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How to use tech to ditch back-to-school stress
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Parents shouldn't panic over their long to-do lists for back to school. Technology can help every step of the way. - photo by Amy Iverson
My kids headed back to school today, and Im always looking for anything to help planning (especially mornings) go more smoothly.

Ive researched some resources that just may save your sanity when it comes to the most-dreaded tasks parents of school-aged kids have: packing lunches, getting to the bus on time and volunteering in the classroom.

First up is that monotonous chore of packing lunches for kids. All of us have the lofty ideal of getting them all ready the night before. But when this fails (as it does often), many of us are left throwing in whatever catches our eye first in the fridge or the pantry.

The problem with this tactic is that many times the lunchbox ends up full of chips, cookies and the good old stand-by: the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This can get boring for kids, never mind it being fairly unhealthy.

LaLa Lunchbox (free iOS) is a meal-planning app for kids that lets them get involved. Set up a virtual lunchbox for each child, and let them pick which healthy food options to feed the monster (which your kids can also customize).

Parents have control over which foods are available for children to choose, but at least the kids see options and feel like they have a voice. From those picks, the app creates a handy dandy shopping list for parents.

A mom created this app, and users can pay $1.99 if they want their kids to choose from dietary-specific food bundles like gluten free. This teaches kids smart food choices and entertains them at the same time.

Another morning stressor for many parents is getting kids to the bus on time. Here Comes the Bus (free iPhone & Android) helps with that issue, as well as a ton of other bus-related possible problems.

Most of us have asked the following questions at one time or another: The bus is late. When will it get here? Its snowing. I wonder how late the bus will drop off my kids? Imagine if you knew exactly where your childs bus was at all times. No more standing in the freezing cold at the bus stop, only to have the bus show up 20 minutes late with this app, because it is a bus tracker.

This is only available in school districts where administrators purchased the Here Comes the Bus software, and all the information is encrypted and secure. Here Comes the Bus will even notify you when the bus is five minutes away. Its like turning your big yellow school bus into a personalized car service.

And finally some help for those amazing moms and dads who go above and beyond to organize, support and orchestrate every party, field trip and treat for school-age kids: the room parent. Dont freak out, because resources like Sign Up Genius and Sign Up can act like your high-tech personal assistant.

You decide what type of help you need, and make an electronic sign-up sheet to distribute to classroom parents. They can easily volunteer with just a click or two. The basic services are free that give users things like unlimited participants, e-mail and text reminders and social media sharing. Or organizers can pay extra to do things like get rid of ads or to design a custom theme.

One great feature is that parents dont even have to set up an account to sign up to volunteer. I love this option to grab help when needed in the classroom, and I also appreciate the ability to sign up this way online. Its so much simpler than calling, or even texting or emailing all the parents.

Use these tools to check off a few stressful things on your long list as you get kids back in school. If you are the type of parent who longs for school to start to return a bit more order to home life, congratulations. But if youre like me and dread those school days when your house is deathly quiet, just remember Thanksgiving break is only 13 weeks away!
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