For parents and guardians raised during a certain generation, preparing to head back to school meant a quick trip to the local drug store to purchase a Trapper Keeper, rubber pencil grips, yellow PeeChee folders and pencil-top erasers in various colors.
While kids still need school supplies, there are a few other tasks beyond shopping to add to your back-to-school checklist:
- Get back on a school year sleep schedule. While most kids over age 6 can get themselves ready for bed and fall asleep on their own, summer’s distractions and poor bedtime habits can be hard to leave behind once the school year approaches. A couple of weeks before summer’s end, start having your student go to bed and wake at the same times they will during the school year. Help them make their room a good setting for sleep by dimming the lights; making sure voices and other sounds in the home are low; and removing anything, such as toys or digital devices, that might be a distraction.
- Plan for healthy lunches. Forget the cafeteria and prepackaged cracker kits. Make sure you have an insulated lunch bag, thermos and a couple of ice packs to keep things cool, and start trying out some healthy lunch options before the first day. Find fun new recipes that are easy to pack and don’t require refrigeration — from pasta and special sandwiches to soups and skewers. And for those mornings when you’re running late, have staples at the ready for easy packing: hard-boiled eggs, fresh chopped veggies, hummus, single-serve guacamole packs, fruit, string cheese, whole-grain crackers, nuts and yogurt.
- Schedule well-check visits and sports physicals. Before they walk through those schoolhouse doors, make sure your child’s vaccinations are up to date and they’ve been cleared by their doctor for the sports and activities they plan to enjoy. Vaccines available for school-age children include DTaP and Tdap (both prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis — also known as whooping cough), hepatitis B, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), varicella (chickenpox), polio, influenza (flu), HPV (human papillomavirus) and COVID-19.
- Reconnect with school friends. Heading into a new school year can cause anxiety. From new campuses and classmates to different teachers and class schedules, kids may worry about what’s to come. Help them connect with friends in the final weeks of summer. Schedule group playdates at area parks or invite a friend or two over to get reacquainted if summer schedules kept them apart. Knowing they have an ally or two can help make the transition back to school easier — and far more fun.
- Prepare for COVID-19 changes and challenges. Cases of COVID-19 continue to be reported, and some school districts may reinstate COVID-19 spread prevention measures, such as masking. Plan to be flexible and consider having some well-fitting face masks on hand in case this happens at your student’s school. Cooperation by all involved — administrators, teachers, students and their families — makes potential changes easier to navigate and reduces the likelihood of further spread.
- Read the parent handbook. Take a moment to read through the school’s parent handbook, where you can learn about important dates and events (and add them to your calendar); review school rules about attire, tardiness, absences and more; find a school supplies list; and familiarize yourself with guidelines for school drop-off and pickup, as well as walking or biking to school. You can also learn the best way to communicate with your child’s teacher to share concerns or information they need to enhance your student’s academic experience. Additionally, the handbook should include — or direct you to — any health and emergency contact forms you need to complete.
- Discuss your family’s rules around screen time and homework. Create a quiet, well-lit space at home where your student can do their homework without distractions. Share your expectations for when homework will be done and whether digital devices can be used during homework time (other than those devices needed to complete assignments, such as a laptop and calculator). Define your expectations surrounding how much screen time they can have each day; what other activities — such as homework, physical activity and chores — must be completed before screen time is allowed; and what the consequences will be if these guidelines aren’t followed.
Change can be hard for people of all ages. But planning and preparation can make the back-to-school transition less stressful not only for students, but also for their parents and guardians. Enjoy those last lazy days of summer, but make sure to also take the time to set up your student for success.