Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

Create new back-to-school traditions for your family

What do you do the night before the first day of school?

Editor’s note: This back-to-school traditions article was originally published in September 2014 and updated in 2022 with a lot more ideas.

Creating back-to-school traditions is an exciting way to ring in a successful week of school or to celebrate all the exciting things to come. We all know that life can be a little stressful at the end of summer and before school starts—with new schedules to master, the endless lists of supplies needed, and kids starting a new and earlier bedtime routine. With all this change, it’s comforting for kids to know and look forward to back-to-school traditions that happen year after year. 

Add these back-to-school traditions to your back-to-school routine and celebrate the end of summer or the beginning of a new school year with your kids.

Last hurrah dinner:

Choose a favorite place to dine or cook your child’s favorite meal. Grandparents in Seattle started the tradition of making spaghetti dinner with their first grandchild and now, with four grandchildren attending school, it is a tradition they all look forward to before the start of school, every year. Bonus: If you have time, make fun table settings – paper plates shaped like apples, a place mat that looks like paper…there are many free printables online to achieve the festive look.

Special treats:

Have an after-dinner ice cream, cupcake, chocolate or candy treat. Let your kiddo indulge in things they don’t usually get and make it a special evening.

Packing party:

Get the backpack and school supplies ready to go. Lay out the clothes, give a fresh haircut, let the kids choose breakfast and get a good night’s sleep. Some families share in the school fairy tradition. A distant cousin of the tooth fairy, this fairy brings a treat of special school supplies – maybe a colorful pen, or a sharpener shaped like a mermaid to the student, the night before.

Fashion show with new school clothes:

Strut your stuff around the living room and have your children show off their new back-to-school outfits. Some families make their clothes to wear to school too- tie dying is an easy family activity to make first day of school clothing colorful, bright and unique.

Special breakfast:

Make an energy-rich breakfast. Pancakes, bacon and eggs, anyone? Maybe make it in the shape of their grade number.

Front-porch photo:

Take those first day photos! Compile these to show the kids’ changes through the years while sharing a laugh at hair and clothing trends.

Extended family bus send-off:

Invite your family to take a walk to school or send kids off to school at the bus stop.

Journal the highlights of the day:

Take materials of the day and make a time capsule. Write in a journal, highlighting the day’s events. Have your child write a little too and express what they felt about the first day of school.

Spend the day out:

Some homeschooling families celebrate by heading to the museum or zoo. Spend the day learning, without the crowds.

Summer photos or scrapbook:

Share memories with your kids by revisiting adventures of summer. Reminisce about your times together and choose your favorite shots to make a photo album or memory book.

Back to school interviews:

Each year, sit your kiddo down and conduct an interview. Ask questions like, what do you want to be when you grow up? What’s your favorite memory about summer? and more. Be sure to record the interview via video or in written form. Share what was said in prior years and maybe laugh about the answers you gave when they were younger.

Create a bucket list:

A bucket list is usually a list of goals that you want to achieve in an amount of time. Pose the question to your children: What do you want to achieve this school year? Whether it’s moving up a reading level, mastering the multiplication tables, or staying out of fights during recess- record their answers and see how many they accomplished at the end of the year. And let your child know that sometimes you don’t do all the things on the list and you add them on for another year.

Sweet notes:

Leave a note in your child’s lunchbox so they know that they are loved and you are thinking about them.

Chalk the walk(way):

Surprise your little ones with huge messages of encouragement on your sidewalk or driveway.

Family movie night:

Make the first night back from school special by sharing a movie and popcorn night together. Don’t stay up too late though, it’s a school night.


Parents, don’t forget your own back-to-school traditions. Whether you rejoice in the return of routine or are sad to see summer go, don’t forget to stop and appreciate the moment.

More ways to get ready to go back to school

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School lunch revolution!

About the Author

Erika Lee Bigelow