BACK to SCHOOL

Traditions worth starting (and tips to help you stay sane!)

By Kate Schweitzer
FIRST PRINTED IN THE JULY/AUGUST 2022 ISSUE

We’ve all heard some version of it before, either from a well-meaning grandparent or a TikTok influencer: “You only have 18 summers with your kids!”

Talk about pressure: that not-so-gentle reminder of our limited time with our children makes for the impossible parental task of channeling wide-eyed appreciation for every moment of every day of every summer for nearly two decades.

So, remember that when we tell you this: you also only have so many first days of school with your kids!

OK, OK, unnecessary pressure, we get it, but there’s good news here: Unlike with endless summers, making the most of the first day of school is relatively easy. The commitment is low stakes. We’re only talking, like, 14 total days — just two weeks — of your life, tops. And of those days, they’re only with you for a blip before they’re off settling into their new classrooms. What’s more: finding a memorable way to celebrate your child is much easier when you make a tradition — something you can easily replicate year after year — out of it.

So, now that we’ve convinced you that you can, in fact, appreciate these moments without all that parental pressure, here are 11 simple traditions (but not, like, all 11, just pick one or two favorites!) worth starting.

Stage a photo shoot.

One of the most popular — and most efficient — ways to mark the passage of time is to stage a mini first day of school photo shoot. The key, however, is that they hold a letter-board-esque sign that, at the very least, states their incoming grade. Etsy offers even more customizable options that allow you to list the name of your child’s teacher, what they plan to be when they grow up and their favorite book. The resulting pics are sure to get all the likes on Instagram. Commit to getting that end of the year snap, too.

Decorate their door.

Tacking up a handful of balloons and streamers on the outside of their bedroom door is a simple, celebratory surprise that is sure to help your child start the day off right.

Chalk the walk.

If the forecast calls for clear skies, consider sneaking away the night before the first day and writing messages in chalk on your driveway, on the sidewalk path to the bus stop — or even all the way to their school if you can manage it. Then, as they make their way, they’ll be met with encouraging words, like “Star student approaching!” or “You’ve got this!” Bonus: any other kids passing by will likely get an instant pick-me-up on their first day, too.

Whip up an extra-special breakfast.

They’ll be back on their cereal rotation soon enough, so for one day, treat your early riser to fresh buttermilk pancakes and eggs however they like ‘em! Or, if mornings are always too frenetic for anything more than a granola bar on the way out the door, why not stage breakfast for dinner their first day back?

Give them the third-degree.

Grab your phone, hit record and interview your kid on the year ahead. What are they most looking forward to? What are they nervous about? What do they think they’ll learn?

Watch them grow.

Buy an oversized T-shirt that has “Class of 2032” or whatever year it is they’ll graduate high school. Take a photo of your child growing into the shirt, starting from their first day of preschool on up. Some shirts even have spaced-out sections on the back for you to place a handprint at the start of each grade level, too. Not only is it a great photo opp, but it’s a tangible memento they can hold onto.

Sketch a self-portrait.

Especially fun for crafty kids, provide your child with a mirror and art supplies and task them with drawing or painting a self-portrait at the start of the school year, and then — if you can remember! — have them do it again the last week of school. You’ll be able to see how their skills evolve, and by the time they’re seniors in high school, you’ll have enough masterpieces to put together into a book for them to keep.

Load up their lunchbox.

A basic PB&J and apple slices can wait a day. For their first school year lunch, pack them something extra-special, whether it’s a sandwich cut up into kooky shapes (cue the bento box!) or a sweet treat from their favorite bakery. Even sweeter: include a simple “I love you note” or even a slip of paper with a funny joke to help ease any of those initial midday nerves.

Celebrate “School Year’s Eve.”

It’s New Year’s Eve, but with school the next day! Break out the party hats and host a family dance party as you count down the final moments of summer.

Always make room for ice cream.

As important as it is to welcome the coming school year, it’s also cathartic to say goodbye to the end of summer. There’s perhaps no better way to get one last taste of summer than with a post-first-day family ice cream excursion.

Steal away for a parents’ day out.

OK, OK, so just as it’s important to start traditions with the whole family, once those kids are out the door, why not have one last adults-only celebration, just you — or you and your partner? Grab a childless brunch and toast to a job well done!

How to (Finally!) Feel Ready for Back-to-School Season

The back-to-school season can be riddled with anxious energy. It can be both exciting and overwhelming for the entire family. So, how can parents stave off the stress that this hectic time brings to their lives? Read on for parent-tested techniques to remain relatively sane this school year.

1. Order school supplies online.

Sure, there’s something nostalgic about taking your kiddos to Target and letting them help pick out the wide-ruled notebooks and glue sticks on their classroom school supply list, but let’s be honest: it’s painfully inefficient. The aisle is always overcrowded with shoppers, the good stuff is picked over and you never manage to get everything you need in one haul.

2. Resist making too many plans the week before the first day.

A lot of parents try to squeeze in as much summer that they didn’t get to in that last week before the new academic year begins — many even strategically plan a vacation to fill that gap between the end of camp and the start of school. However, for many families, going too hard that last week can cause a severe energy shortage right when they have to reacquaint themselves with eight-hour days in the classroom.

3. Keep a family-friendly calendar.

You might have a Google calendar all synced up with your partner, but for families — and for those with elementary-school-aged kids in particular — it’s a good idea to have a large weekly whiteboard calendar in an easy-to-spot, highly trafficked place in the house (think: on the fridge or by the front door). That way, you can see what’s happening with everyone, including after-school events, childcare schedules and oft-forgotten school spirit days, at a glance.

4. Reintroduce routines sooner than you think.

If you tend to relax your family’s structure when school’s out, acknowledge that you can’t go from summer to school with the flip of a night light switch. Consider easing back into earlier bedtimes and setting wake-up alarms in the weeks preceding the first day. Find other ways to ready yourself: start having your kids pick out their clothes the night before and set your own reminders to prep lunches early so you aren’t rushed.

5. Always leave seven minutes early.

It’s inevitable that if you plan to be out the door at 6:45 a.m., you are still looking for someone’s shoe until at least 6:54 a.m. Decide what is the very last minute you can leave without being late, and make it your goal to leave, say, seven minutes before that. Why the odd number? Knowing you have to be in the car at 7:43 a.m. is more specific than a general time on the hour or half-hour, so you’re more likely to stick to it.

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