Red-Hot Back to School Tips

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

It may seem like the school holidays have only just begun, but like most years, January will evaporate like a salty ocean droplet on a surfer’s shagpile head. Suddenly, you’ll be staring down the barrel at your sunburnt children with their hoofers crammed into too-small-school shoes, toting scuffed book bags and a rainbow of pencils worn down to the nub.

Best get planning.

These nifty Back-to-School planning ideas should help you get the pencil cases snaplock fresh and the school shoes gleaming.


First things first, invest in a family planning calendar, or design your own and print it out month-by-month for the fridge. Place each child’s (and parents’) names at the top and slot in all appointments and extra curricular activities so nothing gets lost or forgotten. This will save an enormous amount of stress as the year unfolds.

Have an extra column for listing miscellaneous events or items that need to be purchased.

As the first term unfolds, slot in sports days, library day, musical instrument day and any other days that require different or extra items to be taken to school. This will help you prep items in advance and make sure you have the correct uniform items washed and ready to go. Hugely helpful when you have more than two kids in differing grades.


As the year unfolds, extra-curricular activities, school events and social opportunities will arise. Slot them into your planner but also plan wisely by utilising other mums and dads.

Keep your parent contact list up to date, make the effort to introduce yourself to neighbours and school parents, and rely on each other when it comes to ferrying and collecting children between school events, sporting and other activities. This makes particular sense when you have several children. Carpool, people!

If your children’s classes don’t provide a simple parent contact list, consider actioning one yourself. Even just a name and email address is helpful, and kids birthday invitations will become a blissful breeze.


Spend a few hours emptying all drawers and closets to check for outgrown or worn-out uniforms. Have the kids help you.

Most kids experience a bamboo-spurt period of growth over the summer so don’t be caught out with school shoe and uniform supplies. Drop into school in the week before the kids commence and refresh any stained, torn or too-small items so your soldiers are well-equipped with their battalion gear. Make sure hats are in order, too.

Wait until the end of January to buy any new school shoes or runners, just in case you need to go up a size. Have your child’s foot professionally measured and consider buying a size larger and using shoe inserts in the interim. Doing this with a good quality shoe means a year’s wear or even more.

If you are in need of a plethora of brand new uniform items, consider buying second hand from the school clothing pool. Alternatively, buy only the summer uniform and purchase winter items later.

This is also an ideal time to offload any too-small uniform items that are still in good condition. Most schools have clothing pools that mean you can make back a little hard-earned cash.

In the week before school, go over all clothing items (new and old) and ensure they’re labelled.

Most schools supply a requirement list for stationery. If they don’t ask for one.

HOT TIP: During the last two weeks before school commences, re-introduce your regular school bedtime. This is often difficult considering it’s so light in the evenings, but best to begin early rather than dragging the kids up five minutes before the school bus is due.


Don’t forget to send your child to school with food they can cope with. Opening tuna cans or sealed jelly pots can be tough for even the most adept child. Provide wet wipes or a napkin in their lunchbox.

Store all your lunch-making supplies and pre-packaged school snacks in one place, along with lunchboxes, water bottles and paper or Ziploc bags.

Make lunches the night before and store all in the fridge or even consider making up and freezing a week’s sandwiches to pop in lunch boxes each morning.

Freeze water bottles in summer to keep drinks cool, and the odd frozen juice popper, as a treat.

Invest in small freezer packs to add to lunchboxes to keep lunch fresh and rotate them in and out of the freezer daily.

Add a little something fun in their lunch box – a teensy (quasi-healthy) treat, a cute note, a sticker. Let them know you’re thinking of them.

If you can’t trust muesli bars because of trace nut-content, make your own.


Set everything out the night before, yes, even the cereal bowls. Have shoes lined up at the door and sunscreen on the kitchen bench.

No morning television until fully dressed with teeth brushed, bags packed and shoes lined up. Period. (The promise of a few morning cartoons is a great technique to use to get kids organised.)
To make mornings easier (especially for littlies), write up an off-to-school checklist. You might even ask them to tick off their list each morning with a big fat crayon, and get them really involved.

Have kids check their daily planning calendar to see if they need to take any items specific to their day.

