Whether you’re begging for one more week together or are ready to rush them off to the bus stop, there’s no hiding from the calendar: it’s time for the kids to go back to school. Amid the last-minute trips and endless shopping lists, make time for a few traditions that celebrate this milestone and honor your child’s progress into a new grade.
Traditions large and small give children something positive to look forward to as the first day of school approaches. This collection highlights 22 amazing back-to-school traditions sourced from real families to help you create a lasting memory of your own. From crafts to height measurements to photos, there’s an amazing and memorable idea here for families of all sizes and types.
Get Them Excited About School
Countdown calendars and craft projects are a great way to get your child excited about going back to school. For children about to start this new adventure, crafts offer an opportunity to talk to your child about what to expect and their feelings about the change.
“I have a kindergartener who can’t wait to finally start school. If your kids haven’t already started back to school, this is a great project for them to do! We choose construction paper in their school colors and cut strips. [When it's done] we hang it up and they each take turns pulling a link off each day.”
— Megan from Brassy Apple
“I traced their bodies on our roll of butcher paper. With their outlines done, they were ready to get themselves dressed for their first day back to school. It was really nice to sit with him and color beside him. Working together and talking about his new outfit and all the little details.”
— Jaime Reimer at Hands On As We Grow
See How They’ve Grown
Back-to-school season is a good time to capture a snapshot of your child’s growth. Stats such as height and weight are good barometers for how quickly they are changing, but take time to document personality changes too. A short “interview” either on paper or video makes a wonderful memory of what your child is really like as they prepare for a new year of school.
“My three are currently obsessed with how fast they are growing, even at times heading to bed earlier in an effort to speed up the process! The first day of school lends itself to thinking about intellectual growth, but you can also take the opportunity to measure and mark everyone’s height–adding to it each year.”
— Jamie Martin from Simple Homeschool
“Each year right before school starts my boys fill out a quick worksheet about their favorite things. I save each year’s sheet in my school paperwork binder under the “All About Me” category. It’s very easy to do and so rewarding.”
— Nori at AlphaCord
“A simple tradition that I can add is to include a back to school video tradition, to capture not just what my boys looked like at the start of a school year, but what they sounded like and thought about at that point in time. I’ll ask my boys a few simple questions that will still be relevant even when they are in middle school or high school. I think it will be fun to be able to look back across the years to see how they change.”
— Shell of Things I Can’t Say
The Night Before School Starts
Excitement and nervous energy reach a peak the night before kids go back to school. Special traditions give kids something to look forward to and may help calm their fears about the big day.
“By combining a creative meal with a little back to school shopping you and your family will spend an evening together that will soon become a new family favorite tradition. A cafeteria inspired meal and fun school themed decorations will help set the mood for a night to remember!”
— Becca Dulgarian from Blue Cricket Design
“The night before school starts is a fun time to celebrate with a feast. One thing that I loved about my Dad is that he was enthusiastic about traditions. Many of them are still going strong to this day. I’m sure he would definitely approve of this impromptu, new tradition- a feast fit for our back-to-school princesses.”
— Elizabeth Kartcher of Dear Lizzy
The night before can be a stressful time for children. Ease first day jitters by helping them get a good night’s sleep with “magic” snack mix. “I gave my students a special treat for Meet Your Teacher night. The students were excited and the parents just oohed and aahed over them.”
— Laurie at Amazing Grace
“The littlest learners love it when the Backpack Fairy pays a visit. She arrives via the flying magic school bus in the middle of the night, filling backpacks left open by the front door with little trinkets.”
— Wendy writing for KC Parent
“Before that first day arrives, I love to have a visit from the “Magic School Bus” to get my kiddos excited. I pick up a few fun items here and there during the summer and fill some little bags for each child. [Items like] a coloring book, some new school supplies, a toy or treat, stickers, and more. It’s now a fun tradition in our house and my kiddos can’t wait to find out when the Magic School Bus is going to visit us and get us excited about heading back to school!”
— Kristin from Sweetheart Moments
You have to buy new school supplies every year, so why not turn it into a fun tradition? Books, name stickers and other supplies can become an annual adventure when presented as a special gift.
