A Guide by Grade-Level

As we shop for school supplies, download all the apps, and learn the new bus routes and classroom routines for a brand new school year, there’s another important question we might ask ourselves as parents:

Have you “upgraded your software” when it comes to your child and the new school year?

No matter what grade level they are embarking on this year, you can be sure that they are not exactly the same kid they were when they finished the last one. A new school year also comes with new stages of development physically, emotionally, academically, and socially. 

Therefore, this time of year is a great opportunity to check in with your child’s stage of development and see what new responsibilities you might explore together. 

We’ve provided a list of starter ideas below, grouped by grade-range, to get you thinking about how to stay ahead of what your child is ready for. More than likely, you’ll find something on the list your child has not yet learned to do or tried out for themselves. This might present a fun opportunity to train them in a new skill and give them a fresh sense of responsibility and autonomy. 

Why Upgrade?

It’s an empowering thing to invite our kids to the next level of independence and responsibility. For one, obviously, part of growing up is learning the skills appropriate to the age/stage one is in. We are our kids’ most important partners when it comes to training in life skills.

Perhaps even more important however, is the boost of encouragement a child gets when they are entrusted to learn something new. And this is true at every age! Growing more and more capable is a core need we all share, throughout our lives. 

In fact, it’s so important to kids that they will ensure their capability grows one way or another. They will pull for their autonomy if we don’t encourage it. A kid in a power struggle is more than likely in need of a little more responsibility on their shoulders. Unbeknownst to them, they are crying out to be trusted, to have a positive sense of power, and to show that they are capable. 

How Do We Upgrade?

If only it was as easy as upgrading an app on our smart phone. With human skill building, it takes a little more thought.

Here are two visuals you might consider when thinking through how to approach a new skill or level of responsibility with your child: 

The Responsibility Pie1

A child’s slice of the Responsibility Pie needs to grow as the child grows. By age 18, they will want to be ready to do all of the things an adult living on their own can do.

One way to look at this pie is to think about a specific topic, such as “getting ready for a new school year.” By 18, a teen will want to be prepared to handle the entire process, from start to finish, on their own. A 5-year-old heading to Kindergarten has a much smaller slice of the pie, but should still have a taste! Even the youngest of us like to be included and trained at an age-appropriate level. 

How much of the Responsibility Pie might your child hold this year?

(Check out the list below for some ideas!)

Stages of Training2

Another helpful question to ask oneself is: What stage of training is my child in? Take, for example, “shopping for back-to-school items.” Where do they fall on the chart below? 

How big is your child’s role when it comes to the different aspects of school life this year?
How big is your role?

Starter Ideas for Back-to-School Responsibilities

The simplest way to begin is to sit down and picture your child starting this school year. What are all the tasks you do to support your child at this time of year? Which are the ones they are ready to learn about or try for themselves?

The ideas below are designed to jog your thinking when it comes to your child’s skill upgrades this year. None of these are “have to” or meant to be seen as expectations. More than likely, you’ll find something on the list your kid has no idea how to do. Perfect! That means it’s an opportunity to learn something new and walk beside them as they figure it out. 

Kindergarten – Grade 1

Their Responsibilities

  • Pick out their backpack, lunch box, and school outfits.
  • Understand that there is a supply list and help shop for supplies.
  • Navigate appropriate aspects of their morning routine on their own, such as packing their backpack and getting dressed. 
  • Unpack their backpack at the end of the day; putting lunch supplies, shoes, and school items in their appropriate places.

How You Might Help and Support

  • Schedule a designated time where the two of you will shop for supplies.
  • “Preview” what school will be like by sharing stories and answering their questions.
  • Co-create a morning routine (using a chart or other tool).
  • Support their morning and afternoon routines, without overdoing things for them.
  • Look for ways to make daily tasks fun and playful by inventing games or telling stories. 

Grades 2 – 3

Their Responsibilities
All of the above, plus…

  • Wake up on their own (learning to use an alarm clock, if needed)
  • Manage their own morning routine.
  • Pack their own lunch (after appropriate training in the tasks involved). 
  • Master their schools’ rules and routines regarding  transportation, attendance policy, and how early dismissal/late arrival works. 

How You Might Help and Support

  • Practice morning and afternoon routines, making sure you have responsibilities you are tending to, so as not to get over-involved in their responsibilities. 
  • Let mistakes be learning opportunities for your child without tagging on shame or blame. 
  • Work together with your child to decide on a time and location for “quiet working time” for school work. 
  • Be a liaison between the school, the teacher, and your student, while keeping your student involved in matters pertaining to them.

Grades 4 – 5

Their Responsibilities
All of the above, plus…

  • Work within a budget for school supplies, with guidance.
  • Help shop for and select healthy foods for lunch, while learning about nutrition. 
  • Manage assignments and special projects.
  • Choose one or two extracurricular activities to focus on, taking into account their growing interests, schedule, and capacity.

How You Might Help and Support

  • Continue to encourage them to try things on their own.
  • For skills they already manage, look for opportunities to take their mastery to the next level. 
  • Help research growing interests and work together to determine new levels of commitment to various extracurricular activities. 
  • Look for ways to have them extend and contribute their skills outside the family, in your neighborhood, community, or even with siblings and friends.

Grades 6 – 8

Their Responsibilities
All of the above, plus…

  • Remember their assignments, projects, and other commitments. Use a system for organizing and managing their assignments (like a planner or reminder app).
  • Be involved in managing their schedule outside of school (social events, appointments, etc.)
  • Getting proper sleep and nutrition for their growing brains and bodies. Be involved in setting reasonable limits for themselves. 
  • Choose new areas to manage a budget that they haven’t before. 

How You Might Help and Support

  • Ask more than you tell. Find out what they’re concerned or excited about. Be curious about how they plan to manage different aspects of their daily school life.
  • Co-create agreements when it comes to what you spend (in time, transportation, and money!) on clothes, sports, and other interests. Encourage them to participate, while learning what it takes to make it happen. 
  • Encourage them to create plans and routines for self-care that don’t require your over-management. 
  • Provide training in different aspects of money management. 

Grades 9 – 12

Their Responsibilities
All of the above, plus…

  • Manage a budget for school supplies.
  • Organize their school schedule, communicating with administration regarding changes or requests.
  • Plan their own transportation to and from school.
  • Manage extracurricular activity schedules.
  • Manage their own college or job application process. 
  • Practice and learn how to speak directly to administrators and prospective bosses.

How You Might Help and Support

  • Be an encouraging “co-pilot”. (This requires you to let them sit in the “pilot seat”.)
  • Practice, practice, practice. Some things that we find obvious as adults need training (and sometimes re-training!) for teens. 
  • Be patient and don’t take it personally as they struggle between pushing you away for independence and pulling you close for comfort and security. 

Loading Software Updates…

Did you find something in the list that your child might be ready to take on? 

Remember, none of us arrived here completely equipped for life – it’s a process of observing, trying, making mistakes, and trying again. This is an exciting time for children–a fresh start to a new school year. Have a blast as they discover what they’re capable of!


1 The Responsibility Pie was created by Linda Jessup and is referenced in the book Parenting with Courage and UNcommon Sense. Jessup & Baldwin. 2014.

2 The Parent Encouragement Program, Washington, D.C. www.pepparent.org