5 Tips to Help Kids Prepare for Back to School in 2021

August 10, 2021

by katie jones backer

Now that it’s August we find ourselves in that sweet - yet oddly strange - time of trying to soak up every moment of summer fun while also reintroducing some routine to help prepare our kids (and us!) for the school schedule. Every family schedule and routine looks a little different, of course, that’s the beauty of finding what works best for you. That said, here are five helpful tips to help prepare you and your kids for the back-to-school season.

If the pandemic has taught us anything it is that we can’t control everything. That’s why controlling what we can (i.e. Meals, bedtimes, and the vibe in our home) can give us a feeling of peace and security. Kids feel the tension around them, whether or not they’re able to articulate it. And after the 2019-’20 school year ended in quarantine, and the 2020-’21 school year involved so many unknowns and stressors (ex. remote learning, masks in the classroom, election season, contact tracing, cancelled or limited events), many of our kids are walking into this year with hope… and trepidation. Some haven’t experienced a “normal” school year yet, kindergarteners, for example. This might be their first time carrying a backpack, eating in a lunchroom, changing out for gym class, using a locker, or attending a certain school. Let’s help them put their best foot forward as they step into the 2021-’22 school year!


1. TOUR THE BUILDING- No matter the age, if your child is unfamiliar with the school, this is a great time to familiarize yourselves with the building. Can your child reach the sink in the bathroom/know how everything works? (And I’m not just talking about the littles… if you’re attending the Career Center, for example, the sinks - that you step on a lever - still confuse many teenagers). Try them out beforehand and save yourself some stress. Has your child used the water bottle filling stations or a locker before? Try one out. Though, you may need to contact your school prior to dropping by for a tour. And if you can request their schedule beforehand and find their class(es) that’s even better! (Some schools have an orientation before the year begins, and I highly recommend attending.)

2. SUMMER LEARNING- Wherever you fall, either having your child take the summer off completely, enrolling your child in summer classes or camps, or somewhere in between, reviewing the basics is a good way to prep for the return to school. Stop by the library. Start an audiobook. However you want to do it, just getting your child reading again (or reading to him/her) is beneficial … and it can be fun too. (My daughter and I are listening to the Rick Riordan audiobooks now!) Crack out the Scrabble board and “review” some spelling. Have your child write some hand-written notes to loved ones to practice writing again (they’ll strengthen their writing skills and the notes will brighten someone’s day. Win/win!) Find a map and quiz your child on the continents, oceans, and states. Or go through the multiplication table a couple times before the first day. It doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but teachers will thank you.

3. SCREEN TIME LIMITS & CONVERSATIONS- I know, I know, the kids, if they’re looking through here, aren’t pleased with me but hear me out. (I’m not saying anything about gaming or Netflix/YouTube binging out of school hours. That’s up to you to decide!) What I am saying is this, screen limits are necessary during the school day so the students can successfully get the most out of their classes… and for some kids, it’s really hard to put their phone away.

While teaching last year, I was so surprised by just how many phones were in the classroom… even when I asked for them to be set aside. It was a constant struggle, not only for me, but any teacher I visited with. Never before have I seen a group of students this connected… and I finally figured it out. At the end of the school year of 2019-2020 the students were sent home in March and didn’t return to school until August. They had MONTHS outside of a traditional classroom setting with continuous phone use (parent discretion, of course, I know this doesn’t apply to all). It was extremely difficult and frustrating for many of them to disconnect, and some didn’t understand why they couldn’t stream Tik Tok videos, the “Avengers” film, or a football game while sitting in History class. Therefore, it might be a good idea to start practicing having their phone out of sight and mind for 60-minute intervals before their teacher asks them to in a few weeks. Again, teachers will thank you.

4. SNACKS, LUNCH, & HYDRATION- Coming out of summer and adjusting to the school schedule is difficult. Being back on a schedule means kids (and staff!) can’t go grab a snack from the pantry anytime or leisurely eat their lunch. For some students this will be their first time in a cafeteria having hot lunch or using a lunch box. Practicing with their lunchbox and Tupperware or carrying a “tray” for a timed meal is a great way to prepare. I know this was a challenge for my daughter who would much rather nibble than chow her meal. School staff have to keep the day progressing, and if we want our kids to be properly fed and hydrated, they need to be able to eat in the allotted amount of time. Also, some classrooms still lack air conditioning, and it can get quite stuffy. Staying hydrated is a big deal, especially if these high temps continue. Don’t assume your child can open a water bottle or knows how to refill it. It may seem obvious but it’s worth going over just in case.

5. BEDTIMES & MORNING ROUTINES- Having worked with many kids over the years, and now as a mom myself, I know that kids don’t automatically snap right back to the 8 a.m. start time. They’re groggy. Many kids arrive late to school throughout the first month, and some really like to whine about “how early it is.” It takes our bodies time to adjust, so if you could tailor these last weeks before school with a little earlier bedtime and morning routine (that includes an alarm possibly, breakfast, getting dressed, and/or squeezing in a shower), it will take a lot of stress off that first week. Assuming our children can go from months of sleeping in to being up early, dressed, and ready for school with a perky smile for First Day photos is asking a lot… let’s help them out.

With these tips in mind, and other practices you’re already doing, I truly believe this will be a great school year for our children. The more we can do now to get them amped up and prepared, the easier that first day drop off will go. We can smile big, snap a pic, wave goodbye, and go meet a friend for a celebratory coffee, exclaiming, “We did it!” School is in session!

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