woman packing daughter's lunch

As the lazy days of summer blur into a hint of autumn, thoughts turn back to school. The transition between unscheduled, sun-filled days and having to be in the classroom in the morning can be trying for parents and students alike.

But a return to routine need not be painful. By keeping a few simple steps in mind, families can help kids beat the back to school blues.

Adjust Bedtimes
When kids can sleep in on summer mornings, they stay up later on summer nights. In order to prepare them for the early morning wake-up calls of school-days, gradually shift the time that they must head to bed, starting a week before the first day of school.

You can move bedtime earlier in half-hour increments each day of this "lead-up" period to ensure that they get enough sleep for their age. Count back from the time school starts to determine an alarm time that allows for adequate morning preparation.

Buy Supplies
This is the fun part--stocking up for the new school year is something that kids of all ages look forward to. Don't wait until the last minute to help them gather their goodies. Find out in advance if any special gear is needed for upcoming classes, then make a list and get the shopping done.

For the time-crunched parent, special services are available online that take the guesswork out of back to school shopping. If you're worried you might leave something out and don't mind paying extra, consider taking advantage of preplanned supply kits.

Pack Ahead
As the first day approaches, be sure that your kids are ready to head out the door. Waiting to prepare until the "morning of" is a recipe for stress and family friction.

Help young students learn what needs to be set out the night before, from clothing choices to preloaded backpacks. Even teens may need reminders about this, so be sure to encourage them to get it together in advance.

Plan Lunches
If your child brings a packed lunch to school, you can save A.M. aggravation by making sandwiches, cutting carrot sticks, and filling zip-locks the night before. If lunch money is needed, be sure that kids get it in advance to avoid the possibility of them leaving the house without it.

Set Mealtimes
Regular mealtimes are at the heart of effective routines for kids. During summer months, eating routines may go out the window with family members coming and going at mismatched hours. But with school looming, there's no better time to get back on track with family meals.

Choose set times for breakfast and dinner to create a structured framework around the school day. If kids know what to expect in their lives outside of the classroom, they will find it easier to adjust to the routines set by their teachers.

Write Schedules
Create a family calendar to hang in a central location, and fill in all important dates and agreed-upon schedules. If school starts in September, start your calendar in mid-August, incorporating "prep steps" that lead up to the first day of school.

You can also include set mealtimes and bedtimes until they become habit, and guide younger children to look at the calendar at times when they are confused.