Back-to-School Checklist for Parents: A Syllabus for a Successful First Day

This simple checklist for parents can make sure the whole family is off to a stress-free start when the new school year rolls around!

Published August 2, 2023
Excited elementary school boy greets bus driver as he prepares to load the bus

With the new school year approaching, many parents are wondering how to help their kids (and themselves) prepare for the first day of school. A back-to-school checklist is a great way to make sure that the whole family is ready for this big schedule and activity adjustment!

No, we aren't talking about what school supplies to buy, but rather, what you can do to make this transition easier on everyone. Check out our syllabus for success below to find out more!

Back-to-School Checklist for Parents & Kids

As you count down the days to the new school year, make sure to check off all of these items from your first-day-of-school checklist!

Adjust Your Sleep Schedule

Did you know that a good night's sleep can improve your child's focus and academic performance? Plus, adjusting your sleep schedule can take up to two weeks. This means that it's a good idea to start in advance to help your kid's summer sleep schedule fall back into the routine for school!

In order to reset sleep schedules, there are a few things that you need to do:

  • Determine how much sleep your kids need. Use the following sleep recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics to get started.
Recommended Hours of Sleep (By Age)
Amount of Sleep Hours
Toddlers (1 - 2 years old) 11 - 14 hours (including naps)
Preschoolers (3 - 5 years old) 10 - 13 hours (including naps)
Gradeschoolers (6 - 12 years old) 9 - 12 hours
Teens (13 - 18 years old) 8 - 10 hours
  • Pick bedtime and wake up times and try to stick to them. Remember to give yourself ample time to get ready in the morning as well as a 15 minute window for error (to save in the moments you are running late)
  • Start by adjusting their current sleep schedule by about 15 minutes. Stick with this for a few days and then repeat the process. This can make the transition simple.
Helpful Hack

The summer sun stays out late, which can make it hard for anyone to drift off to dreamland. Try to close the blinds and dim the house lights an hour before bedtime. Blackout curtains can be a big help as well. I also recommend making this period of time a quiet hour where blue light devices are off limits. This can get kids get to sleep faster at bedtime.

This is the number one item on our back to school checklist because the sooner you start adjusting your kid's sleep schedule, the easier it will be to get into a routine. It can also be helpful not to veer off from the schedule on weekends. Try to stick to the times you chose so that you can stay on track -- but don't stress if you don't do it perfectly.

Do Your Back to School Shopping

A great way to get your kids excited about school is to go back to school shopping! Pick up their school supplies, buy some cool new outfits, and snag some delicious and healthy foods for their lunches.

Practice Your New Morning Routine

Jumping up out of bed and immediately getting into a school morning routine can be tough for anyone. This is why it's a good idea to start practicing your morning schedule in the days leading up to school.

Have everyone get up, get dressed, have breakfast, grab their bags, and put on their shoes. This can also give you an idea of how long you actually need to get out the door on time.

Quick Tip

I have various alarms set every morning to keep everyone on schedule in our house. We set three times with different tones -- a 15 minute warning, a 5-minute warning, and a 'you better have your butt in the car now' warning!

Visit Your School & Attend Orientation

Getting a lay of the land is a fantastic way to help your kids feel more comfortable for the upcoming school year. If your child's school hosts an orientation, try to attend so that they can have the chance to find their classroom, meet their teacher, locate the bathroom, and even check out the playground and lunch room!

If you can't make the event or your school doesn't host an orientation, make a point to stop by the campus before the first day to let your kids see where they will be during the week.

Quick Tip

If this is your child's first official day of school or if this is their first day at a new school, take this time to talk up the school, playground, and upcoming year. You want them to be excited about this new adventure!

Discuss Classroom Rules & Prepare Younger Children for New Tasks

For kids new to the classroom, the concept of sitting still, listening, and taking turns is brand new.

  • Do simple prep at home: During the weeks leading up to school, try engaging in short, focused activities where your kids have to sit down, listen, and then complete a task. These can include crafts, science experiments, and nature-inspired activities.
  • Try creative projects: Parents can also give their kids open-ended projects that help them be creative while still practicing following instructions. For instance, tell your child to draw a flower or build a castle. The design and colors are up to them, but they must complete the task before moving onto the next activity.
  • Practice talking and listening skills: You can practice taking turns talking about your day at mealtimes as well. Remind your kids that when their teacher talks, they will also need to listen, and they must raise their hand if they have a question.

