Get Ready to Go Back to School

Get ready for Back to School. Handy tips and tricks to reduce stress plus a free checklist.

It is that time of year again, Back to School, and if you are like me, you are not going to deal with it until you have to. For a planner and a list maker that probably sounds surprising, but one of the advantages of being organized is that you can choose to procrastinate without creating stress.

Let me explain.

When my daughter first started going to preschool, we did the prepare ahead thing. Getting her head in the game mattered a lot back then. But in the last few years, the weeks right before school belong to her grandparents. We have been flying out to see them, and coming back two days before school starts ever since they stopped being able to travel.

So we don’t prepare ahead as much anymore. We do a quick prep the morning before, and then hit the community pool for the last time before it closes for the season. We get every last bit of joy from summer that we can.

It’s a huge improvement.

clothes, backpack, back to school

I remember being a kid, getting ready to go back to school was torture. We hated to think of summer ending. Still, as a grown-up, I feel the same way. Summer is freedom. It is too hot to use the oven, so we have sandwiches; we have picnics in the park. I don’t have to worry about my child as much; there’s no bullying or harsh teachers or frustrating classes. There’s camp, playing outside and having fun. I hate to rush it and we don’t face the inevitable until we have to.

So, how do I put this off so long, without losing my mind the first morning?

Have a back to school checklist.

Get it here: Kids Binder – School – Back to School Checklist.

(no surprise here) Obviously I am sharing that list here. Tweak it to suit the age of your child and the complexity of their circumstances; it will give you a good starting point.

Put off your back to school shopping

Don’t do any back to school shopping until a few weeks into the school year. My daughter knows that we won’t do any for the first few weeks, so she is on the prowl for information about what she needs. Like this year, she wants a lunch box nobody in her class has, so that she can find it easily. So she doesn’t mind not having a whole bunch of new stuff the first day. See my post here – Put Off Your Back to School Shopping

Start getting organized earlier

(also not a surprise to those who know me)  I start at the end of the previous school year. By the time school rolls around, I am mostly ready.

supplies, markers, binders, back to schoolFirst, take inventory of the stuff on the week school ends. Trash everything that didn’t really survive the school year and put the rest in a bin in the closet. Over that week and the next, take 10 minutes or so once in a while and go around the house and grab anything that won’t be used over the summer and toss it into the back-to-school bin. Once camp starts, do the same with the clothes and keep them in a laundry basket in the back of the bedroom closet. So now all the school stuff is out of sight and out of mind.

Second, the weekend after school is over, sit down and go through the back-to-school bin. Jot down what is good enough to start the year with and what is completely missing. Clean and repair what you can (which for me isn’t much – I hate to sew).  I will often spend the summer keeping an eye out around the house for items to get through the summer and the first month of school. This is the best opportunity to use old pencil cases, water bottles and lunch bags.

Third, one night after the laundry is done, put a good movie on and go through the clothes. Does it fit? Is it in good shape? Etc. Throw out and donate as appropriate. If I have a little extra time, I top both bags up from my and John’s closet as well. Now you have a basket of clothes that should be usable next year. As my daughter gets older, we are starting to do some of this together, but at the moment everything is her favorite and she hates trying anything on, so I do as much as I can on my own.

supplies, notebook, back to schoolSo, usually by the end of the first week of camp, you are pretty much ready. Everything is clean and organized and put away somewhere, ready to pack the weekend before school starts. There it will sit, safe and sound and out of mind, allowing me to relax and enjoy the summer. If you haven’t done this yet, it is never too late. It takes about an hour to do all three and gets a lot of clutter out of your way for the summer.

Run through the new routine

A few weeks before school starts, start talking to your kids about any important changes for that upcoming year. This has been really important when my daughter has changed schools, or when we have made a significant change to the routine. Discuss as much as you know about the new routine as well as everything you don’t and how they want to deal with it.

Mine may only be entering grade one this year, but she is in her 5th school/preschool, so we have a lot of experience. Here are a few examples:

The year she started kindergarten they had a welcome night, so we sat down and made a list of all the questions she had. I helped her figure out what changes she should prepare for. She was in daycare and preschool before, but the routine was different and I didn’t want her to be surprised. She had five questions: what type of lunch did she need to bring, what supplies should be in her bag, how would she get from daycare and back, what clothes were expected and when would they go outside. We drew little pictures on a piece of paper, so that she wouldn’t forget anything when she got her five minutes with the teacher. I could have used the list to ask her questions for her, if she hadn’t been invited to the welcome night, 

back to schoolWhen she transferred to french immersion the next year, we went through the routine again. She would be taking the bus, so we discussed what that would be like and what she should expect. We also went to the school and did a walk around (outside) to see what it was like. The school didn’t let parents past the office. We also had to talk about french being the primary language of the classroom and what that might be like.

This year she starts grade one. With that brings a number of changes. She will be eating lunch in the lunchroom rather than the classroom, she will be in the playground at recess, and there will no longer me any aides in the classroom, so the teacher won’t have time to give one-on-one attention. This is a big step. So we are talking about what that will be like and discussing her questions and concerns.

In the years to come, she will have many more changes: when she can walk herself to school, when she graduates from middle school, when she starts changing classes and getting a lot of homework assignments and many other milestones.

So talk it through. We usually talk in the car, on the way to camp or on the plane on the way to grandmas. Talk about what will change the following year. Talk about how they feel and how each of those changes might work, if your child doesn’t want to talk about their feelings, sometimes discussing the logistics of the changes will stimulate the conversation.

For example, this year she eats in the lunchroom, and after they finish their lunch they can go outside and play. I’m expecting her lunch choices to change. We have talked about it, and she thinks she is going to take sandwiches for a couple of days to see how it goes. Then she can decide if she has time for soup, her favorite lunch. This took a couple of car trips. First we talked about the lunchroom and what it was like. The next day, she told me what she wanted to do about it.

These changes may be small to us, but not to them. Once they are used to one routine, changing to a new one can be seriously daunting. I remember in school some of my classmates panicking about losing their snack time the following year and how they would handle it. I also remember how hard it was to switch to busing mid-year instead of walking to school.

Prepare the day before

supplies, pencil case, back to schoolThe morning of the day before school pull out the back to school bin and basket and let them choose a backpack, lunch bag, etc… that they will need for the first day of school. Select the first week’s wardrobe. Pack their toiletry bag and change of clothes and tuck it in the bottom of the backpack. Then decide on breakfast and lunch for the next day, to save time. Then run through the schedule: what time they will get up and what time you will leave. All of this is done in less than half an hour, and you can get on with the last day of summer.

Do the first day together

I usually book the first day back to school in my office calendar months in advance. Usually coming in an hour late that day is no big deal if I plan it far enough in advance. Unfortunately, it usually means I don’t get to pick her up at night because I have to work late to make it up, so my husband and I flip a coin to decide who gets drop-off and pick-up. We usually skip morning daycare, but we do send her in the afternoon. She and her friends like to catch up anyway and they are not all in the same class.

This is the last year that we will treat the first day differently. Next year’s routine will be the same as this one. After that she will be old enough to face the changes alone; she probably is already, but I’m not.


So there we have it. All ready and back to school all in two hours, over two months. Nothing daunting or intimidating about that. Just use our planner to make sure you don’t miss anything. Here’s the checklist again: Kids Binder – School – Back to School Checklist