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If you want the start of school to be all smiles, check out these tips from a former elementary school principal.
TODAY contributor
updated 7/26/2012 9:05:15 AM ET 2012-07-26T13:05:15

I don’t like being a buzzkill. I really don’t. But that what I was every summer when I’d send my “Back to School” mailing as an elementary school principal. I always timed my letter about a month before the first day, for the same reason all savvy moms give a 5-minute warning before something unappealing is about to happen. It was my attempt to plant a seed: Savor your child’s fleeting moments of summer, but also get your parental act together, because come day one of school, my teachers mean business!

In the interest of making back-to-school smooth and stress-free for you and your child, here are my top 10 pieces of advice.

10. Unpack (for parents of our returning students).

Unpack the backpack from last year! I know most of you chucked it to the basement, or shoved it under a bed — I’m a mom, too — but there’s likely something perishable in there. If you open it now, you can spare your child the embarrassment of returning with a book bag that smells of decayed bananas, or even better, spare yourself the expense of a new one!

9. Crack those books.

Turn off the X-box, Wii, or Playstation and check that your older student has completed their summer reading.  I know, I know, I know! This summer was going to be different!  You were going to make sure that assignment was done right away, but then you blinked, and it was August.  Don’t panic!  There’s still time.   Now get crackin’!  (Required summer assignments can most likely be found on your child’s school’s website.)

8. Shop early, shop often.

Avoid that night-before-school-starts run to Target by checking things off the supply list now!  By carrying a copy with you and doing it piece-meal, it won’t seem like such a chore!   (Most school supply lists can be found on your child’s schools website.)

7. See the doc.

Schedule your back-to-school doctor’s appointments and attend them, preferably, before school starts.  We do check those vaccination records!  The coaches do need those physical forms before the first day of practice! And, for the love of chocolate (and I do love chocolate—hint) don’t forge them—we can tell!  (Most required medical forms can be downloaded from your child’s school’s website.)

6. Lights out.

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Start reining in your child’s bedtime. I know some of our students have grown fond of Nick At Nite, but it’s time to get the evening routine back to school hours!  Begin gradually, with five to ten minute increments at least two weeks before school starts. It lessens the blow of that first early morning.  Not completely, but it helps. I promise.

5. Lunch practice (for parents of first timers).

Practice eating from a lunch box! That means pack your child’s lunch using all the same Fort Knox-like containers you’d normally use.  And remember, those juice bags and squeezable yogurts can be tough for little fingers, so practice opening everything. It will make lunch time less stressful and more filling!

4. Remember: Dessert first.

Start thinking about packing those lunches and remember the Rule of Reverse Course Eating. Not familiar with the rule? Most kids, given a wide variety of food choices while out of the sight of a parent, will start with dessert and work backwards leaving the healthiest choice for last.  Simply stated, if you pack a sandwich, an apple, a juice box, a milk carton, a bunch of grapes, a bag of chips and a Ding Dong, your child will eat the Ding Dong, the bag of chips, the juice box, a bite of their sandwich, and toss or trade the rest!  Remember, keep it simple — keep it healthy.

3. Teach your little man to stand.

For incoming kindergarten boys: Start perfecting pottying Big Boy style, now!  What do I mean?  Make sure your little guy can complete his business standing up and seal the deal by shutting the barn door.  Sitting down with undies around the ankles is not going to cut it anymore.  He’s in the big leagues now.  It’s time to man up!

2. Pay a visit. 

Complete a dry run to ease the jitters. Come play on our playground, take a walk through our halls.  Practice opening a locker, or spinning the combination on a lock. Kids are like adults in that the unknown breeds anxiety. Ask your child what they’re nervous about and then conquer their fear. It will make you and your student feel more confident.  (Give your child’s school a call if you need access to the building.  Most will do their best to accommodate your request!)

1. Carpe Summer.

Take the above nine suggestions and tuck them away!  Seize this last month of vacation and make as many childhood memories as possible. Before you know it we’ll all be shoveling (snow and homework) again. 

Carolyn Savage is a former elementary school teacher and principal who traded in her administrative stripes to stay at home with five children. After she’s cleaned out her kids' backpacks and practiced packing lunches, you’ll find her writing about her constantly evolving life on her blog, Mamaonthefly.com!

Related links:

Carolyn Savage on the 34th birthday of IVF

Creative school lunches make food fun

Allergy anxiety haunts some parents

TODAY's complete Back to School guide

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Video: 4 ways to save on back-to-school shopping

  1. Closed captioning of: 4 ways to save on back-to-school shopping

    >>> this morning on today's money, back to school savings. according to the national federation of retailers, parents of school aged children will spend on average $600 buying the supplies they need. how can you trim those costs? jean chatzky has some tips. good morning.

    >> good morning.

    >> we see the economy has an impact. a lot of the americans are scaling back in how much they're spending when it comes to school supplies, right?

    >> 50% of americans have told us they are scaling back. and about half of the people say they've only done about half of their shopping so far. which i think is a sign that they're waiting to see if they can get better deals later.

    >> you have a good strategy as to help us save our bucks as we get our kids back to school . shop at home .

    >> if you are a parent, you know that just by opening drawers, you're going to find pencils and pens and note cards and crayons from last year. those things are useable. your kids may want to go to school with a few new things, that's understandable.

    >> always fun to crack open the new box of crayons.

    >> going to conferences where they load you up with thing that are really school supplies. use them. the same with clothes. it's still august, right? we don't need fall clothes at this point. you can put those things on hold.

    >> they go on sale.

    >> absolutely. that's the second kid. waiting game .

    >> things will go on sale. and you'll be able to pick up everything you need at a significantly lower price.

    >> coupons and things like that too that you can use when it comes to back to school shopping. you can look through all of the circulars and find the good deals.

    >> get yourself on lists where they're going to tell you about good deals. i'm on twitter and i'm retweeting out coupons from people who are looking at 10% here and 25% off there. there are a lot of different websites to lead you in the right direction to the merchants that you like to patronize. go to the her chanlts' websites. sign up for their e- mail list .

    >> follow jean chatzky.

    >> that as well.

    >> also, think long-term and think classic and quality.

    >> right. because if you go out and buy the justin bieber or whoever happens to be the current --

    >> the current --

    >> the lunchbox that's not useable this year. they might want one or two items that are so hip and so current. you can get yourself to buy the classic backpack, you use it for three years and you don't have to buy that expensive item again next year.

    >> we talked about the untraditional ways to save, which means some credit cards are offering some reward programs for that very purpose.

    >> card hub.com came out yesterday with their list of the best credit cards for back to school . at the top of the list, the target red card . 5% off at target. that's significant. american express 's blue cash card . 6% off in grocery stores , 3% in department stores , we're talking real money here. and a lot of these cards also have bonus points and bonus dollars for getting your friends to sign up. some have annual fees, some don't. be careful.

    >> make sure you know what you're getting into. next, i love this idea. it's a great one, to set up neighborhood swaps and make it a community effort to save.

    >> a lot of people have done this when it comes to sporting goods . you have cleats that don't fit your kids. you can exchange them. you don't have to buy the same thing. the same thing with books, textbooks, we're running out of time , but we have textbooks now that are available on your kindle, on your nook. on your computer. if you're a parent that has to buy textbooks for college or high school .

    >> that's expensive.

    >> you can save 60% to 80% by downloading them for the time you need them rather than buying the whole thing.

    >> check out all of your options. jean chatzky. what's your twitter?


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