Getting back into the school groove can be stressful for families. Establishing fun back-to-school traditions can help make kids feel more secure as they advance to the next grade. Traditions also strengthen family bonds and create memories.
Having back-to-school rituals that carry over from year to year can especially help children who are nervous about starting the new school year. “Most kids feel better when they know what’s coming, when they know what the expectations are,” says Melissa Lang, an Atlanta-based child psychologist.
When considering what traditions would work best with your family, think about your children and how they feel about returning to school. Some are excited to get back into a routine and see their friends every day. Some kids love new school supplies and picking out their first-day outfit. Others worry about maintaining good grades, while some may fear they won’t fit in socially.
Doing special things to celebrate the return to school can emphasize the blank slate a new school year represents. It’s a chance to start fresh, make new friends, and get off to a good start academically.
If you’re thinking of creating a tradition for your family, here are some activities you can incorporate into your back-to-school routine. Traditions don’t have to be complicated, time-consuming, or expensive to be special. They just have to be right for your family.
Marking Summer’s End
For these traditions, you don’t even have to mention school, new teachers, new classmates, or anything that conjures up that alarm going off oh-so-early Monday morning.
Last hurrah: Make one last trip to an amusement park, the pool, or other favorite spot.
Movie night: Rent a movie the family can enjoy together. Go for a light comedy. Make popcorn and eat candy. If you’re lucky enough to have a drive-in movie theater in your community, check to see what family-friendly movie is playing.
Game night: Monopoly, Scrabble, Sorry, Candy Land....Unearth the board games and enjoy an unplugged night at the dinner table, free from the distractions of televisions and computers.
Summer photo session: Spread the summer photos out on the kitchen table and let the kids help you organize them in a special keepsake, such as a photo album, journal, or scrapbook.
Ice-cream outing: It’s an old-fashioned idea and a simple indulgence, but it works. Just going out for ice-cream cones as a family is a treat.
Backyard camping: Pitch a tent, get out the flashlights, and have a night under the stars. Try cooking over a gas stove, telling stories, and roasting marshmallows.
Community service: Do something for others. Spend the day at a local soup kitchen, homeless shelter, or food bank. Or fill a backpack with school supplies for a needy child in your community.
Getting Ready for School
The kids who respond best to these rituals are the ones who are excited for school to begin and welcome the fresh start a new school year brings. We also have some ideas for children who are worried about going back to school.
School supplies shopping spree: For many kids, shopping for just the right school supplies is fun. Set a budget and allow your child to make some choices. Encourage your kids to help you go through sale flyers to find the best prices.
Fashion show: Choosing the right outfit can be important, especially for tween girls. Have a family fashion show. Find something encouraging to say about each outfit your daughter models. For comic relief, show her some of your old school pictures.
School visit: A visit to the school, even if it’s just driving by, is especially helpful for children who are anxious. Most principals will allow families to come in and check out their classroom, desk, cafeteria, and restrooms. Think of as many positive things to say about the school as you can, and assure your child that she will be fine.
Special dinner: The night before school starts, enjoy a family dinner at the kitchen table with no television, texting, or other interruptions. Make something everyone likes, such as pancakes or spaghetti.
Book preview: This is a welcome tradition for kids who struggle with reading. Find out what novel your child will be tackling in school and buy the book, the film, the book on tape, and any other resources to help him enjoy it. Start reading it together the night before school starts so he won’t worry about completing it for class.
These creative ideas help families make the back-to-school season extra special.
Small gifts: An inexpensive gift like a journal, book, or framed photo can make returning to school feel like an occasion worth looking forward to.
Special books: Some books, such as The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, are just right for the first day of school. Or you might choose a beloved book that everyone in the family can enjoy for nostalgia’s sake, such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are or a Dr. Seuss classic.
Family photos: This is a popular tradition. Parents take each child’s photo or a group shot just before they head to school, often next to the same tree or other landmark year after year. It’s great to look back on the photos to see how much the kids have grown and how dramatically fashion trends change.
Baked goods: Spend time with your child the day before school starts baking a cake or a batch of cookies. Then, when he returns home from the first day of class, enjoy the treat you baked together while discussing what happened at school.
The 12 days before kindergarten: This is a beloved tradition for parents facing the often-agonizing prospect of sending a child to kindergarten. They do something special every day for 12 days leading up to the first day of school, often recording the activities in a journal or scrapbook. Activities can be as simple as a trip to the library. Or parents hang their child’s book bag in a favorite spot and place a small gift in it each morning, such as a box of crayons or another school supply. This can be adapted for any grade level.
Art box: For younger kids, decorating a large storage box to hold their art work and other school papers can be a happy ritual. The process will get them excited about returning to school so they’ll have something to place in their special box. Once filled, the boxes become cherished treasures.
Letter to my child: Some parents write a letter on the first day of school, which their child can read on the bus or during a free moment at school. Your letter might offer encouragement or point out specific things your child did that made you proud. Consider saving a copy of each year’s letter for your child to reread at high school or college graduation.