Smart start

Get back on track for the school year ahead with Time Out Kids’ six-week calendar countdown. Ready, set… go!


Six weeks to go: have some fun
1 Don’t scare the kids off too early. Have some fun by making a list of all the things they’d like to do before life gets back to “normal”. Send their imaginations into a spin by thinking about the realistic and the outlandish. A day at the pool or a day on the moon, see what you can make happen and what you can just have fun dreaming about!

2 Sharing a story is a lovely way to enjoy some quiet time together, while at the same time giving literacy levels a boost. Now might also be the time to dust off the library cards or to take an outing to your local book store.

3 Write some postcards and count some coins. It’s fun to write a postcard to a good friend telling them about your adventures or to jot down some words of love to grandma and bring a smile to her face. Empty out that drawer with all the spare change from your globe-trotting days and have some fun thinking about what you could buy around the world.

4 Screen time can be useful time if you tap into your child’s interests and let them have a little scout online for associated activities.

If they like to make a mess in the kitchen, check out some child-friendly cookery sites and let them create their favourite meal. Or, how about checking out some interactive sites on the solar system and taking a virtual trip to Mars? You never know, you might have a budding Buzz Aldrin in the family.

5 Spend some time practising their strokes at the pool. Grab some dive sticks, buckets and balls and go searching for treasure. An evening swim as the sun is setting can make being poolside all the more exciting and a little picnic under the stars afterwards can be the perfect way to end the day.

Five weeks to go: get creative
1 For the tiny tots due to start at nursery or preschool for the first time, start introducing some chatter about it. Find some books on first days at school and do some drawings of what they might imagine their classroom will look like.

2 Tidy through the craft boxes and see what’s missing. In most homes there are piles of crayons, felt tips and stickers hiding in every corner. Do a little stock take of what you have and what you might need for some mammoth craft projects, which are sure to arise in the next few months. Give them a tray of glitter, a glue stick and some paper and let them create a masterpiece while you have a well-earned cuppa. Or get stuck in with them and let your imagination run riot.

3 Go on some evening walks and check out the changes that are happening in nature. Gather some leaves for pressing, prepare a space in the garden to grow some favourite fruit and veg when the weather cools or simply find a quiet space and breathe deeply.

4 Make a chart on which everyone can earn points for going to bed a bit earlier than before – you included!

5 Start a scrapbook for holiday memories. This will prove useful for Show and Tell during those first weeks back at school.

Four weeks to go: introduce routine
1 Time to root out the school bags and nursery backpacks and see how they are looking. Back-to-school promotions will have hit the stores so go on a shopping excursion and look at re-stocking pencil cases and choosing new water bottles.

2 Slowly start making bedtime earlier by bringing it forward five to 15 minutes each day. This will help your child’s circadian rhythm adjust to the new schedule. Not sure when to set bedtime? Kids aged seven to 12 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep, while older kids need eight to nine hours.

3 Get breakfast ready. Mornings can be the most stressful time of the day when you are in a hurry and after a summer of slurping cereal in front of the TV, it might be time to give early mornings a shake-up. Have them practise getting dressed and laying the table to
pre-empt the morning madness.

4 Make a food diary and note down what everyone is eating daily. Older kids can help with this and it’s a fun way to start talking about healthy eating.

5 Organise some playdates to get your little ones comfortable with the concept of sharing, group games and parallel play. For older children, it’s nice for them to reconnect with old friends before school starts.

Three weeks to go: get organised
1 Last year’s school shoes feeling a bit tight? Time to get little feet measured for new ones to step into the new academic year in style. Expert shoe fitters at Clarks tell us that fewer than a third of children have an average foot width and their feet are constantly changing – internally and externally. So, time spent getting an accurate fitting is time well spent to allow for proper growth and development. Check out the range at

2 Dig out the old uniforms and sports kit and see what needs to be updated. Press and iron what fits and plan a trip to the uniform shop (read on for our top tips from ZAKS) or trawl the second-hand uniform Facebook sites for anything you might need.

