Back To School Guide 2016


A new year and a new grade means new friends, new rules, and a new environment. While some students look forward to the first day back, others dread it, mourning the loss of summer. Make the transition as smooth as possible. 


Back to school, back to sleep 

When summer break screeches to a halt, how can you make sure your children are waking up on time with enough sleep? 

Start early by starting late. With school approaching, start prepping kids for that dreaded wake-up time by enforcing bedtimes a few weeks before classes begin. Remember, kids need at least eight hours of sleep a night, so gradually start pushing bedtime and wake-up times by 15 minutes, to help ease the transition. 

Get back into routines. Summer means a lack of routine and the absence of a rigid schedule. Children thrive on routine, so establish some daytime structure before school starts. Pretty soon, kids will swap days of play for hours sitting at a desk. Consider adding activities like a reading hour to get kids back into upcoming school and sleep schedules. 

Limit screen time. About an hour before bedtime, start winding down by turning the screens off. Encourage your kids to read a book in bed, spend time drawing, or discuss goals for the school year. Shifting from entertainment to “edu-tainment” helps stimulate the mind without interfering with a healthy night’s sleep. 

Live for the weekend. These changes in routines are tough— students are typically exhausted at the beginning of the year— so use the weekends to let your kids play catch up. 

Be realistic. Kids are going to resist. They may be tired and cranky. It’s okay. Start revamping their sleep schedule early to allow for the transition to go slow.

The morning frenzy— a rush to the bathroom, clothes on the bedroom floor, deciding what to wear can sometimes be the hardest part of the day.

What’s up with uniforms? 


  • Parents buy fewer clothes and do less laundry.
  • Uniforms save time; students don’t have to think about what to wear to school each day.
  • Mary Schoen, who attended St. Ursula Academy as a teenager, says uniforms “evened the playing field” because students “couldn’t tell the haves from the have-nots. The competition was more about grades, which classes you were in, etc.”
  • Jennifer Gross, who attended St. Joan of Arc and Central Catholic High School, explains that uniforms helped prevent cliques because they “eliminated the competition for having the best/most expensive clothes.”
  • Gross adds, “They made you take school more seriously. When we had dress-down days it was hard to pay attention. You just feel better when you look your best.”


  • Laundry must be done more frequently (unless you buy several uniforms).
  • Uniforms can be quite pricey, and students don’t wear them outside of school.
  • Students can’t express their individuality with clothes.
  • Uniforms aren’t flattering or comfortable for every body type.
  • Students can be punished for not being completely compliant.
  • Uniforms may be uncomfortable, especially in extreme hot or cold weather.
  • Uniforms can make the transition to college more challenging. Gross discloses, “It was nice not having to pick out an outfit every day. I struggled when I went to college getting used to that, since I wore uniforms from kindergarten to senior year.”

Creative ways to make a uniform unique

It’s all about accessories! Jennifer Gross, wore uniforms from kindergarten through high school, she reflects, “We tried to make them unique by wearing fun and crazy colored socks and shoes, especially since the girls had to wear skirts. We would put ribbons or fun headbands in our hair to add some ‘glam.’”

Mary Schoen, who attended St. Ursula 40 years ago, said: “Girls went crazy with socks, stripes, bright colors, wild designs, to reflect personalities and rebel at some level. Hair ribbons were also a tool to stand out, as were shoes. From neck to knee, we were dressed alike, but we went all out trying to be individuals.” However, according to current uniform guidelines, socks must be solid-colored in navy, white, or black. Schoen jokes, “We probably messed up the sock thing! Some psychedelic socks in the 70s!”

Check the dress code

Each district, and even schools within a district, have varying dress rules. Check with your individual school before the academic year commences. Most schools post their dress codes online to make it easy for parents. 

Many districts, such as TPS and Springfield, do not allow hooded sweatshirts, sweatpants, leggings, yoga pants, flip-flops, hats, book bags, tank tops, or coats. Skirts must be an “appropriate length” (usually knee-length or longer), and while neckline is not typically specified in the rules, girls with revealing decolletage have been asked to change or cover up. Some schools also have rules about piercings (particularly facial piercings) and hair color/style. To avoid inappropriate t-shirt designs (hateful material, drug/sex references, etc.), many schools have adopted the policy that shirts cannot have any sort of design/logo.


