How to Prep for First Day of School

By Michelle Volkmann

The transition from unscheduled summer days to the grueling school year routine can be a bear for parents and children alike. As parents we don’t want to be the fun-haters tucking our children into bed before sunset. But we also don’t want to start the school year by sleeping through alarm clocks, searching high and low for a missing shoe and running the race back home for a forgotten backpack. 

We want the transition to the daily grind to go smoothly without any bumps. We want our children to have happy memories from their first day of junior high. We want to confidently drop off our kindergartner knowing that she has every item on the school supply list. 
 
How do we achieve that? 
 
We take command of our households and execute an hour-by-hour strategic preparation checklist.
 
18 Hours Until the School Bell Rings
 
The night before the first day of school is mission critical. Your morning success or failure (and a first day tardy slip) depends on your child getting a good night’s sleep. Every elementary student will try to derail their parents in the night before the first day of school. Stay on task. Do not be fooled. Do not get distracted. It’s focus time, parents. 
 
This planning process starts at dinner. Ask your child about her fears and questions for the first day of school. As a parent, it’s your job to reassure your children and ease their worries. Try to relate to how they are feeling. Remind them of friends that they will reconnect with on the first day school or if it’s a new school, practice ways to introduce themselves to potential friends. Share your fears of the first day of school when you were a child. Don’t forget to include any embarrassing details of your school-aged mishaps. It reminds your children that anxiety is normal. 
 
In the night before the first day of school, assign duties to each child and remind them of their responsibilities. Before going to bed, ask each child to lay out their clothes for the next day. They should also place their shoes, jackets and backpacks near the front door. Be sure that everything is labeled with your child’s name. You don’t want to be replacing a missing lunch box in October. 
 
12 Hours Until the School Bell Rings
 
Children should be tucked into bed early on the night before school starts. Anticipate that your child will get out of bed at minimum of 6 times to go to the bathroom, get a drink of water, check on you, complain about stomach pain, ask to read a book, etc. It’s all normal jitters. Pat them on the head and promptly return them to bed.
 
With the kids finally asleep in bed, it’s time to make the final parental preparations for a smooth start in the morning. Pack your child’s lunch and put it in the fridge. Don’t forget to include an encouraging note, positive drawing, or joke in the lunch box to surprise your child on his first day of school. Post a note for yourself and your child on the front door reminding him to grab the lunch box from the refrigerator. Set an alarm on your cellphone for the time when your child needs to leave the house. Set the kitchen table for breakfast. Take a deep breath. Go to bed early. You’ll need your energy in the morning for the final push out the door. 
 
3 Hours Until the School Bell Rings
 
Try to rise and shine before your children. Wake up and have that first cup of coffee before turning on their lights and responding to their sleepy groans. It will help your attitude. Trust me.
 
Expect your children to move like molasses in January. They are in no rush to start school. We as parents constantly underestimate how much time children need to get ready in the morning. Plan for extra time and then add 10 more minutes. This plan will reduce the early morning nagging and keep the morning routine moving along smoothly.
 
Beg or bribe your children to eat breakfast. They will need to keep their energy levels up to absorb the new experiences of the first day. It’s so important that they aren’t starving around 10 a.m. Their ability to focus will tank if they skip breakfast. Join them at the table and talk about their expectations for the walk to school. Do they want you to walk them into their new classroom and meet their teacher? Should you give them a hug at home instead of at the school drop-off zone? 
 
Right before they leave for school, take a photo of their first day each school year. My mom always took a picture of my sisters and I holding our backpacks standing near a grove of evergreen trees on our farm. Now as an adult, it is fun to see how much we grew each year, which T-shirt we picked to wear on our first day of school and what hairstyle was cool in 1987. 
 
Once the door closes or they walk into their classroom, fight back the tears. Don’t let them see you cry. Give yourself a high-five. You did it. You got your kids to school on time on the first day. 
 
After the Last Period
 
The grind of the first day of school doesn’t end when your kids get to school. Your day is only half done. When they get home, it is time for your second shift. Be ready with a snack and a hug. They will most likely be tired and grouchy. Shrug it off and turn on the mom charm. You may want to prepare their favorite snacks as a way to celebrate this occasion. 
 
During snack time, empty their backpacks and look for notes from their teachers. Review your expectations for the coming school year. For example, you want to tell your sixth-grader that he is expected to do his homework right away after school instead of playing with his friends. Set up a designated time and area for homework in your home. Remind them the best way to communicate what permission slips need to be signed and returned. Be prepared to listen to their stories from the first day of school. Ask your child questions, but don’t pry. 
After dinner, start your bedtime routine by preparing for the second day of school. Again backpacks, shoes and jackets need to be placed by the front door.  Ask your daughter to pick out her clothes for the next day. Give hugs and kisses. Pack their lunchboxes. 
 
Only 179 more school days until summer vacation. 
 
***
Besides being the Social Media Manager and Editorial Strategist for NextGen MilSpouse, Michelle Volkmann is a freelance writer, Navy spouse and mother to 2 Disney-obsessed daughters. She survives on bacon and coffee. She hates washing dishes and folding laundry. She currently lives in Monterey, Calif. She is scheduled to move in December, but she doesn’t know where the Navy is sending her family. Please stop asking.
 

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