To learn what parents across the country are doing to get their children ready for going back to school, GreatSchools conducted the Back-to-School Benchmark Survey in July 2008. The findings revealed that while most parents are engaged in back-to-school shopping, they may be overlooking other important ways they can help their children prepare for a new school year.

According to the survey, parents are more than twice as likely to shop for supplies and clothes for their children as to:

  • Find out what their children will be learning in the new school year
  • Meet the new teachers
  • Adjust their children’s sleep schedule
  • Get their children on a nutritional breakfast schedule
  • Increase their children’s reading time
  • Reduce their children’s video/computer game playing time

“Shopping has become synonymous with back to school, but parents are searching for more meaningful guidance about preparing their children to transition back to the classroom,” noted Bill Jackson, GreatSchools’ founder and CEO. “GreatSchools is having that conversation with parents, by connecting them with practical advice on how to effectively prepare their children.”

Shopping gets all the attention

Parents are spending more time and money on back-to-school shopping than on fundraising or volunteering for their children’s schools, according to the survey. In fact, they are more than three times as likely to plan out their back-to-school shopping as they are to know how much time they will volunteer at their children’s school.

Where do parents get their back-to-school information?

Most parents rely primarily on schools and teachers for information about back-to-school preparation. A small minority turn to other parents, their school district or the Internet for advice. Seventeen percent of parents in the survey do not seek out or have information about back-to-school preparation.

“Schools are simply too over-taxed and under-resourced to provide everything to every parent, so the Web is a natural resource,” said Jackson. “GreatSchools is serving as a partner to parents by providing them with easy, low-cost ways to help their children prepare mentally and physically for back to school and return to the classroom with a positive attitude.”

The right kind of back-to-school preparation

While 71% of parents try to get their children back on their school-night sleep schedules, only a minority take the additional steps that education experts recommend, such as increasing reading time and reducing TV/video time.

Adjusting sleep schedules: what the experts say

Children naturally resist giving up their summer freedoms — staying up late and sleeping in being two of the most prized. But parents who are firm and enforce a return to the school sleep schedule a few weeks before school starts will reap the benefits in less cranky, more alert children for the first week of school.

“Have a night-time routine and stick to it,” says Kathy Glass, an educational consultant and author focusing on curriculum and instruction, and a former middle school teacher. “Begin in August so kids are accustomed to it when school starts.”

Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at Temple University, and author of You and Your Adolescent and The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting, adds a new twist to adjusting sleep habits. “Most important is to get your child up on time. You can be less concerned about getting them to bed on time as research shows getting them up is key to making the shift,” he says.

More back-to-school tips

Survey respondents shared their ideas on making the transition back to school a successful one. One parent described how she keeps her children’s minds stimulated during the summer: “I make them do little things around the house that are like school work, for example, write their names, do math, write a story, read, science.”

Steinberg advises going over the new school schedule a week before the start of school. “For younger children, explain the schedule and how the days will be organized. For secondary school children, ask them to explain what their schedule will be like — what classes they are taking, what extracurricular activities, work schedule, etc. Help them think ahead as to how to handle their responsibilities. When will they block out time for homework? When will they block out time to practice? Help them make sure the schedule is realistic.”

Change the back-to-school focus

The Back-to-School Benchmark Survey highlights the need for a more comprehensive approach to preparing for a new school year — focusing less on shopping and more on the child and the school.

Shopping, for example, can wait until the first weeks of school or even be spread out over the first month. “Typically, teachers send home a list of what they want students to bring to school,” says Glass. “I think it’s best to wait until the first day or week of school when the list is issued. Otherwise, you might find yourself purchasing items that your children do not need.”

More important than supplies is parental involvement. “Parents should think about the level of involvement they can commit to for the year,” says Steinberg. “Whether it’s one field trip or volunteering weekly, figure out the level of involvement you can commit to and stick with it.”

A back-to-school checklist

A few weeks before school starts, move bedtime earlier each night and wake-up time earlier each morning, until the first day of school.

Have your child read 20 minutes a night.

Regulate TV and video game time as you would during the school year.

Plan how much time you can devote to volunteering for the school.

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Updated: March 16, 2016