10 back-to-school tips
As summer winds down, parents and kids are getting ready to ring in a new school year. We asked back-to-school experts to share their top tips for heading back to class.
Re-introduce a routine
Moving from a leisurely summer schedule to the structure of school can be a difficult transition for kids.
Christine Pilkington, a Vancouver mother of three young kids and founder of Crisp Media Inc., a company that publishes online magazines for moms, suggests adopting a regular routine about a week or so before school begins.
"Get them up at a regular hour every day. Have dinner at a certain time."
Or maybe simulate what a school day would be like.
"As long as kids know the routine, they can do it themselves," says Pilkington.
Tamara McPherson, a Toronto mother of four young girls and creator of WonderMoms.ca, is equally interested in getting regular patterns re-established.
"I'm all about routine because of so many kids," she says.
A few weeks before school, McPherson recommends getting kids thinking about heading back to the classroom, going to bed early, getting clothes ready the night before and readying their backpacks.
"If they know what to expect, you're not setting them up for failure."
Select school supplies
"Print a list of back-to-school supplies," says McPherson. "Let [the kids] pick out supplies so they get excited - gets them ready. It teaches them responsibility and about cost."
While some supplies need to be purchased each year, McPherson says items such as backpacks may not have to be replaced annually if quality products are bought in the first place.
"You don't want to skimp on backpacks because they use them every single day."
Quality backpacks should have proper shoulder padding to help protect from back problems.
While purchasing back-to-school supplies can put a dent in the bank account, there are areas where money can be saved. McPherson points to pencils, crayons and rulers, which are available at dollar stores.
And it doesn't hurt to take a good look at the supplies already on hand.
"Assess what you have," suggests Pilkington. "Don't buy everything all in one day. Maybe you might have to wait for the first week from a supply perspective before you buy. Shop smart."
Make packing lunch easy
It can be a challenge for busy families to get school lunches ready. Our experts offer strategies to help make things less stressful.
"We always make lunches the night before," says McPherson.
Rather than make the kids' lunches and have them waste the food (if they don't like what's chosen), McPherson gets her kids to pack their own lunch.
"I have the fridge stocked with different fruits and vegetables and everything else prepared. They can pack their own lunch for fresh food. Give them healthy choices - and they pick and choose."
And remember to take children's preferences into account.
"Make a list of your kids' favourite eats and snacks," says Pilkington. Stick it on the fridge so you can refer to it when making lunch.
Corral morning chaos
Getting organized for the morning is all about the night before, says McPherson. She gets the table ready with plastic bowls and cups for the little ones to grab and pour their own juice or cereal.
The night before, McPherson suggests setting backpacks by the door, picking out clothes and having coats ready to go.
Keep track of belongings
It can be frustrating for families if belongings are lost at school.
To keep track of children's belongings, McPherson recommends labels. She uses last names only, a move that allows backpacks to be passed on to younger children.
She suggests labelling the inside of shoes, bags, boots, jackets and snow pants - anything you don't want to get lost - and continuing until children are in Grade 3.
The labels help teachers, too.
"Little ones aren't the most organized - things end up in lost and found," says McPherson. "It gets expensive for parents."
Back-to-school routine isn't just about school - it's also about the family's whole life, and how things run around the home.
Getting organized means getting the kids involved around the house. McPherson uses flow charts on her fridge to track chores for her girls - she recommends making the charts visual and using fun stickers.
When a task is done, it's ticked off, something she says "makes them feel good when they complete a goal."
Chores may include putting clothes and laundry away, storing shoes, brushing teeth or making the bed. Write down what task the kids do every morning, says Pilkington.
"Kids get off track easily," she says. "You think they're eating breakfast but they're off colouring their book."
Get to know the school
If the new school year means a new school, too, that can bring its own challenges.
Pilkington suggests visiting the school before classes start to help the kids become familiar with their new surroundings.
"Talk about how it's going to go in school and what kids are looking forward to."
If you're in a new neighbourhood, McPherson suggests doing a dry run of the walk to school a week or two before classes start. Go to and from the location with the kids so they can get familiar with the neighbourhood and remind them which streets are busy.
Beat school jitters
The thought of going back to school can make some kids nervous, but there are ways to offset the anxiety.
Get the kids to picture what their summer was like or what they're excited about, says McPherson. "They say artwork's best to alleviate fears."
To deal with school jitters, Pilkington suggests giving kids a project. Maybe they could put together a scrapbook focusing on what they did this summer.
Cope with stress
To deal with back-to-school stress, Dr. Mark Berber, a psychiatrist at Markham Stouffville Hospital and a lecturer at University of Toronto, suggests trying to maintain a healthy balance between school and life outside the classroom.
"Although it is important to set aside time for study and homework, it is equally important to set aside time for having fun. Getting exercise, playing sports, eating well, dancing and listening to music are all important," says Berber. "All work and no play also increases the stress of returning to school."
Handling food allergies
Parents of kids with food allergies should notify the principal and teachers well before the first day of class. Go over risks and precautions and emergency plans if the child has an allergic reaction.
But the most important precaution is reviewing allergy rules with children before classes start, says Gwen Smith, the editor of Allergic Living.
Pilkington and McPherson, whose kids don't have food allergies, say parents need to know what allergies are in their kids' classroom. Talk to the teachers about what can be brought in. You don't want to make another child ill.