Back-to-School Guide: 9 Tips and a Checklist - GoodRx (2024)

Key takeaways:

  • The start of a new school year can be an exciting time for kids, but it can also be scary. Taking young students to back-to-school and meet-the-teacher events can help ease their anxiety.

  • Healthy lifestyle habits — like eating well, exercising, and getting good sleep — also contribute to students doing well in school.

  • For high school and college students in particular, time management is a key strategy for success.

Table of contents

For parents

Parent checklist

For older students

Older student checklist

Dealing with anxiety

Bottom line

References

Back-to-School Guide: 9 Tips and a Checklist - GoodRx (1)

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After spending time away from school during summer break, it’s hard for some kids to go back to the classroom. They may wonder if their new teacher will like them or if they’ll make friends. Some might worry about navigating their school campus. These are common concerns for school-age kids as the summer ends.

You can help ease their transition back to the classroom with proven back-to-school strategies. Below you’ll find tips for parents of elementary and middle school students. And if you’re in high school or college, we’ve got tips for you, too.

Tips for helping your child get ready to go back to school

There are many things you can do to get your kiddo prepped for a new school year. Check out these nine back-to-school strategies.

1. Tour the school

“Parents who attend open house with their child can reduce a lot of first-day jitters,” Melissa Miranda-Smith, EdS, a Georgia-based behavioral specialist with an emphasis in special education, told GoodRx Health. “Your child will get to see who’s in their class, the seating arrangement, and school supply list.”

If your child is new to the school, schedule a tour for them to check out the cafeteria, library, and gym.

2. Meet the teacher or teachers

“Children have less anxiety after meeting their teachers during open house,” Miranda-Smith said. “They feel like they already know somebody before the first day, and they see what they’re getting into.”

3. Create a study area

Kids need a place to do homework and study for tests at home. This space should be in a quiet area of the house and free of distractions.

You can create a study area using:

  • A corner of a room with a small desk and lamp

  • One end of the kitchen table

  • A lap desk in the living room

  • A portable table and folding chair

4. Build strong study habits

Help your child develop good study habits by:

  • Using positive reinforcement

  • Turning off the TV and other electronics during homework time

  • Supervising their time on the computer and their digital devices

  • Setting a homework schedule

  • Giving them breaks if their assignment is longer than usual

  • Offering help without taking over

  • Providing school supplies like pens and pencils, paper, dictionaries, and so forth

5. Develop a bedtime routine

Good-quality sleep can help your kid stay focused and concentrate on learning. To get your child on a healthy sleep schedule:

  • Start getting them to bed earlier, beginning a few days to a week before school starts.

  • Have them go to bed at the same time every night.

  • Turn off electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before bedtime.

  • Engage them in calming activities like reading together or listening to soft music before bed.

  • Avoid giving them sugary snacks and caffeinated drinks before bed.

It’s important for your child to get enough sleep every night. Experts recommend:

  • Preschool students ages 3-5: 10-13 hours (including naps)

  • Elementary students ages 6-12: 9-12 hours

  • Teenage students 13-18: 8-10 hours

6. Check in with your child’s pediatrician

You want to make sure your child starts school in the best of health. That’s why it’s a good idea to schedule their annual wellness exam over the summer. Your child’s pediatrician can check for changes in your child’s vision, hearing, and blood pressure. And your child can also get caught up on their vaccinations.

During your visit, talk to your child’s provider about any social, emotional, or physical health concerns. If your child plans on playing sports, ask about a sports physical, too.

7. Get transportation in place

Talk with your child about how they’re going to get to and from school:

  • By bus: Learn your child’s bus number, schedule, and pickup and drop-off locations. Go over safety rules like waiting on the curb where the bus driver can see them and looking both ways before crossing the street. And ask the school if your child can meet their driver before the first day.

  • By car: If you plan on carpooling, set your schedule with the other drivers. When you’re driving, remind the children to wear their seatbelts. And have a plan B for days when a driver cancels at the last minute.

  • Biking: Go with your child on their bike route before the first day of school. Make sure they wear a helmet, obey traffic lights and stop signs, and use hand signals when turning or stopping.

  • Walking: Walk your child’s route with them to make sure it’s safe and doable. Remind them to look both ways before crossing the street and obey traffic signs. And look for other kids they can walk with from your neighborhood.

