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Back to School Preparation


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Whether you are jubilant or despondent over your kids heading back to school, the dramatic shift in your family’s everyday schedule will be the same. Some of us will bid farewell to the lazy days of summer, while others will have to transition from hectic summer activities and travel schedules to the hustle and bustle of school, after-school activities, and weekends filled with athletic or social events.

Even though I’ve been facing this transition every year for over a decade, each year I learn something new (typically from another mom) that makes it go a little more smoothly. So, I’m going to share some of this advice with you, perhaps a lot of which you’ve already learned, hoping some of it will help you head into this school year a little stressed.

graphic of a piece of lined paper with title text reading Back-to-School Preparation

Use the School’s Supply List as a Guide, Not a Doctrine

How many times have you dutifully shopped every sale in your area to get the absolute best prices on each one of the items on your child’s school supply list only to show up at back-to-school night to receive an entirely different list from your child’s teacher? For me, it’s been every single year for every single one of my four children.

If you’re new to this ball game, here’s a secret: They won’t kick your child out of school if he/she doesn’t show up with the box of tissues stated on the supply list.

I know, you’re a Wondermom Wannabe so it’s important to you to get the list right. You know the world isn’t going to end if the class only has 24 bottles of hand sanitizer on the first day of school instead of 25. You just don’t want your name to be associated with the missing bottle.

For those of you who feel this way, I’d like you to consider this — the teachers are stocking their rooms for the whole year. So, if you show up with those tissues, hand sanitizer, or paper towels later in the year when the supply is dwindling, you’ll make a far stronger (and very positive) impression. Not to mention, you can pick up the items when they are on sale or you have a coupon so you’re doing a service for your family (saving money) at the same time you are doing a service for the school (providing needed supplies).

If you’re still feeling guilty about not starting school with a perfect score, then don’t head into back-to-school night unprepared. Yes, there is a way for you to match the teacher’s revised supply list without scrambling around town paying full retail for the new supplies. The solution is to …

Overshop During Back-to-School Sales

Parents who have shopped back-to-school sales know that you will not see prices that low again (until next August anyway). So, no matter what the supply list says, buy extra. There are many benefits to shopping the sales instead of the lists:

  • Stock up on supplies your child will need at home for homework
  • A basket of extra supplies makes a much appreciated, but inexpensive Christmas gift for teachers
  • Extra school supplies can be donated if you, nor the teacher, needs them
  • New crayons, markers, and colored pencils are a great (and inexpensive) way to make road trips less boring

Of course there’s a lot more to heading back to school than stockpiling school supplies. Perhaps the most dramatic change is adapting to a new schedule. You can make the change less painful if you …

Ease Into the New Schedule

At least one week before school I like to start preparing the kids for the more rigid schedule that we follow during the school year. The sooner you start this process, the better, but more than a week out seems to be too much for anyone in my family to bear.

Some parents I know start nudging wake times and bedtimes a little earlier each day until the kids are at their school season schedule. My family does best with the cold turkey approach.

One week out I declare bedtime and wake time and we make the switch so they have a week to gripe about it to me rather than their teachers, friends and other innocent bystanders.

When you’re setting your new schedule, don’t forget to leave a little extra time in the morning to handle all the last minute crises that will inevitably occur no matter how well you’ve planned (e.g. a button falls off a new shirt, the zipper on the new lunch box breaks, or your teen’s car won’t start).

You’ll also need some time to take pictures, especially as your kids get older and won’t let you follow them to the bus stop or to school. And whether your kids are demonstratively emotional about the beginning of the school year or not, you can relieve some of their anxiety if you …

Plan a First Day Surprise or Treat

You have a lot of different options for surprising or treating your kids on the first day of school:

  • Make a special breakfast
  • Present a special item for them to use, something you normally wouldn’t buy (e.g. personalized pencil sharpener, a novelty USB, personalized labels to mark their notebooks and supplies)
  • Leave a note, joke, or picture in a notebook or lunch box
  • Sneak a special treat into the lunch box
  • Bake cookies or a cake to welcome them home
  • Give them a get-out-of-chores for the day coupon

These are the tips I use and share every year because they make the transition out of summer relatively painless. For even more ideas, check out these back-to-school tips brought to you by Walmart. Have a child headed off to college? They have some back-to-college tips too!

If you have your own tips and ideas to help moms prepare for back-to-school, I’d love to hear them! Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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