IPocket_Mommy_Covert is the second biggest shopping spree of the year, bested only by the winter holidays. It’s also about the longest. That’s    because, for months now, stores such as JCP, Target, Staples, and Kohl’s have been hawking their back-to-school deals with such catchy phrases as “Head of the Class” and Love Your School.” And that trend has no chance of slowing now that crunch time has arrived.

Offers.com found that, while about half of us do wait until August to school shop, 8% of parents actually start in June, with another 29% heading out in July. Meanwhile, clothes, shoes,supplies top our lists, with brick-and-mortar stores beating out online purchasing.

It’s said that one reason bargains start appearing in June and continue well into September is the economy. The middle class has been hit hard, with 43% believing the economy is no better now than it was last year. Plus, 20% of us think it’s gotten worse. Coupon cutting is big these days.

Nevertheless, the National Retail Foundation predicts we’ll spend 5% more on apparel, shoes, supplies, and electronics this year than last for a whopping $669.28 for the average family. That comes to a total of $26.5 billion collectively. Put back-to-school and college together, and the tab comes to $74.9 billion. A spending spree, indeed.

About the clothes, though …. While you’re out scooping up bargains, keep in mind the notion of dressing for success. A number of studies have found a correlation between what kids wear and their performance. Along the same lines, it’s been found that academics and behavior improve when teachers dress more professionally, too. Bottom line: Avoid such items as inappropriate t-shirts, baggy or too tight pants/jeans, immodest tops, flip flops … Enough said.

Meanwhile, as your family switches gears from carefree summer to early wake-up calls, set routines, and homework, you’ll also want to:

  1. Make dentist and doctor appointments beforehand to ensure that vaccinations are up-to-date.
  2. Ease back into regular bedtimes and meal times.
  3. Organize school supplies and replace as needed; sharpen a bunch of pencils now, too.
  4. Set high standards and expectations for hard work and doing one’s best.
  5. Get out some skill books and flash cards to help get back in learning mode.
  6. Establish five or so reasonable goals reflecting chores, homework/studying, grades, and book reading.
  7. Alert teachers to any special needs your child might have or such situations as divorce that might affect performance and/or behavior.
  8. Arrange for a tour beforehand if your child is starting a new school.

And that last item goes doubly for first-timers, especially now that kindergarten is mostly an all-day affair. Back in 1977, only about 28% of little tykes were in class morning and afternoon; nowadays, though, that figure stands at 76%. Plus, it’s now called the new first grade, making lots of demands on our youngest learners, even as they take leave of the safety of home for the first time. Talk about butterflies in the stomach and separation anxieties!

And that’s where Aila Malik comes in. The mother of three kids under seven, she knows all about those pre-kindergarten nerves in youngsters—and so wrote Pocket Mommy with Zayan, her seven-year-old. As she explains: “My son had a hard time leaving us to go to school, so I cut out a paper doll and called it “pocket mommy,” and he could discreetly put it in his pocket and take it to school. When he came home, I would ask him, ‘What did pocket mommy see today?’ It helped him to talk about things that happened at school and his feelings.”

This thoughtfully written picture book eases the distress of transitioning from home to school and then goes one further by helping readers make their own pocket mommy—or daddy. That’s because the back cover offers up diverse cut-outs to use if not creating your own. And let’s face it: It’s not just entering kindergarteners who feel stressed before opening day and might benefit from creating a reassuring pocket parent to take with them when the yellow buses start pulling up.

Add that to your list, and you’ll be all set for back-to-school success.