101 Back To School Tips For Kids And Parents

Dated: 07/31/2019

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101 back-to-school tips for kids and parents

Liz Alton July 30, 2019
101 back-to-school tips for kids and parents

As summer comes to an end and back-to-school season begins, it can be hard to get back into a regular schedule — for both kids and adults. 

To help you out, we asked Dr. Fran Walfish, a child and family psychotherapist and author of "The Self-Aware Parent," and Dr. Christina Nichols, a licensed clinical psychologist, to share their thoughts on how parents can get a jump on the school year. In response, they gave us 101 tips that parents can use to ease their kids back into school, while also managing their own stress. 

The trick is to plan ahead. Read through this list and identify some strategies that you think could help you and your family stay organized and on top of things. Then, test these different approaches as a family so you can figure out which ones work for you, and which ones don't.

Finally, be sure to include your entire child care crew in your plans, too. Whether you have a babysitter, nanny, tutor or all of the above, they'll be able to help you keep your kiddo on track for the first day of school. Plus, they'll be able to take some tasks off of your plate — which means you can enter the school year with a little more of your sanity intact.

1. Set your kids' sleep schedules back to "school time" two weeks before the first day of school.

2. Get your kids involved in programs they can do after school to keep them active.

3. Visit cultural attractions like museums to shift their brains into "scholar" mode.

4. Hire an after-school sitter to help care for your kids while you're at work.

5. Encourage your kids to read at least one book before the school year begins.

6. Reacquaint your kids with the calendar schedule they'll use to manage their activities.

7. Try apps like iHomework or myHomework to help your kids organize assignments.

8. Let kids choose a planner or scheduling tool they're excited to use.

9. Set up weekly meetings to review your kids' schedules for the week(s) ahead.

10. Create a family calendar that tracks everyone's activities and commitments.

11. Refresh your rules about screen time for the school year. What's allowed and when?

12. Establish a set "family time," whether it's during dinner or before bed.

13. Give kids a specific day to when they can choose all the activities you do together.

14. Determine how long it takes them to do assignments to help with time management.

15. Use an egg timer to get your kids used to focusing for specific periods of time.

16. Teach your kids to prioritize their assignments by making to-do lists with deadlines.

17. Give your kids a short break after each assignment they finish, such as a short walk.

18. Set a regular alarm each day that signals the start of homework time.

19. Discuss what your kids can expect on the first day so they feel more prepared.

20. Visit the school with your kids so they can get familiar with their new environments.

21. Arrange playdates with two or three of your kids' friends to rebuild existing social ties.

22. Ask teachers for class rosters so you can arrange playdates with new classmates, too.

23. Get the lists of school supplies, books and technology your kids will need.

24. Inventory last year's school supplies before going out to buy more.

25. Include your kids in back-to-school shopping by letting them pick out their items.

26. Make a plan for organizing those supplies — and keeping them that way.

27. Create a dedicated space for your kids to store their school supplies and technology.

28. Establish a specific space like the family office as an official "homework station."

29. Remove distractions like TVs and video game consoles from homework areas.

30. Repurpose and relabel plastic tubs to organize all school supplies.

31. Help your kids develop a filing system for organizing their documents for each class.

32. Set — and enforce — regular weekday and weekend bedtimes.

33. Set — and enforce — regular weekday and weekend wakeup calls.

34. Keep track of existing extracurricular activities to prevent over-scheduling.

35. Have your kids set realistic goals for the new year, such as reading 30 books.

36. Help your kids prioritize their activities by tying them to their year's goals.

37. Create a list of fun after-school activities and games to keep your kids entertained.

38. Touch base with teachers early on to troubleshoot any issues your kids may be having. Here are 20 questions you can ask.

39. Create an after-school schedule that allows time for snack, relaxation, play and study.

40. Establish regular bedtime routines for elementary school kids and preschoolers.

41. Carve out blocks of fun time for your kids, whether it's through sports or playdates.

42. Hire a tutor, babysitter or homework helper to help you navigate homework time.

43. Model good behavior by doing your own work/projects while your kids do homework.

44. Encourage your kids to lay out their school clothes the night before.

45. Use this printable checklist to establish a regular morning routine.

46. Have your kids pack their school bags before they go to sleep that night.

47. Have your kids also pack their gym bags the night before and leave them by the door.

48. If your kids bring their own lunch, pack their lunch boxes before going to bed.

49. Establish rules for where they should put lunchboxes, etc. when they come home.

50. Revamp your home organization setup to be more kid-friendly. For example, low hooks make it easy for younger children to hang up coats!