3 Check that you have all the necessary immunisation records on hand as these are often needed at the beginning of the academic year. Make an appointment with your doctor and dentist for some routine check-ups for the kids.

4 Schools and nurseries often send out paperwork ahead of time. Gather these in a big folder so you have it to hand and mark important dates such as back-to-school evenings, parents’ meetings and school holidays on a large family wall planner (check out the selection at Update school emergency contacts and health information for the coming year.

5 Walk through your house – is it time to get the air conditioners serviced? Have you noticed a few extra creepy crawlies setting up camp? It might be time to call out the experts to get give your home a bit of TLC, especially if it’s been empty for a few weeks during the holidays. mrUsta is a simple, free app that connects you directly to handy service providers such as plumbers, cleaners, air-conditioning sanitisers, painters and a whole lot more (there are more than 250 categories to choose from!) without the hassle of trying to find them yourself. Simply post a job and sit back and watch while you get offers to sort everything on that to-do list in no time. Visit or download the app to get started.

Two weeks to go: focus on food
1 Get creative with easy, healthy ideas for school-day meals. If you plan and gather what you need on the weekends, you’ll make life a lot less stressful and meals more nutritious during the week.

2 Have fun making smoothies for breakfast to put a pep in their step for the day ahead. Have a competition for who can come up with the most flavoursome fillers.

3 If the kids plan on bringing a packed lunch to school, check that they have a snack box sturdy enough to withstand the daily bashing and cool enough to keep food fresh. There are endless colours to choose from at most major supermarkets.

4 Do some research on creative and quick ideas for making school lunches healthy and fun. Take a trip to the supermarket and have them help you choose healthy fruit and veg for snack time.

5 Pack a practice nursery lunch for smaller ones and let little fingers get used to opening up all of the mini snack and fruit pots.

One week to go: set schedules and priorities
1 Make sure appropriate bed and wake up times are set from now on.

2 Discuss what extra-curricular activities your child will participate in. If they need a little extra encouragement to audition for jazz band or to take that early morning Italian class, now is the time to go over the benefits of these activities. If, however, your child needs to have limits set, have her pick her favourite activities and forgo the rest. Be realistic and don’t over-schedule.

3 For parents: Determine how much time you can give to the school each month as a volunteer and involved parent. For example, how much time you can dedicate to helping out in the classroom, on field trips, for fundraising events and on committees.

4 For the family: Start a family calendar in a common area where each member can write down his or her activities.

5 Prepare for homework ahead. Having set routines and a place to study at home will make it easier for your child to be organised and successful at school.

What to wear?

School uniform shopping. Urgh! We’ve all left it until the last minute and been stuck queueing out of the door with armfuls of shirts, shorts and swim kits on the final day of the holidays. But with a little preparation and planning, it doesn’t have to be a stressful experience, we promise! Popular school uniform retailers, ZAKS tell us how to tackle it and come out with your sanity intact...

1. Obey The List
Make a list of requirements for the year and divide them into categories such as uniforms, stationary, books, shoes and sports gear. Whether buying for one child or many, making a list can go a long way to making purchases easier and more efficient. Consider the quantities required as well. Parents should think about how often they do the laundry when deciding how many clothes to buy, especially for those with younger children who tend to be messier than others.

2.The haves and the have nots
Once you are done with your list, do a manual check of all the things which you already have and the other things which need to be replenished. Put aside uniforms and shoes, which don’t fit, or which have worn out – these can be donated to charity.

3. To take the kids or not?
ZAKS believes school shopping is an exciting experience for kids, and recommend parents take their little ones along – it also makes it easier to find the right measurements!

