By Meghan Holohan
For some parents, back-to-school time feels like a mad rush to find school supplies and clothes, fill out paperwork and sign up for extracurricular activities. There's a solution: Ask children to help. Yes, really: It reduces stress and encourages children to be engaged.
“When we involve our kids in back to school preparation we help them take more responsibility for their own learning and education this school year,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a child development expert, told TODAY Parents. “Also, they are much less likely to feel shocked and betrayed on the first day of school when they realize summer vacation is over.”
Gilboa offers an age-by-age guide on what children can do to help make back-to-school preparation run smoothly.
Preschool and Kindergarten
Even the youngest students can help make back-to-school planning easier.
“They can shop around their own house for school supplies,” she said. “Some of those things you have to go out and buy new, but some of it you have around the house.”
While having preschool and kindergarten students find supplies helps parents craft a shopping list, it also gives parents a chance to start teaching their children important lessons.
“It is great for kids to learn to re-use and recycle and to start to gather their own stuff,” Gilboa explained.
What’s more, it can be a way for parents to practice skills with their children. Say the supply list asks for five pencils, but the child only finds three. Parents can work with them to practice simple subtraction.
Another way preschoolers and kindergarteners can get involved is by having a day where they wake up as if they are going to school.
“They can have a practice morning and come tell you what they think,” Gilboa said. “I would not suggest doing that the actual first day of school.”
First to Fourth Grade
Students in early elementary school can also shop for school supplies in the house and have a practice morning. But they can help with a few more tasks. Take lunch. Starting around age 9, children should pack their own lunches — with a little guidance.
“You can involve younger elementary students in ... a plan for making their own lunch,” she said. “You have to come up with the healthy options so it is not just birthday cake and Cheetos.”
They can also go through their clothes and organize them. Gilboa suggests parents ask their children to make three piles: One pile of clothes that fit and they will wear. One pile of clothes that fit but they will not wear. And one pile that doesn’t fit.
“You are going to go through those piles and make sure they were right. Make sure they didn’t keep something with so many holes in it,” she said. “That gets you started with the back-to-school clothes shopping.”
Children can also read ads and look for deals.
“Have them clip coupons for school supplies,” she said.
And, they can review their class list and see who they want to befriend. That way parents can set up playdates prior to school starting.
“This helps them feel like they are going to be socially comfortable,” Gilboa said.
Fifth to Eighth Grade
While fifth to eighth graders can do everything that younger children can, giving middle schoolers a budget to spend on school supplies and clothes teaches them how to manage money.
“Give them a budget,” Gilboa said. “We have X amount of money to spend on back to school clothes … make a list of what you would like.”
Also ask them to create a list of foods they want in lunches and ask them to plan when they are going to pack them. Is it in the morning? Immediately after coming home from school?