Back to School Countdown Calendar

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Back to School countdown

Make sure your child is ready for the first day of school. Credit: Getty Images


Going back to school can inspire all sorts of emotions for everyone involved. To spark excitement instead of dread, follow these steps on this countdown to the big day.

Six Weeks Before

  • Start a school supply list. Take inventory of what you have and what you will need. After you have compiled your list, you can begin researching when the best sales will be and where the best prices can be found. If your state has a back-to-school sales tax holiday, pick that weekend to do the majority of your shopping, especially for big-ticket items such as computers.
  • Involve your children in choosing which backpack, lunchbox, notebooks, etc. they will use for the year. Give them time to pick out exactly what they want, as these are big decisions for your kids. Have them go through their clothes and put on a fashion show to see what new clothing they will need.
  • Be sure your child is properly registered for school, especially if it's a new school. Check to see which vaccinations are required, and schedule an appointment for a back-to-school physical with your pediatrician. If your child will need special testing or services through the school, make arrangements.
  • Double check and confirm your after-school care arrangements. Tell your child where he will be going after school each day. If your kids are older, set up safety rules such as locking doors and answering the phone. Let them know who they should contact each day when arriving at home.

Five Weeks Before

  • Visit your local library and check out books dealing with going back to school. For elementary students, some good choices are "Amelia Bedelia Goes Back to School" by Herman Parish, "Clifford's First School Day" by Norman Bridwell and "It's Back to School We Go!" by Ellen Jackson. If one of your kids is getting ready to transition from middle school to high school, "High School Bound: The Ultimate Guide for High School Success and Survival" by Martin J. Spethman and Chuck Klein will help ease some of the anxiety he or she may be feeling.
  • Start brushing up on the basics. If you have elementary school-aged children, practice the ABCs and review multiplication tables. For older kids, ask them a few questions to see how much they have retained from the previous year. Ask them which classes from the previous year were their favorites and what their favorite assignments were. If you need help finding activities to refresh your children's school skills, visit a website such as School Family that has resources on summer learning.
  • If your children struggle with any school subject, you may want to hire a tutor to review these subjects. Affordable tutor companies such as Sylvan Learning will be able to help you find someone to guide your children through their tough subjects and help them comprehend concepts they need to understand.
  • Think about how the summer has been going so far. Are your children enjoying themselves and relaxing? Do they have too many things going on? Are they bored and need stimulation? You still have time to add activities to make the summer more fun or cancel plans if your kids are overscheduled.
Four Weeks Before

  • Plan a quick getaway for the family. Take a trip to a state park or visit a nearby amusement park or zoo for the day. You can even camp out in the backyard for something different and exciting. The important thing is to have fun together as a family and enjoy the summer break.
  • Arrange some play dates with your kids' friends from school who may not have seen each other since the school year ended. If you have any new neighbors with children, encourage your kids to get to know them by inviting them over to play.
  • For high school students, find out when the ACT and SAT exams will be held throughout the year. Mark these dates on your calendar. If your kids have trouble taking tests, you might want to consider enrolling them in a test preparation class.
  • If your children will be seniors in high school for the upcoming year and plan on going to college, start researching universities. Find out when certain schools will be hosting college nights at your child's school and plan to attend. Encourage your child to start compiling information for her college applications now to avoid a mad rush the day before the applications are due.
Three Weeks Before

  • Get organized by starting a folder for school newsletters and other papers you will receive throughout the year. If the school has sent out information about the upcoming school year, read through it and mark all the important dates on the family calendar. Update all school emergency contact information. Go ahead and fill out all of the forms you received so you won't be faced with doing paperwork the night before the first day of school.
  • If your children were given any summer assignments, check to see if they have started working on them. If they haven't, you will need to push them to get to work now. If they were given an Accelerated Reading list for the upcoming year, visit a bookstore or library to look at selections from the list. Once you get home, look back over the approved reading list and choose which books he would like to read over the year.
  • Check to be sure you and your children are aware of any dress codes the school may have. If you have trouble finding certain items, try shopping at a store that specializes in school uniform attire such as Cookie's Kids. If you are on a tight clothing budget, visit eBay for inexpensive second-hand clothes. Goodwill and other thrift stores are also good places to look.
  • Take a trip to Costco, Sam's Club or another warehouse store to buy basic school supplies in bulk. You know you will need pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, markers and glue. Buying in bulk means you can avoid late-night trips to the store to buy paper. Set up a storage area in your home for these items that can be easily accessed by your children.
Two Weeks Before

  • It's time to start easing back into a school year sleep schedule. Staying up late and sleeping in each morning is a favorite summer activity, especially for teenagers, but it is impossible to maintain this schedule during the school year. To avoid a complete shock to their systems, make bedtimes 30 minutes earlier every couple of nights until they're going to bed at the normal school year time. Likewise, start setting the alarm clock 30 minutes earlier each morning until they reach the time they will need to wake up each school morning.
  • Familiarize everyone with the route to school. If your children ride the bus, get the new bus schedule for the upcoming school year. If this will be your child's first time riding the school bus, go over the rules and what she can expect. If you drive your child to school, take a test drive to see how long the drive will be, but remember there will be much more traffic on a school day. Find out the school's traffic rules and procedures for dropping off and picking up. Have a backup plan in place in case of an emergency. Check with neighbors and friends who live close by to see if they are interested in carpooling.
  • If the school has an orientation for new students, encourage your children to volunteer to help out at this event. If your child will be attending the orientation as a new student, reassure him that this will be an exciting experience where he will make new friends. You also can volunteer to help out with any back-to-school activities sponsored by the school's parent organization.
  • Take the kids to get haircuts to allow them a couple of weeks to get used to the new style. They also will need to see how much time it will take for them to get their hair ready. Encourage them to choose a simple haircut that won't need a lot of time to style in the morning.
One Week Before