51. Go through your kids' schoolwork once a month to toss the things you don't want.

52. File or scan assignments you want to keep.

53. Create an inbox for kids to leave things that need your attention, like permission slips.

54. Designate a plastic tub as a put-away bin for anything out of place.

55. Set a time each week to sync up individual calendars with the family calendar.

56. Inventory your kids' wardrobes and toss/donate things they've outgrown.

57. Create a list and budget for back-to-school shopping.

58. Let your child choose their clothes, shoes and other items they'll need.

59. Go through their wardrobes every two to three months to get rid of things that no longer fit.

60. Set up a laundry system that makes it easy to sort and wash everyone's clothes.

61. Make homework caddies that can be used to carry school supplies through the house.

62. Buy bulk packaged snacks like bags of grapes that can be easily added to lunches.

63. Discuss the different pros and cons of bringing versus buying school lunches.

64. Get copies of school menus in advance to discuss lunch choices.

65. Get your kids involved in creating and preparing their daily lunch menus.

66. Buy reusable sports bottles to increase their water consumption during the day.

67. Keep a small emergency allowance in your kids' bags, just in case.

68. Organize lunch ingredients in one part of the fridge so you can make fast lunches.

69. Purchase lunch boxes or reusable bags to help save the environment.

70. Make a week's worth of sandwiches on Sunday, wrap in tin foil, and freeze. Unthaw them the night before.

71. Use sticky notes to flag important items that kids should pay attention to.

72. Plan supervised study dates when kids work together on projects or homework.

73. Have a backup transportation mode planned in case your kids miss the bus.

74. Set your clocks forward 10 minutes. This makes it easier to be on time.

75. Schedule blocks of time to check in with each child to see how things are going.

76. Hire a housekeeper to help with cleaning and crossing things off your to-do lists.

77. Schedule at least one 30-minute block in your calendar each day for self-care.

78. Create a rewards system for when kids meet goals, like helping around the house.

79. Shop for school supplies and clothes early. Avoid the rush.

80. Use positive phrasing, such as, "You can go outside after your homework is done," rather than, "You're not going outside until this is finished."

81. Make sure your kids (and you!) have an effective wakeup alarm that works for them.

82. Set an alarm or notification 30 minutes before bedtime.

83. Remove things like mobile devices from kids' bedrooms to focus them on sleeping.

84. Use night lights, white sound machines and fans for kids who can't get to sleep.

85. Keep a single, easy-access file for vaccination records and other important papers.

86. Set up the breakfast table before you go to bed.

87. Map out a bathroom schedule to avoid family fights for bathroom time.

88. Replace old backpacks with ones that are sturdy, ergonomic and kid-friendly.

89. Keep a running list of supplies, clothing and food that need to be bought each week.

90. Use a see-and-store toy rack to make it easier for kids to stay organized.

91. Set up a hanging organizer with five boxes for clothes for each day of the week.

92. Dedicate a rack in the garage, basement or entry way for sports equipment.

93. Create a regular pet care schedule that outlines who does what and when.

94. Schedule study blocks on the weekends before big tests, midterms and finals.

95. Use under-the-bed storage for off-season clothes and toys that aren't regularly used.

96. Give everyone a shower caddy to keep bathroom supplies organized.

97. Have a playdate caddy ready to go, with an extra set of clothes, games and toys.

98. Figure out different ways you can be involved in the classroom this school year.

99. Talk openly with your kids about their feelings about returning to school. Make sure to hit on these five back-to-school worries.

100. Do something fun to diffuse this stressful time of year for all of you.

101. Take a breath!

With all this preparation, your kids will be in great shape. If you're relaxed and calm, they'll head off to school feeling excited and ready to get to work.

Read next: Transitioning your family’s schedule from summer to school mode

School & education School-aged kids Being a parent Preschool
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Free preschool: What’s the state of universal pre-K programs and who can they benefit?

Emily Starbuck Gerson March 1, 2019

Many parents assume they’ll send their children to pre-K before kindergarten. After all, vast amounts of research shows that preschool benefits kids socially, emotionally, physically and cognitively. It helps prepare them for the expectations of structured school and exposes them to new ways of learning and interacting with the world. It can even result in better health outcomes and lower rates of crime and teen pregnancy, studies say. With so many perks, why wouldn’t a parent send their kid to pre-K?

