Last updated on February 15th, 2021
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When I was growing up, going back to school was always an exciting season. My favorite part was our annual back to school shopping trip. Although I didn’t consider this really a back to school tradition at the time, it was something that my mom and I did every year. So, I guess it was truly a tradition.
The day after my school supply list arrived in the mail, we would head to the store to pick up the latest school supplies. My favorite was the pocket folders with the adorable animals on the covers. I loved those folders.
It was also so much fun choosing fresh crayons (have you ever smelled the scent of a box of new crayons, it’s heavenly), markers that actually colored when you used them and new binders whose covers weren’t ripped. New school supplies are the best.
After we checked each item off the list, my mom took me out for a fancy lunch. This was one of my favorite meals we shared together each year. I loved sipping water from actually glasses and feeling like a little lady. We talked about the upcoming school year, my thoughts on teachers (this was especially important in middle and high school) and my hopes for the year.
Looking back on it, that lunch was always the calm before the storm. A few days later, I would embark on another school year. The crazy life of homework, social activities and after school sports took over. The new school supplies lost their freshness. Simply put, life became a whirlwind. I was always glad that we had that lunch, though, before real life set in.
Although you can’t stop time completely as kids grow up, you can set up family traditions that mark it’s passing. These traditions are cherished times that you spend together and become part of the fabric of your family.
Back to school traditions are no different. Today, my kids and I set up a lunch date to go back to school shopping. I get just as excited about new school supplies as they do. And I love the conversations that come out of spending this important time together.
We fill out their back to school posters (affiliate) and take the requisite back to school photos. Each year, we even find time to dedicate an afternoon to back to school crafting.
Most importantly, back to school traditions help set the tone for the rest of the school year. When we start off on the right foot, the kids are excited about the adventures yet to come.
Here are a few of my favorite back to school traditions that we have started over the years.
Back to School Shopping Date
This is my favorite all time back to school tradition. Probably because it involves shopping and lunch. Before the school year begins, I make a back to school shopping date with the kids. We wait until the supply lists arrive from school and then take a trip to our local big box store. There’s no better time to stock up on crayons, markers, notebooks and everything else that you need for the school year ahead.
After we finish our school supply shopping, we check out first day of school outfits. Although I don’t buy entire back to school wardrobes any more since they don’t really need fall clothes until October, I do like to purchase them one new thing to feel special on the first day.
Once the shopping is finished, we head out to lunch. It wouldn’t be a real date without food. This gives us a quiet time to spend together before the school year truly begins.
Host a Craft Afternoon
One of my favorite back to school traditions after our annual shopping date is crafting together. I pick a back to school craft (these gumball rulers are really fun to make) and we work on it together.
I also love having the kids paint a self portrait at the beginning of the year. This project let’s them showcase who they are. For the project, I encourage them to include things in their painting that represent themselves right now. So, if they really love a sport, then they can paint in sport equipment. Or if they adore reading, they can add a book or two.
The self portrait becomes a wonderful keepsake that I put in their portfolios. Usually at the end of the school year, I have the kids make another one. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown in their art skills and interests.
Kick Off Breakfast
The first day of school can be nerve wracking. Tummies filled with butterflies. Rushing to get out the door in the morning. Trying to find last minute school supplies.
Start your back to school morning off right with a kick off breakfast. Serve up some delicious egg muffins or yogurt parfaits to make it special.
When choosing the back to school breakfast, think make ahead. Any foods that you can freeze or prepare in advance will make those first days back to school much easier.
Also, it’s not a time to experiment with something new. Sometimes the best cure for nervousness is something you know. If you don’t usually serve your kids breakfast burritos or banana sandwiches, now’s probably not the time to start.
Check out these fun back to school breakfast ideas from Eating on a Dime for some ideas.
Capture the Special Moments
On the day before the first day of school, we take back to school photos with the kids. Capturing these special moments each year creates lasting memories.
As part of our back to school traditions, each child creates a back to school poster design (affiliate) with their current school stats. It’s so much fun hearing their answers to these questions as they grow each year.
For the photos, I incorporate some back to school accessories – books, globe, chalkboard and other classroom fun. I also use chalkboard signs and their school stats poster. Using funny chalkboard signs such as “Stop Crying Mom” or “I’m Outta Here” have made our photos even more memorable over the years.
