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10 Simple Ways to Celebrate Back-to-School

(even if school has already started)

It’s time to go back to school…and Pinterest is filled with cute and sentimental ideas to memorialize your child’s first day with posed photos, special breakfast and dinner ideas and school-supply scavenger hunts!

Meanwhile, you are simply trying to find all the things on the supply list, make sure your kid’s shoes still fit and that there are groceries in the house to make them lunch.

Don’t sweat it…for every mom with a perfect social media pic of her kid with a school grade chalkboard, there are 10 who just want to make sure their kid is wearing clean underwear and brushed their teeth.

We all aspire to be ‘that’ mom. The one who has it all together and is prepared in advance with a fun School-Year’s Eve party planned and a time-capsule made. But the reality is that is a hard aspiration to live up to.

So stop beating yourself up if school has already started and you haven’t memorialized the event. There are still things you can do…and they don’t have to be fancy! It IS possible to make the start of the new school year special for your child without losing your mind.

Here is a list of my 10 favorite (simple) ideas!

1. Create a Family Motto.

The Family Motto is a short phrase or saying that encompasses one or more of your family’s beliefs or priorities. It can be silly or serious. It can be literally anything at all. And if you plan to change it each year (or add on) then the pressure is low on making it perfect.

You can work on this over dinner one night and vote as a family, present a few ideas to the kids and let them choose, or just skip the voting altogether and start using it!

If you have read my bio, you know that our family simply borrowed a motto from the Marine Corps: ‘Improvise. Adapt. Overcome’. We said it A LOT. (It really does apply to a lot of life circumstances.)

Another one I have used (less often) is ‘In this family, we are problem solvers.’

A few others to get your creative juices flowing:

We can do hard things.

Have courage and be kind.

We can always try again tomorrow.

Focus on the good.

Your wants won’t kill you. (My husband’s growing up.)

Be anxious for nothing. (What my dad always said; from Philippians 4:6)


2. Back-to-School Gift Tradition

A gift tradition, but with a twist. Give your child a gift on the day of the school year he is starting: the 3rd day back for 3rd grade, the 6th day back for 6th grade, and so on. This gives you a little buffer to prepare and gives them something to look forward to past the initial rush and adjustments.

The gift can be whatever suits your child: books for the reader, games for the child who likes to play, jewelry for the princess, art kits for the creative one. You can repeat the same theme each year to keep it easier. Or you can give them something more school related (that they won’t need the first day, obviously) such as a monogrammed gym bag,  lunch box or personalized pencils.

The gift can even be as simple as a gift card or something from your child’s wish list. Remember…we are keeping it simple!

(idea from Rebekah Witcke)


3. A Back-to-School Letter

You can implement this idea in a few different ways. You can have your child write a letter of encouragement to her future self to be opened when she is having a difficult time or as a mid-term pep talk. (My favorite.) Reading in their own words how they believe in themselves can be really powerful.

You can also have your child write a letter to her future self listing out their hopes for the school year to be opened mid-term to help them evaluate their current progress and re-focus.

Or you yourself can write a letter of encouragement to your child: to be opened the end of the first week of school, in a time of struggle or on another day you specify.


4. Create a Back-to-School Bucket List.

Like many of these ideas, this could also be done over dinner with the whole family. Older children may be more inclined to participate if you have them be in charge of what to write down on the list.

You can either write down things you want to do as a family and/or have each child write down things they hope to accomplish personally this school year. The ideas can be academic in nature, or sports related, or leisure related. This can get them thinking about what they would like to see happen over the next months.


5. Create a School Year Vision Board

For the artist in the family, instead of a bucket list (or in addition to), pull out some old magazines and/or print some pictures off the internet and have your child create a visual representation of what they are hoping for the new school year. This can be done pinned to a bulletin board, hung directly on the wall with washi tape, or glued to cardstock, posterboard or just plain printer paper. Let them draw pictures, add stickers, whatever inspires them. Hang the vision board in their room where they can look at it often.  If you are feeling inspired, this would be a great activity to do alongside your child.


6. Keep a Growth Chart

Simplest idea on the list. Find a closet doorframe (or even a doorframe that isn’t so hidden if you want to be really fun), grab a pencil and measure how tall your child is at the beginning and end of each school year. You both will enjoy watching how much they grow.


7. Create a Back-to-School Binder

You may be thinking this sounds like a little too much work. But remember, we are keeping it pretty simple! A notebook and some tab dividers are really all you need. The cover could be artwork by your child specifically for this purpose or you could let an older child try their hand at creating the cover themselves in Canva.

Having a binder gives the papers and miscellany the school year generates a designated place to land. Your child can even be responsible for putting papers into the binder himself. At the end of the year you and he will have a record to look back over and reminisce.

This idea also works as they get older. I still use them for my grown kids and they are perfect for keeping documents and records separated and easy to find.


8. Back-to-School Interview

I can’t lie, I love the idea of a back-to-school interview. I wish I had known about it when my kids were younger. But even better than just the traditional interview (What is your favorite color? Who is your best friend? etc.), I love the idea of asking some more thoughtful questions.

Some examples:

  1. What is the one thing you want to accomplish this year?
  2. What 5 words best describe you?
  3. What is something you are great at?
  4. What is something you find really hard to do?
  5. What are you most afraid of?
  6. What makes you mad?
  7. When do you feel the most loved?
  8. What is something that makes your family special?
  9. If you could be famous for anything, what would it be?
  10. How would you change the world if you could?

You can do this a couple different ways. You may be able to print out the questions and have your child answer them in writing if they are willing. If your kid is too young or isn’t open to that, you can ask the questions aloud and write down their answers.

You could also pose a question a night at the dinner table and have the whole family take turns answering to spark a family discussion. (And write down the answers afterwards.) Written answers can be put in a Back-to-School Binder! (See #7)

Another fun way (to convince reluctant teenagers to participate) would be to give the task to your kid. Have her record the answers of the whole family (or just her own) on her phone and create a keepsake video saved to a folder in your computer.


9. First School Year Weekend Tradition

Preparing for the first day of school can be a bit frantic. And those first few days can be a bit of a blur for everyone as the whole family tries to re-adjust to new schedules.

So instead of trying to plan something for the first day of school, what if you planned a special treat for the first weekend? Saturday morning brunch at a favorite restaurant, ice cream or milkshakes from their favorite shop, a night at the movies or playing mini-golf. I would suggest choosing an activity that doesn’t require a specific time during the weekend so that as  schedules change you can still fit it in as the years go by.

Waiting until the first few days of school have passed to do something special also gives everyone something to look forward to and the opportunity to interact with your kids in a more relaxed setting about how they are doing with the adjustment back to classes.


10. Back-to-School Parent Tradition

Last but CERTAINLY not least, parents also deserve a special back-to-school event to look forward to! Whether it is brunch with the ladies or a special date night together, or even just treating yourself to a donut and a pedicure, plan a back-to-school tradition for yourself. The new school year is an adjustment for parents, too. Take the opportunity to do something rejuvinating for yourself as well as for your children. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup.


Now, don’t those seem totally manageable?

I wouldn’t suggest trying to implement all of them (LOL) but any one of them could be managed easily in a weekend. And none have to be completed before the first day of school! YAY!

And while creating a special tradition that you repeat year after year is great, that doesn’t work for everyone. So if you try one idea and it isn’t a big hit or you find it too stressful to implement, move on to another! Even if you did something different each year to celebrate Back-to-School, you will have acknowledged this special time in your child’s life, in your FAMILY’s life, in a meaningful way. And that is worth the whole box of crayons!


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