Back to School Tips for Kids of All Ages

Your kids may already be headed back to school, depending on where you live. But if not, back to school is just around the corner. The end of summer is full of last grabs at fun and vacation but also a lot of preparation. There are back-to-school supply lists, clothes shopping, and new schedules to consider. Additionally, some kids face back-to-school anxiety.

Even if your kids love school, transitioning back into a school routine is often challenging. Whether your kid is a preschooler heading off to big kid school for the first time, a fourth grader who is a pro at the back-to-school routine, or a toddler entering child care for the first time, these back-to-school tips work for kids of all ages!

Routine

If you read any back-to-school tips or articles, routine is probably at the top of most. Routine is essential for kids of all ages; it helps adults, too! A routine provides the expectations and structure that kids need. When children know what to expect and what is expected of them, there is less anxiety. Routine decreases stress and last-minute hustling to get ready.

There is no golden rule for your routine, but it should work for you and your family. Likewise, the routine doesn’t have to be so disciplined that there is no room for changes because some days, the unexpected happens. But establishing a back-to-school routine for mornings, afternoons/evenings makes everyone’s day smoother.

Your family should have a routine for the morning and after school. An afterschool schedule can include snacks, electronic time, playtime, homework time,  sports practice or other afterschool activities, dinner, and bedtime routines.

If the routine has to change, because some days it will, clearly communicate those changes to your children so they know what to expect. For example, if grandma is picking them up from school and not mom, they need to know this. Unexpected changes in the routine, especially for younger kids, can cause tantrums and anxiety.

Picture Schedules

If your child has ADHD, autism, or struggles with time management, create a visual schedule; this style of schedule is beneficial for toddlers and preschoolers who don’t read and neurodivergent children and teens. There are many types of visual schedules; some use real photos, and others use clip art. Some visual schedules have clocks next to each activity; others are simply a timeline of the order of events. The best visual schedules are laminated and use velcro to change things when the schedule needs to change.

No Electronics Before Bed

Our brains need time to slow down and settle before bed. We’ve all read about the effects of blue light and screen time on brain activity and the ability to sleep; for children, turning off electronics before bed is especially important. Set aside time for tablet time, computers, and Kneebouncer games after school and shut off electronics at least 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime.

man in black shirt using computer

One way to help affect this transition is to plan games or playtime before starting the bedtime routine. My youngest and I often play a board game or do a seek-and-find book like Where’s Waldo. Some nights, he goes into his room to play with his LEGOs or other toys. If you’ve never instituted a no-electronic policy before, expect pushback initially. However, once it becomes routine and your child knows you won’t give in, they’ll eventually stop fighting it.

If you have older kids who are having trouble with this idea, you can remove all electronics from the bedroom and create a central docking area for phones and tablets at night. Depending on your phone and service provider, you can even set time limits on your child’s device or turn off what apps they can access after a specific time of day.

Prep the Night Before

Have your child prep their school things the night before. They can pick out their clothes, pack their lunch or snacks, and ensure their backpack is ready to walk out the door. If your son is like my youngest, he never knows where his shoes are, so have a designated place for shoes, backpacks, lunch boxes, etc.

flat lay photography of blue backpack beside book and silver MacBook

Teach children young to be responsible for their belongings. Preschoolers can help pack their snacks, a fourth grader can pack their lunch, and a middle schooler can do their laundry if they need that special shirt for school tomorrow. My kids have had school-issued Chromebooks since the COVID-19 pandemic. They are responsible for ensuring it is charged every night for school the next day. It is the same with my 6th grader’s phone. If he wants it charged, he has to do it himself.

Parents should also get in the habit of prepping their things the night before. While teaching, I chose my clothes and packed my lunch the night before; it always helped! The more prepared everyone is, the less stress the morning will bring!

Set Expectations and Promote Independence

Parents should set expectations for their child’s behavior and responsibilities regarding school and create opportunities for independence. Setting expectations goes hand in hand with establishing a routine and teaching your child to prepare their belongings. Your expectations should be based on your individual child and their developmental level and age.

Some parents expect straight As. In my house, grades are less critical than expecting my child to do their best. If my child earns a C, but I know that they tried their best, then I am OK with that C. If they earned a C because they didn’t hand in their assignments or study, that’s a different story. And even though I don’t put a lot of pressure on grades, my youngest made the honor roll all last year, and my eldest made it two out of four quarters.

Free African American man sitting at table with cup of coffee and talking to daughter browsing cellphone Stock Photo

Expectations also include getting up and getting to school on time, completing their homework, and being kind and respectful at school. You will have to decide what the expectations are for your child. But remember that what you expect from one child may differ from your other child. For example, I can’t expect my nine-year-old with ADHD to complete his homework without reminders and structured homework time. In contrast, my twelve-year-old can play on his computer for an hour and go outside and play baseball for an hour, and he’ll complete his homework before bed, usually without a reminder.

Expect Respect

Please send your child to school with the expectation that they will respect their teachers, peers, and other school employees. This doesn’t mean your child should not advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy is important. For example, if they feel they received an unfair grade, they are not receiving services outlined by their 504 or IEP, or they received an unwarranted punishment. But there is a respectful way to disagree.

While your child may never need to know the details of the War of 1812 or use physics in adulthood, learning to follow the rules, complete assignments on time, and respect others are essential life skills.

Expect respect by demonstrating it. If your child comes home complaining about a teacher, administrator, or classmate, do not automatically assume everything your child says is 100% factual. There are two sides to every story. Support your child, validate their feelings, and then reach out to the school or teacher to respectfully discuss the issue. If your children see you disrespecting teachers or having a “so what?” attitude about school and assignments, they will develop the same attitude.

Be Involved

When parents are involved with their children’s schooling, kids do better. Children whose parents take an interest in their education often perform better academically, have more confidence, and have better social-emotional development. Taking an interest doesn’t mean you have to sign up for every class party and field trip. It doesn’t mean you have to hound your kid to complete assignments or hover over them constantly. It simply means showing you care about their actions and learning and guiding them as needed.

If your child has an online portal for assignments, log in together and look things over. Read teacher emails and respond. Attend parent-teacher conferences; if scheduling is an issue, many teachers are willing to conduct conferences virtually or over the phone. Offer to help your child with assignments if they seem to be struggling, but don’t do it for them, and don’t push the issue. Sometimes, kids need to struggle and even fail to learn.

Take Away

Attending school is required, and education is a right we grant our children. However, school refusal is a real issue for some families. If your child struggles with school refusal, take action early and do your best to overcome their resistance and anxiety.

You know your child best. So you know what steps are needed in their routine and how to foster their excitement or at least acceptance of school. Whether we like it or not, school is essential to our child’s developmental process. It is how they learn critical social skills like being part of a community and respecting those around them. School is how children learn responsibility and how to follow through on expectations. From toddlers to high schoolers, if you’re facing back-to-school for the start of the year or even just after winter or spring break, these back-to-school tips will help you and your child have a successful school experience year-round!

August 16, 2023, by L. Elizabeth Forry

written by

L. Elizabeth Forry 

L. Elizabeth Forry is an Early Childhood Educator with fifteen years of classroom teaching experience. She earned a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education from The University of North Dakota and has a Bachelor of Arts in English and one in Music from Lebanon Valley College. She has taught children in Japan, Washington D.C., Chicago, and suburban Maryland. She is trained as a reading therapist, has a TEFL certification, and has done extensive work with children regarding mental health, social-emotional development, gender development. She has written curriculum for children and educators and has led training sessions for parents and educators on various topics on early childhood development. She is the mother of two boys and resides outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

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