Ciara McDonnell asks well-known parents for their back to school routines


Well-known parents share their back to school tips

The countdown is on. As the summer holidays come to an end, Ciara McDonnell asks well-known parents for their back to school routines

Well-known parents share their back to school tips

The countdown is on. As the summer holidays come to an end, Ciara McDonnell asks well-known parents for their back to school routines

It’s almost that time of year. You’ve bought the new shoes, the pencil case is stacked with all kinds of goodies and the hair has been cut. The first day of school is on its way, and with it, all the little niggles and worries that come with it.

We spoke to some of Ireland’s well-known parents and asked them for their top tips for easing the transition from laid-back summer holidays to school mode.

Lucy Kennedy,
Television Presenter

“Do it all in June! Get your books, uniforms, PE kits, school bags and pencil cases while you’re still in the organised mother routine! That’s what I do. I’m not a fan of any last minute panics!”

Joanna Fortune,
Clinical Psychologist specialising in children and families

“I always suggest a return to school routine one to two weeks before you start school. This means bedtimes and getting up times and some structure to the day as this makes the transition smoother.

"I also suggest involving children in the back-to-school preparation. This means choosing a new bag, helping to cover books, packing up the pencil case, getting the uniform organised etc as this allows them anticipate the change coming and can, again, make that transition smoother and easier to manage. And finally speak about the return to school at home and do so in positive terms.”

Eimear Hutchinson,

“This year I’ve had to be so organised in terms of back to school because my fourth baby is due about two weeks before school starts back, so I suppose my tip is not rocket science – it’s just to be organised.

"I buy uniforms for the following September before she finishes school in June. There’s always lots of stock in stores then and some places, like Marks & Spencer, have sales on uniforms in June too. I order everything online too, the sizes aren’t rocket science so it saves me going into the shops and dragging all the ladies with me.”

Stella O’Malley,
Psychotherapist and Author

“Try to have a wide ranging conversation before school starts about how the kids and parents would like their days to pan out. Would they like to get up early so they’ve lots of time before school?

"Would they like an alarm clock or parents to wake them? The point of this would be to elucidate from the children their preferred rhythms of the perfect school day.

"It can be quite surprising to hear kids say, for example, that they want everything slower and it can remind parents to take it easier with their kids in this busy, busy lifestyle.”

Stella is the author of Bully-Proof Kids and Cotton Wool Kids.

Derval O’Rourke
Derval O’Rourke

Derval O’Rourke,
Former pro athlete and cookbook author

“Don’t worry about other parents and don’t compare what you are doing, trust yourself whether that’s about their lunch, their school bag etc. Just trust yourself, you are probably doing a far better job than you give yourself credit for.”

Siobhan Howe,
Communications Manager, Cork Opera House

“Packed lunches prepared at home are not only cheaper but usually much more nutritious. Spending time planning a lunch menu for the week reduces food waste and saves money.

"Buy in bulk and use your own reusable containers. For example large tubs of natural yogurt are cheaper and can be put into small tubs and topped with fruit and seeds. Mini fish cakes or meatballs can be made in bulk and frozen in portion sizes.

'It can be a family activity preparing them too and kids are more likely to get excited about food they choose and prepared themselves. Your pockets will be fuller and your bins lighter.”

Cliona O’Connor,

“Have a little trial run before their first day of school, so they get the hang of their lunch box, school bag and pencil case. Also peel the oranges for them.”

Emer Lysaght & Sarah Breen, Authors of Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling
Emer Lysaght & Sarah Breen, Authors of Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling

Sarah Breen,
Author of Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling

“My eldest daughter is starting Junior Infants this year and, following an orientation day at the school, my biggest concern is making sure she can open her lunchbox and water bottle.

"I was also gifted a very handy book called The Essential Parents’ Guide to the Primary School Years by Ciara Brennan, Audrey Devereux, Alison Gilliland and Gene Mehigan (Primary ABC). It’s full of invaluable hints and tips for first-timers like me.”

Eddie Murphy,
Clinical Psychologist

“Try to talk to your child about the positive things that they will most likely appreciate about starting school. These include making new friends, participating in fun activities such as arts and crafts or PE.

"Story books about starting school are also useful as they often highlight the positive aspects associated with school. Additionally, talk to your child about how they feel about starting school and take note of any concerns or worries they may have. Try to ease these concerns by providing your child with various scenarios.”

Elizabeth MacDonnell,

“Make sure each child has two pencil cases; one with everything on the school list, one that just has pencils, colours and an eraser. Ask the teacher if the first one (clearly labelled) can remain in school on the child’s desk, the second one stays at home for homework.

"There is a Bermuda Triangle between school and home and it is brimming with Twistables and colouring pencils, so this avoids you having to replenish the pencil case supplies on a weekly basis.”

Tracy Gunn,

“Take your photos early! If your little one is starting school for the first time it’s a good idea to try on the uniform a few days before and take your ‘back to school’ pictures then. On the first day of school emotions can be running high (especially the parents) and no-one wants tears on the first morning.”

Alison Curtis with her daughter
Alison Curtis with her daughter

Alison Curtis,
Today FM

“Before school starts, my daughter and I start experimenting with different lunch ideas. She creates hers and we start to use a new lunchbox, which she loves doing. I also aim to bring bedtime back down a little from mid-August on, so aiming for earlier bedtimes, but gradually!”

Sinead Fox,

“If work permits try to take a day or half day the first week back to get to meet/see your child’s new teacher and classmates.

"When you’re not at the school gates every day you can feel disconnected, especially at the start of a school year so I always take the first day off to get everyone sorted, reconnect with other parents and make sure that scratchy uniform issues are addressed.”

Jill Holtz,
Co-Founder of

“The week before school starts, check that everything fits. If you bought the uniform early then just make sure your child or teen hasn’t shot up and outgrown anything. Make sure the shoes are comfortable and still fitting correctly.

"And make sure all the bits fit into the school bag OK. So, eg, the lunchbox fits in with their books. They’ll only be carrying all the books on the first day but you still want to know that the bag is big enough. You’ve time then to get a final shop done if needed.”

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