Your week-by-week guide to preparing for back to school


Photo by Carmen Cheung.
Styling by Chad Burton.

Don’t let the hot, humid weather lull you into a sense of security. The first day of school is on its way, and in some stores, gear is already selling out! (Not to stress you out or anything.) But don’t be caught scrambling. Here’s your week-by-week guide to getting your kids ready to go back to the classroom.

Three weeks before school

Do a clothing cull: Figure out what you need for back-to-school clothes by sorting through your kids’ dressers and closets to see what still fits and what you’re missing. Then declutter and donate the rest.

Put an order in: Online shopping is super convenient, but it can take time for the items to arrive—so don’t leave it until the last minute. Consider this your first stage of back-to-school shopping, focusing on backpacks, lunch bags, water bottles, school supplies and clothing basics. While you’re online, shop for some personalized labels: Order enough for each water bottle and lunch container you plan to send to school, labels for indoor and outdoor shoes, as well as rain and winter boots, and a clothing stamp for young kids who take extra clothes to school.

Health check: Kids should see an optometrist before they start kindergarten, so if your kid hasn’t yet—or if it’s been a year since their last exam—now is the time to make that appointment. Also, make sure they’re up to date on school-required vaccines. Immunization schedules vary slightly by province; if you’re unsure, check with your doctor to find out if they’re due for any shots.

Start a schedule: If you’ve been pretty relaxed about keeping a detailed family calendar over the summer, that stops now, because kids’ activities ramp up really quickly in September. So pull out the calendar and populate it with fall classes, practices and events. No matter what kind of organizational tool your family prefers—whiteboard, chalkboard or all digital—now’s the time to set it up.

Two weeks before school

Dad and son shopping for school supplies
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Command central: The onslaught of library books, class calendars and field trip forms starts fast and furious, and the only way to properly deal with it is by being prepared. Some families use a corkboard organizer with baskets hung on the wall. Lindsay Whisen, owner of Ease Up organizing company, hides her command centre in a section of her sideboard. Lorelei Eccleston, a mom of five and a school principal in Toronto, has another idea for keeping track of things: “I’ve always kept a basket by the front door for the kids so they can put their forms in there, on their way into the house.”

Head to the mall: Certain things, like shoes, really need to be tried on, so make a day out of it by taking a shopping trip. Let your kid pick out a few clothing items to ramp up the back-to-school excitement and bring a list of the school supplies you weren’t able to get online.

Drop hints: Summer seems so short, and we don’t want to ruin the magic, but kids need time to process change, says Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist in Toronto. “As you go about your other back-to-school prep, chat about what’s going to be great about school this year or what they’d like to do differently.” But stay upbeat—there’s no need to freak them out about the earlier bedtime, busier schedule and impending homework load.

Return to routine: Kids quickly get used to loose schedules and later nights over the summer. Getting back on track will be more challenging. Kolari suggests inching kids’ bedtimes back about 15 minutes a night over several nights (until you get to your desired hour). Then, start practising waking up on time and getting dressed. If possible, plan your return from summer trips with enough time to get settled.

One week before school

Organized entry: You need a place for all your kid’s school gear to live, says Whisen. Give every kid their own bucket or basket to keep their sneakers contained. (Rain boots that don’t fit could be lined up in the front hall closet, if you have one.) Organize hooks or closet hangers within reach of each family member, and give backpacks a home on a shelf, in a bin or on a hook. This way, nothing will be on the floor.

Make a homework spot: To get kids off on a good foot with homework, create a special station. This could mean cleaning the summer clutter off your kid’s desk, or if they do work at the kitchen table, choosing a nice basket to keep pencils, workbooks and other supplies in one place.

Do a dry run: Whether your kid is going to school for the first time or is the big kid on campus, all students can use a refresher on their route to school, says Eccleston. Walk, bike or drive to school or the bus stop to reacquaint kids with the routine. While you’re there, encourage kids to play on the equipment and explore the yard so they’ll feel more comfortable on their first day back.

Stock up: While you’ll need to jet out for some last-minute groceries on the busy weekend before school, you probably don’t want to spend hours in line at Costco. First, purge expired goods and then fill your fridge and pantry with meal and snack items.

The weekend before school

Make a lunch menu: “Yay, I get to make school lunches again!” said no parent ever. To simplify the task, create a list of options for mains, sides and snacks that you can rotate through week after week. (See “No sandwiches? No sweat,” right.) Keep it in your phone, on the fridge or in a recipe binder for easy reference.

Celebrate going back to school: Marking the end of summer teaches children to have reverence for the passing of time and gives them a chance to reflect on some of the highlights of their vacation, says Kolari. You could do a picnic lunch and a dip at a local beach, grab ice cream cones at a favourite neighbourhood shop or light sparklers in your backyard. “Talk about what they loved about the summer and what their goals are for the upcoming school year,” she says.

Formulate a first-day plan: Talk with your family about who is driving whom, who’s on after-school pickup duty and whether the kids need after-school care right out of the gate. You may also want to have some easy meals ready to go in the fridge to help you through breakfast and dinner on what’s sure to be a whirlwind day.

The night before school

Pack the backpacks: Get your kids to help you organize their school supplies and put them in their backpacks. Make sure you’ve labelled the indoor shoes, notebooks, water bottles and everything else required for the first day.

Finalize their wardrobe selections: Remember that first day of school outfit you bought? Lay it all out, right down to socks and underwear. Make sure shoes are in their spots at the door and check the forecast for any rain or unseasonal weather, and plan accordingly.

Early to bed: The excitement of the night before school can make it hard to get to bed on time, but it’s really important for kids to be rested for the big day. Tire them out with exercise and outdoor time, then start the nighttime routine a few minutes early, and be prepared for tears, non-stop questions and other signs of the back-to-school jitters.

Set your alarm: You may want to get to bed extra early yourself—and wake up a bit earlier than usual, too. Allow time for first-day photos, wardrobe malfunctions and at least a few meltdowns.

Read more:
30 back-to-school hacks for the best year ever
5 ways to transition your kid’s wardrobe from summer to fall

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