11 tips for having a great first day of school

Aug. 1, 2019

While excitement might be in the air over new clothes and school supplies, it's only natural for kids — and parents — to have a few worries about changing routines and heading back to the classroom.

"There is ample research that supports the idea that the single most important factor in promising a child a good school year is their parents' involvement," says Ann Pleshette Murphy, author of "The 7 Stages of Motherhood."

To start the school year off right and make the transition easier, follow these 11 tips from Murphy and Brenda Nixon, an author and parenting expert who blogs at Beyond Buggies & Bonnets.

1. Talk to your child care provider

If you're hiring a child care provider — whether a nanny, babysitter or mother's helper — they can be an important part of setting your child's routine. "Make sure your child care provider knows the routine before the start of school," Murphy reports. "A big source of stress for preschoolers is whether mom will be there to pick them up. So, if a babysitter or another relative will be meeting your child after school, make sure they know.

2. Establish a new bed time

Weeks ahead of time, start getting into the new routine so the night before school is a lot easier. As Nixon advises, "Put them to bed earlier each evening in preparation for school bedtime. During the school year, kids need to go to bed early in the evening so they get enough rest. Kids who are well rested perform better in school."

3. Get organized and prepared early

In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, get everything together — and that means more than just school supplies. "Make sure you have all the required medical forms, permission slips, etc. filled out before that big first day," Murphy says. "The calmer and more organized you are, the better your child will feel about the start of school."

4. Help your child prepare

Get your child involved in the preparation process, too. Murphy says, "It's always fun to go out shopping for a few new notebooks or a special pencil case. Having the right lunchbox or knapsack can make a child feel excited about the start of the year."

5. Review the school routine

Establishing familiarity with the new routine is key. "Walk to school a few times or talk about your child's routine before school starts," Murphy says. "You might even snap some photos and put together a little book that shows your child landmarks along the way or reminds her of what the day will be like."

6. Meet the teacher

Build a relationship with your child's teacher before the first day. Clue her into any struggles your child may have had last year and let her know that you want to be involved. "Many teachers welcome email correspondence, but find out what's the best way to communicate outside of school," suggests Murphy.

7. Talk about your memories

Share your own school experiences with your child and try to focus on the positive and be optimistic. Talk about your favorite teacher, great friends you made or a fun assignment you remember working on. "Was school a good experience for you? Or did you always dread this time of year," Murphy asks. "If you had a hard time in school, it may be difficult to hide your feelings. Do what you can to be positive and optimistic, and to separate your own memories from your child's experience."

8. Keep calm

Back-to-school season can get very anxious for families, as you're all rushing to get things done. But try to avoid the chaos. Nixon says that if parents stay peaceful, there's a greater chance the kids will, too. "Remain calm," she says, "and promote a harmonious home life where children feel safe and as stress-free as possible."

9. Get ready the night before

The night before school will be full of excitement, and it's the perfect time to start getting ready for the big day. Nixon suggests you, "Lay out backpacks, clothes, [summer] homework and anything else needed in the morning to cut down on morning chaos."

Once everything is set for the next day, focus on having a fun and relaxing evening. Make it a family night with a special dinner, a celebratory dessert and some bonding time. Check out this list of 101 Fun Things to Do with Kids This Summer. See if you missed anything and if you can squeeze it in before school starts in the morning.

Let your kids take the lead on school nights with our printable preschooler checklist and elementary-aged checklist.

10. Be on time

Once the big day has arrived, keep to the schedule, which will be easier if you prepared as much as possible. "There's nothing more anxiety-provoking than being rushed out the door, or, at the end of the day, being the last child waiting in the classroom," Murphy says.

11. Plan some fun

Brainstorm ideas with your kids for things to do when school ends on the first day. Yes, you may have to run and grab some last-minute school supplies, but when that's taken care of what is something fun you can do together? Knowing this plan is in place will help get you and your kids through the initial stressors of that first day.

Having a first great day of school starts weeks ahead of time, but with these tips from the experts, your kids can have a stress-free and exciting first day of school.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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