The Ultimate Back-to-School Guide
This post was updated in August of 2021
After more than a year of distance learning, hybrid models, asynchronous learning and social distancing, kids are ready to get back into the classroom. Most districts throughout the greater Sacramento area are prepping for full-time, in-person instruction beginning this year, albeit with safety guidelines in place.
Back-to-school is going to look a lot more “normal” this year, but that is leaving moms and dads scrambling to get ready. After all, during the shutdown, most kids just rolled out of bed and joined their Google classrooms as-is. But this year, kids are going to need all the usual back-to-school essentials, from clothes to backpacks, lunch boxes to crayons.
Almost as important as the back-to-school supplies are the back-to-school routines. Transitions are always tough, but this year can be especially challenging. Bus schedules, bell schedules, early mornings and long days can tax even the most resilient kids, but there are some strategies that can help set the stage for success.
Below is our annual back-to-school guide, which covers just about everything you need to know about how to return to school as smoothly as possible.
The School Routine
The start of the school year is right around the corner, and with it comes morning scrambles and battles over bedtime. But the switch from summer to school doesn’t have to be painful. There are simple steps parents can take to ease the transition.
- Talk to your child about school. Think of this as the ultimate heads-up. Get them amped up for the new year and remind them of all the new friends they will make and the new things they will learn.
- Gradually adjust screen time limits. Although school, sports and other activities have been device-based the last 18 months, and kids tend to go hog wild with electronics over the summer, now is the time to slowly reduce the time they’re allowed to play video games or watch TV. Consider reducing their allotment in small increments until they reach the school-year limits you allow.
- Start shifting their mindset to learning mode. This may mean reading books, watching educational shows, or visiting museums.
- Practice scheduling. Family calendars can go out the window during the summer, so now it’s time to get back to a routine. Use a white board or shared calendar app so your kids know what to expect and when.
- Get them back on a bedtime. It’s easy to get lax with bedtimes when it stays light so late. A few weeks before school starts, gradually (and slyly) move up bedtime so they’re well-rested by day one.
- Re-implement bedtime routines. Nothing says summer more than playing outside well after dark, then passing out in your clothes from exhaustion. But to get your kids ready for school, start the bedtime routine. Have them get cleaned up, read them a bedtime story, watch a family movie in pajamas — whatever works.
- Practice morning routines. Set an alarm and have your kids get up at the same time every morning leading up to the first day of school. Make sure they are fed and dressed (no lounging around in pajamas all day!)
- Rein in the diet. Popsicles and pizza may be fine for summer pool parties, but during the school year, kids need more nutritious food to get through the day. Start reducing the sugar and junk food now.
No doubt you’ll need to stock up on supplies for your child before the first day of school. Most schools provide lists of needed supplies ahead of time, and many schools partner with local stores and Amazon.com to make shopping a no-brainer. But shopping for school supplies can get expensive. Following are a few tips to save money when back-to-school shopping.
- Take inventory of existing items. Dig through your child’s room for pencils, pens, paper and other supplies that may be lingering around from years past. Also check your own office supplies.
- Shop the sales. Most major retailers have discounts on school supplies throughout the month of August. Also, don’t forget about the dollar store, thrift stores and even garage sales, where you can find brand-new, name-brand items for a fraction of the cost. Be sure to compare prices and remember, there’s no shame in the coupon game.
- Put your smartphone to work. There are dozens of apps on the market designed to save you money. Money-back apps such as Paribus and discount code finder Honey can save you hundreds.
- Become an insider. Sure, you may not want all the junk mail in your inbox, but many retailers offer huge discounts if you sign up for their newsletters. You can also follow many stores on social media to be the first to know about sales and other promotions.
- Leave the kiddos at home. Eliminate the risk of impulse buys and off-list purchases by leaving shopping solo. Stick to the list and your wallet (and your sanity) will thank you.
Come summer’s end, your child has most likely outgrown his or her school clothes from last year. Stock up on the essentials and pick up a few one-of-a-kind pieces from children’s boutiques in and around the greater Sacramento area. Your kid will be the sharpest looking scholar on the block. Following are a few stores to check out.
This midtown boutique has a varied selection of kid’s clothing, from newborn to elementary age. Designer brands include Giggle Moon, Mustard Pie, SeeKaiRun and Pediped, and they also carry locally-produced graphic tees.
This unique children’s clothing shop specializes in fun, whimsical designer clothing for boys and girls. Brands include Stella McCartney Kids, Keedo, Splendid and Native shoes.
While most of the items at this Roseville boutique are aimed at babies and toddlers, they also carry a selection of clothing for school-aged children, from frilly dresses to kid-sized sunglasses. Their specialty is all-natural fibers, such as cotton and bamboo. Tip: they also carry eco-friendly lunchboxes.
Located in downtown Davis, this shop carries clothing for moms, kids and babies. They have a large selection of items just for back-to-school, from edgy hoodies to graphic button-ups to suspenders, vests, hats and leggings. They also have back-to-school essentials such as reusable sandwich bags, straws and water bottles.
School Lunch Ideas
With the start of the new year comes a new challenge: how to get your kids to eat a healthy lunch. This is no easy task, especially if your summer was filled with questionable nutrition (think amusement park corn dogs or campfire s’mores).
To start, make sure your house is filled with healthy options. Clear the cupboard of any foods that aren’t parent-approved and replace them with healthy alternatives. The secret to survival? Prep. A few hours chopping, slicing, cooking and packing on a Sunday afternoon can save time and headaches come Monday morning.
Let your kids pick out new lunch boxes or invest in reusable bento boxes to make lunch fun. The leakproof Bentgo boxes come in a variety of colors and designs, while the stainless steel LunchBots are dishwasher safe and eco-friendly. Or, check out PlanetBox, which comes in designs such as rockets or mermaids.
As to filling those lunchboxes? Following are some tips and ideas:
- Have carrots, celery sticks, sliced cucumbers and red bell peppers washed, sliced and ready to go to make it easy to choose healthy options. Add a side of ranch or hummus for dipping to make it fun.
- Keep high-protein snacks on hand such as hard-boiled eggs, cheese sticks, low-sodium beef jerky, sliced salami, nuts and seeds.
- Make your own pinwheels by slicing flour tortillas rolled with ham and cheese, peanut butter and banana, or hummus and carrots. Check out more ideas at The Pioneer Woman.
- Food on a stick will appeal to the pickiest eaters. Thread strawberries and blueberries on skewers, chunks of ham and cheese, even cooked and cooled tortellini with salami and mozzarella. More ideas at One Little Project.
- Who wouldn’t love a homemade Lunchable? Pack crackers, sliced cheese and sliced deli meat (treat is optional!) in individual compartments. Or try pita slices with tomato sauce, mozzarella and sliced pepperoni for mini-pizzas.
- Get creative! If you’re the Pinteresty type, try baking sliced hot dogs in cornbread batter for corndog muffins, make mini taco hand pies or homemade (ie: healthy) Hot Pockets, or line muffin tins with crescent roll dough, cheese and pepperoni for deep dish mini pizzas.