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8 back to school hacks that'll save you time, mama

The busy season is about to begin.

8 back to school hacks that'll save you time, mama

Starting (or heading back) to school means a busy season is about to begin. During the summer, the family has a bit more freedom, but the fall months bring more structure and routine to everyone's life. While you can't change the amount of tasks on your to-do list, you can incorporate some hacks into your day to lessen the overwhelm and make processes smoother.

From outsourcing some must-dos (looking at you groceries) to keeping your car prepared for those days you simply forget the kids had after-school activities, here are some of our mama-approved back to school hacks that'll save you time—and a whole lot of stress.

1. Outsource groceries + snacks

Everyone is running around from place to place during the school season and sometimes you just don't have time to make it to the store. We love outsourcing groceries and snacks for those busy weeks as it ensures the pantry and fridge is stocked without having to spend an hour or more at the store.

Boxed is amazing for non-perishable goods, household supplies and snack staples your kids love. Instacart and Fresh Direct can fill in for fresh produce, milk and meats directly from your local grocery store. And, when in doubt, Amazon Prime it.

2. Pre-organize your purse

Work, girls night out, date night, school drop-off—the list goes on and on. You probably spend way too much time switching out bags and the items you need for each event. While there's no one bag that does the job for everything (if you find one, let us know!) there is a nifty solution.

ToteSavvy was created to transform any bag into a diaper bag, but you can use another one to keep all of mama's top pieces in one place—makeup, wallet, keys, band-aids, etc. We love this one from a collaboration with Fawn Design because it's compact enough to fit in almost every bag we have. Simply load it up then pop it into whatever bag you need.

3. Let technology take some of the mental load

You can automate just about anything with smart devices, and the tech is only getting better. A few of our favorites? Assignable reminders of the Google Assistant—you can create reminders for everyone in your family so you don't have to. Try asking your Assistant, "Hey Google, remind Sophie that she's going to do great on tomorrow's test" or "Hey Google, remind Ben that he needs to complete his chores tonight." And, if you can't seem to make time for those activities you want to do (think: family time or date night) your Google Calendar can schedule goals for you, blocking out time on your calendar to do what matters most to you.

If you have an Amazon device instead, you can create morning routines for both you and the kids. With an Echo Dot Kids Edition, you can tell them breakfast is ready or customize alarms or checklists to guide them. Even better, add their favorite character to help them wake up in the morning (Disney's Moana, for example!). We love digging into new features, like the Chompers skill that provides brushing tips, reminders and jokes for the full two minutes they should be brushing.

4. Have a ready-to-go bag in the car

If you're going to be running around, you might as well use your car's space to your advantage. Grab a large bag and fill it with items that your family always seems to need.

Some items to get started:

  • Extra set of clothes for the kids
  • A pair of flats,
  • Flashlight
  • Wet wipes
  • Plastic baggie
  • Baby's favorite pacifier or toy
  • A $20 bill

Keep it in the trunk of your car and refill it as you use things from the bag. This will save you a trip back home or an adventure to the store.

Pro tip: A canvas bag is perfect to have on hand for a quick trip to the grocery store, too. This tote from The Little Market is large, sturdy and customizable. Plus, it's eco-friendly and handmade by women in Bangladesh so your purchase gives back to other women.

5. Sync calendars with your partner

Sometimes life can get *so* busy and the best of people can forget important tasks, or you have to switch up schedules last minute so your partner needs to pick up the kids from daycare when you usually do.

Find a way to manage a calendar that works for you both and sync it up every Sunday so everyone knows who is doing what and going where. Paper planners or whiteboards in the kitchen are great, but we like doubling up with digital calendars because it'll send an alert or reminder.

6. Create snack bins

Get a bin or a box that fits in your cabinet or pantry that's only for school snacks. Make sure it's ready to go at the beginning of each week and encourage your kids to pick out two items to go in their lunchbox. This will not only save you time, but will get your littles involved in helping out with packing lunches.

Even better? Create a sandwich section in the fridge where you pre-make sandwiches a few days in advance. Children can grab a bag, two snacks, and be ready to head out the door.

7. Establish a command center

If you've ever spent an extra 20 minutes searching for your kid's homework folder at 7 am or looking for your keys, you're not alone, mama. Mornings are often the craziest time of day for any family.

Set aside an area in a common space that serves as a command station. Maybe it's a mud room, or you have a designated spot in the kitchen. This is where keys, phones, chargers, homework, notes that need signed, and anything else important needs to go.

Get the family in the routine of putting everything there when they get home so you never waste time looking for things. If you're limited on space, an on-the-wall organizer like this is a great solution.

8. Prep meals in batches

While most parents would love to take the time to make a fresh meal every night, it's just not realistic in a busy season. First, give yourself grace to order pizza or pick up to-go food. Then, plan ahead and prep batched meals.

Put chicken and veggies in one freezer bag for a sheet pan dinner, toss sauce and pasta in another for Italian night, or have potatoes, beef tips and carrots ready to throw in the crock pot. You'll save tons of time of prep work and only need to thaw it out in the morning, then cook it all together in the evening.

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With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

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Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

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Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

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Sand play set

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Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

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Water play set

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Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

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Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

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Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

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Wooden rocking pegasus

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Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

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Croquet set

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The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

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Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

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Wooden bulldozer toy

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Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

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Pull-along hippo

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There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

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We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

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If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

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When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

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Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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