19 great first day of school traditions to do with your kids

The first day of school traditions is your chance to help make this transition easier for kids of all ages. Try our ideas (we love the lunchbox love notes)

first day of school traditions illustrated by Dad brushing girls hair while dressed in blue cardigan
(Image credit: Getty Images)

First day of school traditions can help your kids - no matter their age - with the transition from carefree summer holidays to more structured school days.

Whether you have a first-timer - with their brand new best school shoes on and ready - or a kid who is going back to school, the enormity of change can sometimes get a bit lost during the mad rush to buy school uniforms, new stationery, and get packed lunches ready. 

We do get it, many parents are time-poor but where you can, a first-day-of-school tradition could help you in the long run, when it comes to settling your kids into school. The first day of school traditions help to mark the occasion and even help them make friends

The latest research from the UK’s leading soft play party venue Wacky Warehouse reveals the scale of anxiety UK parents and children feel at this time of year - with settling in (33%), making friends (30%), and new teachers (25%) the top three concerns for parents during the back-to-school season. Renowned family psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopulous tells us; "Your children want to be listened to. If they are experiencing stresses or anxieties around the back-to-school season, the first thing you need to do is hear them."

We have scoured the internet and spoken to experts and mums to help you make their first day of school extra special with these inspiring and sweet traditions.

Woman smling at camera
Dr Linda Papadopoulos

Linda Papadopoulos is one of the UK's most recognisable family psychologists. Specialising in how sudden fame and the celebrity culture affects normal people, Linda was recruited to Big Brother to give a weekly analysis of the psychological state of the housemates. Her empathetic manner, combined with academic knowledge makes Linda an in-demand speaker.

First day of school traditions

1. Special breakfast

There's nothing worse than waking up on the first day of school, tired, grumpy and not wanting to go. Make the first morning more enjoyable by preparing an easy kids' breakfast - be that some owl pancakes, dippy eggs or a bowl of their favourite kid-friendly cereal.

2. The night-before-school ice cream

Usher in the new school year and say goodbye to summer fun with a final ice cream run.  Dionne, mum of three, and teacher tells us that this is a tradition from her husband’s side of the family. “I am obsessed with creating core memories, and my husband remembered doing this with his parents - thought it was go an choose a pick n mix from Woolworths back in the early 90s - we gave it a revamp with ice cream, the recipe of summer. Each year we have stuck with this, we go to get ice cream and talk about school. What we’re excited for or nervous about.”

3. Back to school reflections

Every year the night before starting back at school ask your child some reflective questions to think about what they learnt from last year and some goals to set themselves for the year ahead. A nice idea is to sit them down and video their responses. This makes for a lovely keepsake to look back at when they're older. You could even make this a first day of school tradition to replay them each year before making the next one.

A young blonde boy in his uniform ready for his first day of school

Credit: Getty

4. Create a vision board

You could also document their back to school aspirations through a fun and easy kids craft activity: a vision board. Gather together some old magazines, photos and felt tips and have them document their dreams for the next school year. Be that winning a sports day trophy or gaining lots of new friends. Not only will this mentally prepare them and put them in a good head space to achieve, it will also get their creative juices going.

5. Back-to-school Party with school friends

Who doesn't love a party?  Back-to-school parties are a great way to ease back-to-school anxiety or tension, as well as reconnect with kids that they may have lost touch with over summer break. Renowned family psychologist, Dr Linda Papadopoulos says; “Encourage your child to socialise with their peers ahead of the back-to-school season so they’re emotionally prepared for the new term. Play is a great way to do this as it also boosts cognitive and social development.” 

6. Read a special book

To calm those jittery pre-school nerves, read your child a 'back to school' book the night before term starts. Penguin's Starting School storybook and Usborne's Going to School book both have sweet tales that will take your little one through what they can expect. We also recommend The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, which tells the tale of a mum who tells her son that if he feels lonely he can put his cheek to his hand and feel her kiss. Heart warming and reassuring, this will be a book you both love.

a selection first of school books to read as tradition

Credit: Canva

7. Back to school fairies

Inspire the kind of excitement that can only be brought around by the Tooth Fairy or Father Christmas with this ingenious way to get the kids to bed the night before their first day. Make sure they leave their windows open and in the morning they'll find a 'back to school' package filled with school essentials and a few special treats from the Back To School Fairy.

8. Back to school Schultüte

Why not try this cool German tradition? Kids receive a giant - almost as big as them - cone (schultute in German) filled with treats and sweets the night before going back to school. You could even combine it with a family movie afternoon to mark the occasion. Just don’t let them eat sweets too late, or they’ll be bouncing off the walls!

9. Stationery scavenger hunt

You've bought all the essential school stationery, so now why not make receiving it exciting? Hide the items around the house and tell your kids it's a treasure hunt. They'll race around the house determined to be the first to complete the set. New stationery always seems to be the best bit of going back to school, so when they've found it all, let them start using it straight away!

