No matter how many back-to-school tips you’ve gathered over the years, the season somehow always manages to be stressful and a little bit hectic, right? “Transitions can be tough for kids,” says Kristen Race, PhD, author of Mindful Parenting. “Even when they are excited about going to school, it is often mixed with feelings of angst about how they will fit in socially and academically. Plus, kids are often having to shift from the lazy, slow-moving summer morning to a get-up-and-get-out pace which can feel unsettling.”
Since the first day of school is just around the corner, we tapped some clever moms and parenting pros to share their best tips back-to-school tips to help make your kids’ summer-to-school transition as smooth as possible. These brilliant ideas—from shopping tips to routine game-changers to genius hacks—will help the crew earn an A+ this semester and beyond.
1. Hold a Family Meeting
Your routines and standards may have loosened over the summer, so it’s a good idea discuss with your kids how that will change for the school year, says Julie Ross, executive director of Parenting Horizons. “Bedtime is often moved to an earlier time during the school year. Ask your kids what will help them accomplish this change. Do they need blackout shades? Time within the routine to read and get sleepy?” says Ross. Other topics on the discussion table can be homework schedule and screen time.
2. Establish Connections
“Help your kids set up a play date with other children who will be in their class. That can ease some of that ‘Who will I sit with at lunch? anxiety and generate excitement about the new year,” says Kristen Race, PhD, author of Mindful Parenting. Also, check if your school hosts any events where your child will have an opportunity to meet their teacher.
3. Save on School Supplies
First, do a sweep of the house to see what essentials may be hiding in a junk drawer or the back of the closet. Then make a list of everything you still need and swing by The Dollar Store for cheap school supplies, suggests Kumiko Love, founder of finance blog The Budget Mom. “A 120-sheet notebook costs $2 compared to $4.20 each for a similar product elsewhere,” says Love. “I’ve seen price markups at big-box stores that range anywhere between 30 to 50%.”
4. Stock Up Together
Shopping for supplies solo may be faster, but taking your kids along is the better bet. They’ll be more excited about using the cool stuff they get to pick out, says Marcella Moran, PhD, coauthor of Organizing the Disorganized Child. And that’s incentive to keep it all organized.
5. Create a Visual Schedule
“Children are more likely to thrive, be independent, and struggle less when they know what’s expected of them,” says Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D., a NY-based certified school psychologist and adjunct professor. That’s why she recommends making a weekly schedule that uses pictures, not just words. “A visual schedule helps children easily understand and manage the daily events in their own lives,” says Zeltser. DIY how-to: Attach a drawing or photo of each scheduled activity on an index card, laminate the card, and apply a Velcro sticker. Then add these to a weekly chart where you can post these cards each day.
6. Designate an Activity-Free Day
“If you’ve got multiple kids, the activity schedule can be challenging. In my house, we’ve found it helpful to double up on some days, and then have one day with nothing,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. “If a child has a challenging long-term homework project, that’s a good night to focus on it. It can be a good evening for more spontaneous family adventures, or just to relax if that’s what people need. Plus if something gets canceled some other night, you have a spot to reschedule it. Slack makes everything feel more doable!”
7. Snag a Hanging Outfit Organizer
Jenny Reimold, lifestyle expert and mom of seven, has had her share of “outfit power battles” before school. “We all don’t coincidentally have budding fashionistas but rather have growing children asserting their independence,” she says. “Allow your child to pick out their clothing for the week on Sunday, and then place each outfit into the spot for the correct day. This gives them a sense of control and helps ease the pain of a stressful morning routine.”
8. Upgrade Your Kid’s Backpack
You don’t need to buy a new backpack every year. Get crafty by ironing on colorful patterned patches inside their bag for extra storage. Or add reflective tape with animal and glitter designs to the side to make the bag feel brand new — and safe!
9. Wait for the athletic sales.
Trae Bodge, Woman’s Day’s financial expert, says that if last year’s trends hold, there will be plenty of sales on fitness shoes and clothes in stores like Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Nike, REI, and Adidas.
10. Create a mobile homework station.
Make school projects easier this year by creating a station they can go to for all their essentials: writing utensils, scissors, glue, you name it. This will keep your kids organized and you in the know when items are out of stock.
11. Hold Off on Tech Gear
If you promised the little one an iPad for this school year, they’re going to have to wait a little longer. According to Bodge, the best deals will come after Apple launches their newest devices in September.
12. Create a Command Center.
Eliminate the stress this year by establishing a one-stop-shop command center. The kids can clip on permission slips that need to be signed and you can keep track of everyone’s soccer games and ballet lessons. It’s a win-win!
13. Rearrange Their Closet
An organized closet cuts down on what-to-wear dilemmas, says Laura Leist, author of Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life. Donate outgrown clothes and transform the newly streamlined closet with hanging organizers and clearly labeled shelves.
14. Sign Up For After-School Activities
Whether it’s sports or ballet, these programs will keep your kids active with something to do after school.
15. Pack Their Bag the Night Before
Avoid forgetting things during the morning rush by telling your child to pack their sports bags and backpacks before bedtime.