Your Ultimate Back-to-School Primer
Experts—including moms—provide tested tips on routines, nutrition, shopping, safety, mental health, and having tough talks.
As summer break screeches to a halt…
…and school resumes the second week of August, families are scrambling to prepare for the new school year. It’s time to shop for clothes and supplies, think about schedules, come up with workable meal plans, and get into a good frame of mind.
The physical and mental preparation may seem overwhelming, so we’ve sought advice from experts to help you and your family start your school year off strong.
Preparation Starts at Home
Eryn Vargo, the owner of the Orlando Mom Collective (orlando.momcollective.com), has nearly two decades of experience as a mom. “I have four kids. Multitasking is the story of my life,” laughs Vargo, whose organization offers personal and professional support to Central Florida moms. She and her team of 11 other moms collaborated to provide their best practices for launching into the new school year.
Begin by easing into a new bedtime routine. Gradually make bedtime earlier, get to bed on time, lay out clothes for the next day, and prepare lunches ahead of time “so it’s not a shock the first week of school,” Vargo shares.
Also, make sure you prepare a designated homework area “that’s cleaned up and ready to go before school starts,” she adds. This preparation includes going through old papers and doing an inventory of supplies.
Do an inventory of clothes, go through closets and drawers, and donate clothes your kids have outgrown. Then help your children plan outfits they can wear to school.
If you have a child entering kindergarten, talk about the teacher’s expectations and even run through a practice roll call. Read stories about classroom manners, how to ask for help, and how to make new friends.
You can also help your first-time or established student learn the names of teachers, administrators, and front-desk staff. For those students with individualized education programs, known as IEPs, familiarize them with any special accommodations they will have and help them understand how to advocate for themselves.
Finally, for those students who are experiencing transitions—whether to a new school or middle or high school, ”use visual schedules and social stories to help prepare them for what to expect,” Vargo says. “There are lots of YouTube videos.”
Be a Savvy Shopper
Once you’ve assessed what supplies and clothes your kids need, it’s time to hit the stores. Though prices have gone up overall from 2021, inflation could benefit you, according to Florida Retail Federation President Scott Shalley.
“Inflationary pressures have caused some of our retailers to see a bit of a slowdown, but that means they’re likely to offer more incentives and sales to generate traffic during this school season,” he projects. Many retailers will partner sales with Florida’s sales tax holiday, which ends Aug. 7. The tax break applies to clothing, school supplies, and computers costing up to $1,500.
Shalley encourages consumers to sign up for email and text alerts, subscribe to loyalty programs, and follow retailers on social media to stay abreast of special offers. “Depending on how the supply chain issues play out, you may see sales a bit later on as school gets started where folks have excess inventory,” he says. Supply chain issues are stabilizing, Shalley says, but he still encourages shoppers to buy items they need when they see them in case availability becomes limited later.
Shalley encourages consumers to support businesses with a Florida presence for people who prefer shopping online. With 270,000 retailers in the state, “one in five jobs in Florida is in the retail business,” he says.
Vargo says that online shoppers should maximize savings by using cash-back apps and websites like Rakuten.com. Also, plan your time wisely, she suggests. “If you plan to go to stores in person, try to go first thing or later in the evening. Take advantage of the slower shopping hours.”
Fueling the Body & the Mind
A good school day begins with the right brain and body fuel, insists Orlando dietitian and nutritionist Sandra Gultry. She suggests starting the day with whole-grain cereal or whole-grain toast, combined with a lean protein such as an egg or some chicken sausage. Keep 1 percent milk on hand for cereal and don’t be afraid to add some butter and a drizzle of honey to toast. “You don’t want to skip breakfast,” she adds. The rule also applies to adults whose eating habits their kids will mimic.
For her 8-year-old son’s lunches, Gultry packs homemade one-dish meals such as pasta, “something that’s being made from the home so I can control those ingredients.” She also packs 1 percent milk and nutritious snacks such as whole-grain Goldfish or Teddy Grahams. Cheese sticks with 2 percent fat make good snack choices, especially with fruit or whole-grain crackers. Popcorn, cherry tomatoes or carrots with a dip, nuts or trail mix, or even half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich are other delicious options. Replace sugary drinks with real juice, though in moderation, because they lack the fiber of whole fruit: four ounces for preschoolers and 6 to 8 for older kids. She packs all perishables in thermal containers.
For kids who buy their lunches, choosing lunch, snack, or dessert options ahead of time “can be a good educational moment,” Gultry says. She recommends asking your children what they would choose and discussing better choices.Reserve one day of the week, typically Friday, as a fun day. “Have your pizza. Have your chips. You want them to learn to eat most days healthily, and then you have your days when you can have fun.” She advises that conversations about the food set kids up for healthy food habits throughout life. Still, they must remain devoid of emotion, so you’re not promoting pickiness or eating disorders.
But perhaps the most important way to equip your kids for the school year is by giving them a loving, stable support system. “Give lots of hugs, prayers, and ‘I love you’s’ so they know that you’re with them even when you’re not,” Vargo recommends.