Countdown to School: 30 Tips to Get Ready for the Big Day

The first day of class is just around the corner! These back-to-school tips will make sure your child gets off to a great start. 

Back to school kids
Photo: Zodiacphoto/Shutterstock

With classes right around the corner, your child is probably feeling excited—and a little bit nervous. Ease the transition from summer to school with these simple tips formatted as a to-do list, which will help them (and you) feel prepared to take on another academic year.

1 Month Before School

Visit the grounds

"Being familiar with the school is the key to a successful first day," says Allana Elovson, Ph.D., author of The Kindergarten Survival Handbook. Walk around inside the building, if you're allowed. Peer at the classrooms, check out the bathrooms and have them try out the playground. Also, show your child where you'll pick them up at the end of the day.

Give a classroom demonstration

To help her son, Nathan, get used to the idea of school and homework, Julie Baron, of Arlington Heights, Illinois, held mock classes in the summer. "We'd take turns being the teacher and student," Baron says. At the end of each week, Nathan received a reward, such as getting to pick out a video at the library or going to the pool.

Buy and try a nap mat

Check to see whether your school has a scheduled rest period and how long it lasts, says Rafael Pelayo, M.D., head of pediatric services at Stanford University's Sleep Disorders Clinic. Settle your kid down at that hour each day at home so they get used to the idea. Also find out what kinds of quiet activities teachers provide for kids who aren't sleepy, like looking at books or assembling puzzles, and do some of those too. (On the other hand, if your child takes a daily nap and their new school doesn't have naptime, get them used to going without it.)

Take your child for a checkup

Be sure to book your appointment right away. "There's often a huge backup in late August and early September," warns Judy Walker, R.N., of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. If your child will be entering preschool or kindergarten, they must be up-to-date on their immunizations.

2 Weeks Before School

Make a back-to-school checklist.

Some schools provide a checklist of supplies needed for the classroom. But if you don't know where to start, consider downloading the digital family organizer app Cozi, which is available on Apple and Google Play. It provides pre-made checklists for preschool and kindergarten supplies, elementary school supplies, middle school supplies, and high school supplies. They're customizable and available for free on the app!

Start back-to-school shopping

Nothing builds excitement like a new pair of shoes, a fresh outfit, or cool supplies. Cozi can help families keep tabs on everything they need with its shopping list feature, which provides easy on-the-go references. The app also has meal planners, chore trackers, a family journal, and more—perfect for the busy back-to-school season!

Connect with classmates

Shortly before her twin daughters started kindergarten, Patty Eckman, of Greenwood, Indiana, hosted a class party, complete with a bus cake and school-related crafts. In University City, Missouri, Cindy Thierry organizes a summer picnic sponsored by the school's parent-teacher groups. "We especially try to include new students and their parents," she says. You can also invite one of your child's future classmates for a playdate. (Check to see whether a contact list is available.)

Take a fun field trip

A clever way to get your child into the learning spirit is to visit a place that's both entertaining and intellectually challenging, says Kenneth Haller, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Try your local children's museum, science center, zoo, or historical society.

Mark the days until school starts

Make a paper chain out of construction paper, and remove one link each day leading up to the start of school. Kids need time to get back into class mode.

Set up a family calendar

Once the school year starts, juggling everyone's schedules can be frustrating. A shared family calendar can make it easier to keep track of after-school activities, doctor's appointments, sports practices, etc. Consider using the family calendar from Cozi, which is color-coded and easily accessible in a secure digital location. It's ideal for keeping everyone in the loop! For more information, check out five ways using a family calendar can improve your life from Sharon Rowley, blogger at Mom of 6.

Practice school skills

Forget academics—we're talking about the little tasks that make the day easier. Your child should know how to:

  • Fasten and unfasten their knapsack and open their lunch box
  • Undo their clothes so they can go to the bathroom
  • Hang their coat on a hook
  • Unscrew their thermos or any other container you pack food in
  • Spell their full name, and recite their telephone number

1 Week Before School

Attend orientation

When you do, look all around—not just at your child's classroom, but also at the bathrooms, the playground, and the rooms for art, music, physical education, and more. Point out special materials and equipment you don't have at home, such as a neat set of finger paints or a big sandbox, so they have some specific activities to look forward to trying, says Stacy DeBroff, author of The Mom Book Goes to School. Make sure not to miss orientation (or other back-to-school events) by marking them on your calendar—preferably a shared family calendar like the one from Cozi!

Hop on the bus

Some kindergartens provide bus safety instruction and practice rides as part of their orientation. If your school or preschool doesn't and your child will be bused, try taking a few trips on a public bus so they get used to the idea.

