As the first day of school approaches, it’s important not only to keep a close eye on your child’s mood, behavior, sleep patterns, and appetite but to recognize all that we’ve been through and the positive aspects of heading back to the classroom. Parents need to celebrate both the return to school and our success in coming this far.
But what does a back-to-school celebration look like?
Below are five creative ways to bridge the gap between summer mode and school mode and help build positive excitement and anticipation for that all-important first day of school.
If you have elementary school–aged children, there’s a good chance you crowded together on the couch to watch Yes Day! on Netflix, which is based on the 2009 picture book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. A “yes day” is what it sounds like: it’s an entire day where your every answer to your kids will be, “yes.”
Sibyl Volker and her husband started doing end-of-school “yes days” when their now 8-year-old son finished kindergarten. It’s become a tradition every June for the Portland, Oregon, family of two.
“We had a hard time doing one during COVID, because all of the things the kids asked for were not possible,” Sibyl shares. “But we’re feeling a bit more comfortable with getting out now, so we’ve promised them each their own day to pick out adventures before school starts.”
She adds, “Our daughter has already decided she wants to ride roller coasters, and our son will likely want to play video games and go swimming.”
But what about food? “There will be sugar,” remarks Sibyl. “And probably tacos.”
Do the kids want breakfast for dinner? Then say “yes” with a customized assortment of baked goods including scones, Belgian waffles, loaf cakes, English muffins, and sweet rolls. Now that’s a good start to the day….
Everyone loves going to the movies, but many theaters haven’t reopened yet. No worries: You can re-create that in-theater magic by hosting a movie night at home.
Start by creating a movie marquee listing age-appropriate film titles to choose from — school-themed movies or films based on your family’s favorite books are a good place to start.
For an indoor experience, rearrange furniture so the screen is the focal point; toss pillows on the floor so little ones can stretch out. For outdoor viewing, line up patio chairs, blankets, or sleeping bags under the stars, all facing the projection screen.
Don’t have a projection screen? You can DIY a makeshift screen by clipping a white full-size, flat sheet to a dark wall and then clipping it to staked poles or even a clothesline. The secret is to pull the sheets super taut to remove any wrinkles.
And of course no movie night is complete without snacks. Set up a table off to the side where kids can help themselves to a scoop of butter, cheese, and caramel popcorn or grab an individual back-to-school-themed snack pack or cake pop. And don’t forget the beverages…for kids and adults!
Acknowledging the significance of the pandemic is one way to help children and teens cope with frequent change, especially as they prepare to go back to school in person. And what better way to mark these once-in-a-lifetime experiences than with a time capsule party.
Time capsules are an interactive storytelling project that the entire family can create for their future selves. Items that go into the time capsule can have personal meaning or represent life in this moment. They can be sentimental or even a bit humorous, such as:
- Lysol wipes
- A roll of toilet paper
- List of the shows binge-watched in 2020 and 2021
- A favorite toy or stuffed animal
- A family photo
- A letter to your future self
Classmate meet and greet
If you already know the other students in your child’s class, consider planning a meetup at a local park or playground. Setting up designated activity zones, such as a craft table to make personalized name tags and a cookie decorating station, will help kids get back into the groove of hands-on projects and time management.
Teacher appreciation party
Teachers have long been unsung heroes, and never more so than over the past year and a half as they’ve guided our kids through tumultuous times. Many have been spending their summer break reaching out to students via phone, text, email, and even in-person visits with a single message: “I’m so excited to see you back in person this fall.”
Why not host a teacher appreciation party? Your child and their classmates can create handmade gifts that communicate both their excitement about going back to school and their appreciation for all their teacher’s hard work to make the return to in-person learning seamless and safe.
One gift could be a thank-you poster on which each student makes a handprint with nontoxic, washable paint and writes a personal message.
Expressing gratitude can also be done in delicious ways. (Though it’s probably a good idea to ask a teacher before sending food or other perishable gifts.) A bouquet of fresh fruit or a box of chocolate-dipped strawberries would be a sweet way to say thank you.