All aboard: Count down to back to school with these tips

School is starting! Are you ready? Use our guide for an easy transition


This school thing is happening. Who’s ready to hop on the bus (or car or bike) and hit the books again?

Because many school districts have different start dates this year, we’ve given you a countdown to help you. You get to decide when to start the countdown, just don’t start it after 10 days to go (or get ready to scramble).

BY 10 DAYS TO GO

Buy school supplies

If you have a kid in elementary school, this is much easier. Your child probably has a list that they got last year. If not, go to your school website or phone a friend to find it. Some H-E-B, Walmart and Target stores near the school also might have it by the school supplies.

We did a test last year to see who had the least expensive supplies by trying to fill the list of a third-grader and an eighth-grader. What we found:

We spent anywhere from $61.15 at Walmart to $138.58 at Walgreens for the third-grader. This year we looked online and would have spent $110.71 on Amazon.

For the eighth-grader, we spent $28.20 at H-E-B and $69.99 at Walgreens, and we would have spent $85.04 on Amazon.

For middle schoolers and high schoolers who don’t have a list, stock up on things you know they might need such as notebook paper, pencils, pens, printer paper, 1-inch binders, graph paper, composition books and colored pencils. Also ask a parent of a child one year older than yours what they needed last year.

Don’t forget to buy supplies for home, too. There’s nothing worse than that 10 p.m. text from the teen that he is out of notebook paper at home.

Keep your receipt. If it turns out your child doesn’t need as many binders or composition books, you can always return them.

Tax-free weekend is Aug. 11-13. See the list of things that are tax-free with this story, but remember that sometimes it’s not always a good deal. If you had a regular sale of 20 percent off, it’s better than an item that is only 8.25 percent off on tax-free weekend. Also consider if you want to deal with the crowds that weekend. If you do go, go early in the morning or late at night when the rest of the world is asleep, and spread it out over the course of the three days.

Don’t wait too long. Last year, by the third day of school, Walmart and Target had dismantled their school supplies aisle and moved on to fall and Halloween. We couldn’t find anything.

BY 9 DAYS TO GO

Buy school clothes

Before you head out, ask this question: Do they even need new school clothes? If everything from last year still fits, you might want to wait until it doesn’t. There’s nothing that says you have to get all new clothes at the start of school. This is the time to clean out the closet and give away the clothes that no longer fit or have holes and stains.

If you do go shopping, make sure you know what the dress code is at your child’s school. Typically it is no leggings or athletic shorts; skirts, shorts and dresses must be longer than the tips of their fingers when standing up or a certain inch count from the middle of the knee; no spaghetti straps; no clothing with vulgar, suggestive or drug references.

Set the budget before you go and make a list of what you need. Don’t forget about shoes and gym clothes. This is also a great time to stock up on underwear and socks. You always need those.

Plan a schedule

Take out the old calendar or your phone and mark off these days:

  • Meet the teacher for elementary school, or orientation or book pickup days for middle school and high school. (It will vary by school; check your school’s website.)
  • First day of school. (This year, we have schools starting as early as Aug. 16, as late as Aug. 28. See the box with this story to find your district.)
  • Last day of the six weeks or nine weeks. (Know these because usually a week or two before, your children might have major assignments due.)
  • Exams and STAAR testing dates. Exams vary by district and even by school sometimes. The Texas Education Agency has the 2018 STAAR testing dates on its calendar at tea.texas.gov.
  • Back to School Night. (This varies by school or by grade, so check out your school’s website,)
  • Major holidays that everyone has off like Labor Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Memorial Day.
  • At some districts, holidays like Veterans Day, Columbus Day, Presidents Day and Good Friday also are student holidays. There also might be other random student holidays.
  • Late start days or early release dates for high schoolers.
  • Thanksgiving break. (This year, Austin Independent School District has a full week of break. Does yours as well?)
  • Start and finish of winter break.
  • Bad weather makeup days. (These are set holidays that might be taken away if we have a day of ice or snow or flooding.)
  • Spring break.
  • Last day of classes. (Many schools do not go into June this year.)

If the kids don’t have school, what is going to be your plan for them? Do you have a babysitter or relative on hand? Call them now and secure their time. Will kids go to a one-day or weeklong camp? Will you need to take off of work? Coordinate that with your boss now.

BY 8 DAYS TO GO

Plan a daily/weekly schedule

Do you know when school starts and stops each day? Go on your school’s website to see. It varies by district and by grade level, as well as sometimes by school.

Decide now how many after-school activities you can reasonably fit in each week. If you have three kids and they all have three activities, you might not like each other by week three.

Set the expectations early:

Are there certain activities that are non-negotiable such as religious activities, scouts or some form of exercise?

How much are you willing to drive?

How much are you willing to pay for these activities?

What things must be done to participate in these activities? Chores? Homework? Maintaining certain grades?

Also consider which parent or adult will be responsible for picking up or getting kids to an activity. What is the backup plan if that adult is sick or unavailable?

Don’t forget to schedule in family time. How many nights a week will you eat at home? Will you established some sacred time each week that is just for family fun?

BY 7 DAYS TO GO

Be healthy for the school year

Did you remember to get your sports physical, your well-checks and your vaccinations up to date for the new year? Find those forms so your child has them on the first day of school or first practice if there is a question.

If you didn’t, you might still have time to do so. Some school districts have back-to-school bashes where vaccinations and sports physicals happen. Also consider going into a walk-in clinic if your regular doctor can’t take you. (It’s not the best, which is why next year you’ll remember to schedule a doctor’s visit in May or June.)

If you haven’t done the dentist visit or eye exam, try to get it done before school.

If your child has regular medications they need to take at school, get those ready, labeled and with a doctor’s note to give to the school nurse. Work out with the nurse how your child will receive those.