Brainstorm a list of favorite lunches

Work with your child to decide what they want, and start shopping for the ingredients you'll need; Cozi can help keep track of your shopping lists. Parents can also use Cozi to make meal plans for the week, which makes it easier to whip up lunches (and dinners!). If you want your kids to help prepare meals or after-school snacks, check out this list of healthy things they can make themselves.

Discuss your morning routine

Explain what's involved in getting ready for school, including when your child will wake up, how much time they'll have for breakfast, and what they'll need to gather before leaving. Hold several rehearsals. "When children do things in the same order every day, they develop a sense of how much time they can spend on each task," says Kimberley Shanahan, a mom from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania.

Create a morning to-do list

Having kids get ready in a particular order—wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth—is a great idea. Creating a to-do list can help them stay on track each morning. Make your own using this customizable school morning checklist on Cozi. The family organizing app also provides an after-school checklist to help kids create a routine. Once you download the app on Apple or Google Play, you can tweak the checklists to fit your family's daily schedules.

Get your child's sleep in sync with their school schedule

If your child has been staying up late and snoozing all morning, next week's new rules will come as a big shock. Luckily, young kids adapt quickly. Instead of tucking your child in earlier—they'll just toss and turn, Dr. Pelayo says—focus on a consistent wake-up time and get them out of bed no matter what. Discourage long naps (except for the one that corresponds to school naptime). In a few days, their internal clock will reset itself.

Consider making a meal plan for dinners

Some parents might want to make a meal plan for family dinners. That's because the first week of school can be exhausting, and your evening meal will be much less stressful if you know what you're making in advance. Keep track of ingredients and recipes, and get inspiration from these 25 delicious family dinner ideas.

The Day Before School

End the summer with a bang

The transition from summer to school is full of anticipation. Creating a fun family tradition—like getting ice cream the night before classes start—can ease nerves and create long-lasting memories.

Pre-pack your child's backpack

Doing it the night before will cut down on the morning rush. Also, designate a special corner or basket where your child should always leave their knapsack when they return home so it never gets misplaced.

Choose the first-day outfit

Don't forget about socks, undies, and shoes. And leave nothing to chance: Check the forecast, and pick an alternate outfit, in case the weather turns.

Get their lunch ready

Many parents do this as they make dinner so there's only one cleanup. Leave the lunch box open so you don't forget to add refrigerated items (like sandwiches and milk) in the morning. Pack a sweet back-to-school lunch box note too—it'll make your child's day.

Keep the evening calm

Avoid noisy games and TV, but don't force your child to turn in early. In fact, if anything, send them to bed 15 minutes later than usual, Dr. Pelayo says. They'll fall asleep more easily and won't wake up cranky.

Set the mood

Read a story about the joys of school. Some great choices for small kids: The Kissing Hand, I Love You All Day Long, and If You Take a Mouse to School.

The First Day of School

Rise and shine

Get up 30 minutes before your child so you can shower and have your coffee before they wake; you'll be cheerful, even if they aren't! Once your child wakes up, have them follow their morning to-do list. Tell them they can't watch any morning TV or play with their toys until they've eaten breakfast, dressed, and brushed their teeth.

Schedule some extra time

Instead of hoping that your 5-year-old won't insist on picking out a different outfit or refuse to brush their teeth, assume that they will, and build extra time into your day. Nicole Faghin, a mother of two in Edmonds, Washington, figured out how long it takes to get her girls fed and dressed-then added an extra 15 minutes on top of that.

Make it feel like a celebration

Show your child how happy you are that they've reached this major milestone. Serve a favorite breakfast and give them a surprise, like a colorful eraser or a funky pencil, that they can take with them. It sounds corny, but kids are influenced by a positive attitude.

Budget time to take pictures

Years from now, you and your child will be glad you've captured this magic moment. Pick one special spot for photos, like the front porch or steps, and take a new shot at the start of each school year.

Arrive at school early

Most kids like having a few moments to get settled into their new classroom, and if your child is on the shy side, it's less intimidating to walk in before the room is packed with other nervous new students. If you're driving or walking to school, plan to show up at least 10 minutes before the bell rings.

Welcome your hero home

At the end of the day, serve a special snack and ask how everything went. Plan to have dinner together as a family, if possible, and talk about it some more. Going over the highlights of the day—and encouraging your child to talk about their hopes and fears—makes a terrific start to the year.

Sources: Claudia Weger, executive director, Ossining Children's Center, Ossining, New York; Carmella Van Vleet, author of Yikes! It's Due Tomorrow?: How to Handle School Snafus.

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