8. Establish a family routine

Before school starts, get your family into a predictable routine, with set times for meals, regular exercise, and family activities. Kids who know what to expect from their days transition better when they go back to school.

Miranda-Smith suggested making and posting a daily schedule for your child that includes the times they:

  • Wake up

  • Leave for school

  • Get home from school

  • Go to bed

9. Get books about going back to school

“Getting books about starting school, moving to a new state, or making friends is a good way to reduce anxiety for elementary school students,” Miranda-Smith said. Look for these titles at your local library:

Back-to-school checklist for parents

Use this checklist to ensure you have all the information you need for the new school year. Before the first day, your should have your child’s:

  • Daily school schedule

  • School calendar

  • List of school supplies

  • Immunization records

  • Bus schedule

  • School contact information

  • Student portal login information

  • Teacher contact information

Back-to-school tips for high school and college students

When you’re in high school or college, the start of an academic year can present many challenges. Consider these seven tips to get the new school year off to a great start.

1. Tour the campus

College campuses (and high school campuses) come in all shapes and sizes. A visit before the school year starts is a must if you plan on living or spending your days onsite. It will give you a chance to map out where to park and how to get to your classes. You can also locate other important campus landmarks, like the dining hall, library, and bookstore.

2. Check your class schedule

Before the first day of the semester, check your class schedule to make sure you’re fulfilling the academic requirements and credits you need. Give yourself enough lead time to meet with your academic advisor if there’s a problem. It’s easier to change your schedule before the semester starts than after.

3. Manage your time

High school and college are like juggling acts. Between classes, extracurricular activities, social commitment, and part-time jobs, there’s a lot going on. Here are some tips to help you manage your time:

  • Create a calendar with your class schedule, assignment deadlines, and test dates.

  • Set reminders to stay on top of your assignments.

  • Establish a routine with set study times.

  • Use checklists and to-do lists to stay organized.

  • Schedule breaks and engage in campus activities.

4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle

Healthy habits are foundational for living your best life in high school, college, and beyond. To get the most out of the school year:

  • Try to get exercise every day, which could mean anything from walking with friends to lifting hand weights.

  • Eat lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats when possible.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough water throughout the day and staying hydrated.

  • Limit your intake of sugar, saturated fats, processed foods, alcohol, and recreational substances.

  • Get into the habit of going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning.

  • Manage your stress with a meditation app, yoga, or soft music.

  • Know where to go if you get sick; most colleges have a health clinic on campus or an urgent care center nearby.

  • Always use protection if you engage in sexual activities, and get tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Stay on top of annual wellness exams and other recommended screenings, such as pap smears.

  • Get any necessary vaccinations (and review the CDC’s recommended immunization schedule if needed).

5. Seek out academic help if you need it

Class material can challenge even the brightest of students. It’s OK to meet with your teachers or professors if you don’t understand something; they’re there to help you learn the material and earn a passing grade. And you may also be able take advantage of study groups and peer tutors who can meet with you one on one.

If you think your academic struggles could impact your scholarship eligibility, talk to your academic advisor right away. They can help you figure out what to do to remain in good standing.

6. Get mental health support

If college or high school gets to be too much, you may need someone to talk to. As a first step, it’s a good idea to look into whether or not your school has a counseling center. If it does, there may be an in-house mental health professional you can talk to for free for a limited number of sessions. Or the center may be able to refer you to an outside provider who accepts your insurance.

If your school doesn’t have a counseling center, you may want to seek support from a community clinic, a trusted teacher, or a family member or good friend. Whatever’s troubling you, you don’t have to go through it alone.

7. Check out your student portal

Your student portal is your gateway to important announcements and information about the school year. You’ll find everything from notices about cancellations and campus activities to test scores and class deadlines. So take time to get familiar with everything your portal has to offer.

8. Get your financial aid in order

There are many ways to pay for college, including with federal aid, state aid, and scholarships. College is expensive, so take the time to apply for funds. If you need help, talk to your school’s financial aid office. They can help you find scholarships and disperse your funds to pay for classes, meal plans, and living arrangements.

Back-to-school checklist for high school and college students

This back-to-school checklist can get you organized for the start of the school year. As you prepare for the first day, make sure you have your:

  • List of items you can and can’t bring with you to campus

  • List of textbooks

  • Schedule of move-in and move-out dates

  • Financial aid documents

  • Student portal login information

  • Meal plan information

  • Medical documents and vaccination records

  • Academic advisor’s contact information

  • Class schedule

  • Parking decal

How to deal with the anxieties of going back to school

It’s normal to feel antsy about a new school year. So we’ve put together a list of strategies that can help you ease your way back into the classroom.

