Two Essential Back-to-School Checklists
BACK TO SCHOOL. Whether those words prompt panic or joy, we all want to make this school year a great one for the kids. No matter what learning environment your kids are in, use the following two checklists (one for “checking off” and one for “checking in”) to make sure everyone is ready to go!
The “Check-off” List
One month ahead
Now is a great time to get a jump on prepping for the school year, especially if you have vacation plans at the end of the summer. Tailor the following to your kids’ ages and stages:
- Set up doctor appointments. Make sure you have whatever forms your school requires on-hand (e.g., immunization records, sports participation forms).
- Integrate school district and family calendars, and make note of any early-release or school break days.
- Sign up for fall sports and activities
- Inventory last year’s backpacks, clothing, and school supplies to see what you can reuse and what you need to purchase for the year ahead. Don’t forget shoes and accessories!
- Create a shopping list and start looking for bargains. You can find lots of school supplies on discount now. If you are able, pick up some extra supplies for teachers, too, since every item that students don’t provide is likely purchased out of pocket by their teachers.
- Decide two things: 1) where studying will happen, and 2) where backpacks, school papers, and lunch gear will go after school. Involve your kids in designing, cleaning, and organizing both spaces, so they will know how to use them effectively when school begins.
Two weeks ahead
- Do some menu planning for the first few weeks of school.
- Clean out the pantry, fridge, and freezer to make room, especially for quick breakfasts! Consider prepping some meals in advance to have on hand for busy weeknights.
- Continue shopping for school supplies and clothes. Note: you don’t have to do ALL of your shopping now. For example, you can wait to buy winter clothes later in the fall.
- Schedule a fresh haircut for everyone.
- Start transitioning to earlier bedtimes and wake-up times. Just 15-20 minutes earlier will help ease things the first week of school! (Hint: this might include turning off devices and screens earlier in the evening)
- Think about transportation needs. Figure out how long it takes to get to/from the bus stop on a busy morning or set up carpooling if needed.
- Continue to clean/organize spaces for both studying and school-related items.
One week ahead
- Double-check your school supply stash and pick up any missing items. Be sure to label everything (including jackets, lunchboxes, and water bottles)!
- Find some quick and easy menu options for the first week of school (look here for lunch, snacks, and dinner ideas).
- If applicable, help your kids plan outfits for the first week.
- If you haven't already, schedule a fresh haircut for everyone.
If you haven’t been successful at moving to an earlier bedtime and wake-up time, make it a priority. Have kids practice waking independently with an alarm clock.
Some kids are eager for school to start, while others may be dreading it. Make additional plans now to inject a little fun into the first week of school. Hint: those ‘gram worthy “first day of ___” photos, while a valuable memory, might not be what your kids would call fun.
The day before
- Make sure backpacks are filled and ready to go.
Lay out clothes (and any props for those “first day of ___” photos!)
Pack lunches and snacks
- Set the alarm with some extra margin in case something takes longer than expected in the morning.
- Set aside time to talk and pray with your kids about any first-day excitement or jitters.
The first day of school
- Smile – you made it!
Plan some extra time to ask your kid about their day – over an afternoon snack, dinner, or before bedtime.
The “Check-in” List
Beyond the schedule and supply check-off lists, keep a “check-in” list to monitor the overall health and well-being of family members.
Changes in routines and environments can be stressful, but parents can do a lot to help kids work through the anxiety that a new school year can bring.
Keep an eye on the following areas throughout the year:
Lines of communication
- Do your kids view you as an open, “safe,” comfortable, and welcoming place for real conversation? If not, what steps can you take to cultivate that atmosphere at home?
- Remember that kids are watching and listening, even when they don’t look like they are paying attention or give signals (e.g., eye-rolling) that communicate the opposite.
- Look for little ways to remind them you are rooting for them throughout the year: lunch box notes, middle-of-the-day texts, reconnecting after school and before bedtime.
- Is your kid showing any outward signs of stress?
- Have you noticed any unusual or unexpected changes in appearance, energy level, or appetite?
- Is your kid comfortable with the physical routines of the school day (including being able to navigate the physical layout at school, and to adjust to the new routines of the school year)?
- Does your kid show signs of social engagement with their teachers and classmates?
- What friends (old and new) do they have this year?
- Who are they excited about seeing every day?
Transitions to a new school year can take time, but families can help create opportunities for healthy and supportive social connections.
- How is everyone’s emotional state?
- Is your kid growing in their ability to process and express their feelings about what they are learning and experiencing (good and bad)?
- Assessing emotional well-being can be challenging with kids, especially with generic questions like “How was school?” Try some of these questions instead.
A living and dynamic faith has a huge impact on the other areas listed above.
- Is your kid connecting with God and with others on their own?
- Does your family schedule reflect the priority of spiritual health?
- Do you have some simple family routines and rhythms that keep God at the center, like praying, reading the Bible together, and attending church regularly? Check out the Parent Cue App for some terrific weekly activity and devotional ideas for all ages and stages. Or learn about some of Jesus' core spiritual practices in our series GOAT (Greatest of All Time).
As you maintain the “check-in” list, be sure to maintain a realistic perspective and support for yourself, too. Re-entry into the school year can mean major changes for everyone, and it should be handled with grace. Whether you are making celebratory plans with other parents, or bracing for tears (yours, not theirs) in the carpool lane, make sure you have the support you need to make this the best school year yet.
Help families and teachers at our partner schools begin the school year with a win by joining our Back-to-School Backpack Drive! Find more info here.