Fill any prescriptions that might be low to make the first weeks of school easier.

This is also a great time to go through the medicine cabinet and get rid of expired medicine and stock up on fever reducers, cough medicine and cough drops, stomach remedies, allergy medicines, bandages and other first-aid materials.

BY 6 DAYS TO GO

Figure out transportation to and from school

Riding the bus? Find out what time and where the bus stops. Don’t rely on last year’s information. Even if it’s been the same for five years, this could be the year it’s not. (Usually schools send out this information about a week before. You also can look online at your district’s website). If your school district uses an app like “Where’s the Bus?” figure out how to download and use it.

Driving the kids? Do you need to arrange a car pool? Do you know how the school drop-off line flows at your school? Are your children prepared to go through that line, or do they need you to walk them in?

Walking or riding a bike to school? Have you practiced it? Do they know the route and what time they need to leave? Do they have a friend or two to join them? Will you be going with them or meeting them halfway, or will they be going it alone? If so, do they have a key to the home?

Figure out alternate plans. The bus is late, then what? They miss the bus, then what? The car pool falls apart, then what? You have one sick kid with bodily fluids pouring out of them, but the other one needs to get to school, or you’re sick … what happens then? It’s raining and they were supposed to walk, will you give them a ride?

BY 5 DAYS TO GO

Start practicing the morning and evening routine. Experts will tell you to start getting kids back on a schedule a few weeks beforehand by going to bed a few minutes earlier each night until you’re back on school hours. They’ll also tell you to avoid caffeine after lunch.

Kids do require more sleep than adults. Think 10 to 11 hours for Junior.

Get them involved in what the bedtime and morning routine will be. Will they shower in the morning or at night? Will there be a story before bed or just quiet time? Night light or no night light? Door open or shut? What time is lights out, and what happens if they don’t abide by that?

And if they have a phone, start taking it away at night. If not, their friends will be texting them at 1 a.m., 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and every minute in between.

In the morning, how will they wake up and at what time? Will they set the alarm or will you? Do they want you to yell at them or gently nudge them? Or do you need to physically move them until they make it to the bathroom and into the shower? How long will they have in the bathroom before someone else needs it?

BY 4 DAYS TO GO

Don’t forget to have fun

Plan one fun thing to do the week or weekend before school starts. This might be your last chance for family fun for a while. It could be seeing a movie, going out to lunch, planning a picnic, trying a new playground, going to a pool. It doesn’t matter what, just do something. This summer is fading fast!

BY 3 DAYS TO GO

Establish a place for homework to be done.

Figure out where is the best place in the house to do homework. For younger kids, it might be the kitchen table or a space in a common area. For older kids, they might need a space in their bedrooms for maximum concentration. If they are in their room, let them know you might be checking on them (especially if they are the kid who plays video games instead of doing homework or daydreams constantly).

Clear off a desk or table. Make sure there is good light there and a comfortable chair. Set up school supplies such as notebook paper, pencils, pens, colored pens and glue sticks. If the kids need a computer, is there one that can be used there?

Create an organization system for important papers that will be referenced throughout the school year, homework that needs to be done and homework that has been done and needs to be turned in, and papers that need a parent signature.

BY 2 DAYS TO GO

Stock up the refrigerator and freezer

Figure out what they will be eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Have some grab-and-go snacks on hand as well.

For breakfast, how can you get in protein and fruit to give them more nutrition, more staying power?

For lunch, will they pack a lunch or buy it? If they are going to buy it, does their account online have any money in it? If they switched schools, did it follow them, or do you need to start over?

BY 1 DAY TO GO

Get ready for the first day of school

Is the backpack ready to go? Do they have their supplies? Make sure they understand what goes in the backpack and what doesn’t belong there (toys or anything distracting).

How heavy is it? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that it should weigh no more than one-third of your child’s weight. Talk to them about cleaning it out regularly during the school year, especially for those middle schoolers and high schoolers who don’t have lockers. Is their backpack labeled with a name and phone number? What about that jacket, those binders and composition notebooks, that lunchbox?

What are they wearing? Set out the clothes for the next day; better yet, set out a week’s worth of clothes each week in an organized way so there is no guessing or thinking about it. Some parents use an over-the-door shoe organizer for this or a shelf with bins for each day of the week. Most importantly, where are your shoes? And where do they go each night so you can find them in the morning?

Talk through the routine of the first day. What time will you leave the house? (Allow extra time that first week, especially if you’re driving or walking, to get through the herd of confused people.) Where will they go when you get there? Is there a buddy they can walk in with that first day?

Do they understand what’s happening at lunch? Is lunch packed and labeled or money provided or already loaded up on their lunch account?

What happens after school? Where do they go when the bell rings?

Go to bed! We dare you to try to sleep with all this excitement.

0 DAYS TO GO

Take the school photo.

In the hustle of that first day, don’t forget to actually take a photo.

Think about the background and location. Make sure it doesn’t overpower the people in the photo.

Worry about the lighting. You want to see their faces and what they are wearing, not the shadows on their face or behind them.

Get a full-body shot if you can. You want to be able to see how little they are compared with what’s around them.

Take it in an identifying place to help you remember the year. We love to do it in front of the class list or the teacher’s door. It usually will say the grade and the teacher’s name.

Take it in the same spot each year. For years, we took our photos in front of the crayons that said “Cowan” at Cowan Elementary. Now we tend to have to sneak a photo session in the car on the way to the high school bus stop or the middle school drop-off line. The same background helps us see their growth.

Don’t worry about smiles. They might not smile. That makes it all the more memorable of who they are at this age.

If you do remember to take a photo, send it to readerphotos@statesman.com or tag it on Twitter or Instagram #atxfirstday.



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