Parenthood

When we were kids, the Rose of Tralee meant only one thing – back to school. We tut-tutted for weeks every time back-to-school ads came on the radio, but the Rose of Tralee was always the final nail – no denying then that school was around the corner.

As a grown-up, with two school-going kids and one preschooler of my own, I’ve realised that back-to-school begins long, long before the dying days of August. In fact, it pretty much starts before the school-term comes to an end at all, well, in theory at least. If you’ve left a few things undone, here are some tips to help you sort it out, in the least stressful way possible. Or failing that, this is how to do it next year.

1. School bags
The best time to check the school bags is at end of term when they’re right in front of you. This isn’t quite as much fun as gleefully stuffing them in the back of the darkest closet, as eight weeks of sun (ha!) stretch ahead, but it is a lot better than discovering the night before you go back to school that the bags are in bits and need replacing. It’s also not great to find a badly decomposed banana in a school bag at the end of August. Nor, as happened to me after one mid-term break, to discover that the school bag is missing, having been left in a coffee shop a week earlier.

2. Schoolbooks
Unsurprisingly, the best way to do this is to order them before school term ends. And then force yourself to take the difficult next step – checking them off against the list, and the stationary too. Then put them away. Forget about them until the end of August. If you haven’t done it yet, do it now. Stop reading this (but do come back!) and go order your books – there are loads of providers who will deliver to your home or a bookshop near you. However with online ordering, there can be delays, so sooner is better.

And some advice on covering books: unless you’re brilliant at it or find it in some way therapeutic, don’t try it yourself. “Pay the extra to get school books covered when you’re ordering,” says mum of three Eithne. “Sometimes bookshops offer this free, or there might be a discount which in turn covers the cost.”

3. Uniforms
These are tricky – kids have a habit of growing, so buying uniforms before summer break might not work for everyone. Even so, it’s good to have an idea of what’s needed, and then do a final try-on of existing uniforms during August, to see if anything else needs replacing.

Look out for uniform sales at school. “We are lucky in that my daughter’s school do a second-hand uniform sale, so we can pick up stuff at that cheaply,” says mum of three, Emily. “In my son’s school they don't do it but I’m more than happy to take hand-me-downs from other mums who have no younger boys!”

If you can use generic uniforms, keep an eye out for special offers. “Buy multiple uniforms so there's never a panic on washing. I buy the department store pieces when they are on offer,” says mum-of-two Norah. “And buy the school tracksuit top, but also buy multiple generic bottoms if you can, as they usually get more wear.”

“Spread the cost,” says Eithne. “Before I had kids, I always scoffed at the back to school offers appearing in June, but now I buy whenever there are offers, even if I don’t need something till later in the year.”

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Mum of two Jenny agrees. “I find it easier up pick up bits as I go through the summer instead of buying everything together. So beakers one week, pencil cases and lunch boxes another, and so on.”

And don’t leave it too late, as mum-of-four Adele discovered. “I remember last year getting caught out. Although you can't see anything but school uniforms for ages, by the end of September, they're all gone, and it’s impossible to get a replacement jumper.”

As for avoiding the rush? Mum of three Sinead has it covered: “Go to the shops on the hottest day - not a wet day. Avoid the wet days like the plague. If the sun is shining, the shoe and uniform shops will be empty.”

Lastly, if you think you might be entitled to the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, click here to see more details.

4. Labels
Label everything – books, lunch boxes, water bottles, school bags, and every item of uniform. It’s a pain, but so worth it the first time your child comes home without a tracksuit top, and even more so the fifth time it happens.
You can buy personalised labels online – stick on or iron on – or you can use a waterproof marker to put names on clothing.

5. Re-connecting with classmates
“If they haven't seen their school friends over the summer, it’s good to meet up before they go back,” suggests mum-of-four Deborah. Especially for younger children, seeing friends again after a two-month break can be daunting, so arrange a playdate if you can.

6. Routine
The biggest hurdle for my kids is getting up earlier that first week. And going to bed earlier the night before. So for the last few days of August, I try getting them to bed a little sooner. I can’t quite bring myself to wake them up in the morning, but I figure a half-measure is better than no attempt at all.

And keep it simple for the period around the return to school. “Don’t plan much for after school the first week as they'll be tired, and try to chill a bit the last weekend of the holidays,” suggests Sinead.

7. Starting school
If your little one is starting junior infants this year, the preparation becomes all the more important. To make it run as smoothly as possible, follow these tips:
• Bring your child to the school before it starts – most schools have an induction meeting, but even driving by closer to September will help.
• Arrange a playdate with someone who will be in your child’s class if possible.
• Label everything, and make sure your child can open and close shoes, coats, lunchbox, and can go to the toilet without help.
• Pack a small, easy to manage lunch for the first day, so your child isn’t stressed by a packet that’s difficult to open or a yogurt that spills all over the new uniform.
• Speak positively about school but don’t overdo it – too much build-up can be counter-productive too.

Finally, a summary checklist to make sure you have everything:

Uniform
PE gear
School shoes
Runners
School bag
Lunchbox
Water bottle
School books
Pencil case and stationary
Labels

And now that the books are ordered, and everything is under control, it’s back to the Rose of Tralee. Just for the nostalgia factor. Of course.

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back to school, top tips, preparation, checklist