The Busy Family’s Complete Back-to-School Guide

Back-to-school season ushers in a wave of emotions from the excitement of new beginnings to the dread of early mornings. School can bring structure and growth, but if you're feeling overwhelmed and need some help navigating the adjustment from summer to school time — we've got you covered! 

Establishing a Sustainable Routine 

Long summer days and little to no morning obligations for children often allow families to build a habit of spending late evenings together, extending bedtime long past what is sustainable for school nights. 

Ideally, you will begin reestablishing a healthy bedtime routine at the end of summer, so it's not such a dramatic shock once the school year begins. 

Here are some ideas of helpful habits you can encourage kids to establish before school, after school, and before bedtime. Younger children will need a fair amount of assistance to complete tasks, while older children may be more self-sufficient and independent. 

 Before school

  • Get dressed
  • Make bed
  • Brush teeth
  • Eat breakfast
  • Put on shoes
  • Grab their backpack and anything else needed, such as a water bottle, lunch box, or tablet. 

After School

  • Take off shoes
  • Wash hands
  • Eat snack 
  • Pull out necessary things from their backpack, such as graded papers, parent forms, finished projects, or homework.
  • Complete any tasks such as chores or required reading. 

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Before Bedtime

  • Eat dinner
  • Bath or shower, brush teeth
  • Put on pajamas 
  • Lay-out clothes for the following day 
  • Make lunch and refill water bottle, if needed.
  • Plug in tablet to charge, if necessary. 
  • Bedtime story or independent reading 

School Supply Shopping

Most schools or districts will release standard school supply lists before the year starts so that families can gather school supplies ahead of time and take advantage of back-to-school sales. School supply lists can be overwhelming at first, especially if, in past years, you've experienced school supplies going unused, being thrown into a community bin, or having additional supplies being requested after the year begins. 

As a former educator, I can tell you there are a few things to consider behind school supply lists. 

  1. Teachers do not usually make the lists. They are often generated district-wide with general items and are not always updated with teacher consultation. This means that there may be supplies requested that your child's teacher doesn’t actually want or ever intend to use, while other supplies will be needed despite not being on the initial list. 
  2. Not all students will bring the required supplies, which often results in over-requests for frequently used items like crayons and pencils to make up for the lack of initial supplies. This is also where the dreaded community bin comes into play. It puts students on a level playing field regardless of what they were or were not able to bring. 
  3. Brand name requests are important … sometimes. Teachers have extensive experience as to which brands are high quality and which are better off left unpurchased. It's unlikely your teacher is being a snob when they request Crayola art supplies. (More likely, they have experienced first-hand the frustration students experience working with sub-par brands.) Alternatively, brand names are sometimes auto-generated onto school supply lists by the stores to encourage families to make bigger purchases. Products where brand names tend to be the most important are supplies such as Crayola crayons/markers, Elmer's glue, and Ticonderoga pencils. Other supplies like notebook paper, erasers, or folders you can probably safely get away with store brands. 

If you are on a budget, don't feel bad waiting to do the bulk of your school supply shopping until you've had a chance to communicate with your child's teacher and confirm what is needed. Ultimately, whatever your child brings into the classroom will be far less important than the learning they bring home— so don't stress it too much! 

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Wardrobe Refresh 

There's nothing like a fresh new outfit for the first day of school! After not seeing their classmates all summer and with the anxiety of a new classroom, new teacher, and all-new grade level — it can help kids to feel comfortable and confident knowing they will look nice. 

A whole new wardrobe is great, but it may only be feasible for some families. Instead, think about the staples that will have the biggest impact and refresh those. You can then update and supplement other elements throughout the year. 

Things to update:

  • Shoes: A sturdy pair of shoes will serve your child well while walking to the bus stop, playing at recess, and participating in PE class. Make a point of either teaching your child to tie their own shoes or buying a pair that does not tie to allow them to exercise independence throughout the day. Most children will need a second pair of shoes midway through the year as they have outgrown or worn out the first pair. 
  • Socks & Underwear: These essentials should be replaced regularly, but back to school is an excellent time to revisit their state. New and adequately fitting socks and underwear will ensure your child is comfortable and not distracted during learning. 
  • Mix & Match Essentials: A few staples like t-shirts and jeans can be rotated in multiple configurations for different looks. One idea is to choose a color scheme with your child and shop for clothes that all fall within that scheme so that whatever they pair together will match. This easy-pair method will save you stress on laundry day or mornings when you're running late. Consider the climate where you live and plan accordingly, but don't buy too far ahead. There's nothing like buying a bunch of winter clothes in September and finding out your child grows two inches before January. Getting a few things now and planning to revisit clothes shopping later in the year will guarantee your child has a few fresh new pieces all year long and that they don't grow out of their new clothes before they're needed. 
  • Backpack: Backpacks are the accessory your child will wear every day all year long, so it's worth investing in one that will hold up! Character backpacks are fun if you're sure they will still love that character by the end of the school year, but more neutral choices may be a wiser choice if you're looking for longevity. Help your child personalize it with fun keychains to get them excited to show off their new backpack! Also, consider that sometimes, less is more. Tiny pockets might seem handy, but items tend to get lost and overlooked quickly with multiple "hiding" places. A backpack with one or two zippers should be sufficient. 
  • Haircut: A fresh haircut can drastically change anyone's look, especially kids with shorter hairstyles. Pro-tip — for younger kids, lice outbreaks can be common in schools. Lice thrive in clean hair as it's easy to navigate, so consider using hair products such as mousse or gel if possible and encourage your children never to share items like hats and headbands. 

The beginning of the school year always feels like a big deal (and it is!), but before you get carried away, take a deep breath and refocus on what is most important. Spending time together, having patience when things don't go according to plan, and establishing a safe and healthy home with a love of learning is all that matters. Take time to enjoy the little things and head into the new school year confidently! 


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