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55 Smart Ways to Get Set for School

Have a productive p.m.
"Do as much as you can the night before," says Sissy Biggers, a time-management expert in Fairfield, Connecticut. Pack your child's lunch and her backpack, and have her pick out her clothes.

Forgo 15 minutes of sleep.
By waking up earlier than the rest of the family, you'll have a sliver of quiet time to soak in the bathtub or savor a cup of coffee. No doubt, you'll feel less rushed and better prepared to handle the day.

Let routines rule.
Have your child do the required activities -- such as brushing teeth and getting dressed -- in the same order every morning, so he knows what comes next. Help him create a morning to-do list so he can check off each job without being reminded.

Don't hesitate to delegate.
Avoid arguments over who does what by assigning your kids regular morning chores, such as feeding the pet or clearing the table.

Prepare for breakfast.
At night, lay out cereal boxes, bowls, and spoons on the table. Make enough pancake batter on Sunday evenings for several days.

Keep the TV off.
This may cause grumbling, but watching cartoons or videos definitely distracts from the tasks at hand, says Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D., a child psychologist and author of Playful Parenting.

Pick a pit stop.
Eliminate the mad dashes to find things by designating a special spot near the front door to put backpacks, sports equipment, and other school items.

Lighten up.
"If you're tense in the morning, your child will pick up on it," Dr. Cohen says. Instead of nagging her to get dressed, have a playful race to see who gets finished first.

Stick to a strict bedtime.
"If your child is hard to wake up and takes a long time to get ready in the morning, make his bedtime earlier," Dr. Cohen suggests.

Learn from your mistakes.
If you have a frustrating morning, think about why it was so stressful. "By examining what went wrong today, you can figure out how to do things better tomorrow," Biggers says.

Check out the playground.
If your child is familiar with the school grounds and equipment, she'll be ready to start having fun from Day 1.

Take a sneak peek.
Visit your child's classroom with her before school starts, and volunteer to help set up for the first day.

Choose school stories.
Read books together like Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, by Joseph Slate, or The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.

Emphasize fun stuff.
There's more to school than books and homework. Play up activities like music, art, gym, and class trips.

Serve lunch out of the box.
The week before classes begin, start putting your child's lunch in her lunch box. Let her choose the menu, and set up your own school cafeteria in your kitchen.

Make connections.
Get a list of the other kids in the class. Arrange playdates or throw a back-to-school party.

Tell your own tales.
Reminisce about your own happiest school moments, suggests Debra Walter, a kindergarten teacher in Endicott, New York.

Dress for recess.
Let your child choose her favorite outfit for the first day. That comfy T-shirt or favorite dress will provide an extra dose of self-confidence.

Celebrate "School-Supply Day."
Make a big deal about letting your child choose his own backpack, pencil case, lunch box, and the other accessories on the list your school has probably sent you.

Crackerwiches.
Skip the bread, and make a sandwich with crackers instead. Look for oversize or fun-shaped multigrain varieties, and serve with cheese, turkey, chicken, peanut butter, hummus, or cream cheese.

Send spuds.
Stuffed baked potatoes are yummy even at room temperature. Microwave a small potato, cut it in half, and fill each half with chopped broccoli and cheese or black beans and salsa. Wrap tightly.

Roll it up.
Serve tuna or egg salad in a whole-wheat tortilla rolled up with a crunchy vegetable like shredded carrots or cucumbers.

Sweet sandwiches.
Put a smear of cream cheese on blueberry waffles or slices of zucchini bread.

Stellar shapes.
Pack star-shaped cheese chunks and a sandwich cut into a crescent.

One-bowl wonder.
Pasta salad with pieces of chicken and diced vegetables is a perfectly balanced lunch.

Muffin madness.
Spread roasted chicken or turkey and a layer of cranberry sauce between two halves of a mini corn muffin.

Secret sandwich.
What's inside is a surprise if you seal the edges with a fork. This one is PB&J from Smuckers, but you can make your own.

Don't Shop Too Soon
"I've learned not to buy clothing before school starts. My 8-year-old daughter likes to wear only trendy clothes, so I wait until we see what the other girls are wearing, and then we go shopping. By then, everything's usually on sale." Bonnie Sharpe, Alpharetta, Ga.

Make a Bid
"I've found that eBay is great for buying clothes, shoes, and jackets. It's essentially an international yard sale. I was skeptical at first, but I've found that many parents auction off their kids' best clothing -- probably only worn once for a special occasion -- at ridiculously low prices." Suzanne T. Jackson, Hickory, N.C.

Stick to the List
"As a third-grade teacher, I have always been amazed at how many parents buy things that are not on the school's supply list for their child's grade. It's simply a waste of money to purchase unlisted items, because your child will probably never need to use them." Carie Laster, Nashville, Tenn.

