Summer whizzes by, especially when your kids are busy with the swim team, visits to their grandparents, and camp. As a parent, you want your children to wring all the fun out of summer that they can.

But you also want to shift into back-to-school mode without chaos. To guarantee a smooth transition, a little planning goes a long way. Here are 12 tips for starting the new school year right.

  1. Start early. Start getting ready to return to school at least four weeks before the first bell rings. Yes, you’re washing chlorine out of your kids’ bathing suits daily. But you can still go ahead and quietly make plans for the new school year. Some tasks, such as enrolling in activities and after-school programs, may need to be done even earlier.

  2. Visit the school. Find out whether there are any new policies you need to know, such as a change in dress code or an additional immunization. If you’re new to the school, make sure you have filled out all the required forms. An in-person visit is better than a phone call; you may go in to sign paperwork and end up finding a flyer about after-school care or meeting another parent with a child the same age as yours.

  3. Visit the doctor. Make sure your child is up to date on immunizations. Your pediatrician is also a good resource for school issues such as bedtime and television viewing. Let the doctor know if your child struggled in school the previous year or has had recent changes in behavior or interest in learning.

  4. Meet the teacher. Find out when your school announces classroom assignments. Some schools post lists; others make the information available online. Most schools host an open house when parents can meet the teacher. If you have a scheduling conflict, make arrangements to meet your child’s teacher before the first day of school. Don’t just shake her hand—make an effort early on to get to know her and understand her expectations. Let her know you would like to work together to make sure your child has a good year.

  5. Surf around. Find out how much information your school posts online. Some schools have small websites with basic information, while others have features like calendars, information on joining the parent group, and programs to track your child’s grades. Most school sites post a link to the districtwide curriculum. Look over the site and find out what your child will be learning. If she’s going to be studying dinosaurs, you might be able to fit in a trip to the natural science museum. If he’s going to be studying American history, you can look for age-appropriate movies with historical themes.

  6. Make after-school plans. Will your child participate in an after-school program or come straight home after school? Will you be waiting, or will a babysitter? Some kids go to after-school care certain days only and come home other days, which can create confusion. Also, are there after-school activities or tutoring sessions to consider? Let your child in on the plans so she’ll feel like she has a voice. The hours after school and before dinner can be long, and you want her to be happy and engaged.

  7. Mark your calendar. Invest in a wall calendar that fits your family’s needs. Then get out a pen and start marking. In addition to the first day of school, make note of after-school programs, which don’t always start the first week of school, and after-school activities. Go ahead and note when grading periods end for each child, as well as other important dates for the entire year. If you have several kids, consider using a different color pen for each.

  8. Think transportation. Will your child take the bus? Will a parent or older sibling squire him to school daily? Will you be in a carpool? Check the bus schedule to find out where your stop is and what time the bus is scheduled to be there. Routes change from year to year. Many districts have a practice run or two so parents and students can figure out exactly what time they need to be outside waiting. If your bus stop is far from your house, arrange for kids in the neighborhood to walk home together. If you’re managing a carpool schedule, include that on the calendar so you don’t miss your turn.

  9. Stock up. Of course you’ll go back-to-school shopping, a task that is best done early and in small bites. Besides outfitting your kids, use your school’s list—or a teacher’s list, if he provides one—to gather everything your kids will need. Stock up on healthy snacks, lunchbox items, and other essentials so you won’t spend the first week of school running back and forth to the store. Check out the cafeteria menu online and confer with your child about whether he will bring a lunch or buy it. If you’re going to use the cafeteria, find out the procedure for paying.

  10. Roll back bedtimes. Teachers and principals recommend easing kids back into the sleeping routine for the school year a few weeks before school starts. That way, your child will be refreshed in class instead of struggling to stay awake. Try moving back your child’s bedtime by 10 or 15 minutes a week until you’re back to the school-year schedule. It’s also a good idea to start waking up your kids earlier in anticipation of the new school year. The week before school starts, plan a fun family outing that requires everyone to rise early, as if it were a school day.

  11. Set the stage. Get the house ready. Make sure a computer is set up in an open family room for kids to use for schoolwork. Place the calendar in everyone’s full view. Get the kids’ school clothes organized and accessible. Set up a station for backpacks and other gear as well as a basket for school-related papers.

  12. Be positive. Kids groan about the start of the new school year, but often they are as ready for school to resume as you are. Keep a positive attitude about the start of school even when things don’t go exactly your way. Maybe you’re dealing with obscure school supplies that are hard to find. Maybe your child didn’t get assigned to the Teacher of the Year, as you had hoped. Stay upbeat and focus on the good news, such as your child being in the class with her best friend. You want your family to be excited about a new school year so everyone can get off to a great start.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.