Back to school survival tips featured image: 2 boys getting ready for Kindergarten and Preschool

Between preschool and elementary school, I have many years of Back to School experience as a parent. However, I also taught high school for a decade, so Back to School (and Back to School survival) is basically my native tongue.

I’ve already professed my undying love and appreciation for teachers, but that doesn’t mean heading back to school is without its challenges.

Since some of you are already in your first weeks of school, and many more will be heading back later this month, I thought now would be a great time to share some key tips so that you can (hopefully) survive the Back to School chaos with your sanity and sense of humor intact.

Back to School Pro Tip #1: Start working out your arms.

With Back to School, you will pretty much be signing forms until the end of time. You could ask your husband to help with this, but truthfully, by the time you do that, you’ll probably just forget about the forms altogether. Then you’ll wonder why you’re getting ten emails and phone calls per day over a missing emergency care form you swore you signed already. Better to just start signing now and keep signing until your arms turn to rubber and fall off.

back to school tip to work out arms

The upside is that, perhaps for a little while, your tricep area will stop waving when the rest of your arm stops (but Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are all coming, so don’t get too used to that). An alternative is to teach your oldest (however old that is) to start forging your signature.

By the time they’re teens, they’ll be doing this anyway, so you might as well get some legwork out of them beforehand.

Back to School Pro Tip #2: Invest in a good paper shredder and electronic calendar.

You are going to receive 5,000 pieces of paper within the first week back to school. As I mentioned above, some of it requires signing, but much of it requires “processing” i.e. sitting around cluttering up your kitchen counter for infinity days.

By the second week, when 500 pages are coming home, you’ll feel like “Hey, this isn’t so bad,” but that’s only because you’re comparing it to the 5,000 from the week before. It’s still a crap-ton of paper (sorry, environment!).

You can be like me and set it in a pile so you can get to it “later” or you can save yourself a lot of trouble and embrace reality now: later is never coming. You are never getting to it.

Put any essential dates into your Google Calendar immediately (Back to School hasn’t even started for us yet, and my calendar already looks like something out of A Beautiful Mind), take a picture on your phone of any newsletter that looks important, and then chuck the rest into the garbage. Liberation, baby!

Back to School Pro Tip #3: Say it with me now: “N-o. No. NO!

If you’re a Type A people-pleaser like me, this is not a word that comes naturally when faced with other people’s requests. However, if you don’t start practicing now, you’re going to find yourself sponsoring or serving on 15 different committees, programs, and activities.

Several of them will probably take place more-or-less simultaneously while (at least) one of your children has practice, your spouse is away on business, the baby is sick, and you have an important work deadline (bonus suffering points if it also bumps up against a holiday).

Don’t get me wrong, volunteering is a wonderful thing, and our schools couldn’t do half of the amazing things they do without parental assistance, but know your limits. It’s easy to say yes to things at Back to School time, when you’re still relatively fresh, school has just started, and extracurriculars are barely even a thing yet, but, to quote Game of Thrones (which I’ve never even seen), “Winter is coming.”

Back to School Pro Tip #4: Get some good blackout curtains.

If you have children who are going back to school, chances are you’ve already purchased these bad boys somewhere along your parenting journey. If not, now is the time.

The first week (or two) back to school is hard on kids. It’s fun and it’s new and it’s exciting but… holy emotional breakdowns, Batman! We recently sent our kids to day camp for a week and got a slap-in-the-face reminder that, as fun as a six-hour day of activity may be, there’s a price to be paid; that price could be accurately called the “sanity tax” and it is paid by mom and dad.

After being good all day, somewhere else, the children delightfully come home and lose their sh-t on whoever is closest. In our house, that’s usually Mom. The meltdown might be short, it might be long, but it will most certainly be over something ridiculous (“He looked at me!” “He touched me!” “My shoes are too itchy!” etc. are all gems from our Back to School Greatest Hits Album).

The only cure for this is a ridiculously early bedtime for all children, while the sun is still high in the sky (hence, the need for those curtains). If you have children who can tell time, feel free to set clocks back to encourage this early bedtime charade. Don’t forget to unplug the cable boxes because Damn it, Fios, stop automatically displaying the proper time for all the children to see!