  • Go back over the school supplies list you made earlier in the summer to see if there is anything you still need to buy. Compare the list with any lists you receive from your kids' schools to be sure you have gotten everything they need.
  • Return to a healthier diet. Talk to your children about what they want to eat for lunch at school. Some healthy suggestions for lunch include sneaking vegetables such as lettuce and cucumber slices into sandwiches, buying baked chips or low-fat crackers or pretzels, avoiding packaged cookies and snack cakes due to their trans fats content, choosing low-fat milk or 100 percent fruit juices and including fruit as a dessert.
  • Many schools hold parent orientation nights the week before school starts. Plan on attending with your children to meet their teachers and see their classrooms. Introduce yourself to all of the school's administrators. Most likely, the school's parent organization also will be present, so if you would like to be more involved with this organization, now is your chance to do so.
  • If you attend the parent orientation night, you will probably get your children's class lists. If your child didn't get the teacher she wanted or if her best friend is in a different class, be positive and encourage her to give her new teacher a chance and to make new friends in the class. You also should discuss the school rules with your children and explain anything they may not understand. Talk about academic expectations and the subjects she will be studying this year.
Three Days Before

  • For the next few days before school starts, wake up as if your children were going to school and let them go through their morning routine. Start a policy where they pick out what clothes they will wear, pack their backpacks and prepare their lunches for the next day every night before bedtime. This policy will save you all time in the busy mornings before school.
  • If your child is nervous or anxious about going back to school, let him know that everyone feels this way. Ask him what he is worried about and if there is anything you can do to help. Be positive and reinforce the belief that learning is fun. Remind him of all of his friends he will see at school.
  • Create a schedule for doing homework, watching TV, taking a bath or shower and going to bed. Stick to this schedule, and it will be easier for your children to be organized and successful students. Decide where your kids will do their homework. Be sure the area is well-lit and free of distractions. This is a good time to be sure they have completed all summer assignments, if they had any.
  • Take some time to relax and have some fun together as a family. Rent a movie and make popcorn. Or have a game night and play your family's favorite board games without any TV or computer distractions.
Two Days Before

  • Talk about which extracurricular activities your kids will be involved in over the school year. If your child needs encouragement to get involved, tell her the benefits of these activities. On the other hand, if your child wants to do too much, you will have to set limits to keep her from being over-programmed so she will still have time for homework and family. For high school students, you can discuss whether or not they can have an after-school job and what the possibilities are.
  • You need to decide exactly how much time you will be able to volunteer at your children's schools. Do you want to chaperone field trips? Do you want to serve on school-wide committees and work on fundraising events? Be careful to not overextend yourself. Be realistic with how much time you will have to give.
  • Establish a family calendar to keep posted in the kitchen. Each family member will be able to write down his activities. Use different colored markers for each family member to keep it organized. After your kids have entered their activities, go back over it and add any important dates or appointments they may have forgotten.
  • If you have younger children, let them decorate a storage box with markers, paint, wrapping paper and construction paper. They will use this box to store their art work and other important school papers. This box will become a treasure for your children for years to come.
One Day Before

  • Yet again, go back over the school supplies list to make sure everything has been purchased. Get all of the items that need to go to school with your children ready to go. Store any extra supplies in the area designated for homework.
  • Pay attention to your children's disposition and follow their cues about the next day. They may want to talk about it with you, or they may want to play it cool. Regardless of their feelings, keep a positive attitude about the new school year and express enthusiasm toward the excitement of the first day back.
  • Have a special dinner and prepare your kids' favorite foods. Or go out to eat at your family's favorite restaurant. Encourage your children to tell the family what they are most looking forward to on the first day of school.
  • Do all the necessary prep work for the next morning, including laying out clothes, packing backpacks and lunchboxes and preparing certain items for breakfast to save time. Don't forget to set all of the alarm clocks.
The Morning of the First Day of School

  • The big day has finally arrived! Wake up a few minutes earlier and celebrate with a special breakfast, like French toast or waffles. Include protein such as eggs, cheese or yogurt, as well as fiber-rich foods such as oatmeal or cereal, to give your kids a healthy start to their exciting day.
  • Start a tradition of taking pictures or recording a video of your children before they leave for school. Measure and record their height. If you are making a video, ask them to tell you their expectations for the upcoming school year.
  • Give your kids a small gift, such as a journal, book or special photo to commemorate the occasion. This could also become a yearly tradition that will give your children something to look forward to on the first day of school.
  • One more tradition you could start is writing a letter to your children for them to read as they go to school or during the school day. Encourage your kids to have a great day back at school and tell them why you are proud of them. If you wish, you can save these letters with the pictures and/or videos you make before leaving for school.
  • Be sure everyone has what they need before leaving the house, and give your kids extra-huge hugs and lots of encouraging words before they head to school.
Related: Give School Lunches a Healthy Makeover

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.