Children's Health

Back to School Survival Guide

No matter how much you and your family wish the days would stop flying by, the time for school bells and backpacks is rapidly approaching. Hopefully you and your child are well-rested and ready for another great school year. There are many things you need to do to help your child start her year off right. Use these innovative tips to help you complete even the most commonplace tasks more efficiently and thoroughly.

Tackle the Supply List This seems like an obvious thing to do but, given the number of supplies on each child's list, it can be an overwhelming task. Most schools send home the supply list weeks before school starts so that your child has everything he needs and hits the ground running when the doors open on the first day of school. One reason lists go home early is that many teachers like to guide their class to set up notebooks, folders, and binders the same way so students can easily organize material during the first few days of school. The best way to tackle your child's supply list is to do it in two trips. While this may seem like it makes the task more complicated, each trip has a specific goal and will cut down the time spent in the store. For the first trip, have a family member or babysitter stay with your children while you head out alone. This allows you to get the basics, such as pencils, pens, binders, art supplies, and paper without little voices behind you asking numerous times "Can I get this pencil, too?" Although shopping alone will get the task done quickly, children typically get excited about picking out new supplies, which is why you will make a second trip. Encourage your child's excitement about school by specifying two or three items he will be allowed to choose. These can be more personal items, such as backpacks, pencil cases, or folders. Separating the supply list into two separate trips with clear goals allows you to check items off your list quickly and efficiently while still allowing your child to be part of the process.

Attack the Pile of PaperworkYou likely have a mound of paperwork sitting in your house that needs to be completed by the first day of school. This may include medical forms, parent teacher organization materials, or activity registration forms. Allot a block of undisturbed time, perhaps after your child is asleep, to get through all the paperwork in one sitting. You may need to work on one child's pile of paperwork each night to keep it organized. Once you have completed the paperwork, put it in the appropriate place, i.e. the mail or your child's school folder. Completing the whole process of paperwork at one time, including the delivery of items, frees you from having the clutter hanging over your head.

Set Your Alarm If you and your family have been enjoying the lazy days of summer by sleeping late, it's time to break out the alarm clock. Morning can be a hectic time and getting sleepy students up and ready for school can be challenging. Start waking your child at the same time you will be waking him for school about a week before the first day. Start the morning schedule of eating breakfast, getting dressed, and brushing teeth, even if you don't have anywhere to go. Children adapt quickly so they will get back in the swing of the morning routine and be ready to go on the first day of school. Also, remember that bedtime is crucial to the success of the morning schedule. A well-rested child is easier to guide and is much more compliant.

Organize Your Calendar Organizing your calendar is an inexpensive and extremely effective way to maintain order and structure throughout the activity-packed school year. Have a family calendar on which all events are kept and keep it in a central location, such as the kitchen or family room. Encourage your child to reference the calendar each night to check for upcoming activities. For desk or hanging calendars, use colored pencils or erasable pens and assign one color to each member of your family. For calendars on your computer, cell phone, or PDA, use different color fonts. Assigning different colors keeps everyone's activities clear and organized. It is also easy to read as you run by it on your way out the door! When you get hard copies of football schedules, karate lessons, or important school work, immediately put it on the calendar. You will spend less time looking for these important details and more time with your family.

Clean up! Take some time to clean out frequently used spaces in the house, such as the kitchen, bathroom, and family rooms. Discard old or broken toys, cluttered decorative items, or unnecessary papers. If you have time, tackle your children's closets and re-evaluate what clothing you will need to buy for the upcoming school year. Starting the year with a clean and organized space gives everyone a fresh perspective. It also allows you to take stock of items you already have and could save you money by avoiding buying duplicates.

Though summer is drawing to an end, there is still time for relaxing and regrouping. To celebrate the end of summer, invite some of your child's friends and their parents over to toast some marshmallows or play a game in the backyard. Starting the year off connected to peers will help your child feel confident as he enters a new classroom. It also helps you stay connected with the parents of the children your son or daughter will be spending time with this school year.

Speak with your child about the upcoming year. Express your expectations and hopes and ask for her thoughts. She may be feeling nervous about entering a new school or new class or she may have questions about what her schedule will look like. As always, open and honest communication makes your child feel safe and confident, both factors that will positively impact her school year.

The important thing to remember is that back to school does not mean back to stress. Schedule down time for you and your children, especially at the beginning of the year, when schedules are likely jam-packed. You may need to be more creative and flexible about your break times but ensuring your family has a break is ensuring they have the energy to succeed throughout the school year.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Jennifer is an educational consultant who works with families and educators to establish healthy and productive routines in the home and school. Adapting behavior management techniques she implemented for years as a special educator, she helps parents and teachers adopt these tools to fit their unique needs and priorities. Jennifer also speaks to parent and education groups on current topics in education and children's health. Visit