3 Tune-Ups That Make for More Peaceful Schooldays

More Peaceful Schooldays: 3 Changes to Try

As any parent of schoolchildren knows, we often burst out of the gate in September, shined up and ready to put the pedal to the metal. But by the time winter comes, we’re feeling a little road-weary, and systems have either worn down or need to be engineered.

As for us, it was clear that our four-year-old needed more focus in the morning rush. But we didn’t recognize the extent of other problems — until we found the solutions.

Here are three adjustments that we made over the winter break that are making our weekday life easier.

1.  Make a Clear Get-Ready-for-School Chart

More Peaceful Schooldays: 3 Changes to Try

Print black-and-white images and let kids color in themselves.

Up to now our pre-kindergartener, Luke, didn’t so much as have a getting-ready routine as a crazy race.  We had always used some kind of list or chart for our other kids, but I thought Luke needed something more hands-on.

I found an interactive chart, with tabs that kids flip up when they’re done, and decided to make it over the winter break.  (See the tutorial on the Snickerdoodle blog.) It required more time and materials than our simple printable ones, but it’s definitely more fun.

Luke colored in the images.  Here are similar chore chart graphics.

More Peaceful Schoolday Mornings: Create a Getting-Ready for School Checklist

Mark (6 years) wanted to make a chart too.

Since we’ve been using the magnetic checklists, both boys have been racing around to complete each task, so they could flip up the tab that says, “DONE.”

Such enthusiasm won’t likely last, but we’ll be able to keep pace with our usual teaching timer and marble jar. The most important part, I’ve found, is letting kids know what is expected of them and giving them a way to keep track by themselves.

2.  Keep an Edited Sampling of Schoolwork and Artwork

Keep only a select sampling of kids' art and schoolwork

Second up was dedicating some time to our system for saving momentos from the kids’ childhoods.

What we do is collect the best artwork, important memories, and a sampling of schoolwork in tiered baskets in a kitchen cabinet.  The rest gets sent to grandparents with a monthly letter, or recycled.

Then at the end of the school year or calendar year, we put the papers in chronological order, do a final edit, and then hole-punch and insert everything into three-ring binders.

The key here is doing the binding once a year.  I’ve seen how these piles can begin to landslide if you ignore them for more than a year. Sofia and Virginia have been helping me with their memories since they were in third and fourth grade, which is a huge help.

Keep only a select sampling of kids' art and schoolwork

But I never seemed to find the time to tackle Mark’s pile, which got more daunting the longer I waited, until this winter break.

In a couple of sessions we got through two-thirds of his pile.  He loved to look over these artifacts of his life, marveling at how he used to draw giraffes or how he used to spell autumn (“odum”). Class photos and 8×10 school portraits are in there too, and those are always fun to look back on.

The older girls treasure having these binders (now about three to four per child) as a record of their lives, so the effort pays off.

3.  Find Quieter Nooks and Times for Doing Homework

I love the happy hubbub of all the kids together after school:  Virginia playing Skater’s Waltz on the piano, Sofia doing homework at the dining table, Mark racing around with Lego tow trucks, Luke singing in weird voices in the bathroom, and Diana pulling all of the jars out of the cabinet.

But with the girls in middle school now, homework requires more concentration, which is challenging in our loud household. I too found it almost impossible to help Mark with his 10 minutes of daily reading in the 4pm to 6pm hours, when I also need to cook dinner and keep Diana entertained.

So we decided that Mark would be allowed to stay up later than his little brother and sister, to read with a parent when the house is quiet. What a dramatic improvement!  Instead of dreading his reading practice, he now looks forward to it.  And he was even excited to tell me when he got back to school in January that he’s now graduated to the next reading level.

3 Tune-ups for More Peaceful Schooldays

As for our middle school girls, they had been asking for desks ever since we finished the attic and moved their bedrooms up there.  This fall we talked about it again, and decided it was time. For Christmas, they got homemade gift certificates for desks, and in early January we shopped around and eventually found (at Ikea) just the right desks and chairs.

Child's desk and chair for doing homework (IKEA Micke desk and Junior Jules swivel chair)

Both Sofia and Virginia are using their desks a lot — from writing thank-you cards to drawing to doing homework — and they say that it’s all easier without being distracted by their little brothers yelling ‘Guten-hog!’ or Diana drawing on the furniture.

Sure, I miss seeing them, but because this arrangement allows them to get their homework done faster, they have more time to pursue activities that give them pleasure and to hang out with us when they’re relaxed.  And that’s makes it all worth it.

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  • Jen | Green Baby Deals March 21, 2016, 9:24 pm

    Absolutely love this; what great ideas!

