Back to School Tips that Make an Actual Difference

Ah, September. I love this time of year. Fall is hands down my favourite season. The weather starts to get cooler, so it’s way more appropriate to wear 90% of my wardrobe at this time of year than at any other. The leaves turn all those lovely beautiful colours. PSL is back at Starbucks (just kidding, I’m not a Pumpkin Spice fan).

PSL-induced rage

But my favourite thing of all this time of year is that for me it’s the start of the new school year. As a College teacher, I start a new intake and so get a new influx of students to look forward to having under my care, and that means new day planners, new binders and folders and pens and pencils (I’m a bit of a stationery nut). For me it feels more like a fresh start than January ever will.

The problem is… I’m still on mat leave for a few more months, so I won’t get to enjoy MY traditional back to school / fresh start. SOOOOO I’m going to have to live vicariously through Girly.

She starts grade 5 this year and we’ve already done the back to school wardrobe shop and the shoes and the school supplies. Hell we did that two weeks ago because Tween angst. I wanted to leave it as much to the last minute as possible because she has grown a total of nearly 2 inches since the beginning of the summer and I don’t know when it will stop. But, Tween angst. So shop we did.

So much angst.

A week out from the first day of school I wondered what was left to do, and to be honest, the shopping isn’t even the hard part of getting everything organized. It’s everything else. And 3 days out, we are still horrendously entrenched in our summer schedule:

Sleeping as late as we want.

Waking up as late as we want.

Eating whenever we want.

And by “we” I mean her.

It’s my fault, really. I wrote out a beautiful calendar / schedule at the beginning of the summer. I had EVERY intention, because I was on mat leave and home for the summer for the first time in … ever … that we would NOT squander our time. We WOULD do things with a little less structure and take it easy, but we would also not completely run around like Lord of the Flies.

Mild chaos, all summer long.

Well, we ended up somewhere in between. She had regular math tutoring twice a week, and voice lessons, but the rest of time the reading and writing I had put into her calendar, the cultural lessons, the math practice at home… NONE OF IT happened after the first week. Primarily because most of the summer I’ve had ABSOLUTELY NO FUCKING IDEA WHAT DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS BECAUSE I HAVE A BABY WHO THINKS IT’S PERFECTLY ACCEPTABLE TO WAKE UP EVERY 40 DAMN MINUTES ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT.

I felt bad. Because a week out, I thought I was the only mom who hadn’t gotten her shit together. Turns out I was wrong. I polled my Instagram friends and followers and it turns out I’m not alone.

  • Only 54% of moms had their back to school shopping done a week out.
  • Surprisingly, 71% of kids had grown more than one size over the summer (necessitating entire new wardrobes…what are we feeding them?)
  • Thankfully only 28% had their kids back to school bedtimes and routines.

So, feeling a little less like the Napoleon Dynamite of moms and a little more smug at my own normalness, I decided to stop reading the “back to school must do” lists that permeate every corner of the internet this time of year…and write my own! HA!

Although I’d like to think mine is a little more realistic and won’t make you feel like you’re not doing a good job (you really DON’T need to have a chalkboard ready for the first day of school. I promise.)


Here are my top 5 tips on how to make the back to school transition and the coming school year a little less stressful.

1. Get to know the teachers

If you’re able to go with your kid on the first day of school, great! But remember, that’s to support your kid. It’s NOT the best time to get chummy with the teacher. They’re going to be very busy and probably more than a little distracted. Quickly introduce yourself and point out your kiddo, if you get a chance, and leave it at that.

Check the school website to see if the class has a blog and connect with the teacher through email or the blog’s contact page. Follow them on Instagram if they have an account. Utilize technology if the teacher has made the effort to.

Keep up to date on what’s happening in the classroom and be proactive. All the best teachers have blogs and it’s a great way to keep yourself informed when the kid inevitably comes home and tells you they “don’t know” what happened in class today.

What if the teacher doesn’t have a blog? They will have email. Drop them a paper note in the kid’s backpack. Use the child’s agenda (if the school have them) to send a note. Make an appointment.

But get to know them. BE THAT PARENT. Not the douche bag parent who doesn’t let the teacher do their job; be the parent that is interested in the kid’s progress and supports the teacher in their attempts to help your kid do their best. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

You’re alright, my friend.


