This 4-Step Routine Is My Secret to Conquering After-School Chaos

published Aug 23, 2023
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kids running in the door with backpacks on
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Back-to-school time is always such an emotional season for me. As the school year looms and the flurry of preparation intensifies, I struggle with the passing of yet another summer with my children. Then there’s the transition period of a few days where I take their first-day-of-school pictures and wait in car drop-off and pick-up lines that are obscenely slow. This is followed by the stunning silence in the car and the thud of realization that they’re all gone. 

However, there’s also relief in the return to a routine and calm in the rhythm of days where I have whole hours (!) of uninterrupted time. That is, until the kids crash through the doors after school, when chatter and hunger and dirty shoes and bulging backpacks fill the house with the welcome chaos of a house full of kids again. 

The first 15 minutes or so of the back-at-home rush has a big impact on how the rest of the afternoon and evening go. When shoes are flung on the floor, backpacks are splayed where they’re dropped, and lunch boxes and papers sit unemptied inside them, well, it doesn’t make for a very happy mama. Messes make me feel disordered and it’s hard for me to give my full or best attention to the kids when my surroundings feel too wild. 

So we’ve developed an after-school plan that curbs the mess and creates a space for us to talk about the day, refuel with a snack, and, eventually, get dinner prep started. The steps are non-negotiable, and after a week or two of reminders from me, the kids do them without even thinking about it. When they’re done, we enjoy our snack in a relatively restful space. 

Every afternoon, this four-step routine saves us and we’re all spared from a nagging mom and a big cleanup that hangs over us. Here’s what they do. 

1. Put papers where they belong.

Paper clutter might just be the biggest threat to a tidy-ish kitchen. With five kids bringing papers home daily, the only way to stay on top of it is a system. I have the kids empty their folders immediately. They usually put them on the counter or the table, but when we have a minute, I sort through their papers with them, enjoying their work, taking note of papers that need action, and putting the papers that need to be kept in a wall-mounted magazine holder. Everything that’s no longer needed goes in recycling right away. 

2. Empty and wash lunch boxes.

After taking out their papers, the kids take out their lunch bags. Again, these usually get set on the counter until they can be addressed, but getting them out of backpacks is an important step. It means no one has to chase down lunch boxes when it’s time to prepare lunches that night. Cleaning the lunch boxes, which happens at some point after the next two steps, sets us up for success because we’re ready for when we need them next. 

3. Hang up backpacks and jackets.

Once backpacks are emptied of the items that need attention, they are ready to be put away, which in our case means hung up on the hooks in our hallway closet. During cold weather, jackets also get hung up with the backpacks. This step alone, which means we don’t have backpacks littering the floors, makes such a drastic difference in how in-order our house feels. 

4. Put shoes away.

We’re a shoes-off household, and my kids generally remember to take their shoes off, but if we don’t all stay on top of putting them where they belong (adults included!), soon our first floor is littered with pairs of shoes and the whole space feels messy. 

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