Back-to-school season is upon us! And the traditions we have built up around this time of year are some that our family loves the most.
Of course, school starting again does mean an end to the lazy days of summer, but let’s be honest. By the middle of August, we’ve gone on vacation and swim team season is over. There are no more camps and the library has lost its appeal. It’s hotter than snot outside and so humid you basically need your own scuba gear just to walk to the mailbox.
In other words, by August, we are pretty much over it.
Our family runs a lot better when everyone is occupied and there’s a routine to our day. We can’t deny it. Most of us (well, except the teenagers) are fairly early risers, so the wake-up time doesn’t scare us. The kids are all really social and enjoy being around their friends. And, of course, I don’t mind at all the quiet of a kidless afternoon.
The start of school also ushers in a whole rash of extra-curricular activities! With kids in high school all the way down to primary school, just about every day has something going on. We have a rule that each kid can only have one activity at a time until they’re in high school (excluding CCD). So, there’s high school marching band, middle school volleyball, dance classes, beginning tumbling, religion class and choir during the week. And we can’t forget high school youth group!
Man alive. I’m already tired just thinking about it all!
Transition = Tradition … all on the cheap!
Now, while we may look forward to the start of the school year and all of the accompanying chaos, we do still need some transition time. And I find it usually helps with the transition when we come back to the same activities year after year.
Like building any tradition, it has taken us a few years to figure out exactly what works the best for our family. We tried readjusting bed times and wake-up times for the week prior to the first day, but that just made us grumpy. I tried making a big fancy breakfast on the first day, but that went out the window the year my oldest started middle school and we had two different start times. We had a great spot for pictures and made plans to take first day pictures in the same spot every year, and then we moved. But among all the misses, we had a few real hits.
Over the years, I found that we had the greatest success when I listened to what it was my kids really looked forward to most. Was there one thing they actually asked to do? What caused us the least stress in what can be an absolutely crazy time? What was something I was able to do for them that made them feel special? And, what could we do year after year without breaking the bank? When you’re going to be expected to repeat this stuff again and again, that’s an important factor!
#1) Individual Shopping Dates with Mom
With four kids of such varying ages, it can be difficult to get one-one-one time. So, when the time comes and they see their name next to “Date with Mom” on the family calendar in the week or two before school starts, it’s extra special.
What we do on each date varies a little by kid and by the time we have allowed ourselves. There’s always food (duh!), but whether that’s lunch, coffee or cupcakes is totally up to the kid. We always go shopping for one new first day of school outfit and a new pair of shoes, but where we go changes kid by kid as well. Any other clothing they are lucky enough to squeeze out of me depends on how much they’ve grown in the past year (boys) and how many hand-me-downs we were lucky enough to acquire (girls). Haircuts can also be on the agenda so they’re all looking good for the back to school photos!
Speaking of photos…
#2) Chalk + Driveway + Kids = Awesome
Because who doesn’t like playing with sidewalk chalk in their jammies at 6:15 in the morning?!
Several years ago, all the world started using these cute chalkboard signs that kids would hold in their back so school pictures. You know the ones. The kid’s name and teacher and what they want to be when they grow up artistically hand-lettered onto an adorable chalkboard? I was all about it.
And then I forgot to buy them.
I may not have had a cutesy chalkboard, but I did have copious amounts of sidewalk chalk, a big driveway, and a flair for bubble letters. So now, each year on the first day of school, I can be found out on our driveway coloring at o’dark thirty in the morning, pajama bottoms and bedhead and all.
I take an individual photo of each kid with their grade number at their feet, then a whole group shot. Sometimes we play it serious, sometimes we get a little silly, but we always have a good time. And it’s super fun to see how much they change from year to year!
#3) Mom shops for supplies…ALONE!
Back in the day, I remember my school supply list looking something like this:
- 1 binder
- loose leaf paper
- 4 folders
- 4 spiral notebooks
Now, my kids supply lists look something like this:
- 1 0.5″ white binder with clear plastic cover
- 4 24-packs of Crayola crayons
- 3 reams of white copy paper
- 2 12-packs colored pencils
- 5″ round-tip Fiskars scissors
- 3 cups of angel tears
- 1 gallon of disinfectant wipes
- 17 2.435526 oz. purple (not white) Elmers glue sticks
Multiply that times four and it’s enough to make a person crazy! So a few years ago, once my oldest was big enough to stay home and babysit for an hour or so, I decided I was done. No more would I subject myself to the craziness of the “gimmes” and the “can I haves” and the “I want this ones.” The teachers took the time to be specific in their wishes and I would do my best to get what they wanted. And I’d do it all by myself.
It goes a little something like this. I go through all of the lists and make one master list. I check our school supply bin to see what we might already have stashed away and adjust my list accordingly. Then I head to the store, list in one hand and frappucino in the other.
When I come home, I set it all out on the table and one by one, youngest to oldest, I call the kids in with their backpacks and they get to go shopping at Mommy’s store. They read what they need, they load it all up, and they’re good to go!
No muss, no fuss! (And considerably more cost-effective, too, might I add.)
#4) I Scream…You Scream
Gotta save the best for last, naturally!
Now, is it just me or is that bench shrinking? It certainly can’t be that the kids are getting that much bigger!
The final step in our transitional traditions is going for ice cream. It’s never a specific time. Sometimes it’s a Sunday afternoon, sometimes the night before the first day, sometimes a week later when I finally remember we haven’t done it. Regardless of when, we all see our annual trip out to Bruster’s for ice cream as the unofficial end of summer. We never tell the kids when we’re going, though. Greg will just come in the room, tell everybody to load up in the van, and off we’ll go. And then there’s plenty of laughter and sugar and humidity for everyone.
So that’s it! That’s what we do and it works for us. Making back to school time special truly doesn’t need to be intimidating or expensive. You can make some really great memories without totally breaking the bank. The key points to remember are:
- Choose what your kids feel is special.
- Make it as low-stress as possible.
- Use what you’ve got.
- Have fun!
Our kids really are little for so short a time. I know I’m lucky that our big boys still go along with some of our antics for the sake of their sisters. But I also like to think they still get a little something out of our traditions, too.
Have a wonderful school year, everyone!! And if you have any back to school traditions that your family enjoys, I’d love to hear them!! Leave a comment below!!