Back to School can be a good thing and a bad thing… The beginning of the school year can be exciting: starting in a new school, challenging new classes, seeing school friends more often.  But it can also be chaotic, disorganized, and challenging. Shifting from summer to a rigorous school schedule can be a painful transition, for parents as well as teens. Early wake-ups, homework, school projects, after-school clubs and activities can fill up a day pretty quickly. This year our oldest is starting high school, which means we also have a totally new routine to get used to. So, it’s totally understandable that a few things will fall through the cracks as students and parents adjust to the new demands.

Back to School Organization


Why not make your life easier with a little help from a routine?

When my kids were in elementary school, we kept a print-out of all the little things they had to remember to get themselves ready:  brush your teeth, brush your hair, put all homework in your backpack, remember your P.E. clothes, don’t forget your lunch!  They could check them every day, make sure all of it got done, and feel confident that they were ready for their day.

I always thought that once they had mastered that routine, our lives would get so much easier. Ha! As they’ve gotten older, the added complications to their schedules have definitely kept us all on our toes.

A couple of years ago, a change in schools moved up our morning school drop off by a whole hour. All of a sudden, our mornings became very hectic.  For longer than I would like to admit, we had very stressful mornings of rushing and barely making it out the door on time.  Of course, this wasn’t good for anyone.  But as much as my kids ask me not to “project manage” them, we had no choice but to set up a much more detailed schedule and routine for school nights and school mornings.  Everything from a strict wake-up time, to a specific time to start breakfast, and a prep checklist for their backpacks.  After a few short weeks, following this new routine considerably lowered everyone’s stress levels, while helping my kids feel totally ready for school every morning.

It may sound like I think that a list fixes everything, but what needs to get done remains the same whether you plan out your steps and write them down, or you try to wing it.

Where do we even start?

Fast forward to this year, and we’re past the stage of forgotten homework or lunches at home. But our routines keep changing as they move into high school and more demanding after school clubs and sports. Combine that with having to leave the house before 7am to make it to school on time, and it becomes pretty critical to follow a routine that works for us, almost to the minute.

Sometimes our schedules change day to day, with different times for school activities in the afternoon. We also have different schools, different drop-off times, and different activities, so we’ve had to work through totally new routines.  So, it’s critical to map out the week, with everything on the calendar, and figure out what needs to happen day by day.

Simplify the Back To School Routine To Reduce Stress

Most family’s schedules are different and unique. You should work with your kids to map out on a calendar (paper or online) all the daily activities. Make sure to note anything different about the school day, like a block schedule with alternating class days, or after-school activities that don’t follow a regular weekly schedule.

1.  Plan Ahead:

You want to start with defining a routine that works for your teen and your family for the morning, and another one at night.  At night, kids can take care of most of what they need to do to prep for the morning, hopefully minimizing the morning rush to get to school on time.

Some critical tasks that can be easily done every school night are:

  • clean out their lunch bags from the day
  • review the list of all homework and forms due
  • print out any homework, essays, or reports
  • electronically turn in all homework due
  • prepare their backpacks with homework, forms, uniform items, etc.
  • ensure PE clothes are ready to go
  • pick out school clothes for the next day
  • prepare any clothes needed for sports or other school activities the next day

In the morning, we try to keep the activities to a minimum, since time is compressed and everyone feels rushed. For the morning routine:

  • we have regular wake up times
  • a specific time to eat breakfast
  • a list of lunch and snacks for the day
  • one final check of the backpack

What about the weekend?

We even have certain chores that need to be done every weekend. On Saturdays, my kids are responsible for checking for any homework due on Monday or Tuesday, and making plans for when that homework will be done over the weekend. They also have to do all their laundry before Sunday night.  Another tricky one we keep dealing with is group school projects. Sometimes they need time to meet or call their groups to work on something together, so we make sure to take that into account.

Sunday night is not the time to find out that the P.E. uniform is still dirty and sweaty, that there’s supplies that need to be bought for a school project, or that a report needs to be printed but the printer is out of ink!

2.  Review and reflect:

For the first few days, or even weeks, you will notice that some things may still be missing from your teen’s school night and morning routines.  Work together with your kids to take notes and discuss:

  • what went well
  • what got missed
  • is the timing working
  • how can everyone work together to make things easier?

3.  Make adjustments:

When you try to set up a new routine, chances are you will need to tweak it and adjust it more than once. So once you have talked through how it’s going, make a new list of tasks, bedtimes and wake-up times. We like to have our checklists easily accessible on our phones, but while everyone is getting used to the new routine we get everything printed and posted on bedroom walls and the kitchen for easy access.

Building on the Back to School Routine

One thing we’ve figured out together, kids and teens don’t learn to plan and organize on their own. This is not a trait that naturally appears as you get older. Same as with anything we learn, developing these skills need work, practice, and repetition. Enough repetition, and soon enough the morning routine will run smoothly and become a habit.

Working together your kids to agree on a routine will give them ownership of the process.  Developing good habits and routines are valuable skills that will help prepare them for college and beyond.


For a printable version of the School Day Routine checklist, go to our Resources page.  To create your own checklist that fits your schedule, there are different online resources… but I’ve found the easiest for me to be  You will find many templates to fit whatever look is best for your family!


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Back to School Is a Great Time for Teens to Start a New Routine
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