Get the kids excited for back to school! These meaningful but easy first day of school traditions will help your family start the school year on the right (fun) note.
You’ll also want to check out back to school lunch ideas, back to school mantel and decorating ideas, and 32 ideas for creating and organizing a homework station.
Don’t forget to snap a photo!
Printable School Signs for Photos
For your own child or family, or for a whole classroom of kids — our printable first and last day of school signs make for a simple and easy photo memento through the years!
First Day of School Traditions
The first day of school can be full of emotions, from the joy of getting back into a routine to the worry about making friends and learning new things.
Having back to school traditions that you do as a family each year can enhance the fun (anticipation is huge!) and also reduce the worry by providing some time to connect with your child around this big milestone each year.
So, here are some fun *and easy* traditions to start with your family for first day of school and the beginning of the school year, whether you’re at a traditionAL school or you homeschool.
We know parents are busy, too, so these first day of school traditions are meaningful and memorable without a lot of work or expense. (So no, you won’t find a first day of school fairy here — just a parent trying to keep it together 😘) Choose the ones that work for you!
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Start Now: Count It Down
Our easy holiday countdown block with printable cards is a quick craft project *and* helps kids know what event is coming up next.
“How many days until….?” is the summer break equivalent to the road trip “Are we there yet?” at our house! 🤪 So this helps!
Hand the kids a printed calendar to review days of the week and counting skills, or use an online countdown calculator to start your days until school starts calendar.
First Day of School Traditions: The Days Before
Transition Schedules (but make it fun!)
It’s not the funnest part of the summer, but the transition from lazy summer days (and later nights) back to the school-year schedule of going to bed earlier and getting up to catch the bus and get to school is necessary for us.
To add some excitement to the transition, we make it a back to school tradition to schedule a fun, quick activity at the same time as school will start (or the bus will leave) each weekday of the last week before school starts.
Then the kids have a good reason to practice setting their alarm clock, getting dressed and ready, and getting out the door on time. (And yes, one kid “missed the bus” one day… we met her at the end of the driveway. And she hasn’t been late again!)
The first year, we thought this was a bust — the kids weren’t into it. But the next year, they asked when we were going to start our back to school morning drills! So even if your kids aren’t into it, give it a chance if your family needs help with the transition to school hours.
The biggest trick for us is finding things to do and places that are open at that time of the morning since our school starts early! Our swimming pool and other attractions don’t open until later, so some ideas we’ve tried:
- visit to the local donut shop — always open early!
- go out to breakfast
- go out for hot chocolate or smoothies
- get out on a hike or morning walk
- go back to school shopping (even if a clothing store might not be open yet, office supply stores are typically open earlier)
- back to school appointments (like eye exams, doctor appointments, and hair cuts)
This is a great time to check off the last of your summer bucket list activities, too.
Celebrate School Year’s Eve
The day or night before school starts is a great chance to have one last summer celebration.
School Year’s Eve can be anything you want it to be! A fancy dinner party with just your family, or an end of summer bash with friends and neighbors. My kids’ favorite special dinner is pizza by candlelight. Anything by candlelight!
For a bigger end of summer party, put a first-day twist on these end of year party ideas, and be sure to check out these easy water games the kids will love.
Make A Summer Memory Scrapbook
It’s natural to feel melancholy when the carefree-but-busy summer days come to an end. Reviewing all the summer fun helps extend the joyful benefits reaped from a family fun summer together.
Be sure to include the little experiences (like dropping your ice cream cone and watching the dog run to lick it up!) along with the big experiences like family trips and summer camps.
Back to School Fashion Show
Getting new school clothes is still my favorite part of the back to school season.
Help the kids get ready for the first day by working together to get their backpacks ready (make sure you have the pencils and notebooks!) and then have a fashion show of their first day of school outfits. Some music and a little disco ball lighting turn the whole thing into a dance party!
Or, turn it into a game where they have to race to get their supplies in their backpacks, get dressed (make it silly!), and run to the bus stop or the car.
Read First Day of School Books
Reading books together is an important factor in helping kids become readers! And reading books repeatedly especially helps early readers learn literacy too. Grab one of these teacher-approved books for the new year.
Books about School Anxiety and Worries:
Growth Mindset Books to Help Promote Learning
- The Magical Yet
- What Do You Do With a Problem?
- The Day You Begin
- Big Life Journal (interactive writing prompts, not just a story book)
Have a Family Meeting
Since back to school time requires new schedules and changes, the week before school starts is a good time to have a family meeting.
The week that school starts is also a great time to set some family goals, review or establish a family motto, and even get ambitious and reset the family chore chart. If you have family expectations or rules about grades, homework, or extra-curricular activities, cover that, too.
Take a Quiet Minute One-on-One
If you have an anxious child especially, the night before school starts is a prime opportunity to have some one-one-time for a moment of peace and reflection together to curb school jitters. You can ask questions, but I always learn more listening and letting them talk than I do when I try to control the conversation!
