Ask the Experts

Q: “How Should We Prepare for School Before It Starts?”

Preparing for a new school year is an ambiguous, stressful, overwhelming task for parents and students alike — from kindergarten to college. These 10 back-to-school tips can help.

A young girl packing her homework into her backpack to avoid problems the next day
african american schoolgirl with backpack preparing for school, elementary school student concept

Q: “Every year, I say I will do all these things to get my daughter ready to return to school, but I never do. I’m overwhelmed, she’s overwhelmed, and it never happens. Then school starts, and I’m scrambling, and she feels behind before she’s even started. And her ADHD doesn’t make it any better. I need advice. Or a list! I want things to be different this year. What can I do?” – BacktoSchoolMom

Hi BacktoSchoolMom:

Getting ahead of back-to-school preparation is an overwhelming concern felt by many parents — regardless of their student’s age. We are very good at knowing we need to purchase school supplies (usually because we’ve been given a list). However, few of us instinctually know how to truly get our students and homes back-to-school ready.

Here are my top 10 tried-and-true back-to-school tips to prepare your student (and you!) for the new school year.

10 Back-to-School Tips for a Successful Year

1. Make Study Playlists. Music can help activate the ADHD brain. It can also bolster attention and focus. Some students need it to drown out distracting sounds. Others need it to get their adrenaline going. If your daughter needs music to get activated, suggest that she create a playlist of familiar songs that is 30 to 45 minutes long. (Some of my older students create different playlists for different subjects.)

My students tell me that this is one of their favorite tools for getting started on homework. It acts as a true motivator and timekeeper, it’s portable, and the list goes on and on. When it’s time for your daughter to begin her homework, switch on the playlist, and she’s ready to (literally) rock!

[Free Resource: Back-to-School Playbook]

2. Create a Personal Homework Profile. Homework is the last thing any child wants to do after a long school day, especially if the child has attention deficits and learning challenges. Creating a < ahref="">Personal Homework Profile will help strengthen her homework muscle. Your daughter can note what strategies, tools, resources, environment, etc., she needs to get started, stay on task, and feel more productive. Having a plan when she begins homework takes the guesswork out of “What has worked for me before?”

Download a free copy of our Personal Homework Profile (

3. Review your daughter’s IEP or 504 Plan. A new school year ushers in change — new classes, new teachers, possibly a new school, etc. Now is the perfect time to review how your daughter’s learning needs have changed. Make sure her IEP or 504 Plan clearly states the goals, accommodations, and services you want for the coming year.

4. Set up a meeting with her guidance counselor or related professionals to start school on the right foot. Address expectations and concerns that you might have for your daughter during the upcoming school year and formulate a plan together. If it’s a new school, arrange a tour before the first day so your daughter can familiarize herself with the building.

5. Choose organizing supplies WITH your student. I know. I know. Most teachers send home a supply list. However, just as every student learns differently, not every organizing system works for every student! I firmly believe that teachers would prefer students use a system that allows them to be organizationally successful rather than use supplies that simply don’t work. If the suggested system doesn’t fit your daughter’s needs, have her explore alternatives. Visit an office supply store or order supplies online, so she feels and sees different options firsthand. Trust me. Students have a real sense of what feels “right” to them. Once she finds what works for her, compose an email to the teacher with all the details.

[Free Download: The Big List of ADHD School Resources]

6. Hang analog clocks in every room of your house where your daughter spends time. Analog clocks help you see the actual passing of time, allowing her to see the overall sweep of time as it passes. Why is this important? Because your daughter needs to be able to SEE her time so she can manage it. And a digital clock or phone only gives you one time: the present.

7. Create a landing zone. Every student needs a landing zone — that one place in the home where every item that travels in and out of the house lives. Think backpacks, soccer bags, dance tote, clarinet… you get the idea. Hang a whiteboard and clock in your landing zone, and make sure there is an outlet nearby for charging devices like phones and tablets. A landing zone will help improve organization for the entire family!

8. Set up the calendar. Whether your daughter chooses a planner, calendar, or electronic app, it’s the perfect time for her to load up her calendar with back-to-school plans, dates, appointments, after-school activities, etc.

9. Purchase alarm clocks. Yes, alarm clocks. Your daughter should NOT be using her phone as an alarm clock. Just make sure to choose one without a snooze function. My favorite is the Sonic Boom (#CommissionsEarned). It gets even the deepest sleepers out of bed!

10. Create a school supply zone. How will you know if your child is prepared for school? When your daughter finally sits down to do her work, does she have everything she needs? All in one place? Most likely not. There is a simple solution: Your daughter needs a school supply zone. This is not necessarily where students will do homework (You know I like students to move around while working), but a place in the house where their printer, textbooks, and supplies are located.

And a tip within a tip! When shopping for back-to-school items, stock up on all the essential supplies to avoid late-night trips to the store.

The first days of school are challenging for most students as they adjust to new routines and surroundings. Getting your “sea legs” takes time. I hope these tips help make the transition easier for you and your daughter.

Good Luck!

Back-to-School Tips: Next Steps

ADHD Family Coach Leslie Josel, of Order Out of Chaos, will answer questions from ADDitude readers about everything from paper clutter to disaster-zone bedrooms and from mastering to-do lists to arriving on time every time.

Submit your questions to the ADHD Family Coach here!

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