Back to School Survival Guide with Littles Love Learning

As we round the corner into the final weeks of summer vacation, back to school is inevitably upon our doorstep. While our little guy is only just turning 2 and will be carrying on in his toddler classroom at daycare, I know many of our families will be experiencing their very first day of school this September.

I can only imagine all the feelings surrounding new routines and experiences as both a parent and child, and while I am certainly not an expert in this subject matter, I know someone who is. 

Erin is the founder of Littles Love Learning, where she shares hands-on learning activities that build academic foundations through PLAY! Her passion is helping parents and teachers prepare their little ones for success in kindergarten and beyond. She is a wife, mom, preschool teacher, and early literacy specialist with a passion for the Science of Reading. She holds a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education.

So graciously, Erin agreed to answer some questions related to back to school preparation for those families who are experiencing their very first day of school this September. Read on below to hear Erin’s thoughts on back to school preparation, along with links to other resources you may find helpful. 

When should you start actively preparing your child for their first day of school?

Each family is different, but you’ll want to start actively preparing at least 2 weeks before the first day. However, there are some things you can do all throughout the summer, such as reading books about school and playing pretend games about school, that will also help prepare them.

Can you describe some ways parents can help prepare their child for their first day of school?

  • Read lots of books about going to school before the first day. I list all of my favourites here.
  • Establish 5 major routines, including:
    • Sleep routine: If they’ve been going to bed later or sleeping in during the summer, you’ll want to gently bump their bedtime up to align with their school bedtime.
    • Lunch routine: Help them practice opening their lunchbox, snack bag, etc. and eating in the designated amount of time they’ll have to eat at school. Many schools offer just 20 minutes to eat, which might be much faster than kids are used to.
    • Bathroom routine: Help them practice using the restroom by themselves, including wiping, pulling up all clothing, and washing hands effectively. 
    • Morning routine: Establish the routine you want your child to follow in the morning so they can be as independent as possible when school starts.
    • Goodbye routine: Establish how you’re going to say goodbye once you drop them off.Will you do carline? Walk them to their classroom? Drive them to the bus stop? Will you do 2 kisses and 1 hug? A high-five and a cuddle? Decide what it will look like for your family so everyone is prepared for the first day!
  • Prep the day before
    • Do as much as you can the day before, including taking those “First Day of School” pictures, packing backpacks, making lunches, etc.
  • Plan a special breakfast
    • This is totally optional, but it’s fun to start a “Back-to-School Breakfast Tradition.” You could make a special breakfast (that’s also quick and filling!) and serve it every year on the first day of school. Ours is Waffle Ice Cream, which you can see here.
The beginning of school is a new chapter for parents too. What can parents do to help themselves through this transition?
  • Brainstorm questions to ask, either before school starts or for Meet-the-Teacher Night
    • The more information you have, the more comfortable you’ll feel sending your little one off to school. 
  • Lower your expectations that the first day of school is going to be the most perfect and magical day ever…it rarely works out that way!
    • Don’t stress about giving the teacher a back-to-school present or ordering a personalized shirt for your child to wear. You don’t need to add any unnecessary pressure to yourself! 
  • Establish contact with the school and teacher right away–you’ll want to have open communication throughout the year.
  • Make sure you stay up to date with emails from the school and papers being sent home.
    • SO many forms come home (field trip forms, transportation forms, family projects, etc) that it’s easy to fall behind. Try to stay up to date on everything!
  • Pre-think how you’re going to store all the beautiful artwork and crafts that come home…they’ll be everywhere before you know it, so clearing out a space for them now will be really helpful. 
What are the top three things parents should have on their back to school shopping list?
  • Quality backpack with water bottle pockets on the OUTSIDE of the backpack
    • You don’t want it spilling on the inside, trust me!
  • Quality water bottle, lunch box, and snack bag that will last all year long
    • My top choices:
      • Water bottle: Hydroflask
      • Lunch box: Bentgo boxes
      • Lunch/Snack bags: Pack It Freezable bags
        • These go right in the freezer & have built-in ice packs! 
  • Mabel’s Labels or something similar since you’ll label EVERYTHING that goes to school…and these labels never come off, not even in the dishwasher or washing machine. They’re amazing! 
What are some of the emotions a child may experience on the first day of school? As parents, how can we support them?
  • Our kids hold it together ALL day in school, so it’s common for them to let their emotions loose when they’re with their parents (because they feel so safe).
  • Expect those meltdowns…they’re totally normal and nothing has gone wrong.
  • Allow your child to release their emotions without trying to “fix it” for them. Sometimes they just need you to listen without offering advice.
  • Give lots of hugs and kisses, and if possible, set aside time to spend just the two of you.
How can parents continue to support their children over the first few weeks of school?
  • Consider limiting extracurriculars for the first few weeks/months of school. 
    • The long school day will be draining on them, so adding in extra classes (especially if they’re late and will interfere with dinner or bedtime) is not a good idea at the beginning of the year. 
  • Don’t pressure your child to eat everything in their lunch or snack.
    • They’re most likely going to be distracted by all the commotion in the lunchroom, plus they are being asked to eat in a short amount of time.
    • Be patient with them as they figure it all out.
  • Help your child learn to pack their own backpack the night before so they get into a great habit early in the year.
  • Never speak poorly about the school or teacher in front of your child.
    • If you have concerns, take them directly to the school. 
  • Get involved with the school as much as possible through the parent-teacher organization or volunteering directly with your child’s teacher.
    • Even if you can’t volunteer during the day, maybe volunteer to bring things home!

What is your best advice for parents who have a child starting school for the first time?

  • This is going to be a magical year and it’ll go by SO fast! Try to enjoy all the little things because once they’re in the older grades, it changes so much.
  • Establishing routines at the beginning of the year is SO much easier than trying to re-establish them later in the year. Start the year off on the right foot!
  • If you have a concern about your child, take it to the school/teacher right away. Don’t wait! Early intervention is key.

    More information about kindergarten readiness that you might be interested in:

    In one of my ‘ah-ha’ moments, I emptied the jar of blooms on a blank sheet of paper and arranged each piece carefully across the page

    Laura Goulding