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Parents share tips for smooth return to the classroom

Back to school means back to hectic mornings, busy schedules, school supply shopping and piles of paperwork.

Know what helps? Good advice.

We asked readers to share their favorite back-to-school strategies — things that might save a fellow parent some crucial minutes or a smidgen of frustration. Today, we pass those tips along to you.

Thanks to everyone who contributed via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and on Kansas.com. Here's to a super school year.

School supply shuffle

* Take advantage of back-to-school sales and buy enough supplies to last all year. They're never this cheap again.

* Dump out last year's backpacks and go through your supply stash to see what's still usable. If the calculator still works and the pocket dictionary is in good shape, you don't need a new one.

* Not everything has to be new. Buy durable backpacks, lunch boxes, rulers, scissors and other supplies, and they should last well over a year.

* Keep all school supplies in one spot. When you need refills, you'll know exactly where to look.

* No time to shop? Consider a service such as Wichita-based PackAdemics, which creates packs of school supplies and ships them to your home.

For more information, visit www.PackAdemics.com.

Smoother mornings

* Set a rule early: No TV before school. Nothing can derail a morning like a kid stuck in front of the tube.

* Keep girls' elastic hair bands near the breakfast table in a small dish so you can quickly fix their hair as they eat.

* For young children, put clothes into dressers already sorted into matching outfits.

* If you need to leave the house at 8 a.m., set a timer for 7:50. When it goes off, it's the signal for everyone to kick into high gear and finish morning activities.

Keep it organized

* Install hooks near the main entryway of your home. Kids are more apt to hang a jacket or backpack on a hook than deal with a hanger.

* One family, one calendar. Keep a master calendar in a prominent place and train your spouse, kids and caregiver to mark appointments on it. Use a different color marker for each family member so you know at a glance whose activity is whose.

* Color code. Let each family member pick a color and use it for everything — drinking cups, lunch boxes, water bottles, towels, even magnet clips to stick things to the fridge.

* Keep a folder or drawer for school work, one for each child. At the end of the year, go through the papers and keep a few. At the end of the year, each paper doesn't seem so important to the child, and you can see the truly outstanding pieces you want to keep.

* Put vaccination records in a plastic sleeve envelope with magnets on the back, and stick it to the side of the fridge. When you're filling out a school or camp release form at midnight, you'll know the date of the last tetanus shot.

Volunteer wisely

* Volunteer as much as possible. Not only do you help your school, but you get to see what's really going on — how your child acts in class, who her friends are, etc.

* Volunteer to your strengths. If you work during school hours, ask your child's teacher if there are things you can do in the evenings or on weekends. Make sure the school's volunteer coordinator has your number or e-mail address, as well as an idea of the types of things you can do.

* When working a school carnival, take the last shift. If your replacement doesn't show up, you won't be stuck running the booth all night long.

* Addendum to previous tip: If you loathe cleanup duty, never take the last shift.

* Edit your commitments. When things get complicated, make a list of your commitments — soccer coach, room mom, PTO officer, etc. Identify which ones are your priority, and eliminate the rest. You can't do everything.

The work of art

* Young children create a lot of artwork at school. Create your own "gallery" by covering a wall in your garage, basement, stairwell, mudroom or laundry room with your kids' collection.

* Keep some of your child's artwork, but purge lots. Ask him to pick his favorites (or pick yours) and display them. Send some to Grandma. Use them to wrap gifts.

* Keep artwork in clean, decorated pizza boxes. They stack well and are large enough to hold oversize pieces of paper.

* Hang artwork around the top of the walls in your child's room, like a personalized wallpaper border.

* String a clothesline across your child's bedroom or playroom and hang art from clothespins. Rotation is easy, and clothespins won't damage the artwork with holes.

* Once a year, videotape each child describing his or her favorite artworks or school projects from the past year. Afterward, decide which pieces to keep and which to toss. Since there's a record of them, you may be able to eliminate the majority.

* Three-dimensional pieces such as papier-mache or clay sculptures are hard to accommodate, so be ruthless with them. Display the chosen few on shelves or tables, or store them in an airtight rubber or plastic container.

* Store seasonal art with other holiday decorations. That way when you retrieve those boxes, out come the kids' handprint turkeys and Christmas ornaments.

* Be sure to label each object with the child's name, age and the subject (as told by the artist).

* Have one or two of your favorite pieces professionally framed, and display them as you would purchased art. If you can't afford custom framing, use inexpensive frames, such as the glass clip kind from craft stores.

General advice

* Establish a first-day-of-school tradition or treat (new book, ice cream) to give kids something fun to look forward to.

* School clothes get dirty with art projects and recess. Save the expensive outfits for elsewhere.

* The first month or two of school still feels like summer. Rather than invest in new fall clothes, dress kids in comfy summer outfits. For something new, shop end-of-season sales.

* When you buy scissors, buy several. Same with permanent markers and rolls of tape. They tend to evaporate into thin air.

* Always keep cake mix, brownie mix or frozen cookie dough on hand. You never know when you'll be called upon to make treats.

* Snacks for school don't have to be sweet — or complicated. Think popcorn, cheese blocks and slices of apples.

* For cool bottled water by lunchtime, fill a bottle halfway and freeze overnight. In the morning, fill it up with water.

* Have your child practice opening containers at home before you send them in his or her lunchbox.

* Stock up on gifts for birthday parties your child is invited to, and keep gift bags on hand. For older kids, keep a stash of gift cards to discount stores, bookstores or electronics stores.

* Children stressed about starting middle or high school? Remind them that no one else in their grade has been there before either. When they think about classmates being just as clueless or terrified as they are, it helps put their minds at ease.

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