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Back-to-school checklist: getting ready

11 January, 2016
Back to school Thumb

Going from long, lazy summer days back to the rigours of school can be bumpy for both children and parents. The kids’ heads are still in the pool and at the beach and, as for Mum, the mind frazzles at the mere thought of getting stuck back into the routine of packed lunches and early morning wake up calls. Very few relish the start of a new school year, but guess what - it’s just around the corner! 

No one likes a last minute rush, and starting a new year with unresolved issues will likely result in the issues hanging around all year. Best to get organised, get talking with the kids, and get excited about another year back at school! 

First day jitters

Whether your child is entering kindergarten, starting a new school, or simply moving on to their next year group, first day jitters are common. A first day is a big milestone in your child’s life, and how they adapt may determine how they adapt to other “firsts” in life. 

According to Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Emory University, kids who are fearful early on may struggle to transition in other aspects of life. The more you nurture them and the more you talk to them about their fears, the better they will adapt come day one. 

Every little positive experience can help when adapting to “firsts”, and positive experiences can include:

  • Meeting the teacher
  • Talking to your child about what they can expect from their year
  • Taking a trial run of pickup and drop off
  • Talking to them about how they might be a little nervous to start with, and letting them know it’s okay to talk about it. 

For high school students, returning to school can carry particularly high levels of anxiety. Common fears that teens face include: 

  • Making new friends
  • Facing bullies
  • Feeling ‘uncool’
  • Finding someone to sit with at lunch or on the bus
  • Fitting in
  • Understanding schoolwork
  • Getting a bad teacher
  • Dating issues
  • Pressure to perform academically. 

Using this list as a guide, talk to your teenager about any fears they may be having, and talk to them about your own fears that you used to have. Examine worse-case scenarios and develop appropriate responses to situations they might face. While doing so, talk about the good things that could happen to encourage positive thinking. 

Back to school 2Life changes: Ask open-ended questions to give your child the space to figure out their own worries. Ask “what makes you feel that way?” and see where the conversation leads.

Teacher fears: Remind your child that one person’s dreaded teacher could be another one’s favourite, and encourage them to be open-minded. Also explain that having a teacher you dislike can be a good thing - it teaches you to deal with people you find difficult. 

Social worries:If you have a rough idea of the class list, try to organise a play date or two before school goes back. You might even consider throwing an ‘end-of-summer’ party to boost self-esteem.

Academic concerns: Do some research into the curriculum your child is likely to be given, and remind them that you will be there to offer support when needed.

School attitude

Children have an endless appetite for finding patterns to make sense of their ever-changing and expanding world. They quickly learn to read your body language, tone and mood, as you are your child’s most influential teacher.

If you are apprehensive about your child returning to or starting school, your child will pick up on those feelings. Sometimes addressing your child’s attitude is actually a case of addressing your own. Be conscious your facial expressions, body language and words convey a positive message and never put your own disdain or school nerves on your child.


One to two weeks before school starts back, try slowing the holidays down and implement a more structured routine. Being prepared for term-time routine will make mornings and bedtimes far easier to handle. You might also consider adding some gentle homework or organised activities into that routine.

School hub

A school hub in the home is a great place where school bags, library bags and equipment can be easily accessed, timetables and schedules can be easily seen and where homework can be done. Buy a large pump pack of sunscreen and keep it in here to apply each morning.;

Before and after-school plans

Arrange childcare or before- and after-school activities and ensure your child knows where to go each school day. If your child is young and only getting the bus on some days, write the days they’ll be using it on the back of their bus pass. If your child is going straight to an extracurricular activity, make note of it somewhere they will easily see. (Keep a copy for yourself too as a handy reminder!)


Ask your kids what baked goods they like to have in their lunchbox, and bake enough freezable items to last at least a few weeks. You will need a good selection of airtight containers and ziplock bags to keep them fresh, yummy and healthy. Take note of any food policies your child’s school may have in place, such as banning students from bringing any foods containing nuts to school.

Ideas for lunchboxes include:

  • Muffins
  • Biscuits
  • Cakes
  • Slices
  • Mini quiches
  • Cheesymite scrolls
  • Sausage rolls
  • Pikelets
  • Scones.

If you have the freezer space, you might also consider creating some after-school snacks, such as:

  • Frozen fruit
  • English muffin pizzas
  • Soup
  • Veggie fritters
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Mini pies.


Check that uniforms still fit and that your children have everything they need. As well as uniform, you will need:

  • Well-fitting, polished leather shoes
  • At least five pairs of socks
  • Well-fitting hat that offers shade for the whole face
  • Labels for all items.

Bag and accessories

If your child’s bag is in good condition, they may be able to get away with the same bag as the year before. Check all pockets, zippers and tags to view its condition. 

If using the same lunchbox, make sure it has been washed and well aired and check over seals to make sure nothing leaks. Do the same for a drink bottle. 

School supplies

Some schools issue stationery lists at the end of the last term, others at the beginning of the school year. If you already have a list, make the most of back-to-school sales and shop early. Even without a list, it’s worthwhile purchasing standard items such as:

Back to school 1

  • Notebooks
  • Ruler
  • Rubber
  • Glue stick
  • Pencil case
  • Calculator
  • Sharpener
  • Lead pencils
  • Coloured pencils
  • Scissors
  • Highlighters.  

Bonus tips

The more proactive you are in getting organised, the better the transition into term-time will be. Top tips for being proactive are: 

  1. Reserve a day

    When booking your summer holiday days from work, be sure to add a day close to the start of school and use it to get the house in order, set up a school hub, and finish off any last-minute school needs. If you can, arrange for the kids to have a playdate elsewhere so you can concentrate on getting the job done.

  2. Slowly adjust bedtimes

    The week before school goes back, bump bedtime forward by five minutes at night and wake kids five minutes earlier in the morning. By the time school starts, they’ll be used to the appropriate sleeping pattern.

  3. Go digital

    Take advantage of today’s technology and add important dates to your calendar. Be sure it syncs with all your devices so that everyone can see the same schedule.

  4. Delegate

    It’s easy as a parent to try to do everything, but it’s important to encourage kids to do things for themselves. Put the kids in charge of unpacking lunchboxes, organising their backpacks and putting their things away.

  5. Organise yourself

    Organising yourself the night before, such as selecting your clothes, packing your lunch and preparing your paperwork, will leave you with less to do in the morning. Less to do means less stress.

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