A mother getting her son ready for school and adjusting his collar

While we’re all still figuring out what “the new normal” means, one thing is clear: preparing for school is going to look really different this year. Whether your kids will return to the classroom in a socially distanced way, learn virtually or take lessons from Ms. Mom, you’re bound to feel a tad overwhelmed. Luckily, we’ve come up with a back-to-school checklist that’ll take you through every week of prep.

Six weeks before

Take stock of what you have: This includes backpacks, lunch bags and reusable lunch containers, as well as adhesive labels to make sure all of these essentials come home with your kids every day. It’s also a good idea to sort through your kids’ dressers and closets to see what still fits and what you’re missing. Stretching items out for another year, or even just a term, means less to buy—a win for your to-do list and your wallet.

Do a clothing haul: Even though summer is in full swing, now’s the time to start preparing for school wardrobes. Shopping in-store is still an option, but online can be a safer and easier alternative right now. Make it fun by browsing together as a family, mixing and matching items to create back-to-school outfits they’ll love. With fewer people going into stores lately, online shopping is surging, which is why you’ll want to get on it before your must-haves (or children’s sizes) sell out. This early start also leaves plenty of time for the items to ship to your home (and for little ones to try on their first-day outfits to really get excited!). But if you do choose to hit the stores, follow our back-to-school shopping tricks for keeping your excursion safe and efficient.

Choose their school shoes: Your children will need indoor shoes, whether that’s a comfortable pair of sneakers or easy-to-slip-on Velcro toddlers’ shoes. Like clothing, we recommend buying shoes early to give you the best chance of finding the right style and size for your kids. Checking weekly for sales is another option, but you risk a reduced selection or items selling out.

Shop backpacks and lunch bags

One month before

Book health checks: A month before school starts you should make sure your children’s immunizations are up to date, and also check if your kids are due to get their eyes tested—the Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends an eye exam before they start kindergarten and then annually from ages six to 19[1].

Practice safe hygiene: With the spread of viruses still a concern, proper hand washing will be a crucial skill to teach your children in preparation for going back to school. As well, there may be increased hygiene measures in the classroom, such as social distancing or wearing a mask—and now’s the time to get them comfortable with these ideas. While discussing staying healthy with your kids, it’s a good time to go over daily safety practices to prevent tripping or getting caught on equipment when playing outside, like fastening sweater buttons, zipping up jackets and properly putting on shoes.

Three weeks before

Re-establish a routine: Children need time to adjust from late summer nights to a stricter school schedule. Try moving their bedtime up by 15 minutes every other night until you’ve established the right early-morning routine. School-age kids who get 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night are able to concentrate on tasks longer and learn new information more easily, according to SickKids experts[2]. Getting enough sleep is also linked to a stronger immune system, which is more important than ever right now[3].

Stock up on back-to-school supplies: While you may not have received a supplies list from teachers yet, there are certain essentials you’ll need each year, such as a school planner, binders, notebooks and pencils. (We’ve even created a back-to-school checklist for each grade with the items you’re most likely to need!) Now is the best time to buy school supplies online before they sell out, or if you’re heading in-store, you can avoid the last-minute-shopping crowd. In addition to the usual supplies, you might want to grab some travel-size hand sanitizer to stow in their backpacks this year.

Consider their electronics needs: With more learning done using technology these days, devices like tablets, wireless phones and computers are taking centre stage. It’s a good idea to take inventory of what you already own and check to make sure the latest updates are installed. Headphones are also popular at school, and there are plenty of kids’ headphones with the latest styles and colours. Many of them are also decibel-controlled for a safer listening volume. (Need help figuring out which devices are best for you? Our Editor’s Picks can help you find what you need, whatever your budget).

Shop school supplies

Two weeks before

Establish the family schedule: The new school year also means the start of after-school activities. Though some of your kids’ extracurriculars might be temporarily on pause, your schedule will no doubt still be busier than it has been all summer. We suggest keeping project due dates and practice schedules organized on a dry erase board, particularly a magnetic one that sticks on your fridge. Another option for older kids is to put a dry erase calendar on their bedroom wall (with markers too!), since they’re likely to have more deadlines to keep track of.

Get them excited: Nerves can get the best of even the most eager children so we suggest telling them how fun school will be with activities like sports, art class—and yes, play time at recess. Children’s books are also a great way to get them primed, like Berenstain Bears’ Get Ready For School, or for a bit more money there are LeapFrog’s electronic books, including Get Ready For School. For older kids coming off an extended break and entering a new phase, prepare for middle school or high school by letting them know how good it will be to get away from the same four walls and enjoy independence and freedom outside the home.

One week before

Go to the hairdresser: Take the whole family to get their hair cut a week before school starts to give everyone time to get used to styling their new ‘do and save last-minute running around.

Make a study space: Studies show that children who do their homework in the same place and at the same time each day are in the best mode to learn[4]. Find a special spot in the home office or clear an area on the kitchen table and dedicate it to after-school assignments. If you have an older kid, maybe it’s time to buy them a desk for their room. There are plenty of compact, space-saving desks including L-shapes and corner ones that take up less floor space.

Shop study space essentials

Two days before

Plan school lunches: While it may not be practical to take kids to the grocery store with you right now, you can still get them involved in choosing meals they’ll want to eat. Turn lunchtime ideas into a fun game by searching for inspiration together online. (While you’re at it, get their help picking kid-friendly meal ideas—a great way to get them to actually eat what’s on their plate, too.) Make sure to grab a lunch box they’ll love (a Paw Patrol bag is always a good idea!) to provide extra motivation to eat what you pack them.

The day before

Prepare their clothes and supplies: The first day of school is bound to be hectic, so save time by laying out their back-to-school outfits the night before. That way, you’ll avoid scrambling for socks or shirts in the morning and help the whole family start the school year off on the right foot. The same prep mindset can be applied to their backpacks and supplies: getting all their binders, notepads and writing instruments neatly packed away will ease stress so you can get everyone out the door smoothly.

The first day of school

Send them off with a smile: Preparing for school doesn’t have to feel like a chore. Celebrate the occasion by making their favourite breakfast and playing songs they love as they get ready. There are ways you can help make their day even brighter, like tucking sticky notes in their backpacks that will let them know you’re thinking about them as they navigate their first day at school. Finally, we suggest building in a few extra minutes before they leave to snap a first-day-of-school photo your family can cherish for years to come. While digital cameras do the trick, a Polaroid camera can instantly capture the moment for a family photo album or scrapbook

Back-to-School Essentials

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