12 Fun First Week of School Traditions
The start of school can be nerve-racking for kids during normal times. Add a whole new set of rules, face masks, hand sanitizer, socially distanced recess, or the complete absence of in-person interaction, and there's no question that your family's anxiety has the potential to outsize your kid's excitement. But all is not lost: With a little planning and creativity, it's easier than you think to infuse the first days with warmth and inspiration, thrills, and surprises. Pick a few ideas (zero pressure to do them all!) and in no time, Week 1 will be done—and your kids will have had oh-so-much fun.
Game-ify school supplies.
Create a scavenger hunt to get your kid psyched to use pencils and notebooks. Once they've located them, ooh and aah and talk about how they'll use each thing, says Amy Milcic, who blogs at Rock Your Homeschool.
Spread kindness like confetti.
If you're able to donate, look into whether your community has a program to give money or gear to students who need it. "We get clothes and school supplies for my son and for another child," says Amy Molk, founder of Beanstalk, a website that offers interactive creativity classes for kids. "Teddy helps put everything together, and we deliver it in person. It's fun to brighten someone's day."
Try a twist on the goody bag.
Germans have a custom of giving kids a paper cone (called a Schultüte) full of treats, school supplies, flash cards, and other little gifts on the first day. To make one, roll poster board into a cone shape and secure with glue, then jazz it up with stickers, colored paper, washi tape, your child's name, or whatever they're obsessed with. "Anything goes!" says Jenni Fuchs, the blogger behind The Bear and the Fox, who has made a Schultüte for each of her boys on their first day. "For my older son, I made a simple cone decorated with letters and numbers. For his little brother, I went all out and made it look like a shark." Once the cone is filled, cover the top with tissue paper glued in place and secured with ribbon. Leave it out as a surprise to find in the morning.
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Fun up breakfast.
Take the edge off with some playful morning food. Arrange banana slices, berries, or oranges into a face on a piece of toast, or try this idea from Days With Grey blogger Beth Rosenbleeth: In a large slice of watermelon, cut out your child's first initial or the number of the grade they're entering. Serve it alongside their cereal or yogurt, and stash the leftover bits of fruit in their lunch box for later.
Paint a self-portrait.
After school, take a craft break. Provide a mirror, paper, and markers or crayons and have your kid draw themself. Do it again at the end of the year to see how their skills and looks have changed. "We might hang this year's portraits side by side in our home," says Rosenbleeth.
Let them be the star.
Embrace your kid's silliness and encourage them to ham it up for the video camera. Get footage of that jump off the bus or a food-filled grin during snacktime. "As you record, position your phone on the ground or at your kid's eye level," says Brian Fichera, a camera operator at NBC News. Both Fichera and his wife, Dylan Dreyer, a 3rd Hour of Today cohost, share video cuteness of their 3-year-old, Calvin, on Instagram (@fishlense and @dylandreyernbc). Dreyer recommends using iMovie (a free iPhone app) to edit. "I record about 20 minutes of content, then splice and delete chunks," says Dreyer. Their top pro tips for creating a punchy video? Keep it under a minute and add music. Fichera is a fan of spunky instrumental (and baseball-stadium fave) "Green Onions, " which can make any recording feel cinematic.
Deck out their lunch bags.
"I pull out all the stops by adding stickers and drawing their favorite characters on a paper bag," says Susana Sanchez-Young, owner of The Designing Chica. Or let your kid do the decorating, and use their creations to pack lunches over the first week. "It's an easy way to remember home during the day," Rosenbleeth says. A small "I love you" note can help ease first-week anxieties. "Add a trivia question or a teaser about something fun you have planned," says Kim Bloomberg, an art teacher in Chicago and cofounder of Art Beat Box, a custom art-kit company.
Create a vision board.
Inspire kids to put their goals on paper. Gather magazines and catalogs for cutting up, a poster board, stencils, stickers, stamps, markers, or washi tape for embellishing. Then ask your kids what their wishes are for the upcoming year (subjects they want to learn or improve on, activities they're curious to try, or their hope to make a new friend), and have them clip and paste pictures and words that exemplify those dreams. Hang the finished board wherever they study. "Spending this time to think about the future helps my kids channel their excitement and gives them new things to work toward," says Milcic.
Host school-spirit days at home.
One theme can be Green Day—your child eats a green-themed meal, dresses in the color, and reads bedtime books that center on the hue. Another one could be Backward Day—serve breakfast for dinner! "Kids love making new traditions," Bloomberg says.
Give props to the teacher.
Let your child show their appreciation for a great first week with a small gift that's fun to make. Transform a standard clipboard with stencils, paint, and scrapbook paper; coat with Mod Podge sealer. "Teachers use them all the time," says Bloomberg. Of course, you can't go wrong with a kid-designed card—and it's easy to mail if your child isn't in a classroom, says Christine Feliciano, founder of Crafted by Christine. Inside, have your kid include their name, favorite things, and what they're looking forward to learning.
End on a high note.
"If school is at home, we plan to continue Field Trip Friday," says Rosenbleeth. Picking a low-effort destination where you can safely socially distance (a soccer field to kick around a ball or a nearby trail for a bike ride) will also make it easier for you to manage after the school day ends or you get off work.
Bring on the ice cream.
Every year, LuAnne Gallin's family celebrates the first and last days of school with ice-cream cake. "It began when our oldest daughter, who graduated this year, was in second grade," says the mom of two from Easton, Pennsylvania. "When my kids were young, the dessert was a surprise they'd find on the table. Now they still look forward to it and act surprised." Adrian Kulp, the blogger behind Dad or Alive, has a make-your-own-sundae bar. "The first week can be stressful. It takes only a few minutes to set out sundae supplies and is bound to make your kid smile."
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's September 2020 issue as "A Fun First Week Starts Here!" Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here.