4. Avoid the back-to-school rush
Shopping at peak hours increases stress levels among parents and kids alike. Try shopping at non-peak hours, like in the afternoon and well before the end of holidays if you can, to avoid waiting in line. You can also try shopping online. Visit ZAKS’ online store at

5. Loss prevention (A.K.A name-tag EVERYTHING!)
Schools are like the Bermuda Triangle for stationery and clothes and the fact is that innumerable school items somehow disappear throughout the year. Investing in blank labels and tagging your children’s things – even their shoes - will save you a fortune throughout the year. You’ll thank us later!

6. Check size charts
Before purchasing school uniforms from a specific brand, always check the sizing charts for that brand to ensure the best fit, especially when shopping online.

7. Plan for growth
While selecting school uniform sizes, it’s a good idea to plan for growth. For trousers, for example, parents can shop for a slightly longer pair and hem the legs to allow for growth of their child over the course of a school year.

Also, some products come with adjustable elastic bands inside the waistband of the garment. This allows parents to purchase a slightly larger size for their children, and tighten them using the elastic and the buttons hidden on the inside of the waistband. Choosing trousers and shorts with this feature can extend their usefulness. And, not forgetting the second most expensive item (after the fees) – school shoes. Trine Brønd-Jensen, marketing manager at Ecco Kids, offers this advice for easy shoe fittings...

• There should be 1.5cm of space between the tip of the toe to the end of the shoe. This allows for 0.5cm for walking extension, 0.8cm for the foot to grow over the year, and 0.25cm, that is always taken up by the toe box.

• Choose shoes made from lightweight, soft and flexible materials to give maximum mobility and comfort to the foot. Breathable materials in uppers are a must. This not only allows the feet to breathe, but also encourages children to wear footwear for longer periods when required.

• Remember that shoes should feel comfortable immediately. Let your child try them on with whatever type of tights or socks that they are likely to use them with and allow them to have a say in the final decision.

• Buy shoes at the end of the day, when their feet are at their biggest, and make sure it is at a store equipped with trained staff.

Settling in: the physical and emotional journey

Joanne Jewell, founder of Mindful Parenting, shares some ideas on how to make the transition back to a more routine-driven day easier on the entire family.

• Allow some time for transition from holiday mode back to home mode. During this period, allow your and your children’s body clocks to return to normal so that when school starts again, they and you will be ready for the earlier mornings and busier days. Generally, the advice is that our bodies need one day for every hour of time difference and while some people can be less affected by time zones, it’s a good idea to allow enough time for this. If you are returning from the UK, for example, then you would need to allow three days for your body clock to return to Dubai time.

• You may all experience different emotions after returning from holiday. Some people have a sense of loss from missing family and friends, others will feel relieved to be back in their own homes and many of us will have a complex combination of mixed feelings. Your children will also experience these emotions and may demonstrate them in their behaviour. Younger children who are tired or emotional and don’t yet have the ability to manage these may be more irritable or fussy and older children or teens may want to spend time on their own or catch up with friends.

• The boundaries or “rules” may have been different during holiday time and children may need more support returning to the home boundaries (others will feel relieved to be back to normal life). The important thing is to recognise that emotions have a big impact on behaviour – both yours and theirs – so empathise with how they are feeling and start to put your ‘home’ boundaries in place again.

• Make time to reconnect with friends again, both yours and your children’s. It can be a good idea to organise a get-together with your pals before children return to school as this can alleviate any anxiety about seeing school mates again – particularly if your child has a friend or friends who left over the summer break.

Avoiding tears at the nursery gate

Is your little one starting nursery for the first time? Or maybe struggling to return after a lovely long summer with mum and dad? Charlene Frampton, teacher at The Blossom Nursery, gives some insights into making the transition that little bit easier.
She says: “This can be a difficult time, not only for children but for parents as well. Some children settle straight into the new routine and environment, whereas some others take a little longer. This can be true regardless of the age of the child, but luckily, there are some simple steps that can be taken to aid the transition process...”

Settling in sessions
Take your child to the nursery for a couple of hours to become familiar with the setting and the teachers.

