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Asha Dornfest

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Asha Dornfest is the founder and editor of Parent Hacks, a blog that shares "forehead-smackingly smart parenting tips." She's also the coauthor of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, with Christine Koh. Asha lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids.

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Back to School: Five Realistic Tips for Transition

By Asha Dornfest |

Back to school

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Three things fuel my hesitance about writing “back to school” stuff. First, in Portland, school doesn’t start until after Labor Day and I’m a big fan of denial. Second, we have such a fleeting sunny season here that even mentioning Fall feels like tempting fate to bring back the clouds. Finally, I love summer. I love the open schedule and the serendipity and the learning-with-no-homework and the “anything’s possible” vibe. I want to squeeze every last drop of warmth and adventure out of our break, even if it means covering my ears LALALALALALA when I hear some TV ad cheerfully suggest it’s time to get ready for school.

But if I’m honest with myself, I know that my family operates better on a routine. We feel better about ourselves when our days and weeks have rhythm, and we’re heading in the direction of our goals. As much as the outward story in my house is ugh, school, I know that we’re all looking forward to it in our own ways.

Therefore, my plan is to balance getting prepared for school with enjoying our finals days of summer. I mean, who wants to go to bed early two weeks before summer’s over? On the other hand, starting school with ill-fitting shoes and a few dull pencils is a total bummer.

Here are my just-enough-school-preparation tips.


Routines — wakeup, bedtime, after school — form the backbone of our day during the school year. Our routines are pretty loose, meaning they’re more “order of operations” than strict time-based procedures, so for the most part we maintain them during the summer. For example, my kids get up MUCH later on summer mornings, but they still have to eat breakfast, clear dishes, brush teeth and get dressed.

As school approaches, I remind people about following our routines and print up a new list (believe it or not, having routines on paper and posted really helps). I also start talking in terms of dates and times, because they matter more as school approaches.

What I don’t do: try to wedge my kids into their schoolday routines before school starts. It may seem like “preparation,” but it just feels false and depressing. Kids will usually rise to the occasion when the time comes.


We clean out the kids’ rooms, drawers, shoe collections, and homework spaces. Again, nothing drastic, but we get the kids involved as a gentle way to return to the more orderly surroundings that facilitate an easier school year.

School Supplies

Here’s one detail I make sure is squared away. All the school supplies are purchased well ahead of time, and the kids pack them into reusable shopping bags they can take to school and leave there. I find that having all the backpacks and lunch bags and Pink Pearl erasers accounted for helps us all feel calmer about the first day of school.


We don’t go nuts with the back-to-school clothes shopping. Perhaps it’s because neither of my kids cares much about clothes, and/or because I hate shopping for clothing.

We make sure the pants and the shoes fit, and the shirts aren’t too ratty. We also arrange two or three outfits for the first few days of school. Everyone wants to feel confident on those days, and having comfy, cute clothing helps a bit. But we spread the shopping out over the first month or two of school. That way, the kids can weigh in on trends they like (I try to respect that can be important as the kids get older), and the $ layout is more gradual. Sales seem to go on throughout the Fall.


One thing I don’t relish about back-to-school is the return of lunch packing. Sigh. I have to remind myself about what the kids like and stock the pantry and fridge appropriately. I make sure the lunch box containers are intact, and the water bottles are clean. I also try to stock the dinner menu for the first week of school with kid favorites. It is a big change for the kids to be back at school all day, and I like to think that a non-threatening dinner is a comfort in the evening.

How about you? How does your family transition from summer to school?

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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About Asha Dornfest


Asha Dornfest

Asha Dornfest is the founder and editor of Parent Hacks, a blog that shares "forehead-smackingly smart parenting tips." She's also the coauthor of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less, with Christine Koh. Asha lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and two kids. Read bio and latest posts → Read Asha's latest posts →

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2 thoughts on “Back to School: Five Realistic Tips for Transition

  1. Jill in Atlanta says:

    We’re in week two already and starting to get the swing of things. We gradually moved bedtimes closer to normal, making it clear that “bedtime” was not something one gets changed just because you are a grade/year older. It gets adjusted to what is best for your body. That said, half way through the first week I tossed my 8yo into bed at 7:30. Yes, he complained, but only until he fell asleep two minutes later!

    We moved clothes from the “too big” box into the 11 yo’s closet and his now-replaced clothes into the other room. All the elementary school logo items now belong to the only one in elementary school. (Ahh, easier sorting!) We tried to squeeze in a few last field trips between shopping errands. We bought some fun lunchbox treats.

    The transition went pretty well. They both had frustrations the first week which we patiently worked through (see and we made it. We celebrated with a special family dinner and movie. Week two is going better in the mornings and both are acting happier with their days. I’m hoping the worst is past us now and we’re ready for digging into routine.

  2. Asha Dornfest says:

    Thanks for the update, Jill! Glad things are getting settled. That’s the thing…when I think back, every year it *does* settle in and only minimal preparation is necessary. But I can also remember the years when school was a huge challenge for my son, and the end-of-summer dread was palpable. So much depends on the situation, no matter HOW much we prepare.

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