Sadly, many parents get a rude awakening when they learn the price of preschool in America. Pre-K is not free for all students in public schools like grades K-12. And while some states have started rolling out free pre-K programs, in many areas, free programs are typically only available to low-income families, if at all, says Dr. Danielle Twigg, founder of Little Bird Consulting, an early childhood education consulting service. For example, the federally funded pre-K program Head Start is eligible to families who are below the federal poverty line, but even within that program, the spots are limited.

Twigg is a former elementary school teacher who has worked in preschools, and she holds three degrees in education, including a doctorate. She says she has observed that many other developed nations have free, universal pre-K for all. But in the U.S., parents are often left with the option of expensive private schools, which can be unaffordable, even for middle-class families. While free preschool options in America are slowly increasing, Twigg says, parents are sometimes forced to find creative financing options or skip sending their kids to preschool altogether.

So what’s a parent to do? Here’s the scoop on why preschool is so beneficial, the state of free pre-K programs in our country and where things are headed.

The importance of preschool

Putting your child in a preschool program the year before kindergarten has countless benefits, Twigg says.

“From the very start, it’s usually the children’s first introduction to a more formal, structured school setting,” she says, and social and emotional learning are the core focus.

Here are just some of the skills kids typically learn in pre-K, she says:

  • Self-management skills and how to work with other kids

  • Making independent choices about learning and playing with things and in ways they may not have encountered previously

  • Development of gross and fine motor skills

  • Development of literacy and numeracy skills

It also helps get kids used to a routine and expectations of school-like behavior, such as lining up or transitioning from one activity to the next.

According to “Pre-K in American Cities,” a report by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) at Rutgers, preschool attendees:  

  • Are more prepared for school

  • Are more likely to get health and dental care

  • Make more cognitive, social and emotional gains that help them later in life

  • Show reduced rates of crime and teen pregnancy, in the long-term

  • Demonstrate increased lifetime earnings and health outcomes

Lack of free preschool

Because of all of these benefits, “Universal access to high-quality programs for 3- and 4-year old children is standard in most Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries,” Twigg says. “Some of the leaders include Sweden, Finland, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — most offer free preschool programs for 3- to 5-year-old children.”

However, the U.S. is lagging behind most other developed countries where there is no universal free preschool program, Twigg says.

“Early childhood is largely underfunded in the United States,” she says.

According to the NIEER report, many U.S. cities have pre-K programs, but “many of these programs lack key quality benchmarks, such as learning goals, a high teacher-child ratio and teacher education requirements, that extensive research has shown deliver lasting benefits.” Additionally, many of the cities that do have high-quality programs aren’t reaching enough kids, with fewer than 30 percent of eligible preschoolers attending, the report says. In fact, only 60 percent of the largest U.S. cities have a pre-K program that reaches more than 30 percent of 4-year-olds.

Funding varies from state to state, Twigg says, as do the quality of offerings, because the funding levels don’t always allow the hiring of teachers with strong qualifications. Additionally, free pre-K programs are disjointed, with some offered at federal or state or city levels, without much uniformity, Twigg says. Many programs are based on need, which is incredibly valuable for disadvantaged families. However, many middle-class families simply can’t afford the rates at private preschools, she says. For example, near Boston, where Twigg lives, private school may cost the equivalent of a college education. She says she has seen pre-K programs in Boston that charge anywhere from $13,000 to $20,000 for a year of preschool.  

Free preschool programs that do exist

Wondering what these free pre-K programs look like? Here are some of the programs that are currently out there:

Federal: Head Start

Head Start is a federally funded preschool program primarily for kids ages 3 and 4 in low-income families. (The program called Early Head Start focuses more on child care for younger children.) Both programs are run by the Administration for Children and Families, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“Head Start programs prepare America’s most vulnerable young children to succeed in school and in life beyond school,” says an ACF public affairs spokesperson. “To achieve this, Head Start programs deliver services to children age birth to age 5 and their families in core areas of early learning, health and family well-being. The Office of Head Start (OHS) administers grant funding and oversight to the 1,600 agencies that provide Head Start services in communities across the country.”

The program allows children with disabilities.

