Ages 3 to 6
While this age group only spans four years, there’s a lot of change and growth happening. Don’t be surprised if the transitions are tumultuous, but most teachers will tell you that your child’s tearful goodbyes are short-lived; once you’re out of sight, fun distractions usually win over.
- Start a more rigorous sleep schedule a few weeks before school actually starts. “Younger children thrive on routine and need 10 to 12 hours of sleep per night so they can be at their best to learn,” says Hannah Kull, a nurse practitioner at Children’s Health Network in West St. Paul.
- Make sure you’ve taught your kids to wash their hands well and often to keep germs and illness at bay.
- Schedule your child for an early childhood screening in your school district and make sure his/her immunizations are updated, says Mary Yackley, director of student health and wellness at the St. Paul Public Schools.
- Have your child eat a good breakfast every morning, says Megan Iliev, a pediatrician at Southdale Pediatrics. That goes for kids of every age—establish the habit early!
- Make your school aware of medical conditions and allergies your child has.
- Start a daily habit of reading before bedtime before your child is old enough to read. It helps language development and instills a love of books.
- Answer your child’s questions and try not to get frustrated by the constant refrain of “Why?” Curiosity is healthy.
- Help your child with homework, but don’t do it for him. Set expectations on when homework will be completed.
- Help your child tell time, count money, and practice other everyday math in the course of their daily lives.
The Gear (3 to 6)
- Let your child pick out a new backpack to get her excited.
- Send a water bottle to school to help your child get plenty of fluids. (But don’t spend too much, you’ll probably go through several.)
- Get a lunchbox that can stand up to wear, tear, and applesauce.
- Choose clothes that your child will wear. If she says she doesn’t like something, she probably won’t wear it.
Ages 7 to 12
By the time your kids are 7, homework will start to ramp up significantly. Kids may perceive pressure to perform and keep up with their peers. Activities also multiply—soccer, music lessons, ballet. Try to set aside time every day to listen to your kids talk about their lives.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep so he can wake up ready for the day and in time for a good breakfast.
- Teach your child healthy eating habits. If packing lunches, make sure they’re balanced to provide nutrition and energy. If your child eats lunch at school, check in often to make sure he’s eating the “good stuff” and not just the sweet stuff.
- Schedule a physical exam with your health care provider before your child enters sixth or seventh grade so that she can participate in athletics, says Yackley with St. Paul Public Schools.
- Instill a sense of personal boundaries—teach your child appropriate limits with strangers and people he knows.
- “Academic success starts with a regular homework routine,” says Dr. Gigi Chawla of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. “Set expectations around this protected time.”
- Determine screen time guidelines in advance to minimize weekly (or nightly) debates about it.
- Keep reading every night, whether you’re reading to your kid or he’s reading to himself.
- Encourage open communication with your child’s teacher so you can address any concerns quickly and with goodwill.
The Gear (7 to 12)
- Don’t wait until the last minute for school supplies—all the erasers will be gone!
- Make sure a new backpack fits your child and is durable enough to last a few years.
- Choose a good pair of athletic shoes for P.E.
- Be aware of any dress codes before shopping for new fashions.
- Choose a “cool” (insulated) lunchbox if your child takes lunch from home.
Ages 13 to 17
You’ve got yourself a teenager! No need to run for the hills screaming. Their behavior is probably normal. Most kids at this age flex their independence muscles and test limits, so try to set those limits ahead of time. Teenagers expect some friction with you and some part of them knows it comes from a place of love. Their late-junior high and high school years can be wonderful and stressful and fun and rewarding and terrifying—all made a little more intense today, thanks to social media.
- “Try to have them get back into a normal school time sleep schedule a couple weeks before school starts,” Iliev at Southdale Pediatrics says. Getting them to go to sleep earlier will ease the pain of having to get up earlier than they’re used to in the summer. And make sure your teen knows how important sleep is, and that she still needs more than eight hours each night.
- Spend plenty of time behind the wheel with your driving teen so you’re comfortable with their capabilities. Or as comfortable as is reasonable, or possible.
- Monitor your kid’s stress level, keeping an open dialogue about how they can manage stress, says Chawla at Children’s. “Encourage kids to ask for help from teachers or seek out school counselors if concerns arise,” she says.
- Talk about social media with your teen and set reasonable but firm boundaries. And make sure you’ve educated yourself on the issues teens face online so you can parent appropriately.
- “Show up on day one in shape” if you expect to play sports, says Nick Rathmann, director of athletics for The Blake School. “Know your sport and what kind of shape you will need to be in. And get a strength and conditioning plan together.”
- Do baseline concussion testing, if your school offers it. “It doesn’t prevent or solve concussions,” Rathmann says, “but it’s a tool doctors can use.”
- It’s all about time management. Work with your child to set a homework schedule. Try to get them to start it early in the evening rather than late at night.
- It’s also about setting high expectations. Make sure your kids know that you expect them to complete assignments thoroughly and on time.
