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Back to School

Annie
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Bennett Payne

READY FOR SCHOOL Bennett Payne, 1 ½, will start in a Mother’s Day Out program this month. Mom Laura says planning ahead to find the right gear helps create a smooth transition. She also reads school-themed books with Bennett and sister Marlowe, 3 ½, to help calm any nerves.

Buzz Baby is a column about life with babies. Writer Annie McQueen is a mother of four children 7 and under.

Summer flew by, and kids will soon head back to school. For little ones who attend a program like Mother’s Day Out, preschool, or daycare, it is time for parents to start organizing their school gear, planning out snacks and lunches, and emotionally preparing for the big send-off.

Over the summer, a few parents weighed in on their favorite back-to-school gear for their littlest students.

Laura Payne, a baby sign language expert, and former deaf educator is preparing to send her son Bennett, 1 ½, off to Mother’s Day Out this fall and her daughter, Marlowe, 3 ½, to pre-K3. She says it is all about planning early – finding the right school gear and implementing special traditions in the weeks leading up to the school year to help calm any nerves.

To get the kids into the back-to-school spirit, Laura has a tradition she has created. She picks up school-themed books to read to Marlowe and Bennett about a week or two before school starts. Some of their favorites include Bear’s Big Day by Salina Yoon and The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn. “We then recite and label those same things from the books when we are at the school to meet the teacher and on the first day of school,” said Laura. “Even if there are tears on the first day, first week, or even first month, teachers are angels and so nurturing to the jitters.”

Laura has narrowed down the list of favorite school gear. She says she has used lunch boxes, backpacks, and nap mats from the brand Stephen Joseph (which is sold online at places like Wal-Mart and Nordstrom) since Marlowe started school. The brand has dozens of patterns to choose from, so gear can coordinate or be mixed and matched.

This fall, for pre-K3, Laura says she will transition Marlowe to a larger Pottery Barn Kids backpack and the coordinating lunch box. She says Pottery Barn Kids also has a broad selection of matching prints to choose from and you can personalize the item with your child’s name or a monogram.

A soft and comfortable nap mat is a clever idea to invest in early on. Children rest on them at school and can even bring them on family trips or use them at home to cuddle up and watch their favorite cartoons. Stephen Joseph nap mats roll up and include Velcro for easy storage.

Everything from cups to tiny utensils must be labeled to be sent off to school. Laura orders personalized name labels that are dishwasher safe and come in loads of cute colors from a brand called Mabel’s Labels. One sheet of lunchbox labels runs around $18-$30. They have preschool label kits including name labels for water bottles, a silicone, personalized band to use on water bottles.

Another thing to keep in mind is that kids can (and probably will) get dirty at school, during lunch or snack time, during arts and crafts projects, or during recess. It is best to plan on more casual attire for school. Laura sends her kids prepared for a mess. “I use a plastic zipper pouch to keep an extra change of clothes in their backpacks, so if anything gets soiled or wet, it is contained to that zippered pouch and does not mess up the whole backpack,” she said.

Laura prepares their lunches the night before school, and she says that is a “gamechanger” for her mornings. Her go-to resource for preparing lunches has been the dishwasher-safe Bentgo box. They are sealable containers with multiple compartments and cost around $28 at Target. “The Bentgos are my favorite for packing lunches because they are sealed, so fruit juice or dips do not spill into the other compartments.”

Some parents like to add a special note in their child’s lunchbox. One Buzz mom recommended ordering notes from Scribbled Designs.

Back-to-school outfits, including monogrammed shirts, dresses, and ones with apples on them, are a cute idea for those first-day photos.

No matter what type of gear you decide to get your littlest student this month, just enjoy picking it all out. Before too long, you will be loading up on “real” school supplies like pencils and calculators. That does not sound like as much fun.

Editor’s note: See School Lunches: Parents share their lunchmaking ideas in this issue by Annie McQueen for more tips and tricks on packing school lunches.

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