Tablets vs Textbooks

Some local schools have technology programs where each student has a school-issued iPad or tablet that contains his/her textbooks and assignments. In our technology-laden world, the educational use of technology maintains student interest while preparing students for the future. Paper waste is dramatically reduced, and students are no longer lugging heavy textbooks and papers to and from school. Tablets can provide immediate feedback on assignments, shown to improve student achievement. Grades can often be entered faster and more efficiently with electronically completed assignments.

As with other forms of technology, tablets pose other issues. When the school server crashes, every student is affected, and not all students have access to internet at home. Technology can provide students with more excuses for not completing their assignments: the internet wasn’t working, the program wouldn’t open, the iPad kept crashing, etc. While all students have electronic insurance, there are still typically costs associated with repairs and replacements for both parents and the school. Fixing tech problems can be time consuming. Without a book, students cannot interact by underlining, commenting, or highlighting, a useful tool for many visual and kinesthetic learners.

Using iPads heightens concerns with cheating, but teachers can eliminate the ability to cheat. For example, teachers can switch off the wifi in their classroom. Another option is to create the test online, and then students must access the test through an app (such as Padlock) that locks the student’s tablet and prevents them from opening any other site. Programs exist that allow teachers to monitor all of the screens in the room simultaneously on a single device.


Mercifully easy lunches

Kids don’t care if their food photogenic

Super-moms who pack Pinterest-approved quinoa salads for their kale-eating kids are undoubtably proud. 

But for the rest of us? We know green is synonymous with “no way” and kids only really want lunch money. Don’t compare yourself to moms on the internet— packed lunches can be cheap, easy, tasty and kid-approved. 

Looking for lunch ideas that are mercifully easy? These might make the PTA moms jealous. 

Not your average quesadilla

We know, it’s hard to improve on a dish that is essentially a carb stuffed with cheese, but hear us out. The quesadilla-concept is perfect for school lunches— or breakfast on the go— by swapping cheese for peanut butter, or another nut butter, like almond or cashew, spread on a whole-wheat tortilla and top with fruit, like strawberries, diced apples, banana slices, or chocolate chips and shredded coconut, and fold in half. This killer combo is tasty cold or treated to 15 seconds in the school microwave. 

Food to be played with 

Deconstructed classics are all the rage for playful gourmands, but we doubt kids are concerned with gourmet food trends. Enter: the kabob. Whether it’s fruit on a skewer, a sandwich broken into bite sized parts, or veggies and dip, creative kabobs are perfect for kids who like to play with their food.

Smooth moves

Want to up the ante on a juice box? For kids who thrive on smoothies, the cold-sipping drinks of summer don’t have to remain a distant memory once school hits. Smoothies can easily be made the night— or nights— before and frozen. Pack the frozen drink in the morning and let it defrost by the time the lunch bell rings. 

Parfait perfect

For kids with a sweet tooth— or a mouth full of them— this brunch-time favorite is a great lunchtime solution. Yogurt, fresh fruit, granola and honey come together for a protein and vitamin rich meal that’s colorful, delicious and nutritious. 

Ready to make salad happen? 

Woah there! Getting ready to fill out a FAFSA, too? How old is your kid, anyway? 25? While salad might be the stereotypical anti-kid food, easing into leafy-green territory doesn’t have to be completely painful as long as you consider two kid-approved starting points: carbs and sweets. Introduce veggies and greens through a pasta salad, or bring out the sweet flavors of peppers, carrots and onions with dried fruits and bright vinaigrettes.

Cursive: a lost art 

Many schools in the country have abandoned the art of cursive writing. Common Core does not require it; instead, the curriculum emphasizes keyboarding and computer skills, so many schools have dropped or deemphasized the teaching of cursive. At least 41 states do not mandate cursive, and the reviews are still mixed as to whether this is beneficial or detrimental to this generation’s educational experience. Supporters of cursive argue that it helps fine and gross motor skills, improves patience and concentration, and allows individuals to read important historical documents, such as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Others contend that cursive is a dying art and not necessary for today’s world; instructional time can be better spent on more important skills.