Even if you know exactly what your kid owns and they are super careful about keeping everything in their locker / cubby, things will go missing in the daily fray. Guaranteed. And you won’t believe how many kids will have the SAME things, so it’s best to ensure your kid knows what’s what.

We had ski pants go missing THREE TIMES last year. Mistakenly taken home by another kid. No matter how often she hung them, they’d get knocked to the ground and join the mass of floor clothes every day.

If it weren’t for the label, they probably wouldn’t have come directly back to her cubby, instead finding a home in the “lost and found” box or someone’s charity bag. You try buying ski pants mid-season.

I personally love Mabel’s Labels (no, I’m not making any money on that endorsement). They are durable, washable, re-stickable, and I’ve got them on everything: shoes, Tupperware tops and bottoms, ski pants, jackets, individual gloves, you name it.

3. Plan as much ahead of time as possible

The school will likely send home a calendar of events in the first few days of school. If they don’t, you can access it on the school’s website (or the district’s). Print a copy and enter EVERYTHING into your calendar. Inservice / PD days, school field trips, special events, everything.

It will save your sanity later on.

And let your teacher know ahead of time if you’ll be away at any point in the school year so they can prepare any homework or arrange any tests your kiddo might miss.

One thing I personally hate as a teacher is when someone tells me the day before they’re leaving for a trip that they’re going away and can I let them know what they’re going to miss (and I teach college level). Uhm, no, I can’t. I have things to do.

Instead, I LOVE the ones that tell me at the start of the semester what major appointments they have, what days they’ll be on holiday, weddings, etc. It helps both of us plan with enough time.

And if you don’t know all of these things right away, let the teacher know as soon as you can.

4. Don’t be a hero

The school year is going to be a busy one, not just for your kid, but for you. You also probably have a life outside of school.

The kids might have extra-curricular activities, you might have appointments, work, things to manage at home… the point is you have stuff. We all do.

Inevitably, something will come home asking for volunteers. Whether it’s baking something for a class party, chaperoning a field trip, being a classroom mom, selling those damn Show & Save books / wrapping paper packs / cookies, whatever.

I used to have SO much guilt not being able to go on field trips with Girly because of work. Now on mat leave, I STILL can’t because of Wee Bear. I have mostly sent store-bought for school events (even though I make a mean snickerdoodle) because I never seem to have enough time or energy to make enough for everyone. And I see some moms sending Pinterest-worthy treats, remembering every holiday, every staff member, every-everything, which makes me feel like a teeny tiny failure.

So you have my permission to give the guilt a holiday this year.

It’s okay to say no.

It’s okay to buy treats from the store.

It’s okay to forget.

It’s okay not to buy a hyper-personalized, Erin Condren bundle for the teacher as a thank you at the end of the year along with 2 $50 gift cards.

The most meaningful gifts to me as a teacher were always a heartfelt card that expressed a student’s gratitude, or a hug on the way out at the end of a semester.

Instead, let your kid make something for the teacher as a thank you. After all, it was your kid who had the more direct relationship with them. I finally gave up last year and Girly wrote the teacher her own, personal thank you card, and picked a mug with her own money from Indigo.

5. Spend the night before school the right way

No matter what grade they’re in, you can bet they’ll be feeling nerves. A lot changes over the summer. And new grades always bring some unknowns, even if they will have friends in that class.

So make sure the backpack is packed, lunches have been prepped and outfits picked.

Then spend the night before the first day of school giving them your undivided attention. Watch a movie, play a game, grab some ice cream and have a chat. Go for a walk. The activity itself doesn’t really matter. But put down your device, and spend the evening with your kid.

Reconnect before the chaos begins.

Hug them before bed (at least 30 seconds to activate all that feel-good seratonin) and mean it.

And then hug them again in the morning. 

That’s more important than the chalkboard, more important than the back to school pictures, more important than anything else. Don’t do it at the school Do it at home before you leave.

They’ll remember that in those uncertain moments when they’re getting their bearings on that first day. And it’ll make more of a difference than you know right now.

So, my friends, best of luck with the school year and the fresh start!

I’d love to hear what your back to school tips are. What do you do to ensure a smooth transition from the freedom of the summer? Comment below!

Sarah xo

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