For goodness sake, feed your kids breakfast. No, I’m not patronising anyone – there are enough children who go to school with empty bellies (according to my teacher sister) to absolutely warrant this point. Unbelievably.

HOT TIP: If your child is new to school, go to the school’s orientation days so they can feel more comfortable about the school layout and where to find their classroom, the toilet, bubblers, play equipment, etc.


Talk to the kids about making this a more organised year. Give them responsibilities like setting up their own homework station or being responsible for sharpening their pencils once a week.

Keep up with the kids’ chore list through the summer holidays so they don’t become too reliant on a totally unstructured weekly schedule. Keep a chore chart if you need to, and offer pocket money or other rewards.

Have the kids help you label every single item your child takes to school, including pencils. Honestly, it’s time well-spent.


Consider spending a few moments with your child when they come home from school, just for a cuddle or a chat. Never ask “how was school?” – you won’t get an answer. Instead ask more specific questions like “who did you play with today?”, “who did you sit next to?”, “what did you do in art today?”.

Try not to over do it with extra-curricular activities in their first term back at school. Ease them in.

Organise a routine when the kids re-enter the house for dirty uniforms (straight in the wash), shoes (straight in the laundry), bags (on the hook) and lunchboxes (emptied and into the sink). Talk to the kids about this before school commences.

Also ask the kids to unpack any notes, newsletters, homework or important papers when they take out their lunchbox. Nominate a special place or a folder where all paperwork goes.


Make homework easy. Set up a station – even if it’s a movable one like a large tray with rulers, pencils, glue, sticky tape.

Make it the first thing your child does upon entering the house (after a snack). Sit with them to encourage solid commitment to the task and to be on hand for aide. Make it light and fun rather than onerous.

Slot this homework commitment it into your planning calendar now, even before school commences.

Be sure to always hand homework in on time. Teachers know homework is more than ‘extra work’ – it is a way to foster independent learning skills and prove organisation skills and planning skills – not to mention the ability to be reliable.

HOT TIP: Get involved with your child’s school from the start – in any way your work and time will allow you to. Kids always do better at school when their parents are some way involved.


If you pay annual school fees, ask the school about a direct debit plan that allows you to pay monthly.

Many chain and department stores offer great deals on back-to-school clothing and stationery in the first two weeks of January.

Check out the generic polo shirts, shorts, tracksuits, skirts and pants at stores like shopping centres, as many are suitable for most schools, providing your school colours are available. They will be a lot cheaper than buying at schools or uniform stores.

If you pay exorbitant school fees, consider a school fee plan, available through various companies. Visit


And finally, take heed of these points on extracurricular activities from WorkLifeBliss coach Emma Grey...

Too many after school activities can overwhelm children and create chaos in a busy family schedule. Here are the top tips for a balanced family life from WorkLifeBliss:

If your child is starting school for the first time, let them settle in to their changed routine before taking on extra activities.

Find something they’re passionate about – don’t ‘flog a dead horse’ if they’re really not keen on practising that instrument or learning those Irish Dancing steps.

Choose activities you can maintain as they get older – it’s cute to enrol a five-year-old in ballet, but make sure you’re comfortable with the increasing expenses and time commitment for upper levels to avoid disappointment later.

Buy equipment and sports uniforms second-hand until you’re sure they’re going to stick at it.

Young children like having a go at a variety of activities.

Try to find a balance between physical activity and musical, artistic or dramatic or other pursuits.

Be led by your child’s interests – avoid the temptation to re-live your childhood, or to assume that they’ll love something, just because their older sibling is great at it.

Adopt a ‘fun’ mindset from the start and remove pressure to perform – remember that their prowess or otherwise is not a reflection on you, but your performance on the sidelines will reflect on them.

Look carefully at the proposed schedule for the week. Does it work? Can you afford it? Is there plenty of ‘down-time’ for the children to rest, play and fit in homework? Is there space in the schedule for you and your interests? Families thrive when everyone is catered for.

For more tips on balancing work and family, including a free report on the ‘Top 5 mistakes women make when balancing work and family’, visit

This article first appeared on Australian Women Online.

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