Back to school stationary on a blue background

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images)

10. Record their height

A nice way to start off the school year is to measure them against a wall and make a mark of how tall they are, adding the date and their name. Repeat this every year and be amazed at how quickly they shoot up in size.

11. Decorate their door while they sleep

Make them smile and getting up that little bit easier by decorating their door with balloons and streamers whilst they sleep. When they get up in the morning it will be such a surprise they'll be sure to feel more positive about the day.

12. Mark it with a picture tradition

New year - new school photo! Keep it simple by having your little one pose in the same spot each year. Then compare with previous year shots - you'll be amazed at how much they grow and change as a person. More inspired photo traditions could include a chalkboard, showing your child's age and what career they want to do when they're older. Another favourite is to by a large t-shirt and write the date 'Class of' alongside the year they'll eventually graduate. Have them put on the shirt each year and watch how they grow into it by senior year. And don't forget these are great photos to get out again for their 18th and 21st birthdays...

Two sibling posing for a first day of school photo

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images/Cavan Images RF)

13. Lunchbox love notes

If it's their first year or the start of a new one, kids can miss their parents on their first day. Leave cute little love notes in their lunch box or in their bag to keep them going throughout the day. It'll be fun for your child to search around for the notes, as well as feeling comforted by your messages.

14. After school surprise

Whether you keep it the same each year or surprise your kids each time, plan something really exciting for after their first day of school, so they're really looking forward to it. It might be a trip to the cinema or a water-fight, but whatever it is, it's bound to suppress the back to school upsets.

15. Show and tell

What parent doesn't want to know every detail of their child's first day? Have them share the most exciting part of their school time with a show and tell special after school. They may share the name of a new friend or a piece of work or painting that they're particularly proud of. Make it one of your yearly first day of school traditions after teatime before they're too tired to share.

A girl holding up her first day of school artwork

Credit: Getty
(Image credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF)

16. First day of school interview sheet

It can sometimes be harder to get information out of older kids. That's why a fun interview sheet could be the answer to your first day of school traditions.  Mariah Lesson of GigglesGalore has created a ready-made downloadable sheet you can get them to fill in. With questions including who is their current favourite friend and what do they want to be when they're older - these cute questionnaires are great to look back and compare in the later years, no doubt bringing back lots of fond memories.

17. Make a time capsule

On the last day of the holidays get your kids to put a variety of things from the summer in their very own time capsule. Bury it in the garden and dig it up again on the first day of school. See how much their interests have changed and their delight at rediscovering their buried treasure. You can even make a big event out of decorating the capsule together.

18. One last summer adventure

Plan something really special for the last day of the school summer holidays. This way your kids will be counting down the days and you won't have to deal with such disheartened little ones. You could build a den, take a family trip to the South West, or go and fly a kite. Whatever it may be, it'll make your last summer day together one that the whole family will enjoy.

19. Set goals together

 Mum-of-two, Sam is also a teacher and she is big on goal setting. “It helps my six-year-old know what he’s trying to achieve going in each day, almost gives him a purpose.” Each year we fill out a chalkboard with info about the upcoming school year, like their teacher, grade, and school. And we add ‘three things I want to achieve this year’. “This could be joining a new club, making two new friends, doing all eight monkey bars.”

We agree on them, write them down, and pop them in a drawer. Together they reflect on those goals. "Goal setting is important at any age and it really helps set a tone and purpose for a new school year," Sam tells us.

How first day of school traditions help

Back-to-school traditions can help kids stay grounded during this transition from the carefree days of summer to the more structured days of school. These rituals can help ease anxiety and frame the experience as a welcoming and special thing we get to do. By giving space to back-to-school traditions you’re also providing a space for children to sort out their feelings and express themselves. 

Dr Linda tells us; “Your children want to be listened to. If they are experiencing stresses or anxieties around the back-to-school season, the first thing you need to do is hear them. What’s more, when you listen, it’s important to do so in a non-judgemental environment, so your child feels like they can speak their mind freely. If not, you run the risk of shutting your child off which may prevent them from sharing their feelings and worries.”

Choosing a first day of school tradition

It can be something you stumbled upon on Instagram or found on Pinterest or it could be something you did as a kid. No matter how you choose they can be so important to settling your kids.

If you're not sure how to choose try involving your kids and encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings in this, let them be a part of creating the tradition with you. Share what you did as a kid, maybe it was something we did growing up that we want to pass on to our kids when they start school, or perhaps it’s something you’ve adopted as a family. 

Once kids are back at school it's time to start making a note of when do the kids break up from school? Whether or not you'll incur a fine for taking them out for a holiday, and what are the speediest dinners to make - check out our air fryer recipes.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodTo covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. With his love of choo-choos, Hey Duggee and finger painting he keeps her on her toes.