- Help your kids set attainable goals for the week, the semester, and the year.
- Encourage your teen to ask questions of her teachers rather than falling behind if she is struggling.
The Gear (13 to 17)
- Teens should be capable of finding out what they need for school.
- Teens should also know what sporting gear and other extracurricular gear is required.
- Your teen might need a graphing calculator or app. Things can get pricey, so make sure you know what they need before you buy.
- A planner or a scheduling app like MyHomework or Schoolology helps organize.
- A good backpack with laptop padding also helps.
The nest is about to get a little emptier. Young adults headed off to college are embarking on a momentous odyssey. They’ll need to put the study and time-management skills they’ve learned to the test. They’ll need to make new friends and face all sorts of choices on their own. They’ll need to learn about money, work, and the consequences of not thinking about both. Focus on the things you can control—a new duvet for her dorm room!—and trust that the values you’ve taught will take her the rest of the way.
- Talk to your kids about “healthy lifestyle choices that will help them avoid common illness,” says Madonna McDermott, director of Health Services and Wellness Center at the University of St. Thomas. That means getting eight hours of sleep per night, maintaining a balanced diet, exercising, and limiting alcohol consumption.
- If your kids must drink, tell them to “eat first, drink slowly, drink lots of water, avoid drinking games, arrange for a designated driver, and never leave a friend alone or with someone they don’t know,” McDermott says.
- To stay healthy, college kids should get aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week, Iliev at Southdale Pediatrics says. They can go to the gym, or join an intramural sport.
- “Make sure [they] protect themselves by updating vaccines, washing their hands, and getting enough sleep,” says Dr. Lisa Irvin at Partners in Pediatrics. “College campuses, especially dormitories, are great places for infectious diseases to spread.”
- College students should be very conscious of how they manage their time so they can get all their work done, which means knowing when to say no to extra activities, McDermott at the University of St. Thomas says.
- “Try to designate a couple of different locations as study areas: one where you live, one at your college, and one in a general location,” suggests Andrew Cseter, director of TRIO Programs at Metropolitan State University.
- Encourage a class in a new subject your child knows nothing about—this is the time to broaden horizons.
- Encourage your child to engage with advisors, support services, or specific services for special sub-group populations. “Colleges are great at telling students what to do, but sometimes colleges forget to tell students how to do it,” Cseter says.
The Gear (college bound)
- Start early collecting dorm-room essentials such as bedding, toiletries, cleaning supplies, and laundry detergent. As for mini-refrigerators and other big items, check with roommates and divvy up the purchases.
- A laptop or tablet are required college tools.
- A good pair of earbuds, or a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, are priceless.
- A study lamp will encourage the practice.
Adults Going Back
You’ve taken time off to pursue other interests—a family, a career—and now you’re set to head back to school as a full-time or part-time student. Like kids coming off of summer vacation, this is going to throw your daily routine for a loop as you balance a whole new set of demands.
- Set aside time for yourself to regroup and relax, especially if you’re adding school to an already full plate of work and/or family. “Returning to school can cause some initial anxiety as students adapt to a new schedule with rigorous deadlines and requirements,” says Holly Pierson, student orientation specialist at Bethel University. Your mental health is a key part of your intellectual health.
- Don’t eat out of vending machines or rely on frozen pizzas for your daily vegetable serving. You are what you eat, and you’ll feel better if you keep good-for-you snacks at easy reach (carrots and hummus, nuts, cheese sticks, etc.).
- Stick to a plan of regular exercise. It will give you energy and help you keep weight gain at bay.
- Go to bed already! Adults still need about seven to eight hours of sleep a night to perform best.
- Hang out on campus before class starts. For adult students who commute to class, or take class partially online, it’s good to feel like you are a part of the community. Says Pierson, “Know where to find the library, or grab a cup of coffee.”
- Time management is as important now as it’s ever been. Don’t wait until 9 pm the night before a paper is due to get started! And know when to say no to extra obligations or plans.
- Set aside a private space in your house for studying and make sure that your spouse and kids know that when you’re working, you’re not to be disturbed.
- Take some time to refresh your study skills, including your most effective ways to take notes and study for tests.
- Don’t be hesitant to reach out for help from your professors or fellow students if you’re struggling in a certain area. And reach out before you feel overwhelmed.
- Try to have fun and meet new friends while you’re learning! For many adults, going back to school is a gift and second chance as much as it is a career-enhancing move.
The Gear (back to college)
- A good planner, calendar, or scheduling app can help you keep obligations in order.
- If you don’t already have a laptop or tablet, get one.
- If you don’t want an actual backpack, a large bag for your laptop, books, and notebooks is essential.
- Buy some running shoes or a bike and use them to exercise or simply get from point A to point B.
- Invest in a great water bottle to lug with you everywhere you go.
All products shown are from Target’s 2015 Back to School and Back to College collections, currently available at Target.