Calm and Purposeful Back-to-School Checklist for Elementary Kids

The end of summer break can bring mixed emotions for both parents and children. On one hand, it marks the return to routines and structure, but on the other, it’s an exciting time filled with new opportunities, friendships, and learning experiences. As a parent of an elementary school child, preparing for the new school can be a big undertaking. Let’s dive into a purposeful back-to-school checklist that covers everything from school supplies to establishing a smooth morning routine.

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    Kids running to get into their school on the first day.

    Back to School Supply Checklist

    There are some key items for a successful start to any school year. Having the physical items needed and a general plan helps kids and parents feel more prepared going into a new school year.

    School Supplies

    Oh, the nostalgia of choosing Lisa Frank folder with a multicolored dolphin or cheetah! For better or worse, school supply shopping has changed a lot since I was a child! Take your cues on school supplies from your teacher! Some will send home detailed lists while others send home general guidelines. Prepackaged bundles are also increasingly popular.

    New Ways to Shop for School Supplies

    Be aware when purchasing individual items (a box of 12 #2 Pencils or a set of 6 watercolor paints), the exact item you purchase may not end up being used by your child. On our back to school night the teacher has large boxes around the room and families drop off the supplies from the list they purchased. All the notebook paper goes in one box while all the red folders go in another, etc. The teacher pulls out what they need for a certain activity or when the initial classroom stock is running low.

    There are also more schools going to the prepurchased school supply kits that can be delivered to home or school. When I was first presented with this option, I thought it was very expensive and took the joy out of shopping for school supplies. As I have more kids in elementary school, I have come to see the value and appeal of purchasing school supplies this way.

    With the preselected school supply kit, the teacher gets exactly what is most helpful in their classroom for the year. I have also added up what we spend on school apples making all the individual purchases and the cost is almost identical. Given the option I now recommend buying school supplies this way. You can focus on individual choice more with other items in this section.

    School Clothes:

    As fun as purchasing the first-day-of-school outfit can be, start back to school shopping in your child’s room. Take an inventory of what they have and Clean out closets if there items they have outgrown or no longer wear. Consult with your school about the uniform or dress code. Order uniforms in plenty of time to try on and return. Don’t forget shoes.

    Backpacks, Lunch Boxes, and Water Bottles

    Backpacks, lunch boxes, and water bottles are a fun way for kids to get excited about school and let their personality shine. Here are a few things to keep in mind when shopping for these items:

    • Check with your school about specifications for bags, lunch boxes, or water bottles. Some schools prohibit backpacks with wheels, or lunch boxes if they are over a certain size.
    • Make sure everything fits. Our school uses a large red folder for communication between teachers and families. Students bring the folder home every day and the first backpack I bought my daughter was not wide enough to accommodate the folder. Also, make sure that the lunchbox fits easily in the backpack and the water bottle holder on the side will accommodate their water bottle.
    • Label Everything! Use a Sharpie or these custom name labels to help keep up with your child’s belongings

    Here are Some of our Favorite High Quality Backpacks and Water Bottles:

    Homework for Mom and Dad

    I know you already did many years of homework, but once your kids are in school, you’ll be back at it!

    • Fill out school forms and paperwork. This can really seem like homework but follow these tips to get through back-to-school paperwork quickly and keep it organized.
    • Schedule appointments: Your child may need an updated physical examination with the pediatrician (don’t forget to ask for documentation while you’re there). Other schools require proof of an eye exam or dental visit. Go ahead and get that back-to-school haircut or orthodontist appointment in before school starts too!
    • Get Important Events on the Calendar: Back-To-School night, The First Day of School, Parent- Teacher Meetings. Some schools even post dates for other first-semester events such as picture day, field trips, and teacher in-service days. Open up that calendar and put in all the details including times, locations, etc
    • Subscribe to teacher communication: make sure you get on their email list, download a school communication app, or know when to expect a printed newsletter.
    Elementary school classroom ready for children.

    Back to School Routines

    Family routines and rhythms are incredibly personal. They are based on your unique school schedules, work schedules, extracurriculars, and values.

    1. Adjust Sleep Schedule: Start gradually shifting bedtime and wake-up times to align with the school schedule at least a week before school starts.
    2. Create Morning Routine: A picture or written list can help kids stay on track to get ready for the day, eat a healthy breakfast, and get their backpacks packed.

    Household Systems that Support School Weeks

    School weeks can be busy for everyone! Without systems in place it’s easy to end up with a missing backpack, dirty uniforms, and nothing to pack for lunch. While every family has different needs and routines, most of us deal with these areas in some capacity:

    Managing “school stuff” with an after School Drop Zone

    Designate a specific area in your home as the after-school drop zone. This could be a corner of the entryway, a section of the living room, or even a dedicated mudroom if you have the space. The key is to choose a spot that is easily accessible yet out of the main traffic flow.

    Invest in storage solutions that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Hooks for backpacks and jackets, baskets or bins for shoes, and a small shelf or cubby for homework supplies can work wonders in keeping everything organized. Labeling these storage items can also help kids know where everything belongs.

    Establish a routine where kids know to drop their belongings in the designated area as soon as they come home. Encourage them to unpack their backpacks, hang up their jackets, and place their shoes in the designated spot before moving on to other activities.


    A homework system is really about fostering responsibility, time management skills, and a positive attitude towards learning. A well-structured homework routine can make a world of difference in your child’s academic journey.

    Designate a quiet, organized space for homework and set aside a consistent time each day for completing assignments. Make sure it’s well-lit, comfortable, and stocked with all the necessary supplies. Minimize distractions during homework time by turning off phones, tablets, or any other electronic devices not needed for the task at hand.

    Consistency is key! Establish a regular homework time each day that works for your child. Whether it’s right after school or after a quick snack break, stick to the schedule to help your child get into the homework groove.

    School Clothes

    If your child wears a uniform or needs certain clothing items on specific days having a clothing system in place can be a lifesaver.

    For uniforms, this may be based on how many days’ worth of uniforms you have. You may want to purchase more upfront and wash them less frequently. It also might work better for your family to have just a few days worth of uniforms and do laundry more often.

    Specialty clothing items (spirit week outfits, pajama day, class T-shirt day) always seem to throw a wrench in our weeks. On Sunday evening, I scan our week to identify specific clothes we’ll need for that week. We pull those out or put them in a hanging closet organizer.


    When getting ready for school to start, make a family plan for school lunch. There are lots of factors including child preference, nutritional value, cost, or school requirements that will impact this decision. Our kids take their lunches every day. For our simple, minimalist school lunch packing system click here. I also love to add a little lunch box note on the first day!

    If your kids will be purchasing their lunch, familiarize yourself with whatever payment systems the school uses. Our school uses My School Bucks which allows you to load a balance to the account and receive alerts when the balance gets below a certain amount.

    Young Children Getting off the school bus!


    Preparing for the new school year can be both exciting and overwhelming, but with this checklist and a proactive approach, you will have a much smoother transition for your elementary school child. As with most things in life, there will be a time and place to review and revise the supplies, routines, and systems that you put in place. This is a great place to start! I love to organize and be prepared, but my real “Why” is help my children be prepared and ready when they walk through the doors to their school on the first day and set a calm and organized tone in our home.

    Get your
    Back to School

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