To be eligible for Head Start and its free learning and development services, including pre-K, your family must be at or below the poverty level (as defined by the federal government). Also eligible are homeless children, children in foster care or children in families receiving public assistance, regardless of their family’s income. Your local Head Start program may have additional requirements. Find your local office with their Head Start center locator.

Of course, government funding is limited, so there isn’t a spot for every eligible child, and there is a waitlist.

State and local programs

Many states and cities have been launching their own initiatives to bring free pre-K to more children. Just about every state has some sort of free pre-K program, Twigg says, but eligibility is often limited. She says 39 states are working to form a universal pre-K program so any child can attend for free, “but it’s probably going to be a while before it gets the full rollout.”

Some states and cities are ahead of the curve:

  • According to the NIEER report, Florida, Oklahoma and Georgia have already launched state-funded pre-K services, which serve 4-year-olds in Jacksonville, Tulsa and Atlanta.

  • Washington, D.C., has funding that provides pre-K programs to 3- and 4-year olds.

  • New York City has a free program for 4-year-olds and is scaling up to serve 3-year-olds.

Other cities have their own limited programs. For example, Pre-K 4 SA is a government-sponsored program in San Antonio, Texas, that has four preschool centers with certified teachers. This program is free for low-income families, and tuition is based on a sliding scale for other families.

Siana Otero, a mother of three in San Antonio, couldn’t find free or even affordable pre-K options for middle-income earners.

“There aren’t many options,” she said. “So you’ll be paying a couple thousand dollars for private preschool, and it’s hard to find a place where you’re comfortable.”

She ended up staying home with her eldest son instead of sending him to pre-K.

When Pre-K 4 SA launched, however, she sent her two younger children through the program. It boasts highly educated teachers, and Otero has been thrilled with the quality of education her kids have received. She points to a report that says Pre-K 4 SA kids scored better on state tests than children who didn’t go to public preschool. On the sliding scale, her family pays less than $300 a month for a pre-K program that includes breakfast and snacks and has an early drop-off option and an after-school option for working parents.  

Finding other preschool solutions

Some parents are forced to get creative and find other ways to send their kids to pre-K. When Chris Balthrop and her family moved into a neighborhood near downtown San Antonio, her realtor warned her about the quality of nearby public schools.

They were encouraged to look into private options as one of her children approached pre-K. But Balthrop and her husband were teachers and preferred public school, and they learned that a small public school in their neighborhood was improving and trying to increase attendance. They even received a flyer in the mail from the school encouraging nearby parents to send their kids there, including for pre-K.

“We met who would be the new principal and a school board member from the area, and he said he hoped we’d get the word out about the school,” Balthrop says. “But we couldn’t go for pre-K, because we didn’t qualify.”

She began worrying that expensive private school might be the only option, but as a last resort, Balthrop reached out to the school’s superintendent and proposed a tuition-based option that would allow families like hers who didn’t qualify for a free option to pay to attend public pre-K. Much to her surprise, the school agreed to provide all-day preschool for $500 a month, which Balthrop said was far more affordable than day care or private preschool. It was a success, and other schools in the district are now considering this program.

The future of preschool

As time goes on, an increasing number of free or affordable programs are expected to become available. According to the NIEER report, “A positive trend is that the number of pre-K programs is growing in U.S. cities, and much of this growth is fueled by cities’ willingness to create new, local funding streams to establish and sustain the programs.”

If your family can’t afford private preschool and doesn’t have any free options but you want to provide an experience closer to preschool, Twigg recommends you:

  • Look online for homeschooling ideas for either you or a caretaker to implement

  • Contact the school district your child will potentially attend to ask about supplemental resources, like part-time programs, or other agencies

  • Check your local public library for ideas on how to provide preschool-like support

  • Start a playgroup with other like-minded parents

Also, don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for more options. Twigg says parents like Balthrop are leading the way and that grassroots efforts by parents demanding better access to free pre-K are important.

“We’re a developed country, and there are other countries around the world that are surpassing us, that are less economically balanced and powerful, and this is their priority,” she says. “So it’s a matter of making it a priority. Advocacy from parents and teachers and stories like this — they are so important to get the word out to make things happen. We have to rally the troops.”

Read next: Child care assistance programs by state

School & education Salary & pay: Child care providers Child care Preschool
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Angela Vasconcellos

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, I had the pleasure of learning the importance of southern hospitality and deep rooted relationships. After a move to Austin, Texas in 1985, my husband and I e....

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