An Ages & Stages Real-World List to Get Kids Ready to Own the School Year

back-to-school prep matters – and it should mean more than books and knapsacks.

If we’re being honest, September and Back-to-School are more of a “New Year” than the actual January 1st celebration. There’s the promise of a fresh start: new clothes, school supplies that mark unfound possibilities, and anticipation of the unknown. Getting kids ready for the school year should be an experience we treasure, not dread; for while we may feel a teeny bit of melancholy at summer’s end, it’s really just the start of a whole new adventure.

Whether your kids are off to nursery school or a Pre-K program for the very first time, or heading out to a University campus in another province, back-to-school prep matters – and it should mean more than books and knapsacks.

Daycare & Nursery School

Anyone who’s dropped a wiggly toddler off at daycare knows that this type of school prep is more about parent acclimation than child. Kids are pretty resilient and they tend to adapt to changes easily – something that isn’t always easy for parents! Both of you can have an easier transition by getting organized from the get-go. Keep backpacks and extra clothes stashed at your front door on height appropriate hooks for littles to allow them ownership of their belongings. If wet clothes come home, replace supply with fresh ones immediately to avoid the early morning clothing-scramble. Make sure to mark EVERYTHING that leaves your home with your child’s initials in permanent Sharpie marker, from lunch bags to rubber boots to sunscreen tubes. Sharpie is permanent on almost any surface (and certainly anything you are sending to school) and it’s fade and water resistant. Now you can avoid the dreaded school lost and found box, where more than one parent’s soul has been said to have disappeared.


It’s time for “Big Kid School!” This is a super exciting time for parents, and usually kids, too. But even resistant attendees will have a better experience if they have a regular routine. Easy and colourful morning to-do charts, hand drawn in with a parent’s familiar and friendly style help make sure mornings stay on track. Don’t overcomplicate these – hit only the big to-do points so mornings don’t become an obstacle course of what to do next.

Kindergartners can also start packing their own lunches. Yes; seriously. Staking a claim in what they eat by helping pack it themselves is going to pay you back tenfold, because seasoned moms know that cutting cheese into animal shapes and making intricate fruit kabob loses its allure by October of grade one. You are DONE, Mom. Trust your child’s ability, and with some guidance from you, make packing lunches something they do from the starting gate to avoid transition down the road.

Grades 1-5

School-age kids are in the swing of things and it’s definitely a parenting sweet spot. Routine has been established but homework hasn’t reached “head in the sand” oppressive levels like it can in high school. Embrace this time, parents! Kids are total sponges here, and it’s time to get them ready to own a new school year by capitalizing on their fiercest strength: their amazing capacity to learn new skills!

For the younger set, reinforce their learning of parent’s cell phone numbers, names of work places, home address and even your social handles. This is also a great period to teach kids how to speak up for themselves before middle school dramas can take root, and that includes expressing gratitude and thanks to those around them. Work to instill in your kids the ability to find joy in everyday interactions – a lesson we can all benefit from. Make a “thank you” kit and fill it with simple blank cards and envelopes, along with a package of 14 colourful Paper Mate Ink Joy gel pens and some markers. This year you’ll be sending kids back to school with fresh haircuts and fresh perspectives!

Grades 6-8

Here’s where parenting can get challenging. (Like it’s ever not challenging!) But grades six through eight are middle school years, and while puberty is an incredible fascinating time, fascinating doesn’t equate to “super fun party time.” Steel yourselves, parents. Those littles you cuddled only yesterday will start pulling away and we need to be clear: something happens to their beautiful brains that causes them to lose anything and everything that leaves the house. It’s almost like with all the rapid growth they’re doing, stuff that isn’t deemed necessary for survival spills out of their cortex. We know kids who’ve lost 17 charging cords in the course of one school year, and at $30 a pop, that adds up fast. Mark them up! Wrap cord in colourful cloth tape to reinforce and identify and put your initials on charge boxes.

High School

Back to school prep for families with high school kids looks like this:

  • Get in your car. Maybe your teen can actually drive there now!
  • Go to Walmart.
  • Get comfortable, because this is where you live now.

This is the time when places like Walmart are going to be your friend and partner because high school kids constantly need paper, binders, project boards, pens and markers, more paper, new shoes, snacks, more new shoes, more snacks, and dear heaven, more paper.

Good study habits are born during this period, so heavily encourage your teens to start organizational systems they can use to cater to their own needs, like priority lists or bullet journals. Bullet journals are a great way to help teenagers develop and reinforce several life skills, including time management. Plus, the “no rules” element of bullet journaling is appealing to kids who are exploring their place in the world.

Get colourful! Get creative! Sharpie fine and ultra-fine point markers are bright and make things like “get a tetanus shot” or “study for math final” actually seem a bit more fun with scrolled in vibrant colour. Plus, because they are permanent, there is no going back on “calling Gramma.”


If your child (ack! Your “adult” child, actually) will be living in a dormitory residence while away at college or University, you’ll want to apply some of the same tactics suggested from Pre-K. Yes; we’re going full circle here, folks. Initials should be on anything they take to school and wish to have returned, and this time, they should use Sharpies to note a contact number also - or even a social media handle - for easy contact. If you thought the lost and found box at daycare was a scary place, you don’t want to peek inside one on a campus. (Trust us on this.)

Stress is a concern for newly-independent kids now living apart from family. Doodling or colouring books and a pack of markers is a great addition to a moving out box, and will be appreciated. And while we appreciate the importance of lectures and seminars, there’s little to improve the snooze-fest that four-hour medieval history lectures can become. Taking notes with Paper Mate InkJoy Gel Pens can help break the monotony of black and white notebook and bring some colour into the lecture – and they don’t smear, just in case your budding academic does nod off.

Are you ready for September? Don’t stress too much about getting everything right. For kids, learning to embrace at least some elements of the chaos of back to school helps them forge their problem-solving skills, and so long as they are armed with the “tools of the trade” by ways of school supplies and filling lunches, this is probably going to be their best school year yet!

Sharpie and PaperMate Back to School Giveaway