First Day of School Rituals That We Love

Father adjusting his son's collar

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

The first day of school is often a mix of excitement and fear for children. There’s usually a lot to look forward to, like making new friends, meeting new teachers, and getting to participate in school activities. But there are also many unknowns, too, like wondering if your teacher will like you, feeling uncertain about the academic workload, and stressing about making the adjustment to a new environment.

This year in particular, as the pandemic dies down and we move out of a school year like no other, parents will be looking for even more tools to ease the transition back to school. Making the back-to-school transition a positive and nurturing experience means starting school on the right foot. What better way to do that than to start the year off with a back-to-school ritual?

How Back-to-School Rituals Help Kids

Back-to-school rituals help our kids stay grounded as they make the transition from the carefree days of summer to the more structured days of school. These traditions can help ease anxiety by framing the experience as something welcoming and special. Many back-to-school rituals also provide a space for children to sort out their feelings and express themselves.

We all have a back-to-school tradition that we love. Maybe it’s something we did growing up that we want to pass on to our kids when they start school, or perhaps it’s something we’ve adopted as a family. If you are looking for more traditions to add to your list—or if you are looking for a new spin on a beloved tradition—we’ve got some awesome ideas for you.

9 First Day of School Traditions and Rituals

Whether you like to take photos, plan a big breakfast, or go out for ice cream after school, having a first-day ritual can be fun for both you and your kids—and give you all something to look forward to. Here are some ideas on what you can do with your kids that first day.

Take First Day Photos

Little boy in backpack smiling for photo

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Almost all of us take photos of our kids on their first day. And, it has become a common practice to share these pictures on social media and watch our social media feeds light up with other parents’ photos as well. Many of us end up comparing our kids’ first day of school pictures to their last day of school pictures to see how much they’ve grown and changed.

Siobhan Alvarez, nonprofit executive, blogger, and mom to two young sons under age 3, has a special twist on the first day of school picture tradition. In addition to pictures, she also does a first-day interview alongside the pictures.

“I use the same questions each year, and keep all of them in a binder together,” Alvarez shares. “It's a wonderful way to look back at the memories all in one place.

Create a Scrapbook

Take those back-to-school photos to a whole new level and add them as part of a scrapbook project that you can work on throughout your children’s school career, suggests Ashley Brown, founder and owner of Routine and Things. Brown’s two daughters—ages 2 and 4—are starting school this fall, so in addition to taking their pictures, she plans to jot down some notes about them.

“I will also write a note on the back of the photo describing their personalities and quirks as individuals and sisters year after year,” Brown says.

When her kids are grown, she plans to take these pictures and notes and turn them into a scrapbook. “My intention is to create a scrapbook using the photos and give them to each girl on their high school graduation day,” Brown shares.

Organize School Supplies

Little girl loading her backpack

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Is there anything more exciting than a stack of fresh notebooks, pencils, erasers, and glue sticks? Once we have our kids’ school supply lists in hand, most of us make a ritual of buying our kids’ school supplies together with them.

Going to the store and finding all of the items on the school supply list can almost feel like a treasure hunt for your kids. Let them make choices about the supplies—picking out notebook colors and designs that suit their personalities, for example.

Once home, lay out everything you’ve bought and put them in backpacks or to-go bags, especially if supplies must be brought in on more than one day. Getting your children involved in this process can make school feel more tangible to them.

Set Goals Together

Mother helping daughter put on shoes

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

In addition to taking first-day photos, Heather Aulisio, MeD, an elementary school teacher, mom, and consultant for Mom Loves Best suggests holding up a chalkboard with pertinent info about the upcoming school year, like their teacher, grade, and school. Along with that, Aulisio has her son write down three goals for himself.

“Whether it’s to make three new friends, earn Student of the Month, or get better in a subject area, we seal these goals in a special envelope,” Aulisio shares. Then, she does a follow-up with her son at the end of the year to reflect on those goals.

“On the last day of school, we open the envelope and look back to see if these goals were accomplished," she says. "Goal setting is important at any age and it really helps set a tone and purpose for a new school year."

Prepare Special Packed Meals

They say that food is the way into the heart, and that is definitely true for our children. Packing them a snack or lunch that “feels like home” is a great way to make them feel more secure as they venture off to school.

You also can let them pick out their favorite foods or snacks and pack those for them. Even better? Include a little handwritten note letting them know you are thinking of them, and that you know how awesome and strong they are on this big day.

Throw a Back-to-School Party

Who doesn’t enjoy a party? Back-to-school parties are a great way to ease back-to-school tension, as well as reconnect with kids you may have lost touch with over summer break. Sunny Verma, education expert, and chief executive officer of Tutor Bright, shares some benefits of back-to-school parties.

“[Because] not many kids have interacted socially, it's a great time to invite over the classroom and neighborhood kids,” says Verma. “This doesn't have to be grand or over the top; it can just be a small get-together."

Having a party also helps kids reconnect and gets them excited to see each other as the school year approaches, says Verma. Parties also can help remove the back-to-school anxiety and set up our kids for success.

Get a Night-Before-School Treat

Everyone wants to promote healthy eating habits for their kids, but getting them a treat on the night before school starts is a fun way to usher in the new school year and say goodbye to summer fun.

Stefania Baita, mom of a 4- and 7-year-old, and life and career coach, does a back-to-school ice cream run on the last day of summer break. It’s a tradition that’s been handed down through several generations of her husband’s family.

“Our family's back to school ritual is to go and get ice cream at a local ice-cream parlor the last night before school starts,” says Baita. “This is something that my husband used to do with his grandparents when he was a child and it is a memory that he cherishes. I loved the idea when he suggested we do the same with our kids!”

Read a Special Book

Having a warm, soothing book you read on or right before the first day of school is a wonderful ritual that can help your child feel safe and secure. Whitney Rancourt, mom, blogger, and elementary school reading teacher, shares a book that many of us have grown to love and that fits this role perfectly for children.

“One of our family's favorite rituals for back to school (or back to daycare) is to read ‘A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon’ the night before our separation,” Rancourt shares. “This little story is about a raccoon who is nervous to go to school. Mama Raccoon gives Chester a special kiss on the palm of his hand to remind him of her love.”

Just like in the book, Rancourt makes sure to give both of her children a kiss as she sends them off to school the next morning to remind them of the story.

“As an elementary school reading teacher, it's probably no surprise that our special back to school ritual involves a book,” she says.

Try a “Park Till Dark” Night

Jaymi Torrez, parenting and travel blogger, shares a special activity her family does every year on the last day of summer break. She says it helps her family savor the carefree lifestyle of summer for one more day before starting the school year.

“We eat dinner and do our nighttime routines like normal,” says Torrez. “But instead of putting on jammies and crawling into bed, we take our kids to the park in our neighborhood. We call it 'Park Till Dark,' and we let our kids run, climb, and play well past bedtime, till the moon comes out and sleepy yawns make an appearance.”

A Word from Verywell

First-day rituals and traditions can make the transition back to school that much more comfortable and stress-free for your kids. Look for things you can do with them that will not only be fun but also build cherished memories for years to come.

It's important to note, though, that traditions and rituals are not a substitute for other types of support your kids might need. If your child is experiencing high levels of anxiety about back-to-school, or if you anticipate that they might need emotional support as the school year begins, you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out for help.

Checking in with your child’s pediatrician, their school’s psychologist, or their teacher is a great place to start. Remember, back-to-school anxiety is actually quite normal, and there are many ways to help your child have an affirming experience as they begin the new school year.

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  1. Child Mind Institute. Back-to-school anxiety during COVID. 2021.