German Schultuetes, also called school cones, have been a tradition since the early 1800′s. “Traditionally the cone was only presented to a child that was first entering school, like kindergarten, but appears to have since expanded to involve all the school age kids in a household. Such a fun way to make a big deal of something your older kids may not be too thrilled about.”
— Destri writing for The Mother Huddle
“In the past we have always gone school supply shopping together. Let’s change things up a bit and make it fun so I put together a little [scavenger] hunt! Other than the supplies, purchased this is a cheap and easy way to get your kids excited about the new school year.”
— Brooke Waite at Design Stash
“Somewhere along the way, we began the tradition of a special dinner on the first night of school and a new book wrapped up at each kid’s place at the family dinner table.”
— Leah from Mothers Circle
The first day of school is hectic, but that doesn’t mean you have to skip the traditions. It can be as simple as a visit to the local donut shop or walking to school as a family. Traditions don’t have to be elaborate to be meaningful.
“Breakfast doesn’t have to be over the top or super time consuming, make some apple plates, pancakes, and shop your house for back to school related items. Use free [printables] to dress the table up a bit and add some fun for the kids.”
— Carli Eklund writing for Tator Tots and Jello
“My husband stays home from work long enough for us to get the kids to school. There is only one first day of school per year and he wants to be part of it. We load the kids up in the van and drive to drop the kids off at school as a family.”
— Sarah Mock from How I Pinch a Penny
Back to School Photos
One of the most popular back-to-school traditions is taking a photo on the first day of class. There are many ways to add continuity to this year-over-year photo collection. A printed sign can show your child’s progress through each grade. Or, buy an extra-large t-shirt and watch as your child slowly grows into it as they inch closer to adulthood.
“This is a day you will both want to look back on in the future. Get your kids excited for their first day of school with photos of them holding a first day of school sign. Print the whole set and keep them filed away for the start of each school year.”
— The bloggers at Botanical PaperWorks
In addition to taking a photo on the first day of school, capture a pic on the last day of school too. “September to June, well that just doesn’t seem like that long of a time span while it’s going down. But then you see that little September person standing there next to a bigger, different looking June version of itself and hot dang if you don’t cry.”
— Mandy of Harpers Happenings
“Every year on the first day of school Hutch will wear this shirt. Then, we will take his final picture of him wearing it on his graduation day. My plan is to have a big photo wall for each of my kids, and hang the pictures in order so we can see the progression over the next 15 years!”
— Jordan from Fun Cheap or Free
Send Them to School With Love
That first day back to school is long. Make it a tradition to remind your kids how much you care — even when they’re out of sight. Sneak an encouraging note into their backpack or lunch bag. For younger students, a snuggly item can be a helpful tool for dealing with separation anxiety.
“I love the idea of lunch box notes. I like to write notes on napkins. To show your love it doesn’t have to be fancy.”
— Angel at The Mom With a Plan
“Sew them a small, felt heart in their favorite color. Before you send them off to school, give the heart lots of kisses and love and let them know to just reach in their pocket and give it a squeeze anytime they feel scared. The heart is a tangible, tactile reminder that you love them and are thinking of them.”
— The bloggers from Local Fare
An after-school tradition can help your child unwind and decompress from the stress of their first day.
“Decorate to celebrate. It need not be a huge party, streamers in the doorway, a few balloons, and a small handmade ‘Welcome Home’ sign on the table. Make a batch of cupcakes for your little scholar. Incorporate some little touches that tell your child that you missed them and that you acknowledge it was a big day.”
— Kristi Reddell from Moms Confession
“At the end of their first day of school each year, we go out for ice cream and talk about their day. Classes, teachers, homework (or lack thereof), schedules, what their friends did over the summer, bus stories — I love it all. And now I really understand that they, too, love this.”
— Marlynn Jayme Schotland of Urban Bliss Life
Start a Tradition
Whether your children are preparing for pre-K or their first year of high school, annual traditions are a wonderful way to prepare for back-to-school season and make memories that will last a lifetime. What sort of traditions does your family use to kick off the start of a new school year?
Featured image by Nick Amoscato.