Create a support circle

Everyone needs a network of caring people. Identify family members, friends, or other trusted adults that you can talk to about your back-to-school fears. Reach out to them when you’re struggling with something, and let them know you’re available when they need you.

Practice deep breathing

Slow, intentional breathing can calm your mind and body, giving you a break from stress and anxiety. Try some deep breathing exercises to find a sense of calm.

Reframe negative thoughts

Instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios, try putting a more positive spin on things. For example, try not to think, “I’m never going to pass that test.” Instead, reframe the thought as: “It’s OK if I don’t do well on that test; I have strengths in other subjects.”

Journal

Journaling is an effective way to manage stress. It gives you a chance to process anxious thoughts and feel validated. The journaling tips in this article can get you started.

Limit social media use

Social media can have both positive and negative effects on your life. You can use it to find support from people who identify similarly to you and share your interests. And these interactions can be life-affirming.

But spending too much time on social media can increase levels of anxiety and depression. Some research suggests that cutting back to 30 minutes a day or deactivating social platforms for several weeks may lower anxiety and improve mental health and well-being.

Practice self-care

Practicing self-care starts with habits such as eating well, exercising regularly, and getting good-quality sleep. Remember to take breaks from studying to enjoy time with family and friends. And spend time doing things that make you smile, whether that’s watching a funny movie or volunteering at an animal shelter.

Talk to a mental health professional

You might need a little extra support working through your anxiety. Mental health professionals offer different therapies for managing anxiety. And sometimes just a few sessions with a licensed therapist can make a difference.

Start by talking to your school counselor or seeking out your campus’ mental health clinic. If you don’t find someone you connect with, look for a therapist in your community or call 988, the suicide and crisis lifeline.

The bottom line

Starting a new school year can be both fun and frightening. For parents of younger students, taking your child to visit their school and to meet-the-teacher events can help reduce their anxiety. And it’s also a good idea to establish helpful routines that involve consistent bedtimes, nutritious meals, and time to relax.

If you’re a high school or college student, find out in advance who you can turn to for help with academics and mental health issues. Get to know your guidance counselor, academic advisor, and campus mental health clinic to set yourself up for success.

References

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. (n.d.). Homepage.

Annen, K., et al. (n.d.). Teen self-care planning. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Recommended adult immunization schedule for ages 19 years or older.

Federal Student Aid. (n.d.). Types of aid and eligibility. U.S. Department of Education.

Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (2023). Sleep and your child: How you can build healthy sleep routines.

HealthyChildren.org. (2019). Back to school, back to the doctor.

MrsHillpartyof6. (2020). Read aloud: First day jitters by Julie Danneberg #firstdayjitters [video]. YouTube.

Ms. Michelle’s Storytime. (2021). A letter from your teacher on the first day of school [video]. YouTube.

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National Society of High School Scholars. (2018). 7 tips for staying healthy in college.

Nelson, V. (n.d.). Understanding your college student’s class schedule. College Parent Central.

Niles, A. N., et al. (2013). Effects of expressive writing on psychological and physical health: The moderating role of emotional expressivity. Anxiety, Stress, and Coping.

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ThedaCare. (2019). Five ways teens can cope with school stressors.

The Jed Foundation. (n.d.). Create a plan to take care of your mental health.

The Joyful Bookshelf. (2019). The pigeon has to go to school | Read aloud for kids! | Back to school [video]. YouTube.

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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2023). Social media and youth mental health: The U.S. Surgeon General’s advisory.

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GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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Now, let's dive into the concepts mentioned in this article.

Back-to-School Strategies for Parents:

The article suggests several strategies for parents to help their children transition back to school smoothly. These strategies include:

  1. Tour the school: Attending open house events with your child can help reduce first-day jitters. It allows your child to see their classroom, meet their teacher, and familiarize themselves with the school environment [[1]].

  2. Meet the teacher: Meeting the teacher before the first day of school can help alleviate anxiety for children. It allows them to feel more comfortable and familiar with their teacher, creating a sense of connection and reducing uncertainty [[1]].

