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

From time capsules and fairies to lunch box notes and fun photos - make the end of holidays fun with these first-day-of-school traditions...

School traditions illustrated girl legs next to a satchel
(Image credit: Getty / Future)

Make their first day of school extra-special with these inspiring and sweet traditions.

Getting ready for the new school term can often be a minefield for families. With parents busy running round buying school uniform (opens in new tab), stocking up kid's stationary and polishing school shoes. Yet amidst the chaos, it can often be easy to forget to make the most of the little things: your kids growing older and getting smarter.

We've compiled a list of fantastic first day of school traditions that are sure to mark the occasion and even help them make friends (opens in new tab) too. From cute packed lunches (opens in new tab) to special night-before activities, these ideas are ones they can look forward to year after (school) year.

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 (opens in new tab), dippy eggs or a bowl of their favourite kid-friendly cereal (opens in new tab).

2. Bus stop brunch

You could similarly surprise them with a special breakfast with their other returning students. A cute idea to celebrate the first morning school run is by inviting the other families on your street or close by to enjoy a drink and muffin by the bus stop to say goodbye all together. It will be fun for you and the other mums - just bring out a table and a few chairs to have coffees and as soon as your little one sees their friends they will forgot those back to school blues.

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 (opens in new tab): 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. Celebrate 'School Year's Eve'

Recreate the magic of New Year's Eve with this back to school party. Invite school friends, or just have a family night in, whoever comes, it'll be something your children are so excited for. Play their favourite kids party games (opens in new tab), music and even bake cakes and special treats with them in the days leading up to the party to build anticipation. But make sure it doesn't run on too late, the kids will need an early night!

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 (opens in new tab) and Usborne's Going to School book (opens in new tab) both have sweet tales that will take your little one through what they can expect. We also recommend The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (opens in new tab), 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 Schultuumltes

Why not try out this cool German tradition? Kids receive a large cone filled with treats and sweets on the night before going back to school. It'll make the evening a little less sad, and maybe you could combine it with a family movie (opens in new tab) night while they chomp away. Don't let them eat it all at once though, make it something for them to look forward to all week.

9. Stationary scavenger hunt

You've bought all the essential school stationary, 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 stationary 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab). 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 (opens in new tab), 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.

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