Back to school – My tips for surviving the school run

Had a good couple of weeks enjoying the school run? You’re right – I’m being a bit tongue-in-cheek. After all, a study by Kia Motors in late 2014 found the school run is the most stressful part of most parents’ days, and 83% of mothers feel they ‘can’t cope’ trying to fit school drop-offs into getting to work on time. So if, like me, you’re one of those, read on for some ideas that might help a bit.

You’ll find some top tips for the school run journey itself also on the Perrys blog – I’m going to concentrate here on some other supporting logistics to help my fellow tired parents cope!

The night before

I don’t know about you but we always find it an absolutely mad rush every morning to get out of the door. Nobody’s got the right kit, there’s been no time to brush my daughter’s long and lovely, if tangly, locks, and the dog’s usually helping to raise the decibels.

Once I worked out I can take some things out of that equation, I started regularly getting stuff ready the night before. It’s worth putting the kids’ school folders ready in the hall, complete with any completed forms and cheques, PE kit, school play outfits, playground toys, kitchen sink. Then relax – it’s all there.

My husband Dan and I get the packed lunches ready the night before too, apart from the sandwiches. To stop them getting soggy, we make those in the morning and pop them in the Batman and Kitty lunch bags (along with the ice blocks in summer) as we leave.

Get the right car for the job

Car features Dan and I prioritise are those that can easily accommodate the children, their junk and their friends and still retain some style and entertainment.

  • Boot capacity: there is sometimes just too much to carry. We need a boot the kids can load themselves, and if there’s more room, there’s less scope for falling out. If the boot has a moveable floor to give more space, that’s great for transporting the huge models the kids make sometimes for projects. It also means we can get the big suitcases in for holidays and Dan takes only one trip to the tip instead of two at the end of his DIY weekends.
  • Flexible seat arrangements: we often take or bring home the children’s friends for tea or judo, etc. Being able to rearrange the seats is useful on those days, so we can get everyone and everything in.
  • High driving position and good view: with so much going on during the school runs I need a good position to get the best view of the road. I also like a windscreen that’s wide and clear – none of your clutter on the sides. At the end of a school day the kids like to sit back and watch the trees whoosh across the sun roof too.
  • Entertainment system: like me, you probably find this is a must. The radio keeps me up to date with any traffic and other news. And I can fill the car with music for the kids to sing along to when I plug in my phone and ipod via the USB.
  • Cup holders: small but mighty! Any after-school run worth its salt includes juice and a biscuit as standard doesn’t it? The cup holders have been invaluable, stopping the spills. I wouldn’t go anywhere without at least two cupholders now!

So where do I get all these features, I hear you cry? If you’re short of time to do the research, here are my starters for ten.

1) Vauxhall Meriva: a good size for parking, with all sorts of seat combinations thanks to its flex space interior, plus a high driving position, and adjustable height boot. It’s also got spaces for parking MP3 players and mobile phones in its system called ‘FlexRail®’. It even has a rear bike carrier that folds into the rear bumper when you’re not using it.

2) Citroen C3 Picasso has most of my required features. The windscreen is particularly huge and clear and you can expand the boot space even further if you remove the rear seat altogether.

3) Vauxhall Viva: compact, but with most of the features above and low emissions. Meaning it’s cheaper to run and there’s no road tax. And there are six airbags to keep your precious cargo safe.

Driving carefully – tips

Trying to keep your calm during the school run is the other big thing. It’s not surprising we get so stressed – especially as we all want to keep our beloved cars (ours was a fantastic nearly-new deal) undamaged in the process. We’re all aiming to arrive in the same place, which has nothing like a suitable amount of parking or drop off space, within the same ten minutes.

There’s a certain amount of ganging up on school-run parents from other drivers, too, but if you’re not going straight back home, chances are you’re driving on to work, like Dan or myself, and so have no option but to take the car, right? So what to do?

  • Keep it slow: The first thing is, however high your adrenalin has become, swish your cloak and trigger those super-powers to stay calm and patient. Drive more slowly if you can – don’t be tempted to hurry – so that you can anticipate the higher number of hazards at school run time. It’s much more congested, there are a lot of children milling around, who may have no idea about road safety, and lollipop persons leaping out sardonically at a moment’s notice. All combined, if yours are anything like my two, with World War III in the back seat.
  • Use your eyes: I also have a personal rule to physically make my eyes scan from the beginning to the end of all pedestrian crossings. Having once nearly squashed someone into the stripes of a zebra, this rule has served me well. There may be other situations you might feel would warrant this approach.
  • Stop earlier: If there are some roads you can park in that are a few minutes’ walk from the main mayhem zone, the saving on your nerves and avoidance of safety hazards could be worth the small amount of extra time. Ask other parents, and even consider having a little walk around the area at the weekend to suss that out.

I hope these tips help you and your family make the inevitable school run with less stress, and let you get on with your day without high blood pressure! If you have any tips to add, let me know via Twitter or Facebook. And if you have a family car that you find works particularly well for the school run, why not shout about that too, to help other parents looking for a new car.