Back to School Pro Tip #5: Start Practicing Getting-Ready Relays ASAP

Take this section with a grain of salt because my family still stinks at getting ready, for anything really. We generally aim to leave an hour early for everything; this results in us being just barely on time or acceptably late for every occasion.

I have frequently walked to the bus stop in my favorite sweatshirt, despite remarkably warm weather, to cover up the fact that I am still wearing my pajama top. I have done preschool drop-off (parents, mercifully, do not have to get out of the car) in fuzzy Olaf pants, and the delightful staff pretends not to notice. They have kept up this charade, on and off, for years (bless them!).

Still, the early morning rush of Back to School is a slap in the face to anyone who’s not prepared. My suggestion is to start breaking in the kids now by having races to see who can get ready the fastest during those last few weeks of summer. Bonus points to whichever kid does not put their pants on backwards. Perhaps by the time the first day of school rolls around, you’ll at least have a fighting chance.

Back to School Pro Tip #6: Stock up on wine and nut-free snacks.

We are fortunate to not have any food allergies in our house, so after a summer of “buy whatever I want,” I sometimes forget that Back to School means that we have to buy different food. Not only must the food be nut-free, it must have a verifiable “processed in a nut-free facility” label.

This is no big deal much of the time, but when I forget am too lazy to go grocery shopping and we have to start packing lunches from the bottom of the barrel i.e. whatever I can find abandoned in the waaaaay back of the pantry or snack cabinet, we can get into some trouble. To avoid this, I suggest buying 8,000 nut-free, pre-packaged snacks in August, while your heart is still in it.

As for the wine, this should be fairly obvious. Summer was stressful in its own way, but Back to School is kind of like a sprint-race you didn’t train for (I only use the gym for free child care). Unwinding with a nice glass of Whatever Noir will help keep you from unleashing Psycho Mommy on those closest to you.

You can also stock up on some hard cider so that, if the stress is still too much when October rolls around, your drinking is festive and seasonal, rather than cause for concern.

Go ahead and buy a box of tissues too, because, even if you are excited for the kids to head back to school (hooray showering and peeing alone!), few things are a more clear reminder of another year with your children gone by than a fresh school year.

Cheers students, parents, and teachers, to a brand new school year!


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    1. Hi “MoreThanAMomOfThree,”

      Yes! I feel like it’s a mistake everyone makes at least once — but once you’ve made that mistake, you usually don’t make it again for a while.

      Good luck with the new school year!
      Charissa, AnotherMomofThree 🙂

  1. sanity-tax I like that. Yeah, kids have so much emotions. Also being a Type-A, with all the paper clutter talk I’m super glad I homeschool. I can’t handle lol

  2. I ALWAYS look forward to your posts! You make me realize I’m not alone! And you keep it real! The paper issue is a REAL problem! More papers than you know what to do with! I also learned the word NO for school because there is always something: a fundraiser, a volunteer opportunity, etc. Just no!

    1. Hi Mandy,

      You are so sweet—thank you so much! Yes, the struggle is very real when it comes to school (and everything else really!)! I feel like we just finally dug out from the paper avalanche from last year and it’s already time to start again 😱😱😱.


  3. I loved it! Everything that you described is basically my life! The only thing I am missing is the blackout curtains. School starts next Tuesday for my kids and I ironed all of their uniforms last week! I have a countdown board that I change the number on every morning….

  4. I am so exited for school to start (in theory). Two days a week both boys will be in school for a whole 2.5 hours. What will I do with myself?
    Thanks for paperwork prep. I am so bad with it. Pictures are a good idea. I am also going to try to keep the pile in one place. Currently I have a pile in the laundry room(entry point of the house where mail collects) kitchen, down stairs desk and upstairs office.

    1. Hi Kate,

      So true — it’s all very exciting “in theory.” I’m super excited for some things (a little less sibling in-fighting, a little less “Mom, entertain me!” etc.). I’m less excited for the push to be out of the house on time (because we are so, so terrible at it). Thank goodness I now teach from home, at night, because I can only imagine the layer of tardiness it would add to our mornings if I was still working at a “normal” time.

      Good luck with the papers and organization this year! If all else fails, set it on fire and give up 🙂


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