School Rituals for The Whole Year — Not Just the First Day



            Back-to-school rituals are wonderful and often quite emotional. One of the most popular traditions is to shoot a picture of the student, all dressed up, waiting for the school bus, or entering the doors of the school.

            We did that ourselves, beginning with kindergarten, as our son waited for the bus to come. These were simple shots, usually with him grinning and showing off the new backpack. The photos track his growth and changes in everything from hairstyles to facial expression.

First Day of First Grade

First Day of First Grade

            But I’ve realized two important things recently, including that these photos can be spiced up a bit and made a little more creative and zany.

            The top photo is of Aidan, son of well-known quilt designer Heather Braunlin-Jones. I love that Heather used the chalkboard to mark the date and the grade her son is starting. I’m already having trouble recalling which of my son’s photos correspond to what grade in school, which is a pain.

Lori Ward Jackson, mom of 4, Best Family Traditions blog

            But here is another idea, a goofy approach that really cracked me up. Blogger and mother of four, Lori Ward Jackson, used to take the more traditional photos. But she began posing for these jubilant mom/annoyed children shots, with her kids’ cooperation, and posted them recently on her Best Family Traditions blog.  I know I felt like this most years as school resumed and so did most of my friends who are moms. I think this is a reminder that this can be more fun and theatrical. You can always take a more standard first-day photo in addition.

            Although first-day photos are a great idea, this is also a great time to think about traditions for the whole school year. Do you have little rituals for sending your kids off in the morning? For welcoming them back home at night? Have you created special rituals for homework? After-school snacks?

            There are all kinds of school-related rituals in the new edition of The Book of New Family Traditions, but I just wanted to share a few of them here.

            Pretty much every morning, whether he took the bus or I drove my son to school, I always had a catch phrase, some pithy quote of encouragement as my good-bye. It could be as simple as “Do great things” or “Be Kind.” I would often stick with one for months. I think there are many terrific possibilities that express a parent’s values about learning. My own personal favorite is from Ms. Frizzle, the science teacher in the Magic School Bus book series, whose motto always was: “Take chances! Makes mistakes! Get messy!”


            Many daily rituals happened when school ended. We started early setting the pattern of a snack and brief playtime right after school, but then homework period started right after that, unless my son stayed late at school.  Definitely no TV until after dinner, if then.

            I’m not saying that my son didn’t have a few issues about working ahead of deadlines during high school, but this ritual really did develop a solid, early habit of doing homework almost immediately.


            For a stretch of time during elementary school, I used to hide some of Max’s stuffed animals in trees and bushes near the house. He’d jump off the bus and run around searching for them, gleefully grabbing them off branches and hugging them.

beanies in the trees!


            I realize another special tradition for me during my son’s early school years was volunteering as “Library Mom” for his class. I took turns doing this with other mothers, but it meant I got to observe my son in the school context and get to know his classmates. I chose that form of volunteering because I’m a vocal advocate for reading (and writing) books. I think it was a treat for my son to see me play a role at his school, but many of the pleasures and benefits were my own: to this day, I am still friends with his grade school librarian.

           Any kind of ritual that makes school more fun or emphasizes the value of books and learning is worth doing: there is one family in the book that has special dinners before the first day each year, and on the last day as well. The dinner before school starts includes favorite foods, a special desert, and school-themed gifts that celebrate each child’s specific passions.

            Got any special school traditions to share, whether daily or annual? Feel free to post a comment, and to share this blog post with anybody who might find it valuable. 


Comments welcome