Brief the staff
The more information you give the staff about your child the better. This will allow them to prepare activities that your child is interested in. Tell them their likes, dislikes, what foods they eat, what time they sleep and anything that frightens them. And (last but not least) if he or she is potty-trained.

Talk to your child about the nursery
Give your child information about the nursery. Explain all the fun activities they will do and how they are going to make new friends. Tell your child positive things you can remember about your own time at nursery such as sports days, music time and school fêtes.

Read stories about nursery school
There are lots of toddler books about this new stage in life but my favorite is My First Day At Nursery School by Becky Edwards.

Remain calm
We all know that when leaving a child, most parents have just as much separation anxiety as their little one. But try not to show this in front of your child as children can pick these feelings up and can make the whole settling-in experience harder for them.

Saying goodbye
It’s important to explain carefully that you’re leaving and you’ll be back to pick them up when nursery is over. Don’t start to leave and then go back to the class as this can confuse the child.

Comforter or toy
If your child has a particular favourite toy or blankie, allow them to take it along to the nursery as this can help them settle in and doesn’t hurt at first.

Off to primary school?

This is another significant milestone that can be an emotional time for many parents and children. Darren Gale, principal at Kings Nad Al Sheba gives us his advice on making the transition from nursery to “big school” that little bit smoother:

He says: “Starting school is another significant milestone. It can be an emotional time for many parents and children. It’s natural to feel both nervous and excited, but with a little advance preparation both you and your child will be able to cope more easily.”

1. Talk about school
Ask your child how they are feeling. What are they most looking forward to? Are they worried about anything? Read books about starting school together, and look at your child’s school prospectus or website together, and talk about the pictures. If your child seems anxious about school, try focusing on the things they’ll like best – maybe playing in the playground or making new friends.

2. Stay positive – keep calm and smile
It’s natural to feel nervous about your child starting school or a new school, but remember that your child can easily pick up on your emotions. Ensure that you are always positive when talking about school and what to expect. If you are enthusiastic and confident that all will be well, then your child will feel the same way, too. Try to avoid using any negative language such as “your teacher won’t like that behaviour at school”.

3. Help them develop their independence
It is important for a child to experience an element of control. Children must be able to do things for themselves. They will feel happier and settle at school more quickly. There are many useful skills you can practise to support your child become independent and confident at school including sitting up at a table, tidying up after themselves and being fully toilet trained during the day. Putting on their uniform and PE kit. Don’t worry if your child can’t do all these things before they start school. Teachers and support staff will help them learn these skills, so let them know what your child finds tricky.

4. Make a date
If you already know some other children who will be in your child’s class, why not organise a play date or outing together before school starts? As well as helping the youngsters to develop their social skills, it’s helpful for you to be able to chat about your own feelings and anxieties with their parents, who may be feeling the same. Sharing such a burden can only make it lighter.

5. Start a routine
We all know getting out of the house in the morning with a child in tow can be a challenge, especially if you need to be somewhere for a specific time! As the start of term approaches, try to get into the school routine, so your child gets used to getting up, going to bed, and having meals and snacks at the times they will on school days. Practise the morning routine, including getting dressed and eating breakfast in time to leave. It’s also a good idea to practise the school run so that you’re both prepared for the journey. Bath time and stories will help children to wind down before bedtime, and nutritious meals and plenty of sleep will help them to concentrate and learn more easily during their time at school. Also work with your child and produce a visual timetable. Again, this gives them an element of control and they can see what will happen on what days. This will also support them

And a final note from us...

There are many ways in which you can support your child and help them to settle in at school. You know your child best and therefore communication is key. Your child’s teacher will be an expert in helping children to settle in, learn and thrive at school. However, you know your child best, so if there is anything you think might help your child to feel more settled, suggest it to the class teacher during the first few weeks. Any teacher worth their salt will be more than willing to take such suggestions on board.

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