As the days of summer peel away on the calendar, moving closer and closer to the first day of school, many parents reminisce about their own days of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Many recall the thrill of selecting a new lunch box adorned with a favorite cartoon character or the excitement of purchasing new clothes and supplies during back-to-school shopping excursions with their parents.
Parents today want to create the same fond back-to-school memories for their children. To that end, some families have developed special traditions for when their kids go back to school. Need to establish your own traditions? It’s never too late! Following are some ideas for making memorable traditions when your kids return to school.
1. Picture Them Coming...and Going
Capturing photographs of all the special moments from the first day of school is a tradition that many parent take time to do every year. Angela Towner of Decatur, Ga., said that she takes a photograph of each of her children holding a chalkboard, with the grade they are entering written on it in chalk. These photos become a time stamp for each grade. “I know someday looking at the compiled photos through all the years will really be wonderful and I know the kids will get a kick out of it,” Towner says, adding that she becomes emotional just thinking about it.
Some parents pose their children in the same spot every year on the first day of school and snap a photo to show the progression of the kids’ changes over time. Some have a traditional picture-taking spot in front of a tree, which also grows along with the child. Many parents make it a big event and have grandparents also come to the morning send-off and snap photos on the front steps or at the bus stop. One dad says he takes a “before” photo of his kids in the morning and an “after” photo when they come home from the first day—hopefully still smiling.
Tracy McCommon, a mother of three from Tucson, Ariz., says that her family takes a group photo with all the kids gathered at the neighborhood bus stop each year. “It is really dramatic to see over the course of a few years how the kids grow,” McCommon says.
She also takes a particularly poignant photo of her children from a different angle—from behind, when the kids are walking to the bus with their backpacks on. “It is neat to see how when they were small their backpacks seemed so huge compared to their tiny frames, and now that they are in high school they look so grown-up and their backpacks so small!”
2. “Last Supper of Summer” or “Back-to-School Breakfast”
One simple way to welcome going back to school is to let each child pick the menu for a “last supper of summer” or a “back-to-school breakfast.” Be flexible and remember that anything goes on this menu, from a favorite home-cooked meal to an outing at a favorite pizza place to allowing everyone to have dessert first, if that’s what the kids request. It’s your tradition, so do what will make it memorable for your family!
Add to the celebratory atmosphere by decorating the dinner table with a back-to-school theme—use an array of colorful pencils in place of a floral centerpiece; use construction paper place mats accompanied by pieces of chalk; or even let the kids have their dinner using their new lunch boxes.
If breakfast would work better for your family, then use the same ideas as above but have a morning meal instead. One mom says she has an alphabet-theme back-to-school breakfast where the menu consists of alphabet-shaped cereal and pancakes made in the shape of each of her children’s initials.
3. Fun “Night Before School” Preparations
Making sure that everything is in place for the big morning is often a part of the back-to-school tradition in households across the country. “Every year, both my kids are ready with their brand-new backpacks and school supplies,” says Joy Richards from Melrose, Mass. “They organize everything [the night before]! I make the lunches and they take showers and get ready to hit the bed early.” Richards says this yearly routine gives her kids a sense of stability and helps calm any anxieties they may have on the night before the first day. Plus, it means no rushing around the next morning to find things on that important first day back to school.
4. Read About a “Can-Do Attitude”
One grandmother began a back-to-school tradition of giving a copy of the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You’ll Go to each of her grandchildren when they entered kindergarten. The books were then read and reread at back-to-school time each year. She says her grandchildren were inspired by the book’s message about all the possibilities that any new beginning holds; the book begins this way: “Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”
To create a lasting memory, the book can then be signed by each teacher the child has, either at the beginning or end of each school year. When back-to-school times rolls around, an annual tradition is born when the book is pulled off the bookshelf and reread before the next school year. The book’s message reinforces to children that they survived the last big school challenge—and that they’ll do just as well in the next new grade.
5. Make a Splash With a Bash
When Cheryl Corbett’s children and their friends were little, this mom from Danvers, Mass., had a yearly tradition of creating a big splash when it was time to go back to school. “When the kids were younger, we did what we called a “back-to-school bash”! Corbett says. “We ordered pizza, had whipped cream pie-eating contests, water balloon fights, and then swimming in our pool.” One year, Corbett says, she arranged to have a dunk tank at the event held at her home. “At the end of the bash, kids went home with a goody bag filled with school-related items including pens, pencils, erasers, a folder, notebook paper, and some candy!”
6. Reflections From the First Day
Eileen Bowker Rafferty of Delran, N.J., a mother and a teacher, has a simple tradition that affords her an opportunity to reflect on the first day of school with her children and sets the tone for a positive transition back to a busier schedule: “When my kids get home on the first day, I always have a ‘first-day surprise’ for them on their bed. Something small but special like a video game, gift card, or stuffed animal.” She and her kids then go out for dinner because, as she says, “this ‘teacher/mom’ is just as tired, overwhelmed, and missing summer as they are!”
7. Bake Some Memories
Some back-to-school traditions create lasting memories by way of the senses, such as how something tasted, felt, sounded, or smelled. Jane Bomengen, a mother of two from Georgetown, Mass., hopes her special, simple tradition will evoke those sensory memories in her kids when they are older. “I have warm cookies waiting for them when they get home the first day,” Bomengen says. “It gets them to stay and share a bit of their day with me.” For the kids, the aroma of freshly baked cookies waiting for them as they walk through the front door, the warm hug they get from Bomengen, and the comfort of having her full attention as they describe their first day are certain to create lasting memories and perhaps a tradition to continue someday with their own children.
8. Be Honest and Do a “Happy Dance”
Although most parents and kids mourn the end of summer and the return to a school schedule, others look forward to the structure and order that going back to school creates. Janice Egenberg of Georgetown, Mass., laughed when asked to describe her annual back to school tradition. On the first day of school, after all her kids are fed, dressed, packed up, and safely on the school bus, Egenberg says she does her traditional “happy dance” celebrating her kids’ return to school!
No matter what tradition you create or continue each year, be sure to make time for one. While even parents of very young children know that time passes quickly, parents whose children are grown really realize how life speeds to fast-forward once kids begin school. Traditions can help hold on to that sense of family and belonging, making even the everyday a little more special. “I miss those days,” says Corbett, the mom who organized the back-to-school bash each year for her children and their friends. “We had so much fun with our kids when they were younger.” Happily, since successful traditions are often passed down, Corbett says she plans to continue her back-to-school tradition with her two grandchildren once they begin school.