Back-to-school is just on the horizon and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the things we need to contend with: the new routines, stuff to buy and the massive emotional change itself. Here’s a checklist to help you and your family ease into this exciting new time.
Food: What to pack?
If your child is transitioning into full day this year, congratulations! That’s a huge milestone. Not only does it mean she’s is that much closer to independence, but it also means you’ve got to be more creative than ever in the lunch department. Whether she’s eating her lunch at home, in a loud lunchroom, or right in the classroom, the nutritious opportunity that is lunch should not be wasted.
Stock up on some BPA-free containers and fill them up with carrots, celery sticks, cucumbers and peanut-free dips. Homemade muffins, wraps, simple sandwiches and cut-up fruit, thermoses filled with leftovers all make easy, yummy, nutritious lunches for kids.
My personal favourite trick, which has worked brilliantly at camp this summer, is smoothies! Try some of our smoothie recipes, or have fun creating your own, and ask your children to sprinkle in the cinnamon, pour in the fruit and test it out. And don’t be afraid to add spinach, romaine lettuce or cucumber — all of which hide really well. You’ll get a good two to three servings of fruits and vegetables into your kids through delicious smoothies. Remind them to give it a good shake before they drink — and you may want to draw an arrow on the lid so they know which way to twist it open.
In addition to cute lunch boxes, funky Thermoses, water bottles and BPA-free lunch containers, if your kids are eating lunch away from home, you’ll need some sticky notes or mini cards. Your kids will feel the love when they open their lunch boxes to find sweet notes from Mom and Dad.
Gear: Clothes, backpacks & supplies
Time to hit the malls for back-to-school clothes your kids will feel confident wearing, and school supplies they’ll enjoy putting to use. As school approaches the malls are going to become increasingly packed, so get on this as soon as possible. Lots of stores have back-to-school sales on already, so pack up your coupons and get shopping.
For little ones going into junior kindergarten, make sure they have a big backpack. Those little preschool packs aren’t going to cut it in kindergarten because they’ll now be coming home with library books and folders filled with teachers’ notes keeping you posted on the goings-on in the classroom. School bags also have to be big enough to accommodate gym shoes, snack and, later in the year, winter gear.
Pens, pencils, binders, oh my! Shopping for school supplies is fun with all the great gadgets and funky styles on the market. Make an event out of it with your kids, and be sure to shop in bulk if you have more than one school ager.
Emotions: How to prepare the family for change
Preparing yourself and your children emotionally for back-to-school may be your biggest challenge, but we’re here to make it easy and less overwhelming for all, with the help of parenting expert Alyson Schafer. Here are her fail-proof tips on getting ready for the big transition:
• Don’t start talking it up too early — one or two weeks before is usually fine.
• If it’s a new school, go tour the grounds and play on the playground to familiarize.
• If your kids are anxious, arrange a few playdates with kids in their class so they can reconnect in advance.
• Validate and normalize their fears, but never pity or feel sorry for them because that’s actually a vote of non-confidence. They look to you and your attitude to judge how fearful they should be, and if you are calm, they are more likely to believe they will manage just fine.
• Don’t use school commencing as a way of adding pressure about behaviour changes or habits ― i.e., needing to finish potty training or to stop nail-biting because now school is starting and what will all the other kids think.
• If your kids are nervous, remind them of other times they were nervous about the unknown but it turned out fine. Remind them of stories of past success so you have evidence of their strengths to remind them of.
• If there are any separation worries, (especially if there is baby at home they may feel jealous of) think of some special things together that you and your older child could do together to make up for the time away at school — a special one-on-one tradition.
• “Happy snappy good-bye” for first day. Avoid prolonging the inevitable. The sooner you say good-bye, the sooner your child will learn to adjust to her new surroundings on her own.
Routine: Get it started now
The shift in routine is going to be the most challenging and noticeable change for your children. Be prepared for breakouts, canker sores, extra naughty behaviour and trips to your bedroom at 2 a.m. for the first week or so. Transitions are scary, and shifts in routine trigger uncertainty, confusion and anxiety in children.
So definitely make the most out of the final days of summer, but try to get the kids to bed earlier if you can. And start hustling them to the breakfast table if you can, so they can ease into the habit of getting dressed and ready to go. Sticking to regular mealtimes in general is an effective strategy for giving your kids a soothing sense of regularity during this uncertain time.
Consider doing the school run after breakfast a few days before school starts. Take the opportunity to play in the schoolyard, too, so you can familiarize your kids with school surroundings, and hopefully bump into some school friends.
Dancing? Karate? Art class? Hockey? Swimming? If you haven’t already started thinking about after-school programs for your children, you’re not alone, but get to it. These programs fill up fast, so to get the class you want, it’s imperative that you start making those phone calls as soon as possible.
Find out where your child’s friends are going, talk to your neighbours, your friends, check out your local library and community centre. And be sure you leave some days open for playdates if you can. Most after-school programs don’t begin until the second or third week of school, but you’ll still want to prepare ahead of time by buying the gear you need — tap shoes, skates, paintbrushes.
After-school care needs to be addressed as soon as possible if you haven’t dealt with it already. If you have child care in place, pay your childcare service a call to make sure they have all the materials they need: photocopy of birth certificate, emergency contact numbers, allergy medications, extra clothes, or any other information they request or you wish to offer. If your child care service involves a nanny, take your nanny on a school run before dinner with the kids and go through the school pickup routine, what to pack in your children’s backpacks, after-school snacks, program locations and times and so forth.