  3. Create a study area: Providing a dedicated study area at home can help children establish good study habits. This area should be quiet and free from distractions, such as a corner of a room with a small desk and lamp, or a designated space at the kitchen table [[1]].

  4. Build strong study habits: Encouraging positive study habits is important for academic success. This can include using positive reinforcement, setting a homework schedule, providing necessary school supplies, and offering help without taking over [[1]].

  5. Develop a bedtime routine: Establishing a consistent bedtime routine is crucial for children to get enough sleep, which contributes to their focus and concentration in school. This can involve gradually adjusting bedtime before school starts, turning off electronic devices before bed, and engaging in calming activities like reading or listening to soft music [[1]].

  6. Check in with your child's pediatrician: Scheduling an annual wellness exam for your child before school starts is recommended. This allows the pediatrician to address any health concerns, conduct necessary screenings, and ensure your child is up to date on vaccinations [[1]].

  7. Get transportation in place: Discussing transportation options with your child is important. Whether it's taking the bus, carpooling, biking, or walking, familiarize your child with the chosen mode of transportation and go over safety rules [[1]].

  8. Establish a family routine: Creating a predictable routine for your family can help children transition back to school more smoothly. This includes set times for meals, regular exercise, and family activities [[1]].

  9. Get books about going back to school: Reading books about starting school, moving to a new state, or making friends can help reduce anxiety for elementary school students. Look for titles like "First Day Jitters" by Julie Danneberg and Judy Love or "The Pigeon Has to Go to School" by Mo Willems [[1]].

Back-to-School Tips for High School and College Students:

The article also provides tips for high school and college students to start the new school year successfully. These tips include:

  1. Tour the campus: Visiting the campus before the school year starts can help familiarize yourself with the layout, parking, and important landmarks like the library and dining hall [[2]].

  2. Check your class schedule: Reviewing your class schedule in advance ensures that you are meeting academic requirements and credits. If there are any issues, it's easier to make changes before the semester starts [[2]].

  3. Manage your time: High school and college can be busy, so effective time management is crucial. Creating a calendar, setting reminders, establishing study routines, and using checklists can help you stay organized and on top of assignments [[2]].

  4. Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Prioritizing healthy habits is important for academic success. This includes regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and seeking support when needed [[2]].

  5. Seek academic help if needed: If you're struggling with class material, don't hesitate to seek help from teachers, professors, study groups, or peer tutors. Academic advisors can also provide guidance and support [[2]].

  6. Get mental health support: If you're feeling overwhelmed, it's important to reach out for support. Many schools have counseling centers where you can talk to mental health professionals. If not, consider community clinics or trusted individuals for assistance [[2]].

  7. Check your student portal: Familiarize yourself with your school's student portal, as it provides important information about announcements, test scores, class deadlines, and more [[2]].

  8. Get your financial aid in order: If you need financial assistance, take the time to apply for scholarships and grants. Consult your school's financial aid office for guidance on available options [[2]].

Dealing with Back-to-School Anxiety:

The article acknowledges that it's normal to feel anxious about starting a new school year and provides strategies to cope with anxiety. These strategies include:

  1. Create a support circle: Identify trusted family members, friends, or adults who can provide support and understanding. Reach out to them when you're feeling anxious and offer support in return [[3]].

  2. Practice deep breathing: Deep breathing exercises can help calm the mind and body, providing a break from stress and anxiety [[3]].

  3. Reframe negative thoughts: Instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios, try to put a positive spin on things. Reframe negative thoughts into more positive and realistic ones [[3]].

  4. Journaling: Writing in a journal can be an effective way to manage stress and anxiety. It allows you to process your thoughts and emotions, providing a sense of validation [[3]].

  5. Limit social media use: While social media can provide support and connection, excessive use can contribute to anxiety and depression. Consider setting limits on social media usage to improve mental well-being [[3]].

  6. Practice self-care: Prioritize self-care activities such as eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, taking breaks, and engaging in activities that bring you joy [[3]].

  7. Talk to a mental health professional: If anxiety becomes overwhelming, seeking professional help is important. School counselors, mental health clinics, or community providers can offer support and guidance [[3]].

These are some of the key concepts discussed in the article. If you have any specific questions or would like more information on a particular topic, feel free to ask!

Back-to-School Guide: 9 Tips and a Checklist - GoodRx (2024)
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