In anticipation of another school season, not to mention all the shopping that comes with it, these first-day-of-school traditions and ideas will help get kids in the headspace for a new year. From chalk messages to lunch notes and family dinners, these are our favorite back-to-school traditions to choose from to help make the new year feel special.

1. Count it down. Make the first day of school something to look forward to by crafting a paper countdown chain. Each day, tear one link off the chain and ask the kiddos to name something they’re looking forward to about school.

2. Have a show-and-tell dinner on the first night. Family dinners are always important, but make it a back-to-school tradition to allow the kids to tell you everything about their first day, from the friends they haven’t seen over the summer to the classroom layout or what they had for lunch.

3. A day-one surprise. Celebrate the first day in style with a visit from the First Day of School Fairy. She can deliver a few back-to-school school supplies and an encouraging note for the new year. For more on this fun idea, visit Differentiated Kindergarten.

4. Make a family motto. To help your little ones start the new school year in the right mindset, come up with a short family motto. It’ll help remind everyone what’s important in tough moments throughout the year. Have the kids write it out and decorate it. Learn more about the importance of creating a family “coat of arms” here

5. Customize something. You can order specialized pencils with their name or label their new water bottle, but allowing your kids to stake their claim on school gear can help them feel confident about heading back to school.

6. Make an awesome breakfast. You’ll be throwing cereal and milk at the kids soon enough, so why not whip up a fancy breakfast for their first day? It’ll keep your kids full, and make them look forward to getting up early! 

7. Read a special book the night before. Whether it’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go! or Miss Nelson Is Missing!find a classic picture book that’ll get your kids ready to start the new year.

8. Decorate your pad. This is one of our favorite first-day-of-school ideas! Let your kids help with the decor or surprise your school-aged sweeties with a decorated door when they wake up. Whatever you choose to do, it’s a great way to celebrate!

9. Draw a self-portrait. Let your little Einsteins create a version of themselves in a back-to-school outfit. It’s a great way to pass those last few summer days, and it’s a sure bet for getting kids excited about donning their new threads and heading to the classroom. See how Hands On As We Grow completed this fun activity.

10.  Make a sundae bar. This sweet, simple back-to-school tradition will calm anyone’s jitters about heading back to school. Put your favorite toppings in jars and make them meaningful with labels encouraging the qualities you’d like to see demonstrated throughout the new year. Have your little scholar cover their ice cream in kindness, bravery, obedience, and happiness, then top it off with sprinkles of love. 

11. Celebrate School Year’s Eve. You celebrate New Year’s Eve, so why not do the same for School Year’s Eve? Get poppers or noisemakers, provide treats, and throw a little dance party. It’ll get your students excited for what’s to come, and it’s a great way to include other fun first-day-of-school ideas on this list. Looking for more inspiration? Check out the School Year’s Eve party guide over at 11 Cupcakes.

12.  Interview your kids. Discover goals, fears, and questions about school by interviewing your little scholars before the first bell rings. It’s not very hard to come up with a list of questions, and whether you write down the answers or videotape your tykes, it’s a memory everyone will treasure for years to come.

13. Create a bucket list. You do it for summer, so why not make one for the school year? Whether they want to jump a reading level or two or try out for a new sport, when kids have goals, they succeed!

Related: 39 School Jokes for Kids (because You Really Need a Laugh)

back to school traditions and back to school ideas like back to school pictures are fun
Brittney Fort

14. Take cool pictures. Everyone loves to document the first and last day of school. There are so many creative ways to commemorate the occasion—from chalkboards to t-shirts, and more. You can find our favorite ideas here. For those simply wanting to share moments with friends and family without making it a public display, there are safe options like the Tinybeans app (you can learn more and download it here!), which puts parents in total control of who can see and interact with photos and videos.

15. Have a back-to-school dinner. Making a favorite meal (like one of these pasta recipes) and celebrating the start of another school year with an awesome dinner in their honor will always make your kids feel special.

16. Have a special activity for the end of the first day of school. Whether you take them to their favorite park to burn off that first-day anxiety, have a craft planned, or grab an ice cream and talk, it’s easy to make the first after-school afternoon unique.

17. Write a sidewalk chalk message. If there’s a sweeter first day of school tradition than a chalk message outside the front door, we haven’t found it. Go all out or keep it simple—either way, it’s an extra boost to help ease those first-day jitters. If your first day is distance learning, surprise the kids with a message they can see from the window or on a quick preschool start walk. 

18. Give them a new book. Get your bookworms ready by gifting them a new book before school starts. Those required reading minutes will go faster when they’ve got the latest release in their favorite series. Plus, we’re pretty sure kids can never have too many books.

19. Pack a super special lunch.
Packing their lunch in a special lunchbox or bento box with a treat or a lunchbox joke is a great first-day-of-school idea! Get your kids involved by asking them what they want, and have them help you get it ready. Check out our favorite creative lunches here

20. Top Ten. Much like late-night talk shows’ top ten lists, this one asks kids to list the top ten moments of their first day back in school.

21. Surprise them with a toy or kit that’s educational and fun. Sitting at a desk all day can be challenging, so having something engaging that isn’t worksheets or quizzes is a great way for them to have fun while learning a little more after the bell rings.

22. Watch a school-themed movie before the big day. Think Matilda, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Monsters University, Akeelah and the Bee, and School of Rock.

23. Make a time capsule.time capsule is another one of our favorite back-to-school ideas. Whether you open it at the end of the school year or much later in your kids’ school career, it’s fun to look at memories together.


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