Supersize It
"I save by shopping in bulk at warehouse stores. They have great deals on the foods and snack items I use for my daughter's lunches, and I can get bargains on school supplies too." Rochelle Stern, Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Make It Homemade
"Prepackaged items such as juice boxes and mini pudding packs are very pricey. I buy plastic food and beverage holders (with built-in straws). Then I make fruit punch, soups, sandwiches, and homemade pudding or cookies to put in these inexpensive, reusable containers." Jennifer Dasilva, Toronto, Ont., Canada

Jazz Up Adult Supplies
"My kids raid my home-office stash. For each child, we personalize my inexpensive plain, white binders by printing out digital photo collages or digital kid-art and inserting the page into the plastic outer cover. My kids get a kick out of changing the cover seasonally." Rena Buchanan, Redondo Beach, Calif.

Stock Up During Special Sales
"I do our back-to-school shopping during our state's tax-free weekend, in August. The stores tend to have huge sales that weekend as well. Last year, jeans and khaki pants at the Gap were $10 off, and I bought three pairs for my 6-year-old and saved more than $30." Karen Hardin, Cedar Park, Tex.

payless

1. For basic style and a bargain price, try this girls' model with reflective side stripes. (Payless, $12)

TKS

2. With a rugged sole and a quick zip-up style, the Hawk sneaker is a durable choice. (Sears, $20)

converse

3. Girls go for the decals on these Chuck Taylor All Star Hi Patches sneakers. (Converse, $24)

4. This sporty suede Skate Shoe is way cool for school. (Old Navy, $22.50)

5. The easy-on, easy-off Kamila is great for the youngest of the back-to-school set. (Target, $11)

llbean

6. This lightweight boys' lace-up combines suede and breathable mesh in two-toned colors. (L.L. Kids, $24)

Don't linger.
The longer you stay, the harder it is. Let your child know that you'll be there to pick her up, and say "See you later!" once she's gotten involved in an activity.

Create your own ritual.
One of the moms in Shanon Powers's class, in Kansas City, Missouri, says goodbye to her son the same way every day: She kisses him on the lips and gives him a butterfly kiss (her eyelashes on his cheek), and then they rub noses and hug. When the embrace is over, he knows it's time for her to go to work.

Bring a friend from home.
Ask the teacher whether your child can bring along a stuffed animal to keep in her cubby in case she needs comforting. It shouldn't be her favorite one, though, because there's no guarantee it will come home in one piece.

Consider a reward system.
Linda Roos, of Scottsdale, Arizona, gave her kindergartner his own calendar. If he went to class without putting up a fuss, she put a smiley face on the calendar (otherwise, he got a sad face). On Friday, if he had five smiley faces, she made him a treasure hunt as a treat.

Learn the other kids' names.
When you can call your child's classmates by name ("Look, Matthew, there is a space at the train table with Eli and Katie"), it makes school seem much more familiar and safe.

Related Links:
 

1. This super Construction backpack has tons of compartments to keep supplies organized. (Bijoux, $12)

hellokitty

2. Carrying books home isn't so bad when girls get to sport this durable Hello Kitty Backpack: Flower Power. (Sanrio, $20)

trailmaker

3. With thick shoulder straps, this Trailmaker can tote hefty loads. (A.D. Sutton, $18)

adidas

4. Just the right size for a lunch bag and pencil case, the Pop Girl Pack won't get too heavy for little shoulders. (Adidas, $18)

Stay in touch.
Introduce yourself as soon as you have the opportunity, and find out whether she prefers that you communicate by phone, note, or e-mail.

Lend a hand.
Volunteer to be a class parent, chaperone field trips, or speak for Career Day. If you can't take on those commitments, or if you work full-time, ask the teacher what you can do to support his work, suggests Parents adviser Kathleen McCartney, Ph.D., a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Donating supplies or snacks, or even making copies, can be a big help.

Be open to input.
Try not to get defensive if the teacher offers constructive criticism about your child. If there are areas in which your child can improve, ask how you can help.

rubbermaid

Organization!
Remember class trips, permission slips, and open-school night by keeping papers in these six-pocket Project Sleeves. (Rubbermaid, $8.99)

Room to Work
Even kindergartners need a regular spot to do their homework where they can sit up straight, spread out their papers, and not be distracted. If your child doesn't have a desk in her room, sitting at the kitchen table is much better than slouching on the couch.

pencil

Pretzel Pencils

In a glass pie dish, combine one 14 oz. bag of yellow melting wafers and 2 Tbs. vegetable shortening. Microwave, stirring at 30-second intervals, until melted. Roll pretzel rods (or breadsticks) in melted candy to coat, and transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet. Melt 1/2 cup each orange and green melting wafers in small glass bowls in microwave. When pretzels are dry, dunk one end in orange wafers to make eraser. Transfer green melted wafers to a resealable plastic bag and snip off one small corner. Pipe on to make pencil markings (see photo). Makes about 18.

Copyright © 2004. Reprinted with permission from the August 2003 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.