  • Daisy February 20, 2015, 8:31 pm

    I love the magnetic chart! I think my girls would too. I’ll have to make some.

    • Amy March 18, 2015, 2:02 pm

      Hi Daisy,

      They are fun, and my kids are still using them every day. Have you made one yet?


  • Sara Tetreault February 9, 2015, 10:42 am

    Hi Amy!
    These are great tips – and with two high school students and lots of homework, there’s never enough quiet for studying and homework!
    My son (a senior) has only this year started doing homework in his room. He rearranged the furniture so that his desk is in front of a large window. He claims it’s the best light – and he’s right. I like to look out a window when working so I can relate.
    My daughter (a sophomore) works at our dining room table. She likes to ask questions or read passages out loud to clarify. It’s a large table so she can spread out and we can still eat at the other end.
    Thanks for sharing and I love the photos!

    • Amy February 9, 2015, 10:23 pm

      Hi Sara,

      I would also love a desk in front of a window. I’ve heard that gazing at nature is a great way to relax your mind and recharge creativity.

      It’s good to hear from you!

  • Alex February 1, 2015, 9:20 pm

    Hi Amy! I LOVE the chore chart – Quimmy and maybe Oriol will really go for that and that bit of support will be most welcome. And I’ve only just sorted the art work for the kids since, well their first drawings! They are in chronological order in an assortment of binders, large plastic envelopes and scrapbooks. Now I have a next step: to go through them with the kids, with a binder and hole punch at hand. We can go year by year. It’ll take a while, but coul be a fun long term project for us. By the way, what do you do with the larger art pieces? (:

    • Amy February 1, 2015, 10:44 pm

      Hi Alex,

      So glad you like the magnetic chore chart too. It is really fun to have something to “do” that doesn’t require pieces that can get lost.

      Going through the artwork is time-consuming, but totally worth it. For big things, I usually take a picture of the child holding it, and then, when I run out of room to store it, let it go.

      It sounds like you already have most of your work done — getting everything edited and organized in chronological order is huge!


  • Flossie McCowald January 27, 2015, 11:11 am

    I love these ideas, Amy! My five-year-old Kimmie is all excited about making her own versions of chore checklists for different things now, and I also love your/your family’s flexibility in rethinking things that aren’t working (or used to work but don’t anymore) to make them work better. (Sometimes that stepping back and reassessing is the hardest part.) BTW, love what I assume is the girls’ closets-out-in-the-open tucked under the rafters in their attic space – clever use of a slanting wall!

    • Amy January 27, 2015, 12:50 pm

      Hi Flossie,

      That’s great that your five-year-old is into making her own charts — can’t get better than that!

      And yes, those are “closets” in the attic: clothes hanger valets that we rigged to the same angle as the slanted ceilings. They add another layer of privacy to each girl in the open-style room.

      Take care,

  • Nina January 19, 2015, 11:29 pm

    My eldest also loves the quiet time before bed where he gets to stay up later than his brothers to do some reading. I love it too—no need to be interrupted by toddlers! :)

    • Amy January 27, 2015, 12:48 pm

      Hi Nina, I’m glad you can relate! It’s really a special little moment.

  • Michele January 16, 2015, 5:34 pm

    We never used the magnet strips ( ingenious!) when our kids were little but we did find that using a chart or picture graph to lay out expectations stopped most of the battle/struggle around daily routines such as morning wake up, bath time, etc. And we found a fun Fisher Price kid friendly alarm clock to wake up Lori every morning. It made such a big difference…it’s much harder to argue or complain to an alarm clock instead of your Mom. ;-)

    • Amy January 17, 2015, 9:06 pm

      Hi Michele,

      It’s fun to imagine Lori as a little girl, with charts and little kid alarm clocks. I know she must have been adorable!


  • Jenny January 16, 2015, 8:39 am

    Love the school checklist with magnets! It’s brilliant!

    • Amy January 16, 2015, 8:41 am

      Hi Jenny,

      I know, right? Sometimes the boys will just pretend they’re doing all those tasks, at night or after school, just so they can flip up the magnetic tabs. :-)


  • Katie January 15, 2015, 8:47 pm

    Good to hear your voice here Amy. And I appreciate hearing how you think through troublespots and strategize solutions.

    Any advice for dealing with family photos? I need something low maintenance and likely to survive the next few rounds of technological innovations. Thank you!

    • Amy January 16, 2015, 8:44 am

      Hi Katie,

      Can you tell me more about your photo issue? Are you talking about how to organize digital photos, or print photos? I use iPhoto to organize digital pictures and I make books there once a year, right on my desktop. One of my contributing writers wrote something last year about how to boil down thousands of digital photos into a few albums.

      It’s a problem we all deal with these days!