Talk About Their Concerns

The first day of school can be a scary thing for kids at any age. Will they like their teacher? Will they know any of their classmates? Will they get the same lunch period as their best friend? Are they starting a hard subject that they are afraid they won't do well in?

Don't wait for meltdowns, bad grades, or moody kids. Ask the big questions early. Ask about things like:

  • What they are most excited about
  • What they are most nervous about
  • What they are least excited about
  • Who they are most excited to see
  • Who they really don't want to see
  • What classes seem the most exciting
  • What classes they are worried about

This will not only allow them to express their feelings, but it can also give you an idea about what to follow up on and what areas they might need help in throughout the school year.

Find Ways to Help Them Cope

Once you've gotten your kids talking, it's a great time to discuss possible concerns and solutions to help relieve some of their anxiety. Common concerns include:

  • Not making friends: It can be hard to make friends no matter what your age. Let your kids know an easy way to break the ice with new people is to open with a joke about school, or talk about how they can introduce themselves.
  • Struggling to get school work done: Homework is a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be. Parents can start by designating a study area in the home for their child. You can also invest in noise-cancelling headphones for your kids and download a study playlist (classical music can actually help with concentration). Let them know you have more study tricks up your sleeves to help them succeed!
  • Doing badly in a class: We all struggle with something. That is normal. Let your kids know that if they are having trouble in a topic to come to you first. You can find ways to help. For example, tutors are a great option to help break down complicated topics and allow kids to better understand the material.
  • Not fitting in: This is a hard one because we all have a desire to mesh well with others, but it is important to stress to your kids that they should never try to be anyone but themselves. If someone doesn't like them for who they are, then they are not worth their time. Let them know that it is normal to not be friends with everyone and to keep trying until they find people with similar interests!

Start Prepping Items Ahead of Time

This is a big back-to-school checklist item for parents. A couple days before school starts, take the time to prep everything.

Mother preparing healthy food lunch boxes for children in kitchen

Here are the top items to check off your first-day-of-school checklist just before school starts:

  • Double check drop off and pick-up times and locations.
  • Confirm that all required school forms have been submitted.
    • Updated Immunization Record
    • Statement of Health from Pediatrician
    • Copy of Birth Certificate
    • Proof of Residency
    • Student Applications (for private schools)
    • School Records (if your child is starting at a new school)
  • Put your parking pass or school car lane drop off sticker in the window. If your child will take the bus, verify the bus number, time, and bus pick-up location.
  • Get the dry products for your kid's lunches assembled.
  • Make sure that all other lunch supplies are purchased
  • Make sure that first-day-of-school outfits are selected and laid out
  • Pack your kid's backpacks.
  • Gather all sporting equipment your kids will need for their first day of practice.
  • Plan out the breakfast menu.
  • Get alarms set for the first day.
  • Gas up the car.
  • Load up the stroller (if you have littles who are tagging along for drop off).

Doing this a couple days in advance his gives you time to purchase the things that you forgot and complete to-dos on time so that you and your kids have a seamless first day.

Plan Out a Fun Day for the Day Before School

When we are both excited and nervous, our sleep suffers. Make sure that your kids are ready for their big first day by planning a big day before school begins.

Here are ideas of what to do before you send them off on their first day:

  • Keep them active! Choose a fun morning/early afternoon activity that helps them to run off their energy and release some stress. Some options include heading to a local park, visiting the zoo, going to a driving range, jumping at a trampoline park, or swimming at the pool.
  • Eat hearty meals throughout the day and make sure they stay hydrated.
  • End with fun: End the day with a family meal or fun dessert. This can give you a chance to talk about any last-minute concerns and the excitement for the following day.
  • Get cleaned up the night before: Get everyone showered/bathed early.
  • Double check: Make sure that everything is laid out for the following day and you've done all the to-do items you can.
  • Relax: Have quiet time before bed.

A Back to School Checklist for Parents Can Help to Relieve Stress

The start of school is an exciting time for parents and kids alike, but schedule changes can bring stress. Thankfully, by completing the items on your back-to-school checklist early, you can alleviate some of the anxieties and make sure that your kid's first day is a success.

Finally, if you plan to take first-day-of-school photos, make sure that you have your camera ready (or make sure you have plenty of storage space on your phone), create the signs you want them to hold, and pick out the best poses so that you are ready to document the new year!

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Back-to-School Checklist for Parents: A Syllabus for a Successful First Day