When taking your back to school photos, keep it fun. Capture each child individually and together with siblings. Add in funny props like the school recorder and globe beach balls. You can even use a yard stick to show their ever changing heights. The more entertaining you make the photo shoot, the more likely your kids will look forward to taking them year after year.
Create a Time Capsule
One thing I’ve learned about raising kids is that the time flies. Especially once they hit school age. And it’s difficult to bottle up all of these changes to remember them.
So, at the beginning of the school year, we make back to school time capsules to commemorate our first day of school. Each time capsule includes a questionnaire, photo, a piece of yarn that measures their height and a list of their favorite things. The time capsule is sealed until the end of the school year.
Then, we open the time capsule up at our end of year dinner. It’s so much fun to see how much the child grew and how their interests changed. I’ve been amazed how many changes can happen over just one school year.
Go on a Treasure Hunt
We have been doing a lot of treasure hunts this summer since we’ve been home more. Kids love hunting for things. So this year, one of our new back to school activities is going on a hunt for school supplies.
For the back to school scavenger hunt, I’m filling up our treasure chest with some back to school goodies and then hiding it for the kids to find. If you are close enough to school, you could hide it on the playground or school grounds too. Then, set up the clues to mimic the way the kids will go to school.
To find the treasure, create a treasure map for your kids to follow or write out scavenger hunt clues. This is a great activity to encourage working together. Plus, who wouldn’t want to find a chest full of back to school loot.
Give a Kindercone
A what? Coming from a traditional German family, the Kindercone (also known as a Schultüte) was a back to school tradition that we continue to this day. On the first day of school for your first year of school, the child is presented with a Kindercone. It is a cone filled with treats and stationery items to “sweeten” the child’s first day of school.
Since starting the tradition, we actually like to give these mini Kindercones to the kids each year. They’re filled with pencils, gel pens, stickers and lots of other back to school fun. The cone is placed at the child’s table setting for the back to school breakfast.
If you are interested in adding this tradition to your family, but don’t want to make your own, check out these beautifully sewn Kindercones (affiliate). They are perfect for filling year after year with back to school surprises.
Another idea to store your back to school goodies are these chalkboard doodle boxes. Fill with a variety of fun school supplies and write your child’s name on with chalk. Your child can decorate them with their own doodles. Leave the boxes at each child’s place setting on the first day of school. Such a fun surprise at a back to school breakfast.
Write a Letter
As a mom, I have been working hard to write down my reflections about my kids and their growing up more. It’s incredible watching them grow. And as I’ve learned over the years, these thoughts are fleeting.
At the beginning of the school year, as one of my personal back to school traditions, I write each child a letter that I put in their keepsake boxes. The letter reflects on where they are, the things we are most proud of and how much we love them.
The kids don’t know about these letters. When they graduate from high school, I plan on gifting them their set of letters. It’s a beautiful keepsake that will stay with them for years to come.
Countdown to School
Going back to school is an exciting time. Help build excitement for the big day with a back to school countdown.
About ten days before school starts, set up a countdown calendar. On each day, plan a special activity. We read a back to school book, visit our favorite amusement park, go shopping and make a craft. I also include our teacher meet and greet at school as one of our countdown activities. These activities are important to getting school kicked off as a year long adventure.
Treat for your Teacher
The tradition of giving an apple to the teacher on the first day of school dates back hundreds of years. Families used to pay for their children’s schooling (not taxes). So, the poor families would gift baskets of apples and potatoes to their children’s teachers on the first day of school to help compensate them.
Today, the apple represents a healthy snack for the teacher to enjoy after a long first day of teaching. Although you might want to continue the tradition of giving your teacher an apple on the first day of school, there are lots of other tokens of appreciation you can gift.
Some ideas include a gift card for coffee at your local coffee shop, a book for their classroom or a homemade treat. I also love making them a gift. This washi tape pencil set or a handmade thank you note using last year’s leftover school supplies are a perfect way to show how much you care.
Going back to school is such an exciting time in a child’s life. New friends, teachers and adventures await them. Make it even more special by establishing back to school traditions for your family. Choose one or two that you want to do together year after year. Or switch it up each back to school season to try something new.
Most importantly, make this time special. Your child will take more pleasure in transitioning back to school knowing their family is cheering them on from the sidelines.
Does your family have back to school traditions? What are your favorites? Leave a comment below to share. I can’t wait to hear some new ideas that I can try with my littles.