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Back-to-school checklist: A guide to make the transition easier

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Summer is long—until the first day of school is just a few weeks away, and then it suddenly feels way too short.

Starting a new school year can make a lot of students anxious, which is why it’s best to do what you can ahead of time to help ease the transition. Use this back-to-school checklist to guide you as your family shifts its focus back to school.

Start adjusting your sleep schedule a few weeks early

Whether you’re starting first grade or your 20th college semester, we all need adequate sleep to learn. Kids and teens need 8–12 hours of sleep per night, and if you’ve gotten into the groove of late bedtimes and late wake-up calls over the summer, switching to a school schedule cold turkey can be brutal.

To make that first week back less exhausting, start shifting bedtimes gradually to help your kids adjust to a new sleep schedule and to get their circadian rhythms on track for the school year. Have them go to bed 5–10 minutes earlier each night and get up a little earlier each day too.

This is also a good time to establish good sleep habits your family may have neglected during the summer. This includes turning screens off at least a few hours before going to bed and cutting back on caffeine. Even better, starting a healthy sleep routine before school starts will help your kids start the school year off strong.

Scope out classrooms, lockers, and teachers ahead of time

Dreams about not being able to find a classroom or locker are pretty common around this time of year. Which is understandable, because a lot of what makes the start of a new school year so stressful is the long list of unknowns: new teachers, new classmates, new locker, new routine, sometimes even a new school and new peers.

Many schools offer back-to-school orientations or a chance to meet teachers before school starts. Take advantage of any opportunity you have to track down everything your students will need to know, especially the logistical things like where their classes are and how they will get to and from school. Simply knowing where to go on the first day can ease a lot of fears kids may have about starting a new school year. If possible, introduce your kids to their teachers too so they’ll at least have a familiar face to greet them on their first day.

Re-prioritize nutrition

Eating nutritious meals and snacks is a whole new ball game once school starts. Whether your kids are attending school at home or in a classroom, meal times—especially breakfast and lunch—will need to be much more structured to accommodate school schedules. (For some kids, this might mean eating meals more quickly than they’re used to, so make sure they are aware of the time constraints coming up.)

Use this schedule change as an opportunity to make sure your kids are eating nutritious meals. Good nutrition is just as important as good sleep for learning. It helps us feel our best, keep our energy levels stable, and feed our brains with the nutrients it needs to help us thrive.

Need some inspiration? Here are a few ways to make sure you’re packing in the nutrition:

  • If you’re short on time in the mornings, try a low-carb, nutritious meal-replacement shake a few days a week to help you and your kids get the vitamins and minerals you need on the go.

  • Prep healthy meals ahead of time so that when busy meal times come around, you’ll be all set!

  • If your kids have gotten used to having a snack every hour or so, start looking for healthy snacks they can keep in their backpacks in case they need something to tide them over until the next full meal. Leave the sugary snacks at home—or better yet, at the store—as these tend to cause an energy crash later that will make it even harder for your kids to focus.

  • Brainstorm with your kids the healthy meals and snacks they’d like to try during the school year.

  • Don’t forget to take your supplements. These are especially helpful for picky eaters, as they fill in the nutritional gaps they have due to disliking certain foods (we’re looking at you, broccoli).

There’s no need to wait until school starts to make sure your family is getting the nutrition it needs. Make healthy family meals a part of the routine as soon as you can so they will be a steady fixture once the hustle and bustle of the school year really gets going.

Wake up the brain

Some kids backslide a bit during the summer, which can make the first few months of school a struggle as they catch up academically. Help them get the thinking juices flowing early with a few “homework” assignments.

  • Read a book. It doesn’t have to be a school-assigned book. Any book your child is excited about will help get their brains back into learning and studying mode.

  • Assign your kids “real-world” tasks, such as compiling a grocery list or researching the best place to buy school supplies using a specific budget.

  • Dedicate an afternoon to making a craft or conducting a science experiment.

  • Learn how to play a new game.

The days leading up to the first day of school might be a good time to start cutting back on leisure screen time, too. Keeping your brain active is often a simple matter of stepping away from the TV, which opens up tons of opportunities for activities that are fun as well as stimulating!

Focus on the positives

The start of a new school year can be crazy and exhausting for everyone involved, but don’t forget that it’s an exciting time, too. A new school year is an opportunity to reunite with friends, try different activities, learn new subjects, and discover other talents and skills. And let’s be honest, the forced routine can be a relief after weeks of unstructured freedom.

Use this checklist as your guide as you start to prepare to go back to school. Another exciting year awaits, and preparation is key to starting off strong!

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