twinkling, they vanished for sure
The sensed that their dad was about to lecture.
I knew that soon they’d both start to snooze
Which gave me a moment to just sit and muse.

It’s been a great summer, with way too much fun,
Filled with excellent road trips and days in the sun.
But the summer is over, temperatures starting to cool,
It’s time to wish you all a “Happy first day of school!”

My Art Belongs To Daddy

A few weeks ago we took the kids to a childrens art festival, where they tried their hand at pottery, cartooning, mosaics, fused glass, and several other crafts. My son enjoyed using the potter’s wheel (above) so much that we’ll probably sign him up for a class.

My kids have always loved making art. Right now they’re both obsessed with drawing cartoons, especially robots and cats battling each other (the cats always win). I get little gifts of art from them daily. We’re kind of drowning in paper around here, but I don’t mind so much when it’s a result of their creativity.

Our society doesn’t place enough importance on the arts. In the public schools the priority is testing, and that’s an area where creativity is not desired. When budgets are tight, or test scores are down, art classes are always the first to get axed. Our schools should not be in the business of producing little robots.

I believe art is an essential ingredient in helping a child’s mind grow and mature, just as important as math, science and literature. You can pack their brains with information, but you also need to give them an outlet for using that knowledge in a creative way. The innovations and discoveries of the future depend on it.