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I heard the most heartwarming story the other day. A dad presented his high school graduate with her favorite Dr. Seuss book signed by each of her teachers since kindergarten.
Every year, the dad asked his daughter’s teachers to write a message in the book, detailing a memory about their time together. He filmed his daughter reading through the book, and let me tell you, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house (mine included). So sweet and so special.
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Looking back at my daughters’ school photos, we love seeing all the ways they’ve change over the years. From missing teeth to wild hair, the photos really highlight how quickly time passes, and we see their little personalities shining through as they continue to grow.
We all want our kids to enjoy their school years. We want them to gaze at yearbooks and cherish memories. We want them to remember the teacher or friend who made a huge difference in their lives.
Starting a back-to-school tradition is a great way to help preserve memories for years to come. Even if your kids aren’t starting kindergarten or first grade, you can still start great traditions! Back-to-school is the perfect time for a fresh start.
Here are 8 great back-to-school traditions to start this year!
1. Create Year-By-Year Photos
I love the idea of using the first day of school to document how far kids have come (and how much they’ve grown) through the years. Preschool is the perfect time to start, but you can start this tradition any time. Even if you missed a few, just start this year!
Pick a spot (in front of their school, with their new teacher, or in the front yard) and take a snap or two. Use signs to add the year or “first day of school” to your photos. Follow up with a photo at the end of the school year or at graduation. It’s fun to take photos in the same spot to really see how much everyone has changed over the course of the school year.
Print out your pics and create a photo album, adding each year’s photo as you go. The best part about this gift is you’ll have a wonderful present for them when they hit their high school graduation in 13 years.
2. Collect Letters from Loved Ones
Each year, write your kids a note or letter when they start the school year. You might also want to include details that will be fun to look back on, such as your child’s favorite books, what she likes to do, or who his best friend is right now. Follow up at the end of the year and ask your child’s teacher to write them a message as well.
Help friends and family join in on the fun. Ask a favorite aunt, an older sibling, or a friend to write a note to your child. Get them to talk about the exciting times they’ve enjoyed together, the strengths they see in your special kid, and any great advice they’d like to offer.
Just as you did with the photo album, archive the letters each year, and keep them for your child when they complete their education. What a treasure the letters will be for them to open and to know so many people rooted for them along the way!
3. Put Together a Signed Book
Follow the lead of the dad who asked his daughter’s teachers to write a note inside “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” each year.
If your child has a favorite book or a story with their name in the title, it is a terrific signable gift. You don’t have to limit it to a book, either. Choose a canvas stuffed animal, a photo frame, wooden or ceramic numbers of their graduation year, or another item key people can sign along the way.
Use the book idea for inspiration, choose an item meaningful to your child, and ask teachers and loved ones to autograph it. Put the item in a safe hiding spot to give to them when they complete their schooling.
4. Go Back-to-School Shopping Together
There are tons of ways to save on school gear, but still enjoy the tradition of the annual back-to-school shopping trip. Kids love the opportunity to pick out their own clothes and select their supplies for school. If your school has specific a uniform or dress code, let your kids add personal flair by picking out an accessory they’re excited about.
The trick to not letting the tradition of back-to-school shopping derail your budget is to set clear parameters beforehand. Go with a list, know your budget, and shop knowing exactly what you’ll need. Let your kids know what they’re allowed spend. Let them help pick out items they like and feel excited about. Most schools distribute a list of supplies you’ll need for the year. Get the list, start early, and watch for sales and bargains to help you save.
Another trick to saving is to buy all the basics on your own (order the uniforms, buy pencils, notebooks and supplies) and then let your kids share the responsibility on one special trip to the store. During this trip, let them plan what they’re looking for and what they need to add the finishing touches to their supply list.
5. Give a Learning Tool
If you like to start the year off with a meaningful gift, give a learning tool to help your child throughout their school years. Books, calculators, and other “learning presents” are great gifts and are far more useful than adding more “stuff” to their room. Art supplies are also valued and help foster creativity.
Depending on your family’s stance on technology, back-to-school may be time to invest in a new home computer for the whole family or set up an older laptop for your child to use as they start school. With schools today, many computer studies begin in first and second grade. Your child doesn’t need bells and whistles, just the basics to get them really excited about learning.
In first grade, students learn to tell time and many become fascinated with clocks and watches, but at every grade level a nice watch helps kids arrive on time. A simple analogue watch is perfect for beginning time-readers. If you’re giving a watch to older kids, they’ll appreciate the gift too. In junior high they’ll navigate their new schedule by keeping an eye on the time. In high school, they may want a digital watch with an alarm to help them get to class on those early mornings. If you want to buy your kids a gift to start the school year, opt for a practical item they need for success in the year ahead.
6. Brainstorm “New Year” Resolutions
Just like the start of the calendar year, the school year’s a great time for back-to-school resolutions. A fun twist is to encourage your kids to record their resolutions, hopes and goals for the upcoming school year on video. Play the video back at the end of the year and see how much they’ve grown and changed.
Look at the overview of the year with your kids. Use the Year-at-a-Glance pages from the Living Well Planner and jot down a couple of mile markers throughout the year. Maybe your kids want to learn to read chapter books by November or they’re hoping to join a baseball team in the spring. Having an overview of the year helps you plot out the timeframes.
Your school-year resolutions don’t need to be complicated. A high schooler may set a certain GPA goal or want to get involved in more extra-curricular activities. A goal setting tradition at the beginning of the school year helps kids learn how to take steps to achieve their dreams. Goal setting and resolutions also help them navigate through setbacks and develop grit and a growth mindset.
7. End Summer with a Special Day of Fun
Mark the end of your summer with a day of fun. Get back-to-school pedicures with your daughter. Take your son fishing for the afternoon. Find ways to maximize quality one-on-one time. Even a great dinner the night before school starts is an awesome family tradition—cook your kid’s favorite dish or dessert.
When the kids are out of school for the summer, many moms are counting the days until the kids go back…but when they return, the house definitely feels a little emptier. End the summer on a high note by enjoying a favorite activity or adventure as a family and spending time together before schedules become busier and more complicated.
Many public museums offer free or discounted days for locals, so check out your town’s calendar to see what’s coming up. Museums, farms, zoos, and gardens are also a great reinforcement for topics kids might explore this year in school. Start some conversations and help them spark their learning before school even starts.
8. Start the School Year by Helping Others
Another great tradition is to find a way to help others start their school year. Many schools are looking for extra supply donations and help for students who can’t afford school items. If you buy your supplies in bulk, offer to donate any extras or surplus to the school.
Teach your kids about donating to charity by having them clean out their closets and donate summer toys and other items they’re finished with for the season. Ask them to them help you decide where to donate the items and how to help other kids with less.
Another great idea is to ask older kids with long hair to consider donating to a charity like Pantene’s Beautiful Lengths or Locks of Love. These programs take donations of hair to create hairpieces for kids who are suffering from hair loss from medical issues. If your kid is considering a back-to-school makeover, it’s a wonderful time to donate!
Start the school year with a great tradition to help your kids kick the year off to a great start. The key to creating a lasting tradition is to simply repeat it each year. Your traditions can be as simple as going out for ice cream on the first day of school or taking a photo. It’s just about creating a special way to mark the beginning of an awesome school year.
Help your kids get the most from their year and get excited about school by starting a back-to-school tradition this year!