Take a moment to visualize together what the new school year and new grade level might bring (and how you can respond and be resilient when the tough things happen). If your family is religious, this is also a great opportunity to have an individual back to school prayer with your child.
Start a Back To School Binder
The first day school starts the paper flood coming home (if it hasn’t already start earlier at meet the teacher night!) Get your command center / organization station into shape, and take charge of the schoolwork and kids’ art from the beginning of the year by making an easy back to school binder.
Then, when the artwork, writing samples, tests, and report cards come out of their backpack, they can decide if it’s their best work that they want to save in the binder, or if it’s okay to go straight to recycling. We also add their school photo and other mementos.
We also love to use front-loading artwork display frames to make it easy to show off their latest best work. These frames have storage inside the frame with an easy-load display frame at the front, so you can easily keep their masterpieces and display the latest one.
Record Your Child’s Height
If you have a wall or door frame or growth chart where you record you child’s height, the first day of school is a great reminder to check their growth.
As you look back at their growth, it’s fun to remember what they were like at different ages and heights!
Add Something Special to Lunch
After the kids pack their lunches (yes, my kids pack their own lunches! and yes, we prefer packing the night before), I like to add in a little surprise. A handwritten note from home makes even my tweens smile and feel loved!
You can print these easy (free) lunch box notes ahead of time, then add a personalized note or joke before slipping it in their lunchbox or backpack.
First Day of School Morning Traditions
The first morning of school is always a little hectic with emotions running high at our house, so we keep it as simple as possible.
Serve a Fun Filling Breakfast
Even if I’d like to, this is not the morning for me to be an ambitious chef at breakfast! We keep it simple but fun with easy but special breakfast ideas like
- nutritious muffins (baked/purchased the night before) with a candle — celebrate and make a wish!
- fast and healthy fruit smoothies
- quick protein-packed easy egg breakfasts like breakfast pizza and breakfast quesadillas
- oatmeal with fun toppings and varieties (or sub in quinoa with berries!)
- easy fast banana pancakes / crepes – a family favorite
Take First Day of School Pictures
First day of school photos are one of the fastest and easiest first day of school traditions! It’s quick to do and easy to repeat each year from the first day of kindergarten to high school graduate.
Just print one of our printable first and last day of school signs (updated each year), then snap of picture before they head out the door. The infographic signs make for a great addition to the back to school binder mentioned above!
It’s fun to gather a group of friends at the bus stop (or even after school) to get a picture together, too.
Don’t Forget The Teacher!
We appreciate teachers so much in our house, so we try to make sure they know! If your child’s teacher has a wishlist or supply list, choose something and send extra school supplies or a small thank you gift to start the new school year.
You can’t wrong with an Amazon gift card or a gift card to a local cafe. If you’re feeling crafty, try a German tradition and make a paper cone (called a schultüte) and fill it with treats for the first day of school.
If your child rides the bus, you can also send a quick hello and thank you note of appreciation to their bus driver, before or after school.
After School First Day of School Traditions
My kiddos are usually exhausted after the first full school day! So we keep it simple (yet again) to let them have time to decompress and have some free time.
Bus Stop Welcome
Have you heard that the most important time in a child’s day is the 3 minutes after they wake up, the 3 minutes before they go to bed — and the 3 minutes after they get home?
Three minutes isn’t much time, but I’ve noticed this truth with my own kids, so, when I can, I try to make those 9 minutes count.
For the first day of school, it’s fun to greet them at the bus stop with a sidewalk chalk message or a group of parents cheering (don’t forget the balloons and noisemakers). Try it, kids LOVE it! Teens too but they won’t let you know 😉 Then we proceed to…
After School Snacks
My kids will tell you: usually I’m a stickler for nutritious after school snacks. (“But I ate vegetables yesterday, mom!”)
But for the first day of school, we like to remember that it is still summer outside and grab some popsicles or other fun frozen special treats. Sometimes a healthier variety… sometimes not. But the novelty makes it a memory-maker for my kids!
And while they eat, they talk. I hear a lot more of their reality during popsicle and snack time than I do other times of the day.
Dinner Show and Tell
This is a year-round tradition at our house! As we gather together for dinner, everyone gets to share about their day. Sick of hearing “fine” and “nothing” answers, we’ve started doing what we call “highs and lows” each night. What was a thumbs up today? (aka What was the best part of your day?) What was a thumbs down? (What was the worst?)
With this tradition, we come together as a family and learn about each others’ days, and also normalize the fact that even if the day wasn’t the best day ever, there is still some good in every day and that having bad moments is also a part of every day.
The kids are also learning how to listen and take turns speaking, and how to ask sensitive and relevant follow-up questions. This is a great way to make the most of dinner with some social-emotional learning skills!
We hope you and your family enjoy these first day of school ideas! What does your family do to make back to school special?
You’ll also like these 25 School Organization Tips.