Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summer Speed Bumps

I can't believe it's July already!  Summer is humming along nicely but, sadly, we are about halfway through our break already here in the deep south.   So far I think we've found a nice balance between the lazy days and the busy days, the fun days and the relaxed days.

Last year wasn't quite as tranquil.  We had a jam-packed if too-short summer, and found ourselves in early August with a lot left on the to-do list.  It was hopeless at that point to fix it, but I left myself a note on my June, 2011 calendar to learn from my mistakes.

Summer Reading:  In years past, my oldest son has left his summer assignments until the last minute.  He's a big reader, so in fifth grade he could blast through Dear Mr. Henshaw in a day or so.  But now that he's in high school and taking AP classes, those assignments can't be crammed in anymore.  Last summer, the week before school started was a nightmare of threats, exhortations, and long late nights trying to finish Guns, Germs, and Steel and answer all of the study guide questions so he didn't start the year off with a big fat zero.

For this summer, I took everyone's summer reading assignments, divided them into roughly equal parts, and divided that into the number of weeks of summer.  I then put dates on the calendar for our Summer Reading Speed Bumps.  On that particular day, the assignment must be complete.  If it is not, all electronics become my property.  Play dates, real dates, and parties are cancelled.  No fun will be had by the offender until the work is done.  I'm happy to say that my oldest is the only one to hit a speed bump so far, and he squeaked in at the last minute before I had to cancel a day at Six Flags.  Let's hope the trend continues.

Summer Cleaning:  Before you move on to the next item, take some time each week to do some decluttering.  Make sure the backpacks and PE bags are completely cleaned out.  Nothing ruins the first day of school like finding an old banana or dirty socks.  The empty backpack is a great place to store things you won't need again until school starts, or supplies you find on sale over the summer:  think book sox,  pencil pouches, scissors, or locker accessories

Move on to the closets and drawers.  How can you shop for school clothes until you know what you have?  This one was easy this year, since two of my three kids are moving on to completely different uniforms.  We just had to bag up all the old stuff to hand down to friends, and re-stock.  But my oldest found that all of his uniforms from last year still fit, so we only had to replace his shoes and a few things that aren't in good condition.

We did the same thing with books.  I know that most people probably don't have to buy textbooks until college, but we do for the high school kids.  We pulled out all of the previous year's books, checked to see if The Bear could use any of them, and stored the ones that might be useful later.  Then I made my list of what was still missing, searched online for the best prices, and hit the used book sale.  I was thrilled to find all but seven books, and quickly ordered the rest at rock bottom prices.  I could wait for slow-boat-to-China free shipping because I don't need them for another month.   If you don't buy textbooks, this is still a great time to go through your child's books and donate or store any that they've outgrown.

Last, get your paper system ready.  Paper is the bane of my existence.  The schools are largely to blame.  To help with this dilemma, I found a stackable letter tray and bought 3 tiers.  You can buy more or less depending on how many people you keep up with.  Whenever I get papers home from school that I know I will need again, I stick them in the tray for that child.  I'm not talking about their work; I mean things like the password for the online grade book, the school calendar, the Battle of the Books list, etc.  Of course, if you already have a system like this, now is the time to weed it out in preparation for the annual deluge of unnecessary copies that some people like to call Back-to-School.

School Shopping:  I've also set up some speed bumps of my own to make sure I'm not rushing around at the last minute for books and uniforms.   For instance, the store where I get my kids' uniforms for school has a 20% off sale in June. Can I tell you how many years I've either forgotten or procrastinated and had to shop in July (or even August!)?  Not only is it more expensive, it's more crowded and incredibly stressful when you're trying to special order the one size everyone is out of before the first day of school.  This year I made a point of going in June, and saved over $100.  Only one item had to be ordered, and the actual shopping/trying on/waiting to pay took half as long as last year.  I also was able to find their shoes on sale online for 20% off plus free ground shipping.  They arrived today.  Even if your kids don't wear uniforms, keep an eye on the sales.  Now might be a great time to find a bargain on jeans, a winter coat or rain boots.   One friend, who is completely freaked out by this, argues that the kids outgrow stuff so quickly.  My solution is to keep everything I've bought, tags on and in the bags with the receipts, in my guest room until I would normally shop.  Then make the kids try it all on again before you wash it and put everything away.  Worst case you have to exchange something, but you've still saved all the money and time for the rest.

The financial and psychological stress relieved with these few steps has made this the most relaxing summer in several years.  It was all learned during a few painful lessons, but I share them with you in the hopes that someone might avoid the all-nighters and the credit card bill shock in September.

Enjoy your Independence Day weekend!

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