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11 Back-to-School Hacks That Will Make Your Life So Much Easier

Photograph by Twenty20

This is the first year both of my kids will be in school full-time. So my emotions are ranging from, “Mah babies! No!” to “Drinks are on me!” These last days of summer, especially, are getting a little ... rough, shall we say? (If you aren't nodding, please tell me your secret.)

But while I'm looking forward to having a regular routine again (and a regular writing schedule), I will miss the long, lazy days of summer with my kiddos. (No, really, I will! In a few weeks.)

What I dread most about back-to-school season is constantly feeling rushed and unprepared. There is a saying that goes, “Start as you mean to continue,” and it’s one I’ve followed since my kids were babies. So in the interest of starting the school year off on the right foot, here are my back-to-school hacks to make my life (and hopefully theirs, as well as their teachers’) a little easier. With preparation (and a little luck), this school year will be a great experience for all of us.

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1. Download the school's Google calendar and write all of the pertinent dates for the school year (not just the ones in September) in your date book, including the early release days that always catch us off guard.

You now have access to the school schedule in both digital and paper formats—no excuses for missing anything!

2. Follow the school's Facebook page, which has frequent reminders of upcoming events as well as helpful back-to-school information.

Plus you can post a newbie question and other parents will answer it rather than bothering the office staff or teachers.

3. Add the school numbers in your cell phone so you will have them handy before the first sick day rolls around.

Ditto the school email contacts, so those beginning-of-the-year school emails don't disappear into your spam folder.

4. Buy the back-to-school food staples in bulk (many stores are running back-to-school sales right now).

I have enough fruit snacks, granola bars, goldfish crackers, apple juice and dry cereal to hold me for a month. And enough wine for at least two months.

5. Instead of waiting until the end of the school year and Teacher Appreciation Week, plan to take thank you notes to your kids' teachers on the meet-and-greet orientation days to let them know I appreciate the work they'll be doing this year.

You might even tuck a Starbucks gift card in with the notes, because who doesn’t appreciate coffee in the first frantic weeks of the school year?

6. Minimize first day of school nerves with this game.

Since my kids are in first grade and kindergarten and we just moved to the area, I’m trying to minimize the beginning of school jitters by cheerleading them through a series of questions: “What's your full name?" "What school do you go to?" “What’s your school mascot?” “What grade are you in?” We just got teacher assignments, so I’ve added, “What’s your teacher’s name?” I ask my questions with a smile and a “yay!” and a high-give when they get the answers right.

7. Have the kids pick out their back-to-school outfits before the first day of school.

I know that first morning is going to be hectic and nerve-wracking, so the less we have to do—like deciding which Minecraft shirt to wear—the better.

8. Don't plan anything—and I mean absolutely nothing—for the first week (maybe even month) of school.

Starting school is exhausting for my kids and for me. We don’t need to fill those precious after-school hours with activities before they have even arrived. Afternoons will be decompression time—snuggling and talking about their day will be the focus until we’ve gotten used to the new routine.

9. Bump the kids' bedtime up by 30 minutes.

Also for the sake of family peace, I will resist the temptation to let them stay up a little later when I haven’t seen them much. I know the most crucial part of getting off to a smooth back-to-school start is making sure they have enough rest. So early bedtime it is! (It helps that they don’t really know how to tell time yet.)

10. Decide now how much you want to be involved before someone asks you to volunteer for something.

It’s hard to say no when you haven’t even thought about how much time you really have to commit to volunteering. But by looking at your (pretty full) schedule, you can determine in advance exactly how much time you have to give and invest it wisely.

RELATED: 10 Back-to-School Tips Teachers Want You to Know

11. Keeping your expectations low—really, really low—when it comes to behavior over the next week or two.

Going back to school is stressful and nerve-racking. I may be ancient (according to my children), but I can still remember what it felt like to walk into a classroom on the first day of school and not know anyone and not know what to expect. I’m going to try to be patient if my usually outgoing kid has a meltdown or my introvert shuts down after school and only grunts at me (it’s practice for the teen years, I hear). Taking it easy on them—and myself—is important right now. I'm reminding myself now that it's not the end of the world if they cry on the first day of school. (And it's OK if I cry, too.)

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